Waterproofing Work Boots: Quick & Easy How To Guide

You just bought the most expensive pair of work boots you’ve ever owned. They’re water resistant, but not waterproof. Your work doesn’t require you to be outside all the time, but occasionally you do need to read meters. Should you have spent the extra for a fully waterproof boot? By waterproofing work boots yourself, will it be as waterproof as a Gore-tex boot?

Every year construction workers, ironworkers and welding foremen shop for men’s and women’s water-resistant work boots that don’t resist much water at all, or waterproof boots that lose their “waterproofness” after a few months. What can be done to help workers keep their feet insulated and dry?

Updated March 2020 by Maya

waterproofing work boots

Should you waterproof leather boots?

In this short article we’ll cover why it’s important to keep the leather in your work boots in the best condition possible. We’ll discuss the difference between waterproof and water-resistant boots, and why the difference matters. We’ll also address the waterproofing differences between leather work boots and non-leather boots, and whether or not waterproofing work boots might ever be detrimental.

How To Waterproof Leather Boots The Right Way

Here are the easiest, most effective & efficient methods to waterproof your work boots.  

First, let’s make a distinction between the terms “waterproof” and “water-resistant.” Waterproof boots are designed to keep your feet warm – but not too hot – even when you are wading through water or tromping over soaked terrain all day. Waterproof work boots are made by:

  • using waterproof leather and steam-sealing all the seams so that no water can encroach, or
  • inserting a breathable, waterproof membrane (liner) between the leather upper of the boot and the inside liner. 

Unless your work boots were manufactured to be waterproof and sold claiming that much by the shop, you may not be able to make them totally waterproof, regardless of the method or product you choose.

If you want to enhance the water-fighting ability of your water-resistant boots, or re-proof your waterproof work boots to help keep them absolutely water tight, here are the steps to follow. These methods work on outdoor or indoor footwear, for both men and women, avoiding wet feet.

Men will find a greater selection of mens waterproof work boots in the shop. But ladies, if you found a comfortable Wolverine or Timberland, you can do a great waterproof job on your favorite non-waterproof choice by following these guidelines. If you’d like avoid paying the higher price tag for the waterproof quality, you can get good results with these steps.

1) Clean your boots

Using a cloth or soft brush, remove any loose particles of dirt. If your work boots are heavily soiled, you may need to use a damp–but not dripping-wet–cloth to get rid of stubborn spots. Don’t dunk your boots in water to clean them. It’s hard on the leather, even leather that’s waterproof. You could cause the leather to crack.

2) Dry your boots

Usually, allowing your work boots to air dry completely is recommended. Heated drying is not recommended. If you’re in a hurry, you can set your boots in front of a fan to hasten the drying. A few products–mostly sprays–recommend spraying boots when they are slightly damp. 

3) Determine the best product for the job

Most waterproof or conditioning products for mens full-grain leather work well for Red Wing, Timberland, Wolverine or other brands footwear that are truly waterproof or for those that are water resistant. Footwear with a waterproof membrane are the exception. Boots from Nubuck leather or suede also need special products. I’ll discuss those work boots separately. 

  • Full-grain leather boots. Mink oil paste, bees wax oil, or silicone are the key ingredients in most of the waterproof products for full-grain leather boots, whether made by Irish Setter, Carolina, Carhartt, or Timberland. This holds true for different styles of leather footwear, too. A pair of Ariat cowboy boots, a lace-up Wolverine with wedge sole, or a mens black Diehard logger’s boot with a steel toe, a met guard and a puncture-resistant upper can all be treated with the same types of products, as long as they are full-grain leather. 
  • Boots with a breathable waterproof liner. Bees waxes or mink oil pastes are often dense enough that they prevent air from passing through a waterproof lining, and make the work boots no longer breathable. Silicone sprays work best for these shoes.
  • Nubuck leather or suede leather work boots. These shoes should be treated with products designed specifically for them. Sprays made for suede are most often used in tandem with a special suede brush, for the best results. 

