How To Waterproof Your Work Boots? (Cheap, Easy & Effective Solutions)

One of my neighbors saw me the other day on my balcony brushing, washing, and spraying my work boots and out of curiosity asked what was I doing. And of course, I replied that I was waterproofing my work boots.

To which they’ve said: “Is that even a thing? Does that work?”

3 pairs of work boots some made of smooth leather, some made of nubuck or suede, and some made of a mix of leather and fabric all being prepared to get a waterproofing treatment.

And they’ve just triggered the creation of this article. I’ve explained to them exactly what you’re going to read below. That not all work boots are created equal.

That different types of work boots will require different types of waterproofing products (if you want to avoid ruining your work boots, that is).

We’ll talk about what to do and what not to do when it comes to cleaning and waterproofing work boots and also which product to use for each type of work boot material.

So keep reading to find out the whole thing. There’s a lot of good stuff in here!

Things to know before waterproofing your work boots

Don’t just take any waterproof product and dump it on your work boots just like that. I mean, you can if you don’t really care about the boots.

If you do care about your work boots though, there are a few important things you must consider before starting waterproofing your work boots.

And those are as follows.

1. Clean the boots before applying any waterproofing solution

Think of waterproofing your work boots as painting your kitchen cabinets.

If you really want to have a good result not only aesthetically, but also technically, you want to clean properly those cabinets from grease and other dirt in order to allow the paint to stick to the wood.

Same with your work boots. If you want to achieve a good watertight result you must clean the boots from dirt and maybe even from previous grease and oils.

There are a few ways you can clean your work boots but for this example, I’ll use saddle soap for the smooth leather and a different cleaner for fabric and nubuck leather.

Editor Note

Don’t use saddle soap on the nubuck/suede leather work boots. This product has wax as part of its composition and that wax will ruin your leather.

Here’s how to clean your boots with saddle soap

  1. Melt the saddle soap

    Put a little bit of warm water in the saddle soap lid or if you prefer use a cup. The water MUST be warm. We’ll use this to help activate or melt the wax inside the saddle soap to make it easier to apply to the leather.
  2. Use a brush to wash the leather

    Wet the brush in the warm water and then move the brush on the saddle soap in circular motions until the saddle soap creates a few bubbles.

    Now apply it to the leather and start brushing the upper of your work boots using circular movements or back and forth motions. Don’t be shy, you can put as much as you want.

    You can use a cloth instead of a brush if you want but the process is way too slow for me.
  3. Use a clean cloth to remove the excess and potential leftover dirt

    Now, simply use a microfiber cloth or paper towels if you prefer to clean the leather and let the boot dry for a few hours before moving to the next step.

Some of you will ask if you can wash your work boots in the washer. I’ve washed my work boots in the washing machine my entire life and never ad an issue with the boots.

The only thing you have to remember is to NOT USE HOT WATER. Hot water will deactivate the adhesives in your work boots and possibly make the sole come off.

Another important thing to consider before starting to throw any waterproofing product at your work boots is what product is best for the material of which your work boots are made of!

That’s why you’ll need a different product for nubuck and suede leather and also for fabric uppers.

Clean nubuck/suede & fabric work boots with cleaning gel

As we said earlier, we want to avoid saddle soap for these types of materials. I’ve used this footwear cleaning gel to clean my nubuck leather work boots and the ones that have a mix of leather and synthetic material in the upper.

The process is very simple.

  • Brush the boot

    First, you want to make sure you remove as much dirt as possible from the upper using a soft rush. You want to avoid having things like soil on the boot since mixing it with the cleaning gel will only make things worse.
  • Apply the cleaning gel

    Now that the boots are clean as possible, apply as much cleaning gel as you want. Don’t be shy, it’s not going to ruin the leather or anything.
  • Brush the upper

    Use a small brush with soft hairs to help the product penetrate the leather and get all that dirt out of the boots for you.
  • Clean

    Wipe the upper with a paper towel to remove the excess and most of the dirt. Additionally, you can use a cloth to remove additional dirt and also let the boot a bit dryer for the next step which will be waterproofing them.
  • Let it dry

    Not everybody has the patience or the time to let them dry before waterproofing them. Some people like to apply waterproofing products whilst the boot is still a bit moist.

