Wet Shoes are Bad

It’s that time of year again when most of us have to run, walk, or stand in the rain at one point or another (Fall in the northern hemisphere and Spring in the southern hemisphere).

As a child, jumping in and running through puddles had a certain allure. But do you remember what your mom did with your shoes when you got home? Neither do I, because I simply didn’t care: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”.

As a man, not only do you understand how to appreciate nice things, you should know how to care for them as well.

In reality there is no way to truly waterproof your shoes without ruining the leather, or wearing goulashes. However you can protect the leather from incidental exposure to water by adding a protective coating to your shoes (this is commonly referred to as waterproofing).

There are only three types of protection you can apply to shoe leather:
1. Oils
2. Wax
3. Silicone

Most spray protectors contain silicone, which is believed to dry out the protein bonds in leather, so I would avoid using waterproofing that come in a spray can.

The two most common oils used for waterproofing are neatsfoot oil and mink oil. Mink oil is used more commonly than neatsfoot oil.

When using oil as a protector keep in mind that oils like mink and neatsfoot can darken the leather to some degree. Also note that some mink oil mixtures made for waterproofing contain silicone and should be avoided.

The most common wax used as a protector is beeswax. Products like SNO-SEAL use beeswax (they also have a silicone product, that I would suggest avoiding for shoes).
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Since most paste shoe polish contains a high ratio of wax to oil (usually beeswax), I tend to just add a couple extra layers of paste polish this time of year. On shoes I know I will be wearing in the rain and/or snow (not my best dress shoes), I will add some mink oil when conditioning the shoes.

While applying a protector to your shoes is a prophylactic procedure, you also need to know what to do once a shoe has gotten wet.

First and foremost, do not try to force dry a wet shoe, that will do more damage than anything else you could do short of throwing them into a wood chipper. This means don’t set your shoes next to the heater vent, or dry them with a blow dryer. Setting them on a sunny stoop is ok. Mostly just let them air out in normal room temperature.

Some people suggest stuffing the shoes with newspaper while they dry. This helps absorb the water and gives the shoe leather some support as it dries. If the shoes are not too wet you can just use the shoe trees you normally have in the shoes (you do have shoe trees right?).

Once the shoes are dry again they should be conditioned with leather conditioner/oil and, if desired, waterproofed again as well.

If shoes are left damp for a length of time (a couple weeks, or even a couple of days if the conditions are right) they can develop mold spores which are almost impossible to get out of the shoe leather.
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While some suggest using vinegar to remove mold, it simply does not work on shoe leather. Because Leather is acidic to begin with any mold that thrives on an acidic substrate will not be affected to any great degree by the acetic acid in vinegar. A chlorine solution is about the only way to kill mold spores in leather, and I wouldn’t suggest doing that to your shoes unless you are an expert with chlorine.

2 thoughts on “Wet Shoes are Bad

  1. Hi, in this article you say that silicone dries out the protein bonds in leather and should be avoided. Are you only referring to petroleum based silicones, or water-based silicones as well? I’ve been trying to get a clear answer about if water-based silicones are bad for leather and can’t seem to find it. Hoping you can help. Thanks.

    • Silicone is silicone, but the carrier does have some relevance to how impactful it is to leather. Personally, I would not use anything with silicone in it, but water based silicone is less binding than petroleum based silicone so it is easier to remove.

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