4) Apply a bit of the product to a small, out-of-the-way section of your boot

Mink oil and beeswax will almost always darken leather. Silicone sprays are less apt to do so. It’s wise to apply a bit of product to an inconspicuous spot to see whether that product is going to significantly deepen the color of your boots, especially if color was a significant factor in the choice of the work shoes.

5) Apply the product to your whole boot

The most critical part of this job is that you are ready to follow the shop and manufacturer’s directions. Use the method and the applicator recommended. Wipe excess product off, if that’s what’s suggested. 

6) Allow your work boots to dry before wearing them

The amount of time recommended will vary. If you want the very best results, this step is important. Not allowing the spray to dry could be detrimental to the quality of the work boots.

How To Waterproof Non-Leather Work Boots

1) Clean your boots

Using a cloth or soft brush, remove any loose particles of dirt. If your work boots are heavily soiled, you may need to use a damp cloth to remove the worst spots. Don’t soak the boots, though.

2) Choose a waterproofing spray

…or aerosol formulated for fabric shoes, and check to see if the shop where you placed your order or the manufacturer recommends applying the product to damp or dry boots. 

Some sprays for fabric work boots give better results if they are used on boots that are slightly damp. Also, some products made for leather boots will damage fabric boots, so read the manufacturer’s usage instructions and choose with care. 

3) Apply a bit of the product

…to a small, out-of-the-way section of your shoe.

Sprays for non-leather shoes aren’t as apt to really darken your boots like leather oils and pastes will, but they may change the color slightly.  It’s wise to apply a bit of product to an inconspicuous spot to see what happens to the color of your boots. 

4) Apply the product to your whole boot

Following the manufacturer’s directions is just as important with fabric boots as it is for leather  boots. Use the application method and the applicator that the manufacturer suggests. Wipe excess product off, if that is recommended. 

5) Allow your boots to dry before wearing them

The amount of time recommended will vary. If you want the very best results, this step is important. At the very least, your work boots will need to be completely dry before you wear them again. 

WARNING! How NOT to Waterproof Leather Shoes 

Does Vaseline waterproof boots?

Answers to this question are mixed. Some say they have used Vaseline or other petroleum jelly items for years with very good results. Others say that after they used it on their work boots, the boots were no longer waterproof. The big question is whether or not beeswax or mink oil might be better.

What about waterproofing boots with WD-40?

Again, the opinions are mixed. A recent Reader’s Digest article claims that spraying winter boots with WD-40 will keep your boot waterproof and your feet safely insulated. Others claim that WD-40 will ruin the leather in your shoes. 

I feel that using these two items is risky. Manufacturers are not likely to honor a guarantee on craftsmanship if safety steel toe boots treated with these items suddenly fail. 

Conclusion Summary

The best way to waterproofing work boots is to start with clean boots; choose a product that matches the boots’ material; apply the product according to manufacturer’s directions, first by testing a small area, and then covering all of the boots; wipe off or buff your boots; and allow them to air dry completely before you wear them again. 

This basic process works for leather and non-leather boots. It works for safety steel toe boots with thick rubber soles and for lightweight, insulated boots that you can slip on. If you want your boots to stay comfortable and durable, follow these steps. 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Q: Is coconut oil good for leather boots?

A: Yes, coconut oil works well to condition full-grain leather safety toe boots, as long as you make sure that your footwear is clean before the treatment work. Coconut oil offers a couple of advantages over some other treatments; it’s safe and easy to use and readily available. You don’t need gloves for the job and you won’t have to purchase a special product. You may have coconut oil in your kitchen cupboard already. 

Coconut oil solidifies at 76 degrees F. so your coconut oil in the cupboard may be solid. If it is, then warm it a bit by breathing on it or putting a small dish of it in a warm place for a few minutes. You’d like the coconut oil to be liquid or a very soft paste when you use it for the waterproof job.

