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Your leather boots are a major investment – you want them to not only perform for you today but last for a very long time.
But that’s not going to happen on its own. Sadly, leather needs care in order to stay in peak shape.
This article will show you the steps you need to take to keep your leather work boots in great shape for years to come.
Why Should You Waterproof Your Work Boots
You should waterproof your leather work boots because water ruins untreated leather. This means your boots will be ruined, your feet will get wet and those brand-new boots will quickly look like they came off the feet of a homeless man. Don’t let this happen to you.
You may have to work in wet or wintry conditions. You’ll wear your boots, expecting them to keep your feet nice and dry. Untreated leather can do just that – for a little while. But if you skip the waterproofing treatments we will talk about below, soon you will find your hundred+ dollar work or hiking boots are damaged beyond repair.
It’s okay to wait to waterproof your boots for a few days up to a week after getting them – you’ll want to break them in a bit first. People debate how important this is – I fall firmly in the camp that leather boots benefit from breaking in before full-time use. Don’t put your boots through the gauntlet during this time. You’ll need to make sure they are clean before applying any waterproofing material, so the dirtier you get them now the more work you will make for yourself with a clean cloth later.
Many high-quality workboots are sold with waterproof leather, some with a Gore-Tex or a similar waterproof membrane lining the shoes. You’ll find that the best workboots will hold their waterproof qualities for a year or more.
Eventually, all waterproofing treatment wears off. The heat and the outdoor elements take their toll, and the membrane coating your boot starts to degrade. Therefore it’s good to get in the habit of checking the waterproofing your boots every twelve to eighteen months. Your feet and your pocketbook with thank you.
How to Waterproof Your Work BootsYou can use two methods to waterproof your leather boots. You can apply a leather conditioner protector by hand, or you can use a waterproof spray. Either method will create a waterproof membrane that repels water and seals the shoe against moisture. Both have their positives and negatives. I personally think which method you decide on is a matter of personal choice. I found out during my days in ROTC that polishing boots is surprisingly relaxing – so I tend to go with the wax or paste method. If you want the quickest method, go with a spray.
You’ll need to reapply treatment every few weeks for best results. Don’t worry – it’s not a hard process and I bet you’ll grow to enjoy doing it over time.
Regardless of the application method, the most important step in any waterproofing treatment is making sure your footwear are clean. Dirt and oils on your leather will keep the protection from bonding with the boot. Water and moisture will work it’s way into these openings, which is what you want to avoid. Make sure to get the shoelaces as well!
You can get your leather boots decently clean with soap and water – if enough elbow grease is applied with a clean cloth. There are also specialized creams to apply or a leather conditioner that you can use to really penetrate the leather and give it a good clean. I’ve used Leather Honey in the past and it works great, but I’m not afraid to use simple soap as well.
ChecklistWe will be using some chemicals that can damage unprotected surfaces when treating our leather boots, so make sure you’ve got a protected area to work. Newspaper or cardboard laid down on the surface is enough protection – we just don’t want to accidentally hit any other surfaces (like wood, suede, other nubuck leather shoes you have lying around, etc) when laying down our waterproof coat.
- Get some rubber gloves as some waterproofing oils may stain or cause a strong smell to stick on your hands.
- Before beginning: find a good, well-ventilated location to dry your boots. In a pinch you can use a boot dryer though keep the heat level off. A fan can also help with drying leather boots.
- MAKE SURE YOUR LEATHER BOOTS ARE CLEAN BEFORE APPLYING WATERPROOFING!
Using a Cream, Paste or Wax
This method requires that you purchase a waterproofing cream, paste or wax. This product will work into the leather and produce a protective waterproof membrane around your boot.
- You did clean your boots thoroughly, right?
- Make sure that your workboot is completely dry before you start your waterproofing process.
- You’ll want to bring your wax or paste slightly above room temperature before applying. An easy way to get some heat into your product is to leave it in the sun for a few minutes or surround it with warm water. You won’t need to add heat to cream – it’s already pliable enough to begin working.
Dip a clean rag or cloth into the product. I like to wrap two fingers in the cloth, and put the wax on that.
