How To Waterproof Fabric: Leather Shoes, Clothing, And More

Waterproofing leather is one of the easiest ways to extend its life. Learn what products are out there and how you can protect your favorite leathers.

Water and leather do not mix. Leather that has been dampened or exposed to excessive amounts of moisture, loses its natural oils, leaving you with stained, dry, stiff material.

Waterproofing involves applying a surface coat to leather that will help to preserve its quality, workmanship and value. When you waterproof something, you're providing a barrier that water cannot penetrate.


There are several different types of leather which are used in making many different products. It is of utmost importance to know which type of leather you're dealing with. Harsh silicone sprays and waxes, for example, cannot be used on thin, delicate split leathers. Likewise, you would receive inadequate waterproofing protection from a nubuck leather coating if you applied it to a work or hiking boot.


How much protection you want to apply to your leather is up to you. Items that will be used outdoors frequently in damp or wet conditions should be treated with maximum protection. Boots and shoes worn during cold winter months, most often benefit from heavy oils, waxes and dressings. Dress gloves, nubuck shoes, and suede coats that are only exposed to a minimal amount of moisture need not be treated in the same way.


Before waterproofing anything, it's always best to perform a "spot check" Many leather cleaners and protectors can change the color or texture of leather. Find a small patch of leather and treat the spot, allowing it to soak in overnight. If you're satisfied with the result, go ahead and treat the rest of the product.


Split leathers, such as suede and nubuck, should never be treated traditional oils, waxes or silicone sprays. Heavy duty oils and waxes change the color and texture of delicate leathers. When shopping for an appropriate waterproofing product for these leathers, look for one that specifically states it can treat nubuck and suede.


Heavy duty dressings and waterproofing oils and waxes are sold as brush-on or rub-on products. They are usually oil based and combine tanning agents (to help extend the life of your leather) with waterproofing agents (that bond to the material). This type of waterproofing works well on products containing mixed ingredients (nylon and leather), heavy work and hiking boots, baseball and softball mitts, and other outdoor leathers. Many heavy oils, such as mink oil, also condition leather, leaving your product soft and supple.


Sprays are a bit more convenient than dressings and take significantly less time to apply. Silicone sprays repel water and give material a slippery feel. Oil based silicone spray is perfect for boots, shoes, jackets, mittens and other garments. Water based silicone spray can be used on more delicate leathers, like suede and nubuck, car seats, office furniture, briefcases and thin garments. Because silicone does change the texture of the leather, you may not appreciate the slippery quality on your favorite baseball glove.

Acrylic copolymer sprays are best used on split or nappy leathers. This type of spray covers leather well, but remains flexible and still allows the material to breathe. This is a good covering for nubuck and suede.


No matter what type of treatment you use, you will need to reapply it from time to time. All forms of waterproofing rub off eventually, leaving your leather unprotected. Outdoor leathers should be treated four times per year. Most other items need only be treated twice a year.


Waxes, oils and dressings are sold as a fairly solid material. They can be applied with a soft cotton rag or shoe brush. To reap the benefits of this type of product, follow these guidelines:

1. Remove all excess dirt and debris from the leather you want to coat. Pay careful attention to seams and stitching. Leather can be brushed or scrubbed.

2. Using a clean cloth or brush, apply a generous amount of product on all areas of the leather. Be sure to thoroughly coat seams.

3. Using a brush or cloth, work product into the leather as evenly as possible.

4. Using a clean rag, wipe off excess oil, wax or dressing from the leather.

5. Allow to stand overnight.


1. Clean leather you will be treating with a soft cloth.

2. Hold can 6 inches away from leather and spray an even coat over material.

3. Allow leather to dry completely.

4. Repeat, as necessary.

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