    I don’t know if it makes any difference or not … I personally like to let them dry for the rest of the day.

Products I’ve used to waterproof my work boots

Here are the different types of products I’ve used to waterproof my work boots, either for this article or in the past:

But which one should you use?

Don’t worry, you won’t leave this site without an answer to this question! By the way, I did a separate article in which I show you how I use mink oil on my work boots.

Waterproofing different types of work boots materials

Ok so let’s see how to waterproof the different types of materials that work boots are made of and which waterproofing products work best for each one.

1. Smooth leather

I consider smooth leather all leathers that are NOT suede or nubuck. Most work boots are made with this type of leather and are the easiest to maintain, condition, and waterproof.

For this type of leather you can use these products in order to waterproof your boots:

  • Bee wax
  • Silicone spray
  • Liquid mink oil
  • Mink oil paste

For this article, I’ve used bee wax.

How to waterproof smooth leather work boots

Apply the wax to the leather using any clean cloth you might have around the house (I always have some from cutting my old t-shirts).

You can use a hairdryer to either warm the leather a little bit or to warm the wax (or do both if you want). Doing this will make it easier to apply the wax. If your work boots have a Goodyear welt construction, then it’s a good idea to cover those stitches in wax as well.

Now just work that wax into the leather and when you’re done, leave them aside for a few hours. For an extra quality result, you can polish and buffer the boots.

Can you start using them straight away? Yes, you can.

2. Suede & nubuck leather

These types of leather work boots are much more sensitive and you must be more careful not only in relation to what products you use to waterproof them but also how much you apply.

I’d avoid at all costs using mink oil on suede/nubuck leather work boots and bee wax since these will create an extra layer on top of the leather, destroying the “fluffy” texture of these types of leather.

To waterproof nubuck/suede leather work boots you have to clean them as mentioned above with cleaning gel, NOT saddle soap Let them dry, and then apply eighter:

  • Mink oil spray
  • Silicone spray
  • Waterproofing spray

How to waterproof suede, nubuck & fabric work boots

For this article, I’ve used the silicone spray and I took a risk since I never used it before and the only way I could find out for sure what can happen is by trying it on my own work boots.

Grab your silicone spray, hold it at around 15-20cm away from the boot and apply as much as it’s needed in order to cover properly the whole area of the upper.

Editor Note

Do not use it indoors. The smell is extremely strong. Additionally use plastic gloves if you have some. If you touch the product it will make your hands sticky for a little bit. Quite annoying. If you do end up touching the product, use wet baby wipes. They do miracles.

After you’ve applied the spray to the boots, leave them to dry for an hour, and for best results don’t use them straight away. Leave them to curate overnight.

One thing you should know about this type of waterproofing is that it doesn’t last that long. The manufacturer recommends using the spray every two weeks or so to renew the waterproofing of the boots.

3. Textile

Believe it or not, textile work boots are more sensitive than leather work boots. You can’t put mink oil or wax on them. It will mess up the material badly in the long run.

For this type of work boots, you have to use silicone waterproofing spray.

Follow the same process as before. Clean the boots using soap and water or some special fabric cleaner. There are a ton out there.

DON’T USE SADDLE SOAP FOR THIS. That’s because saddle soap contains wax and it will damage the fabric. Then you just have to apply the silicone spray generously and leave it to dry for at least 60 minutes.

4. Mixed – Leather & fabric

Some work boots are made with a mix of leather and some kind of synthetic material. Take for example my Wolverine Overpass work boots.

