How to make leather shoes more waterproof

Man walking along a rainy pavement

Taking care of leather shoes makes them last much longer
Image source: Alex Linch/Shutterstock

Leather shoes need regular cleaning, polishing, and waterproofing to keep them in good condition. Here’s how to make your leather shoes more waterproof – simple, effective measures you can take today that will extend the life of your shoes, keep them looking great, and, perhaps best of all, keep your feet dry. 

Why waterproof your shoes?

Two men walking along pavement on a rainy day

Wet leather deteriorates quickly
Image source: Elena Dijour/Shutterstock

Because leather is a natural product, it needs regular maintenance to keep it in top condition. Made from interlocking fibrous protein strands, leather also contains fats and some moisture left over after the tanning process. These are essential for keeping leather soft and supple.

Getting leather wet, and exposing it to harsh chemicals like road salt is very bad for your shoes, causing them to dry out and crack. If you don’t let your shoes dry thoroughly between wears, even the sweat from your feet damages the leather eventually.

Waterproofing leather is never 100% effective. Because it’s a natural product, water resistance is really the best you can hope to achieve – if you step in enough puddles, you will eventually get wet feet. But by applying the right treatments regularly, you can make sure that your leather shoes keep the water out long enough to get you home. Here’s how to nourish and weather proof your shoes.

How to make leather shoes water resistant

Closeup of mink oil and brush

Natural products work best on leather
Image source: kacha somti/Shutterstock

Use a shoe brush to remove loose dirt, before giving your shoes a good clean with saddle soap. Traditionally used to clean leather saddles, this product gently lifts old shoe polish and other debris without removing oils or causing bleaching.

Once your shoes are completely clean, you’ll need to apply a natural oil-based leather restorer. Mink oil works best – it has a very high resistance to oxidation and works as a leather preservative, protecting its natural suppleness and stopping it from becoming dry and brittle.

Another natural alternative is coconut oil – synthetics don’t work nearly as well. Whichever treatment you use, applying oil will darken the leather; do a test on the tongue to make sure you’re happy with the color change before proceeding.

Should you use cream or wax on leather shoes?

Man polishing brogue boot with wax

Waxes must be removed every once in a while
Image source: Dmitry Morgan/Shutterstock

Shoe polish is made from hard oils and its purpose is to give your shoes a shiny finish rather than waterproof them. That said, polish does afford your shoes some protection from the elements although each time you clean your shoes, the layer of wax builds, until eventually, you’ll need to clean it all off with saddle soap and begin again.

Shoe cream is far more effective at making your shoes water resistant. That’s because the oils penetrate the surface of the leather, nurturing the grain and making it harder for water to get in. Choose a shoe cream with a dye added to match the color of your shoes and buff to a satisfying satine sheen.

What is the best waterproof sole for leather shoes?

Prestige Oxford shoe with a rubber sole from Samuel Windsor

Choose Goodyear welted non-slip rubber soles
Image source: Prestige Oxford shoe with a rubber sole from Samuel Windsor

Most modern shoes are made with moulded synthetic rubber soles, and from a water resistance point of view, they’re great because a quality pair will offer no gaps for the water to get in. But this manufacturing process is incredible wasteful – the soles are difficult to repair and so you’ll often find yourself tossing out your shoes before the leather is even half worn.

If you’d like to try a traditional sole that offers excellent water resistance and is easy to replace, try a Goodyear welted sole. These soles are stitched on using a special machine, so that the join between sole and shoe is completely covered by a decorative strip of leather called the welt.

When your soles wear through, simply take your shoes to a cobbler who will remove the old soles and replace with new ones. It’s a process you can repeat time and time again, keeping your favorite shoes in use for far longer.

What to do if your shoes get soaked

Ruined shoes from rain and heat damage

Keep wet shoes away from direct heat sources
Image source: Oleg Golovnev/Shutterstock

If your shoes do suffer a soaking, the best way to dry them out is to remove the laces, stuff them with newspaper and put them in an airy spot away from any direct heat sources. Keep replacing the newspaper as soon as it dampens and after a couple of days or so, your shoes will be ready for oiling and polishing.

Do also bear in mind that, even if it’s dry outside, if you’ve been wearing your shoes for the majority of the day, you should rest them for at least a day before wearing them again. This allows perspiration to evaporate and so keep the leather in good condition.

Do you have any waterproofing tips you’d like to share with us? If so, we’d be delighted to hear from you. Leave a comment below or drop us a line on Facebook.

Posted in Men's Shoes.

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