Use circular motions to apply to the leather, and make sure that you use enough of the paste, cream or wax to coat your boot generously. You’ll usually know you’ve done enough when the wax or cream has a “sheen” to it on the boot.
- Keep your boots in a cool dry place for an hour or so to dry, or place them under a fan.
- Use a buffing sponge or brush to remove excess product. I tend to work the boot from toe to heel, covering all areas from multiple angles with a brush. This won’t take long – no more than 5 minutes a boot, but it helps to work in the layer and remove any excess waterproofing material.
- You are now done! Go out into the harsh world with confidence! You can repeat this process when your work boots start to look cracked, or after a couple of weeks.
Using A Waterproofing Spray
The quickest and most convenient way of waterproofing your workboots is by using a waterproofing spray. Thanks to the chemicals in the spray your leather boots can now resist moisture while still retaining breathability. Use silicone or oil-based sprays on smooth leather. Save the acrylic for rough leather-like suede or nubuck.
Of course, I tend to find a well-applied wax will last longer than a spray – but your mileage may vary. There’s no doubt a spray waterproofing treatment is super easy to use and reapply.
- Don’t skimp on the cleaning. It’s even more important for aerosol treatment since you won’t be rubbing or touching the boot. Any dirt on the leather is going to get covered.
- Make sure to dry your work boot before applying anything for the best bond.
- Hold the spray bottle approximately six inches away from the boot to get an even coating on the leather.
- Spray the boot thoroughly making sure not to miss any spots, coating the entire outside of the boot completely.
- When done, place your boots aside to dry. It’ll take a few hours, but leaving them out overnight is a safe bet.
- You are done. Check up on your boots every couple of weeks. You’ll know they need a new coat when
Other Waterproof Leather Boot Care Questions
Should I Use Other Cleaners In An Emergency?
I’m going to be honest – I’m not sure what would constitute a “boot waterproofing emergency”. But let’s say you find yourself in a situation you think is an emergency. Should you try some household product to water proof your footwear, or just wait and risk wet feet?
I’d use the age-old creed of “do no harm” to guide my actions. That means, stay away from anything that contains alcohol or acetone. You’ve been warned.
You’ll also want to stay away from anything that appears to have a strong color. For example, transmission oil will waterproof your leather, but has a high chance of discoloring them as well. If you want red-tinted boots, it’s a great choice.
Here are some less-than-ideal DIY waterproofing materials that do work for a brief time: Vaseline, natural candle wax, enamel in an aerosol spray form. Once again – just plan ahead, avoid the stopgap measures and do it the right way.
Can I Use Heat To Dry My Boots During Waterproofing?
You should not use heat to dry your boots. Leather doesn’t like drying out quickly, so using a space heater, fireplace or other strong heat sources on the outside of your boots will likely cause permanent damage. Moving air is generally ok – so go ahead with a fan. A boot dryer on no heat or low is generally safe because 1) it moves air across the surface and 2) it’s not directly heating the outside leather surface with radiated heat.
I generally waterproof boots right before I go to bed, so I just leave them out to dry overnight. I haven’t needed a fan or anything – my leather boots are good to go by the morning.
What About Mink Oil For Waterproofing?
Mink oil is a great waterproofing substance – but it will permanently change the color of your leather boots. You’ll notice the leather will darken by two to three shades. It works by blocking the leather pores which gives a long-lasting waterproof effect. This same pore-blocking darkens the leather.
If you care about keeping the color of your leather true, avoid mink oil. If you don’t care that your boots will be a darker shade for the benefit of much longer waterproofing, give mink oil a look.
How To Waterproof Workboots SummaryImagine having to cross a snow-covered marsh, or having to tread through dirty muddy water, and suddenly your once waterproof work boots are not living up to their name anymore. The water seeps in, your feet are cold, wet, your socks chafing blisters on your feet. This is a scenario that we all want to avoid, which can also negatively affect your work performance.
For this reason, the little time you will spend to improve or re-apply boot waterproofing on your work boots is a small price to pay, when your work performance and the health and comfort of your feet are at stake.
I would also like to remind you that it is imperative to keep your boots dry on the inside and outside on a daily basis, not just to protect your boot and to prolong the waterproofing, but most importantly for the health and well being of your feet!