Half of the upper is made with full-grain leather and the other half is made with some kind of man-made material (not sure what is it, but it’s not leather).

This is the type of work boot that will make you work harder since you have to clean and waterproof two types of materials with two different type of products.

If you want to do it 100% correctly, you’ll have to clean the synthetic material with soap for fabrics and the leather part with saddle soap.

How to waterproof leather & fabric work boots

When it comes to waterproofing leather and fabric work boots you have two options:

  1. Seal the leather with bee wax or mink oil paste and the fabric with the silicone spray (being mindful of not putting wax on the fabric or the silicone spray on the leather).
  2. First apply mink oil on the leather so it stays moisturized, and then apply silicone spray on the whole boot.

But wait…you said we should not put silicone over the leather! What’s different now???

Yes, that’s what I said, but in this case, between the leather and the silicon layer, there’s a layer of oil that will protect the leather.

For this article, I went with the first option. I’ve used the waterproofing spray for the non-leather parts and beeswax for the leather parts.

How often should you waterproof your work boots?

It really depends on what type of work you’re doing and how much abuse your work boots are being put through.

Are you working in construction? Then your construction work boots will need this process once per month, at least that’s what I do.

Do you work in the office? Obviously, being indoors more, you won’t need to waterproof your work boots that often. Maybe every 3 months or so will do.

An easy way to know if it’s time to re-do the waterproofing process is to sprinkle a few drops of water on top of your work boots.

If the water forms little bubbles and slides off the boot, then you’re still good.

On the other hand, if the water remains on the boots and it seems like is getting absorbed by the leather, then you can bet it’s time to bring out the tools for a new waterproofing session.

in one instance you have my non-waterproofed work boot and in another instance, we have my work boot after being waterproofed.

How long the waterproofing lasts?

Again, it will hugely depend on your line of work. In my experience, the waterproof effect starts to go away after one month and a half more or less (that’s doing a lot of outdoor and indoor medium to heavy-duty construction work).

Some waterproofing products will specify for how long your work boots will be watertight. In the case of the Kiwi spray, the waterproofing lasts for around 2 weeks MAX. And then you have to do it all over again.

Do all work boots need to be waterproofed?

Some work boots manufacturers apply some of the products mentioned in this article to their boots in the manufacturing process. So some work boots are good waterproof work boots, but even so, as we’ve seen above, they won’t remain waterproof forever.

They need to be waterproofed periodically by yourself. Yes, even if they have a waterproof membrane. The membrane is for the inside of the boot.

Waterproofing the outside you’ll just add another layer of assurance that at the end of a long shift, your feet will still be dry.

Do these solutions REALLY make your work boots 100% waterproof?

In all honesty, the only 100% waterproof work boots are the boots that are made of rubber, and neoprene, just like the ones used by people working with wet concrete or working at the farm, and maybe GORE-TEX.

Leather will always allow some water to come through, no matter how waterproof a brand will say their boots are in their product description.

What we’re achieving with these “waterproofing hacks” included in this article is making our work boots water-repellent.

Watch the YouTube video if you prefer

The takaway

If you want to have healthy feet, you have to first, buy good footwear, and secondly, you must take care of your footwear.

You’re in your work boots more than you’re with your family or friends or anywhere else for that matter. So it’s very important that your feet stay safe and comfortable.

Having wet feet or soaked socks is the most annoying thing when you’re at work. But now, after I’ve shared with you how I waterproof my work boots using different types of waterproofing products and solutions, you, my friend, have no excuse to not keep your feet dry.

Team Members Working On This Page

Victor Adrian – Editor And Webmaster

Construction Professional, driver, crane operator, cleaner, head chef … these are just some of the jobs I did in the past. Working in all these different environments taught me that having good footwear to protect your feet from different dangers at work IS PARAMOUNT for any worker! On this website, I aim to share all my knowledge and personal experience in dealing with different footwear and foot care issues, and hopefully, you can get something out of it. Enjoy!

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