Then rub the coconut oil evenly over the surface of your boots. Avoid getting the oil on zippers, hooks, and laces. Once you’re rubbed the coconut oil in well, use a clean cloth to wipe off any excess. Be sure to wipe off any that may have accidentally gotten onto hardware or laces.

Here’s 1 final tip about using coconut oil. Resist the urge to use artificial heat from a hair dryer or microwave oven to get your coconut oil toasty warm before you use it. This can cause the oil to over-penetrate the leather and damage it. 

Q: Do waterproof boots need to be sprayed?

A: Waterproof boots should be reproofed occasionally, especially after being exposed to lots of wet conditions. However, the product technology used to re-waterproof them does not need to be a spray.

One of the leading products–Atsko Sno-Seal–is a paste. If your waterproof safety toe shoe has a breathable waterproof liner you might prefer Danner’s Waterproof Gel, which is advertised as being safe for waterproof footwear with a Gore-Tex liner. 

Q: How long does waterproof spray last?

A: That will depend upon how often you wear your boots, whether you’re in wet conditions whenever you wear them, and whether you wipe your boots down and let them dry well as soon as you take them off. If you notice that water no longer beads off their surface, then it’s time to waterproof your boots again.

A reasonable estimate is about every 2 months, perhaps shorter in winter if you have snowy conditions. It also depends how often you wear then outdoors or if your work is indoors. Outdoor work might require more frequent waterproofing work boots treatments to stay 100% comfortable and warm.

Q: What is the absolute best stuff to waterproof boots?

A:  The answer depends upon whether your boots are made of full-grain leather, suede or fabric. For full-grain leather boot styles the favorite choice from the selection is Atsko Sno-Seal Original Beeswax Waterproofing.

I think that Scotchgard Suede & Nubuck Protector is one of the best products for suede or nubuck boots. For non-leather boots, Rust-Oleum 280886 NeverWet Technology Boot and Shoe Spray is my choice. These are reasonably priced, work very well in various conditions, stay put a good amount of time and get excellent reviews.

Q: What’s the best product for waterproofing leather boots?

A:  As I mentioned earlier, I really like Atsko Sno-Seal paste. However, there are excellent options in a selection of different types of products. If you prefer a mink oil product, Sof Sole Mink Oil and Red Wing Mink Oil are excellent choices.

Danner makes a relatively cheap waterproof spray that works well as does Ariat. If you want a good gel for mens leather boots, Danner makes that, too. Chamberlain’s Leather Milk is a liquid formulation that also gets positive reviews according to Amazon and other review sites.

Q: What’s your pick for the best waterproofing spray for non leather shoes?

A: There’s a wide selection of waterproof sprays available. Rust-Oleum 280886 NeverWet Boot and Shoe Spray is an excellent choice for non-leather shoes, such as many of the work shoes by Keen, Nike and Skechers. So are Sof Sole Water Proofer, and GOAT SHIELD Premium Shoe Protector Spray. Kiwi Boot Waterproofer works well for both leather and non-leather boots. The price is reasonable for these brands and shipping is usually free if you order online and Amazon usually has them in stock.

Q: How good is beeswax for waterproofing work boots?

A:  The answer depends upon the type of shoes you have, and whether you are using straight beeswax for the job or a paste that contains beeswax. 

Straight beeswax as a stick or bar can be rubbed onto canvas shoes to make them water resistant for the short term. Simply apply a coat of the beeswax all over the canvas upper. Use a fairly heavy hand to do so,and make sure you cover the canvas evenly. Then, use a hair dryer to melt the waxes into the canvas. You won’t have permanently waterproof shoes, but they will be much more water resistant for a few wearings. 

Using straight bees wax is not recommended for leather boots. However, several of the best waterproofing products contain beeswax. As mentioned above, Atsko Sno-Seal is a great product.

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