Should you keep your leather boots out of the rain?
Getting caught in a thunderstorm won’t ruin the leather, and a sudden downpour shouldn’t affect your boots at all. Problems will arise, though, if your leather boots are subjected to prolonged contact with water.
If you’re caught out in the rain briefly, drying your boots with a cloth will suffice. But if you’re thinking about wading through inches of water or mud for any length of time, consider investing in a boot dryer to dry your boots gently without damaging the leather.
The forecast says there’s a potential for rain, but you really want to wear your leather boots today; what do you do? You’ve paid good money for your sweet pair of leather boots; you know you look the business, do you want to put a pair of Wellingtons on just in case? So what should you do if you’re unsure what will actually happen to your boots if you wear them in the rain?
It’s simple, wear them.
Leather is a sturdy material that can handle a sudden downpour. You only need to worry if that downpour suddenly turns into a prolonged torrent.
Wearing leather boots in the rain needn’t be a problem; you just need to know how to maintain and protect them if they do get wet. Luckily for us, while we wait for someone to invent an Otter-skin boot, I know just what to do to keep your leather boots in action.
Leather Boots in the Rain: What You Need to Know
Many people aren’t aware that their sturdy, good-looking, tough leather boots only have one serious Achilles heel; water damage. A well-maintained leather boot can last for years, and you can wear them daily. Heat doesn’t affect them; leather breathes better than many materials, and they don’t mind the cold, but prolonged water exposure can strain your boots seriously.
The plus side is that you can wear your leather boots in the rain. I’m not saying never venture outside in them if you’re worried about it raining; it’s all about managing risk and knowing how to care for your boots when they do get wet.
Water and dampness aren’t the number one killer of leather boots; neglect is, which is why information is power, so let’s go through what happens to a pair of wet leather boots and how best to avoid any permanent damage.
What Happens to Leather Boots When They Get Wet?
Leather is a porous material, and when water is allowed to soak into your leather boot, it can alter the shape and texture of the leather, especially on the way out. A great article can be found at Leatherskill.com, an authority on all things leather crafted. Any natural oil and moisture in the leather can come out with the water as your boot dries. This can lead to cracked, warped, and fraying leather.
Much like the skin of your hands looks different after a long bath (don’t forget, leather is skin), leather will also warp after getting wet for long periods. The difference is that your body will replace any oils and moisture; leather won’t. Occasionally getting rain on your boots won’t affect them, but it’s always worth drying them when you can.
Saltwater is even worse than rainwater for leather boots, and salt is like Kryptonite for boots, as the larger crystals can seep into wet leather and then expand as they dry, causing severe cracking to the leather. Left unchecked, a salty leather boot is doomed, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Another part of a leather boot that can be affected by rain or dampness is the sole, as some dress boots come with a leather sole that looks fantastic but won’t like being out in the rain too often. If your boots also have a leather sole, I suggest you check out our Pros and Cons of Leather Soles review, where we look at the benefits of a leather sole and how best to look after them.
Can You Fix Discolored Leather Boots?
While leather boots can handle the rain just fine, sometimes you may notice a slight discoloration of the leather. This could just be a case of the leather still being damp, so I suggest drying the boot carefully. Use a clean towel, ensure the boot is clean, and then allow it to dry naturally before making any rash decisions; the discoloration could be gone by morning.
If the discoloration is still there, I would apply a conditioner to the leather; mink oil is an excellent choice in this situation as it will invariably alter the color of your boots anyway. Mink oil will not only add a layer of protection to your boots but also darkens the leather, covering any blemishes.
Does Wet Leather go Moldy?
If you live in a humid climate with plenty of moisture and heat in the air, you run the risk of your boots going moldy. You can’t affect the weather, but there are ways to combat mold growing on your leather boots. Keeping them clean is incredibly important, don’t give anything that’s stuck to your boot a chance to go moldy.
If you get your leather boots wet, wipe them as soon as possible with a damp cloth and allow them to dry at room temperature. Make sure they get plenty of air, too, don’t throw them in a closet to dry. Let the leather breathe as it dries naturally, and you’re unlikely to see any mold growing on your favorite pair of boots.
Water Resistant Vs. Waterproof
It might be obvious, but there’s a difference between waterproof and water resistant. Wellington boots are waterproof; they’re built to keep the elements out. While leather boots are only water resistant, they’ll keep the rain away from your socks; a pair of smart leather boots aren’t designed to be worn while fishing.
How to Waterproof Your Boots
Ultimately, if you’re after waterproof boots, leather isn’t the way to go. At best, you can make your boots water resistant, and there are several ways to do this. My favorite option is mink oil, a leather conditioner that will help repel water from your leather boots.
A word of warning, mink oil will change the color of your leather boots, so if you’re against altering the color of the leather slightly, don’t use mink oil. Before applying the mink oil, ensure you’ve thoroughly cleaned your boots, then place them on a dry, flat surface where the boots can be left to absorb the oil. Applying mink oil is as easy as 1-2-3.
1. Put on a pair of rubber or latex gloves
While wearing gloves, scoop out some of the mink oil and dab it onto the leather.
