Pulling on boots

New Rules on Leather Boot Care

Boot manufacturers are coming out with new technologies every season. That means boots are performing cool new tricks, like better durability, more lightweight, improved safety, and better waterproofing. It’s that last one, though, that can throw us for a loop when it comes to leather boot care.

Waterproofing technologies are changing the rules on what you can and can’t use to condition your leather.

To learn the new rules, start inside the boot with waterproof liners. These liners in leather boots are the biggest factor in determining which products you can and can’t use to keep the exterior leather in shape.

If You Have a Waterproof Liner

Some manufacturers' products come with a waterproof liner. Even if the exterior is leather, the inside liner limits the products you can use to condition the leather.

Waterproof boots are made with proprietary fabrics and technologies, like Gore-Tex, Keen.Dry, Carhartt Storm Defender, and Ariat’s Waterproof Pro, just to name a few.

This means there is a breathable liner on the inside of your boot that won’t let water in and will let air and vapor out. This also means that you need to be pickier about the leather care products you use.

Putting the wrong ingredients on your leather will cut off the waterproof liner’s breathability. When the waterproof liner can’t breathe, you lock in sweat. And when you lock in moisture from sweat, you will deteriorate your boot from the inside out.

See examples of footwear that is leather and waterproof.

The solution?

Read the ingredients list and follow this simple rule of thumb: avoid silicone and other plastic ingredients. Silicone will most certainly keep water out, but it seals off airflow and locks the moisture from sweat inside your boot’s footbed. Two great options that Murdoch’s carries are Obenauf’s Leather Paste and Skidmore’s Leather Cream.

Obenauf’s Heavy Duty LP comes in 4 or 8-ounce containers. See more details.

Skidmore’s Leather Cream comes in 6 or 17-ounce containers. See more details.

Both Obenauf’s and Skidmore’s are conditioning creams that use natural oils and beeswax. These natural ingredients achieve the following:

  • Condition leather to keep it from drying and cracking
  • Support the breathability of your waterproof liners
  • Cause water to bead on the surface of the leather, reducing water penetration from the get-go

How to Apply Cream Conditioner

If You Don't Have A Waterproof Liner

If your boots do not have a waterproof liner like the ones we just addressed above, then you need to think about the purpose of your footwear, first and foremost. Keep these basic rules of thumb in mind:

  1. Leather Oils will condition and darken your leather.
  2. Leather Creams will condition, provide water repellency, and lift color from dyes in a good way. They will also darken leather.
  3. Sprays will waterproof your leather, but lock in sweat and moisture.
  4. Polish will fancy up your boots with color and shine and are usually applied to military boots or dress shoes/boots, which need a buffed or shiny finish.

Leather creams with natural ingredients (like Skidmore’s being applied in this photo) are the most universally applicable products on the market. If you don’t have a preference or specific leather boot in mind, go with a non-silicone cream.

Your safest bet is to stick with a cream like Obenauf’s or Skidmore’s because they’ll give you all of the attributes in one, easy application. Here are a few scenarios when you might use other products:

  • Mucking stalls, or otherwise spending time in manure or chemicals: Don’t wear leather. Wear Muck Boots, and treat them with a rubber conditioner to extend the life of the boots.
  • Hunting: If you have a hunting boot that doesn’t have a waterproof liner, then you need new boots. Grab yourself a waterproof pair.
  • Riding: Any leather cream or oil will do the trick, like Obenauf’s or Skidmore’s. You can also use more traditional products like pitch blends, mink oil (if you can afford it), or Huberd’s grease.
  • Wildfire Fighting: Obenauf’s and Skidmore’s will keep you compliant with NFPA 1977-2011 31 DR.
  • Date Night and Dancing: Obenauf’s or Skidmore’s conditioner does the trick. If you are only concerned with polishing the color of dyed leather, look to Melatonin cream. (It’s a great polish… it’s not a cream, even though the company uses that word in the product name.)
  • Fabric Exterior: Kiwi Camp Dry is really best for adding waterproofing to fabrics that aren’t waterproof, like untreated cotton. It’s not good for leather, even though the manufacturer will tell you differently.

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