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How to waterproof Leather Boots and Shoes

To help you out, we’ve compiled a list of tips and tricks on how to waterproof leather boots and shoes quickly and easily at home. We will recommend some products you can use to improve the lifespan of your leather boots and shoes.

So you’ve made the decision – you’re going to hit the uncharted territories of your nearby icy or muddy hiking trails and clock some well-deserved hours in the great outdoors. As all hikers and adventure-seekers know, a great pair of durable leather boots will go a long way in ensuring that you safely navigate the often tricky rock laden pathways of some of the world’s most formidable hiking trails.

And even if it’s just a day trip to a local landmark and back, looking after your footwear is really looking after your feet – and there are no shortcuts there. Leather boots and shoes are considered the standard for excellent hiking footwear and should, if taken care of properly, last you a lifetime.

 Also check out: The Best Waterproof Hiking Shoes

Leather is a Living Thing

Waterproofing leather boots and shoes - TipsWe’ve seen it again and again that quality footwear often falls short when exposed for long periods to water. Water infiltration is a pesky problem that can ruin your expensive leather boots and shoes and destroy your feet in the process.

Leather comes from animals and so there’s no guessing it has specialized needs to keep it in great condition.

Being protein based, any water loss or excess (often caused by salt) will damage the fibers and reduce flexible leather to dry husks that crack with the slightest bend.

So…for your reading pleasure…here’s a quick go-to guide to waterproofing leather shoes to make sure you keep your leather boots and shoes supple and dry at a budget you can afford.

Leather Shoes and Leather Boots Deserve Your TLC

If you take the time, we assure you that, a great leather boot or shoe maintenance program will go a looooong way to keeping that ‘just bought’ feel and look after these expensive items.

The web is jam packed with useful tips and tricks for waterproofing leather boots but we found a particularly helpful infographic at the Art of Manliness (AoM) website. They outline the maintenance regimen in nine easy steps which we’ve summarized for your convenience.

How to waterproof Leather Boots and Shoes – 9 Simple Steps

If you own leather shoes or boots commit to a regular shoe shining routine. Do it and you won’t be sorry.

After taking those boots or shoes off insert a cedar shoe tree to absorb moisture.

Salt stains (think hike along the coastline) are no good and should be removed as soon as possible with a 2/3 water to 1/3 vinegar mixture and damp cloth.

Waterproof your boots and shoes as follows – (a) mink oil (can darken the leather) (b) wax polish (light protection) (c) use a waterproofing spray for boots or a waterproofing compound e.g. Obenauf’s Heavy Duty (for heavier protection).

Cleaning your boots with a detergent, acid free product like Ivory or Murphy’s oil soap will give them a new lease on life.

If you find yourself, as so many do, trying to bring out that rich leather beauty then a small amount of petroleum jelly (vaselineTM) is the trick.

So your boots are wet! You trudged through a water filled creek after recent rains and they are soaked through. A helpful tip is to stuff newspaper or even paper towels deep into the boot or shoe and periodically replace them as they become soaked.

A really smart trick to removing scuff marks off your pricey boots or shoes is non-gel toothpaste. It works!

And finally…the guys at art of manliness suggest – and you should let us know if you do – to send your ‘tired’ shoes or boots back to the manufacturer for refurbishing. Why buy a new pair if your old pair can be spruced up?!

Waterproof or Water Resistant? It’s not the same thing

So let’s face it, when you trudging along out there and the elements are beating down from all sides, there isn’t a chance you going to keep your leather boots absolutely dry.

There simply are no absolutes when you pit yourself against nature. And there shouldn’t be, after all adventure isn’t predictable and that makes it fun. So we recommend you reframe your water conquering mission and embrace a more reasonable trajectory called…water resistance.

 Learn more about the difference between Water Resistant vs. Waterproof

The key is choosing the most suitable product for your needs. If you’re walking through the occasional puddle on your way to work each morning, then there’s no need for the big guns and we recommend a generic wax based polish available at most retail stores.

Specialty Products for Waterproofing your Leather Boots

On the other hand if it’s bundu bashing (yup, it’s a thing) for ten days in the Appalachians then it’s worth your while to either get waterproof boots or to apply a specialty product like Obenauf’s Heavy Duty or Atsko SNO-SEAL Original Beeswax Waterproofing. This stuff really works but you going to have to add a polishing step since these products are exclusively water repellant by nature.

If laborious polishing regimens are not your style (and we know some of us are really eager to get outside and start exploring) then a waterproofing spray for boots on waterproofing compound is the way to go.

Many folk disagree with us here, saying that spray on waterproofing is going to smother the leather and slowly choke it to death. We disagree. If you are pressed for time, then a liberal spay of a product like Kiwi performance fabric protector is all you need. You are going to have to reapply it more often than the heavy duty rub-ons but in the end it will save you a lot of time.

So guys, the cat’s out the proverbial bag (leather bag no doubt), caring for your leather boots and shoes on a regular basis, as well as applying these water resistant suggestions, will ensure your leather footwear remains healthy, your pocket ‘wealthy’ and your outdoor escapades wise for years to come. If you think your old hiking boots are beyond recovery check out our list of the Best Waterproof Hiking Boots or the Best Waterproof Work Boots.

We hope you enjoyed this post on how to waterproof leather boots and shoes and look forward to hearing your comments, ideas and suggestions. It’s time to hit the trails…happy adventures everyone!

Also Interesting: The Best Winter & Snow Boots – Buyer’s Guide


Image Credits: Daniel Oines (title image); Andrew Bowden / flickr (CC-BY 2.0 license)