2. Rub the oil into the leather
Using your finger, rub the mink oil into the leather. Use a circular motion to spread the oil into the pores of the leather, and make sure you pay special attention to the seams and welts of the boot. Apply the oil evenly over the boot, especially the toe, which is usually the most abused part of a boot.
Once you’ve done one boot, set it aside and repeat the process until both boots have a coating of mink oil. Place both boots in a dry, warm area, and give them about 10 minutes for the oil to soak in.
3. Buff the boots with a microfiber cloth
Using the same circular motion you used to apply the mink oil, use the cloth to buff the surface of your leather boots. Your goal here is to remove any excess oil from the boots and add a sheen to the boots that will last for several weeks. Once complete, leave your boots for a few hours to completely absorb any remaining oil.
And that’s it. You’re good to go; your boots aren’t waterproof, but the mink oil will help repel water and add new life to your boots. If you’d like a more comprehensive look at how to use mink oil, we have an in-depth Mink Oil for Boots guide where we cover any questions you might have.
For those of you who prefer to see mink oil in action, we’ve got you covered there, too, so why not check out our YouTube video on How to Mink Oil Leather Boots?
Alternatives to Waterproofing
If mink oil isn’t for you, there are alternatives on the market; Huberd’s Shoe Grease waterproofs and conditions leather without the use of mink oil. It’s also a great way to recondition old leather boots.
It darkens leather like crazy. And it smells like bacon. But it will seriously waterproof your leather. All pine tar and beeswax, baby.
Silicone spray is another alternative, and although it works great, you’ll need to re-apply the spray at least weekly. I recommend the KIWI Shoe Waterproofer Protector; it does exactly what it says on the tin. I would advise you to use this spray when you know it’s going to rain, but always assume that you’ll need to re-apply it within a week.
Lastly, I’ve heard of people carrying a few plastic bags around with them, so they can wear the plastic bags over their leather boots if it rains. Personally, I would rather take my boots off and walk home in my socks. But as an emergency measure, and only if your boots are one of a kind, it could work.
How to Dry Wet Boots
If your immediate thought is “leave them until they’re dry,” I’ve got to you just in time because how you dry your boots can be as important a choice as how you maintain them. You didn’t spend an hour lovingly conditioning your leather boots only to throw them in a cupboard until you need them again.
Don’t leave boots to dry in front of a fire or radiator; the water that evaporates quickly will leave dry cracks in your boots, potentially ruining them. Warped boots are no good to anyone, but thankfully there are several ways to dry your boots safely.
Using Old Newspaper or Towels
You can use old newspapers to soak up the moisture from your boots; simply stuff balls of paper into your boot, from the toe to the top of the shaft, and then wrap the boot up in newspaper like it’s a Christmas present. The paper soon begins to soak up the moisture, and you can repeat the process a few times to help it along.
You can do the same thing with towels if you wish; the process, and the result, are the same. Why not check out our complete guide on How to Dry Your Boots? We show several great ways to dry your boots safely, which will help keep them in perfect working order. Protecting your boots is as much about how you dry them as it is how you condition them.
If you need your boots back in perfect condition, I recommend using a boot dryer; they’re the safest and most hygienic way to dry your leather boots. A boot dryer is cost-effective to run, and can make all the difference when drying your leather boots. Some leather boots are incredibly expensive; weigh up the cost of a dryer over the cost of replacing your boots.
I appreciate they might not be for everyone, but the benefits of adequately drying wet leather boots can’t be overestimated. A dryer like the Peet Dryer will quietly dry your boots, remove any odors, and effectively protect your leather boots from getting damaged.
The PEET Original 2-Shoe and Boot Dryer is the easiest, most reliable, and most hands-off dryer we've found. You just pop your boots on the dry ports at the end of the day and forget about them until they’re ready. It doesn’t use a lot of electricity, so you don’t have to worry about unplugging it when it’s done, and it’s completely silent.
Several great boot dryers are available depending on your needs, and our guide on the 7 Best Boot Dryers to Keep Your Boots Dry and Clean covers every eventuality. If you often work away from home and need a portable boot dryer, our guide even covers that too.
Wearing your leather boots in the rain doesn’t have to be a big deal once you know how to take care of your boots. Mink oil is my preferred method of conditioning my leather boots, and for those times when my boots do get a soaking, the Peet Dryer is a silent but effective way to dry them properly.
Hopefully, you now feel ready to wear your leather boots in all weathers; and if you’re looking for more great boot-related content, why not subscribe to the BootSpy YouTube channel? Who knows, it could just save your favorite pair of boots.
Can you wear your leather boots in the snow?
Wearing leather boots in the snow can ruin them, especially if salt has been put down to try and melt the snow. You can wear leather boots in the snow, and they will grip just fine, but the moisture from the snow, and any potential grit or salt used to melt it, can destroy the leather.
Will rain ruin leather boots?
Rain, or prolonged contact with water, will only ruin leather boots if you don’t take measures to clean and protect them before and after use. Water damages leather over time; it’s what steps you take during that time that determines whether your boots are ruined or not.
What boots should you wear in the rain?
If the weather is bad enough, avoid wearing leather boots; Wellington boots, hiking boots, and any other specifically waterproof boot is the preferred choice. Muck boots are a superb option as they can look great and are designed to be waterproof.