Want to keep your feet dry? Shoe leather is only as good as the care you give it. Here we take a look at the best ways to waterproof your leather shoes – tips for keeping rain out, natural oils in, and your toes snug and trench-foot free.
Why you need to waterproof shoes
Leather is tanned animal hide and gets its strength and durability from the criss-cross interlocking of its protein rich fibres. To keep it strong and supple, leather also contains residual moisture and fats left behind after the tanning process.
But repeated soaking and exposure to harsh chemicals like salt from icy roads and the sweat from your feet makes leather dry out, crack, and eventually split. Waterproofing your leather shoes performs two vital functions: it stops water soaking into the leather, and it nourishes the fibres, keeping them tough and flexible.
When we say waterproof, what we really mean is ‘weatherpoof’. As a natural product, leather will only ever be water resistant – if you step in enough puddles, your feet will eventually get wet. But by caring for your leather properly, you can maximise the time before the water gets in. Here’s how.
How to waterproof leather shoes
Start with saddle soap which, as the name suggests was originally used for cleaning leather saddles. Saddle soap gently removes dirt and old shoe polish without bleaching your shoes or extracting all the oils from the leather.
Next apply a shoe restorer to feed and waterproof the leather – remember, the more oil your leather contains, the harder it is for water to penetrate. Look for a quality natural product like mink oil which, because it’s uniquely resistant to oxidation, stops leather growing brittle and cracking.
Avoid products containing solvents and synthetic oils. As a natural product, leather absorbs other natural products best. If you’re squeamish about rubbing mink into your shoes, try coconut oil instead. Always test a small amount on the part of the tongue covered by the laces to check you’re happy with any colour change.
Cream or wax?
Wax polishes made from hard oils are great for creating a barrier layer on the surface of your shoe. But although they offer a degree of weather protection, their main job is to enable you to achieve a good shine.
While waxes give you the parade ground gloss beloved by Sergeant Majors, the downside is that as wax builds up on the surface of the leather, it also dries out and flakes off. If you’re a sucker for a shine, every once in a while you should strip back the old wax using saddle soap, and begin again.
Shoe creams often contain pigment to help maintain your shoes’ finish, and also further feed the grain, helping it repel water. Use a shoe cream if you prefer a satin sheen to the glistening polish of a wax shine.
Which is the best waterproof sole?
A molded rubber sole is fully waterproof, but hard to repair, making it more economical to chuck your shoes and get a new pair as soon as the heels wears down. But that’s wasteful, and compared to investing in shoes with Goodyear welted soles, costs you more in the long run.
Goodyear welting is a special way of stitching your soles to your shoes’ uppers, which allows the soles to be replaced when they wear out. Simply take your shoes to your local cobbler, and he or she will unstitch the old soles and stitch new ones in their place, a process you can repeat again and again.
Because of the way it encapsulates the upper and midsection, Goodyear welting creates a dry cocoon for your feet – it’s an excellent way of making leather or rubber soles water resistant.
If your shoes get wet
Should your shoes get a real soaking, you must dry them for at least 48 hours before re-oiling. Stuff them with newspaper and leave them in an airy spot away from heat sources like radiators and fireplaces which could cause your shoe leather to crack and curl.
Even if it’s not raining you should rest your shoes for a day after each use to allow the perspiration from your feet to dry – what an excellent excuse for investing in a pair of new leather shoes!
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