In this guide:
Winter weather can be a nightmare for your shoes and feet. When wet weather strikes, it can completely ruin your shoes if they aren’t suitable for the conditions. So why not do the sensible thing and take action before the heavens open by waterproofing your boots, trainers and shoes?
How do waterproof shoes work?
Waterproof shoes are uniquely designed to prevent water from entering, keeping your feet nice and dry. While they won’t protect your feet from the water completely, they’ll do a great job at keeping your feet well-protected from those rainy autumnal days.
Typically, waterproof shoes feature a membrane, like Gore-Tex or eVent, which has microscopic pores that are too small for water droplets but large enough for moisture vapour from sweat to escape. This allows your feet to breathe while staying dry. The shoe’s seams are also sealed tight to prevent any water that may seep through stitching holes.
Additionally, durable water-repellent (DWR) treatments are applied to the shoe’s exterior to make the water bead up and roll off, further enhancing waterproofing.
How to choose which treatment is best for waterproofing your shoes or boots
Waterproof shoes are made from complex materials that require extra care to keep your feet drier for longer. But when it comes to knowing what treatment you should use on your shoes, you should consider what material you are working with, how much you intend to wear these shoes and what are their purpose – are you planning long autumnal hikes or just need some footwear for a rainy afternoon around town?
Different materials may require specific treatments, so ensure the product is suitable for your shoes. Heavy-duty outdoor activities demand high-performance treatments, while casual use may require lighter options. But for breathable shoes, pick treatments that maintain breathability.
Be aware of potential colour changes, and opt for products that won’t affect your shoes’ appearance if colour preservation is essential. Additionally, consider environmental concerns; opt for eco-friendly and non-toxic products if sustainability is a priority. Finally, always test a small area first to ensure compatibility with your shoes.
How to waterproof your shoes?
While nothing will make your shoes waterproof forever, there are things you can do to make them more water resistant. These methods and products will coat and protect your shoes in the short-term.
- Waterproof spray. Waterproof spraying your shoes is an essential step in shoe care. It’s important to note that various materials require specific waterproof sprays. These sprays are particularly favoured for materials like suede, as they effectively protect without compromising the delicate texture.
The waterproof spray forms a protective barrier against moisture, dirt and stains. In fact, it ensures that your shoes stay in great condition even in the most unpredictable weather. Just remember to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and apply the spray in a well-ventilated area for the best results.
BEST FOR: canvas shoes and suede shoes
- Nikwax. This brand produces waxes and gels that can waterproof leather and fabric shoes. Its products act as a water repellent while helping revive your shoes’ appearance.
It’s also very simple to use. First, ensure your shoes are clean. Choose the appropriate Nikwax product based on the shoe material, and apply it with a sponge or cloth, paying attention to seams. Then let the shoes air dry away from direct heat. You can repeat the process for added protection, especially if you wear the shoes daily.
To check the water repellency, sprinkle a few drops of water on the shoes; if it beads up and rolls off, your shoes are now effectively waterproofed, ready to keep your feet dry in wet conditions.
BEST FOR: leather shoes
- Silicone. Some waterproof sprays are silicone-based, which is good for all types of shoes. This is handy if you have several pairs of shoes and boots that are made from different materials.
To apply, start with clean and dry shoes. Spray an even, light coat of silicone spray over the entire surface of the shoes, ensuring you cover all seams and stitching. Next, allow the shoes to dry naturally, avoiding direct heat sources. For extra protection, a second coat can be applied once the first one is dry.
BEST FOR: all shoes
- Beeswax. Beeswax is a natural and effective method to waterproof shoes. To apply, warm the beeswax by rubbing it gently onto the shoe’s surface until it melts. Make sure you have complete coverage, paying attention to seams and creases. Next, use a hairdryer to help distribute the wax evenly and absorb excess. Once the wax has cooled and solidified, your shoes will be water-resistant, keeping your feet dry and your footwear protected in wet conditions.
BEST FOR: canvas shoes
- Candle wax: A candle makes a great DIY substitution for beeswax. Simply rub a candle over your shoes. You’ll want to do this until the shoe is a lighter colour from the wax rubbing off on the shoes. When the entire shoe is covered, take a hairdryer on the highest setting and warm the wax up. You will know this is done when the shoes have gone back to their original colour.
BEST FOR: canvas shoes & trainers
- Vaseline. If you’re having problems with your leather shoes, you can always use Vaseline to waterproof your shoes temporarily. Start with clean, dry shoes. Then, apply a thin, even layer of Vaseline to the shoe’s surface, ensuring the seams are well-covered. Make sure to use a cloth or sponge to spread it evenly. Next, wipe off any excess.
