Boot Waterproofing





Introduction: Boot Waterproofing

An unexpected tool makes it easier and more economical to apply conditioning to leather boots and shoes, which leaves them waterproof, comfortable and long-lasting. There are thin, watery products available for waterproofing boots, but I find them not nearly as effective as the thick brush-on variety. Instructions for those say brush on the material, let it sit, then wipe off the excess. Not all that much is absorbed into the leather, though, and what you wipe off does the boots no good and is just wasted. If you do not remove the excess, it can collect dirt. The photo shows the brush-on conditioner applied to just the toe of one boot, unheated. I use "Red Wing" brand, just because it was available at the store where I bought the Red Wing boots.
To see my related Instructables, including how to apply no-slip spikes to the bottom of work boots, click on "unclesam" just below the title above or in the INFO box to the right. On the new page that appears, repeatedly click "NEXT" to see all of them.

Step 1: Gun Those Gunboats

The near boot has been slathered all over, and the toe is being warmed using an electric heat gun, its shiny metal tip visible at the right edge of the photo. The conditioner begins to glisten as it thins, and as the leather cools, it sucks all the conditioner into it, none is wasted. I use my Wagner Paint Stripper gun, which has a variable temperature control. The gun is set to about as warm as my bare skin can tolerate, and it is constantly kept in motion to keep from damaging the leather. I have never tried another kind of heat gun, hair drier, etc., but they might work just as well.

Step 2: One Boot Finished, One to Go

This trick worked so well that at first I worried that the heat gun might just be evaporating the conditioner. I played the heat gun on conditioner that had gotten on the manmade parts of the shoe, which do not absorb it, for a long time, and that material never disappeared. Clearly, the heat was just causing all the conditioner to be absorbed by the leather, not evaporating it. Excess conditioner that gets on the manmade components needs to be wiped off or it will collect dirt. Applying the conditioner heavily particularly to the stitched seams helps keep the boots waterproof.
The heat gun also causes regular shoe polish to be absorbed into the leather of dress shoes, rather than have it be wiped off by buffing.
I always wear heavy boots when I do outdoor work around my yard, sometimes in wet areas. For decades I bought department store boots, on sale, replaced them when they wore out. In my dotage, I realized that my feet had suffered, so I bought these really sturdy, comfy Red Wings, which were expensive. To protect my investment I have regularly applied the conditioner, and these boots have provided many years of service under tough conditions. Same applies to other brands, but if you want to find Red Wings, look in phone book yellow pages or do Internet search, as they are usually sold in freestanding independent stores rather than department stores or malls.
CREDIT: Photo background made of genuine pegboard.



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    30 Discussions

    I lived in Alaska for 35 years & still do. I build remote cabins in winter & summer. I wear Danner or Red Wing. I Cover them in Mink oil or Vaseline hang them next to the wood stove or camp fire as long as I can. wipe off & done. They last 6 to 10 years. I'm wearing a pair of Danners 8 years old right now Nead new strings . But still Water Proof.

    Just a note on using beeswax to seal your boots (especially hiking or hunting boots)... Beeswax — while fairly odorless to humans — does emit an odor that bears can smell at a great distance. When the boots warm up after hours of hiking or hunting, they become aromatic beacons to the local bears. For this same reason, it's a bad idea to use beeswax candles when camping.

    wonderful instructable! I'm a tree planter so I destroy any pair of boots within 3 months. From $300 logging boots to goretex army boots they all die in 2-3 months. This might help make mine last a whole season!

    Yes, indeed! I use "Sno-Proof" as a conditioner. It has a bees wax base and it not supposed to go rancid, as some other "natural" based product might, and it is kinder to the leather than petroleum based stuff. For what it's worth,"Sno-Proof" is what L. L. Bean recommends for its hunting boots. Anyway, I've been happy with it.

    Oh, yeah! A hair dryer works just fine for melting your treatment in.

    Toilet bowl wax ring gasket... slather the boot or shoe... set in the sun or warm oven... Wipe off excess after it penetrates and cools... The wax in these ring stays soft and flexible when cool... does a great job on the leather and all the seams and only takes a little bit.

    A boot like this can be easily waterproofed using a silicone spray. You can purchase this item at your local shoe repair shop or you can contact Bills Shoe Repair in Midland Park NJ

    1 reply

    patmatchue, as I mentioned in the text of this instructable, I find that the thin sprays and dab-ons do not provide nearly the protection that can be provided by the thick stuff. Most of the thin stuff is propellant or solvent, neither of which waterproof the leather. The trick is to use heat to get the thick stuff to be sucked into the leather where it will do the most good.

