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Can Leather Cowboy Boots Get Wet? 5 Tips to Protect Boots

Last updated: November 21, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

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Leather cowboy boots can withstand getting wet to a certain extent, especially when properly treated with a water-resistant conditioner. However, constant exposure to moisture without adequate care can compromise the overall integrity and structure of the boots. Regular maintenance is essential to ensure they remain in excellent condition, even in challenging wet environments.

Living in south Louisiana, where wet conditions are common, has shown me the importance of protecting cowboy boots from moisture. This article offers five essential tips to maintain your leather cowboy boots in top condition, even when they get wet. By following these steps, you can ensure your boots remain durable and retain their appearance over time.

Picture of me walking in a puddle with my leather cowboy boots.
My Ariat Workhogs

Understanding Leather and Moisture

Leather, a popular material for cowboy boots, has a unique relationship with water. It’s like a sponge, absorbing moisture, which can change its properties and appearance. When leather gets wet, it swells and becomes softer. This might not seem bad at first, but it’s not that simple.

How Leather Reacts to Water: When your leather boots get soaked, the water penetrates the leather fibers, causing them to expand. Initially, this makes the leather more flexible, but as it dries, it can shrink and become stiffer than before. This process can also lead to the leather losing its original shape, getting wrinkles, or even cracking if repeated often.

Types of Leather: Not all leather is the same. Some boots are made from full-grain leather, which includes the outermost layer of the animal skin and is quite durable. Others might be made from suede or nubuck, which are more water-sensitive. Knowing your boot’s leather type is crucial because different types need different care methods, especially regarding water exposure.

Short-term vs. Long-term Effects: A little water won’t ruin your boots in the short term. They might just need some time to dry. But the real trouble comes with long-term exposure or repeated wetting and drying cycles. Over time, this can lead to the leather drying out, losing its natural oils, and becoming brittle. This is why protecting your leather boots from water is not just about keeping them dry once but about maintaining their quality over time.

In summary, while leather can handle some water, it’s not a fan of being wet. Knowing your boot’s leather type and understanding the effects of water, both short-term and long-term, are key steps in keeping your boots looking great for years.

Tip 1: Pre-Treatment for Water Resistance

Preparing your leather cowboy boots is crucial before stepping out into the rain or dew-soaked grass. Pre-treating them with water-resistant products can make a huge difference in how they handle moisture.

Why Pre-Treat Your Boots? Pre-treatment acts like an invisible shield for your boots. It doesn’t make them waterproof, but it does help repel water, so it beads up and rolls off instead of soaking in. This helps prevent the leather from getting waterlogged, which can lead to the problems we discussed earlier, like warping, stiffening, or cracking.

How to Pre-Treat Your Boots:

  1. Clean your boots first: Before applying any product, ensure your boots are clean and dry. Any dirt or grime can interfere with the effectiveness of the water-resistant treatment.
  2. Choose the right product: Look for a water-resistant spray or wax designed for leather. These products are formulated to provide a protective layer without damaging the leather.
  3. Apply it evenly: Follow the instructions on the product, usually involving spraying or rubbing it evenly over the entire surface of the boots. Pay special attention to seams and soles.
  4. Let it dry: After application, give your boots enough time to dry completely before wearing them.

Recommended Products:

  1. Leather Waterproofing Sprays: These are easy to apply and ideal for smooth leather. Brands like Kiwi and Scotchgard offer sprays that are effective and widely available.
  2. Leather Waxes or Creams: For a more traditional approach, leather waxes or creams like Otter Wax or Nikwax provide a durable, water-resistant coating and can also nourish the leather.
  3. Natural Oils: Products like mink oil make the leather water-resistant, keep it supple, and prevent drying.

Remember, pre-treatment isn’t a one-time job. You’ll need to reapply these products periodically, depending on how often you wear your boots and the conditions you expose them to. By keeping up with this simple maintenance step, you can significantly extend the life and appearance of your leather cowboy boots.

Tip 2: Proper Drying Techniques

Even with the best pre-treatment, your leather cowboy boots might still get wet. Don’t worry; the key is in how you dry them. Proper drying techniques are essential to maintain the integrity and appearance of your boots.

Steps to Properly Dry Wet Leather Boots:

  1. Remove Excess Water: Gently wipe off any surface water with a soft, dry cloth. Be careful not to rub too hard, as the leather is more vulnerable when wet.
  2. Stuff with Newspaper or a Towel: Use newspaper or a small towel to help your boots keep their shape and absorb interior moisture. Replace the stuffing as it gets damp.
  3. Air Dry: Place your boots in a well-ventilated area away from direct sunlight. Allow them to dry naturally. This may take a day or more, depending on the humidity.
  4. Condition After Drying: Once your boots are completely dry, apply a leather conditioner to restore moisture to the leather, preventing it from becoming dry and brittle.