The vaseline should create a water-resistant barrier, keeping your shoes dry in wet conditions, although reapplication may be necessary.
BEST FOR: leather shoes
- Oils. Beeswax, mink oil or coconut oils are all great options when it comes to waterproofing your shoes. First, ensure your shoes are clean and thoroughly dry. Then, apply a thin, even layer of your chosen oil to the shoe’s surface, paying extra attention to seams and stitching. To enhance their absorption, you can gently heat the oiled shoes using a hairdryer or natural sunlight.
You should make sure you reapply the oil periodically to maintain the waterproofing effect and keep your shoes protected from moisture.
BEST FOR: dark-coloured shoes
- Creams. To make your shoes waterproof with creams, opt for a high-quality shoe cream or waterproofing cream designed for your shoe’s material.
Start with clean, dry shoes. Apply a generous but even layer of the cream to the shoe’s surface, focusing on seams and stitching. Allow it to absorb for a few hours or as per the product instructions. Then, repeat the application periodically to maintain the waterproofing. These creams not only repel water but also nourish and protect the shoe material.
BEST FOR: leather boots
- Pastes. Waterproofing your shoes with pastes is another great option for repelling against the elements. Begin with clean, dry shoes. Apply the paste in an even layer over the shoe’s surface, with extra attention to seams and stitching. Allow it to set and absorb as directed by the product’s instructions. This will help form a waterproof barrier. Every now and then, reapply the paste to maintain waterproofing.
BEST FOR: any colour shoes
We’d always recommend testing out any waterproofing method on a small area of your shoe or boot before the full application. Some products and DIY methods may change the appearance or colour of the shoe, so do take care to test before you dive in.
Wax v Beeswax: which is the better way to waterproof shoes?
There are two main wax-based products for waterproofing shoes, each with its own set of pros and cons:
- Wax – will provide some weather protection for your shoes as well as helping them look shiny and healthy, but will need repeating often in order for your shoes to stay waterproof.
- Beeswax – is a better barrier as the product forms a layer over the shoe rather than soaking in. However, beeswax will not provide the best shine or look, and after a few layers of the product it may alter the appearance of your shoe.
Choosing your product depends on what is most important to you – longevity, looks or performance.
How to waterproof leather shoes and boots
Waterproofing your leather trainers and shoes is a simple process. Just follow these six steps every time you waterproof your leather shoes for the best results:
- Clean your shoes, remove the laces and wipe down
- Use saddle soap and water to rub away any scuffs
- Don’t get the leather too wet and don’t let shoes dry out in the sun
- Polish your shoes using a soft, clean cloth to apply the polish
- Use circular motions to go over the polish with a clean cloth to remove any excess
- Rub or spray your waterproofing method of choice into the leather
How to waterproof walking boots
Walking boots need to be as waterproof as possible to keep your feet warm and dry in a downpour half the way up a mountain. Even if your hikes aren’t quite that strenuous, getting caught short with wet feet miles away from home is never a good look, so here’s our tips for making your walking boots waterproof.
- Thoroughly clean any mud and dirt off of your boots using a stiff bristle brush then wiping with a rag.
- Warm up the leather a little with a hair dryer, as warm leather absorbs sealant better.
- Apply the sealant with a rag evenly across the shoes.
- Buff the excess sealant over the boot and let it dry.
Dubbin wax is another good way to waterproof walking shoes. Again you need to follow the steps above, then instead of sealant, apply some of the dubbin wax to a cloth and rub all over the boots evenly.
Leave the wax to dry naturally for as long as need, usually 30-60 minutes. To finish it off, buff the wax off with a dry cloth. With fabric walking boots, it’s the same process although you will need to finish with a waterproof spray instead. The instructions on how to use the spray should be printed on the bottle.
When is a good time to waterproof my shoes?
It’s never too early to waterproof your shoes, as you never know when buckets of rain or snow are going to make an appearance. Make sure you and your shoes are always primed for the wet weather. Whichever waterproofing method works best for your shoes, repeat it every few months to stay dry whatever the weather throws at you.
How to maintain waterproofed shoes
And the maintenance doesn’t stop there… To keep your feet nice and dry this winter, as well as nice and clean, you should try to stick to a cleaning routine. All you need to do is use a soft brush or cloth and some gentle soap to wipe off any surface debris. Once they’re starting to look as good as new, go ahead and reapply the waterproofing treatment. Then, allow your wet shoes to air dry naturally, avoiding direct heat sources. You should also store your waterproof shoes in a cool, dry place to prevent any deterioration.
While this may seem a little bit of a hassle, routine care will help prolong the waterproofing and the overall longevity of your footwear.
For some inspiration on getting out and about in your newly waterproofed shoes, why not take a look at our top winter walking tips?