    I treat my leather boots(gore-tex and non gor-tex) with beeswax based semi-solids(gore-tex is only good while the outer layer still protects it). Obenaufs is my favorite brand. Typically high qaulity boots treated as such last 6 months~1 year for me. Using other treatments my boots only last two months or less.
    The most effective way I have found to apply is by brushing it in with a shoe brush, recoating and allowing it to sit for a day before wiping excess off. I tried many things before coming to this system and my boots would get wet then the leather would damage easier, dry out and crack. My boots do get wet every day and can expect to be exposed to concrete slurry, metal shavings, coal slurry, saltwater, hydro oil, all within an highly abrasive environment for 12+ hours at a time. I am always looking for a better way, but this method has worked the best for me.
    Currently I am trying out Matterhorn Nytek Mining boots in the hopes that they last longer, but am not sure how to treat the Nytek and would apreciate suggestions.

    1 reply

    a.l., Your usage is probably the toughest test for boots I have ever heard of. I have no experience with Nytek. Hopefully a wider internet search will yield some suggestions. Seems to me the boot manufacturer would have included care instructions, but the manufacturer of the Nytek may also have care suggestions at its website. With regard to the other treatments you have tried, applying heat to cause the treatment to thin and then all be sucked into the boot material as it cools will provide more protection than letting the boots sit and then wiping off the excess. What is wiped off will not help protect the boots and is wasted. The heat treatment allows all the protectant that is applied to be put to good use. For your tough duty, it would probably be a good idea to perform the treatment several times to the boots right out of the box, to build up protection that could be renewed as needed.

    Or you could do it the military way take your polish/wax and light it on fire. Let it burn until its nice and liquidy, blow it out, and start polishing like normal. Yes I realized this is slightly off kilter to what you are talking about, but I felt it was still related.

    4 replies

    Setting the polish on fire defeats the whole purpose--the oils in the polish are what waterproofs and protects the leather. The key to a good polish and shine is layers. Small amounts of polish rubbed on and buffed over the surface, followed by additional layers gets the proper look and leather protection. 

    first off you never blow out the lit polish. this tends to cause a huge cloud of fiery polish that will est anything it touches on fire.(i know from personal experience) you put the lid on the can and smother it. Secondly the army no longer polishes their boots, they use the tan, leather boots.

    Meh I never had any problems keeping the flaming polish in the can but still a very valid point, I think... As far as the different boots, I had forgotten about those new boots. I still like my old shiny black ones. It may not still be the military way, but thats what I know it as so :-P

    I think a hair-dryer could work. On the hottest setting mine is too warm to use (ouch! burnies!) so maybe on that setting would be just right for this. I use a leather balsam made primarily from beeswax. No problems with rotting stitching (like neatsfoot oil).

    I would be careful with some of these conditioners and oils for leather. I had a nice pair of boots I did this way with mink oil and a hair dryer. Boots were great for about three weeks then the threads started to break on the seams. I didn't know mink oil rotted threading at the time and this process seems to speed up this rotting process dramatically. I now use a product from England. Chelsea Leather Food. Best oil going for leather. i have heard that it is the product used to treat the leather in the Presidential Limo. Soft as a baby's bottom and no oily feel after the final wipe. Awesome product for boots too.

    I wonder if just setting them in the sun would work too. Slower but easier. Maybe a clear cover of some type for a greenhouse temp boost.

    1 reply

    I don't believe it would get warm enough. As I have said in another 'able I used to put mine in a warm oven Perhaps 150 and take out as soon as they were very warm to the touch. And it soaks it right up too.. I am curious though how much "wear" we might get if we treated "dime store" boots with as much respect as our expensive boots?????

    I've heard of baking one's boots in the oven , although I forget if that's before or after you apply the conditioner. It would probably work better to bake after applying. My favorite brand of conditioner is Sno-Seal, which is beeswax based. None of that liquidy, silicone junk for me, thanks.

    1 reply

    Please don't cook your boots in the oven. The heat gets too high before the thermostat shuts the heat off. It will destroy your boots. Just put them over a heat register if your heating is central air, over a radiator if you have steam heat, or in a nice warm sunny window. That is more than enough heat to let the dubbin(Sno-Seal) soak into them. Even his heatgun is hot enough that it risks cooking the leather, a normal hairdryer on medium heat is enough. You are only heating it enough to help it soak into the pores of the leather.