Why Avoiding Direct Heat Sources is Crucial: It might be tempting to speed up drying by placing your boots near a heater fireplace or using a hairdryer. However, this is a big no-no. Direct heat can cause the leather to dry out too quickly, leading to stiffness, shrinking, and cracking. The key is to allow the leather to dry slowly and naturally. This preserves the leather’s natural oils, keeping it flexible and preventing damage.

By following these steps, you ensure your leather boots dry in a way that maintains their quality and shape. Remember, patience is key – let nature do the work, and your boots will thank you!

cowboyboots.condition edited
Before and after conditioning

Tip 3: Regular Cleaning and Conditioning

Regular cleaning and conditioning are as crucial as any other step to keep your leather cowboy boots in top shape. This routine care plays a crucial role in the longevity and appearance of your boots.

Importance of Regular Cleaning:

  1. Removes Moisture and Dirt: Regular cleaning helps get rid of dirt, dust, and any moisture the leather might have absorbed. This is especially important if your boots have been exposed to wet or muddy environments.
  2. Prevents Damage: Dirt and grime can act like sandpaper, slowly wearing down the leather’s surface. By keeping your boots clean, you prevent premature wear and tear.
  3. Maintains Appearance: Clean boots simply look better. Regular cleaning ensures that your boots retain their color and texture.

Steps for Cleaning Your Leather Boots:

  1. Brush off Dirt: Use a soft brush or cloth to remove any surface dirt or dust from your boots.
  2. Wipe with a Damp Cloth: For more persistent dirt, use a slightly damp cloth to wipe the leather gently. Avoid soaking the leather.
  3. Dry Properly: After cleaning, let your boots air dry away from direct heat or sunlight.

The Role of Conditioning:

  1. Maintains Flexibility: Leather conditioners replenish the natural oils in the leather, keeping it flexible and supple. This flexibility is key to preventing cracks and creases in your boots.
  2. Prevents Drying and Cracking: Regular conditioning helps to protect the leather from drying out and cracking, which can happen over time, especially in drier climates or after exposure to water.
  3. Enhances Protection: Well-conditioned leather is more resistant to water and stains, adding an extra layer of protection.

How to Condition Your Boots:

  1. Choose the Right Conditioner: Look for a leather conditioner suitable for the type of leather your boots are made of. Creams, oils, and waxes are all popular choices.
  2. Apply Evenly: Using a soft cloth, apply the conditioner in a circular motion, covering the entire surface of the boot. Avoid over-application, as too much product can clog the leather pores.
  3. Let it Absorb: Allow the conditioner to absorb into the leather. This could take a few hours.
  4. Buff to Finish: Once absorbed, gently buff your boots with a soft, dry cloth to bring out the shine.

By incorporating cleaning and conditioning into your regular boot care routine, you keep your boots looking great and extend their lifespan, ensuring they stay comfortable and stylish for years to come.

Picture of a can of fiebing's mink oil, I used on my cowboy boots.

There are many leather boot conditioners; however, I’ve used mink oil on my boots for as long as I can remember. It comes in an easy-to-use container, works well, and lasts long. I haven’t noticed a difference between the brands of mink oils; recently, I’ve been using Feibing’s mink oil because I can pick it up at the local tack store, but it’s also available online from Amazon. You can click this link to check out available mink oils.

Tip 4: Storage and Maintenance

Proper storage and regular maintenance are key to preserving the quality of your leather cowboy boots. These practices ensure your boots are ready to wear at any time and last for years.

Picture of a boot dryer.
Peet boot dryer

Best Practices for Storing Leather Boots:

  1. Keep in a Cool, Dry Place: Store your boots in an area with low humidity and away from direct sunlight. Moisture and heat can damage leather over time.
  2. Use Boot Trees or Shapers: Insert boot trees or shapers to help maintain the shape of your boots while they’re not being worn. This prevents creases and cracks.
  3. Avoid Plastic Bags: Never store leather boots in plastic bags, as this can trap moisture and lead to mold. Instead, use a breathable fabric bag or leave them uncovered.
  4. Give Them Space: Don’t cram your boots into a tight space. They need air circulation to prevent any dampness or mildew.

Tips for Regular Maintenance Routines:

  1. Regular Check-Ups: Even if you’re not wearing your boots regularly, you must check them periodically for signs of mold, moisture damage, or drying out.
  2. Rotate Your Boots: If you have multiple pairs, rotate their use. This gives each pair time to air out and reduces the wear and tear on each individual pair.
  3. Address Issues Promptly: If you notice any small issues, like loose stitching or minor scuffs, address them immediately. Small repairs can prevent larger problems down the road.
  4. Keep Them Clean: During storage, dust and dirt can accumulate on your boots. Periodic cleaning is essential, even when the boots are not used regularly.

By following these storage and maintenance tips, you’re not just taking care of your boots but investing in their longevity. Remember, well-cared-for leather boots can be more than footwear; they can be a long-lasting companion on your adventures.

Picture of a pair of ostrich skin ropers.  If these cowboy boots get wet, it will not be good.
Ostrich Skin Ropers

Tip 5: Repair and Professional Care

No matter how well you care for your leather cowboy boots, sometimes they might need a bit more attention, especially if they’ve been damaged by water. Knowing when to seek professional help and understanding your repair options can save you time and extend the life of your boots.

When to Seek Professional Help for Water-Damaged Leather Boots:

  1. Severe Water Damage: If your boots have been soaked through and have noticeable damage like severe warping, shrinking, or cracking, it’s time to consult a professional.
  2. Mold or Mildew: Professional cleaning might be necessary if you spot signs of mold or mildew. This is not just about the boots’ appearance but also about preventing health issues.
  3. Stitching or Sole Issues: When the damage extends to the structural parts of the boots, like the stitching or soles, professional repair is usually required to ensure they remain durable and safe to wear.

DIY vs. Professional Repair Options:

  1. DIY Repairs: For minor issues like slight scuffs, light water stains, or loose insoles, a DIY approach can be sufficient. There are plenty of products available for minor leather repairs and maintenance.
    • Pros: Cost-effective and convenient.
    • Cons: Limited to minor issues; risk of worsening the problem if not done correctly.
  2. Professional Repairs: For more complex problems, seeking a cobbler or a leather repair specialist is the best course of action.
    • Pros: Expertise in handling a wide range of issues; high-quality repair work that can extend the life of your boots.
    • Cons: More expensive than DIY; may take time depending on the complexity of the repair.

While trying and fixing everything yourself is tempting, professional expertise is sometimes necessary to properly restore your leather boots, especially when dealing with water damage. Professionals not only fix the current issues but can also advise on how to prevent future damage, ensuring your boots stay in great shape for years.

Conclusion: Can Cowboy Boots Get Wet?

Protecting your leather cowboy boots from water is not just about keeping them dry; it’s about preserving their strength, style, and comfort for as long as possible. Throughout this guide, we’ve explored the critical steps in caring for leather boots, especially in the face of moisture.

We began by understanding how leather reacts to water and the importance of knowing the type of leather your boots are made of. With this knowledge, we delved into the essential pre-treatment practices for water resistance, proper drying techniques, regular cleaning and conditioning, strategic storage and maintenance, and when to seek professional repair and care.

Remember, each step, from pre-treating your boots to storing them correctly, is crucial in extending their lifespan. By following these tips, you protect your boots from the damaging effects of water and maintain their aesthetic appeal and functionality.

Your leather cowboy boots can be more than just a fashion statement; they can be a durable companion on many adventures. With the right care and attention, they will endure and continue to add character and style to your wardrobe. So, take the time to care for your boots; they will serve you well for years.

Here is a helpful YouTube video about cleaning and conditioning cowboy boots.

YouTube video


Can snakes bite through leather cowboy boots?

Yes, some snakes can bite through leather cowboy boots; however, most can’t. Read this article: Can Snakes Bite Through Leather Cowboy Boots? Let’s find out more about the biting power of snakes and the boots designed to protect your feet from them.

How do you break in cowboy boots?

Wearing your boots is the best way to break them in, but if you have a pair that’s too tight to get on or is extremely uncomfortable, hold them over a pot of boiling water and let the steam rise into the shaft, then put the boots on and walk around in them. You can learn some more ideas here:
How to Break In Cowboy Boots to Ride and Walk-in Comfort?

Can You Use Vaseline on Leather Boots?

Yes, you can use Vaseline on leather boots as a budget-friendly conditioner. It helps to soften and moisturize the leather but should be used sparingly. Apply a small amount, buff it in well, and ensure it’s fully absorbed to avoid a greasy residue. Regular leather conditioners are generally preferable.