Rain or snow (or any kind of precipitation, really), is like the kiss of death to a beloved pair of leather shoes. It's why nearly all shoe care instructions insist on hosing them down with a waterproof spray before stepping foot outdoors. As it turns out, that one preventative measure can have the opposite effect, shortening your shoes' lifespan. David Mesquita, the vice president of Leather Spa and shoe care connoisseur, would be the first to recommend not using waterproof sprays—his shop doesn't even stock the stuff. So what should you do to protect your shoes from the elements? Keep reading to find out how to waterproof your shoes without completely ruining them.
Avoid Waterproof Sprays
"To really 'waterproof' leather, it means creating a barrier where water or moisture can't get through from either direction, so the leather is no longer breathing," Mesquita says. "When the leather is no longer breathing, it affects the temperature and perspiration from inside, causing sweat and odor. Picture your foot sitting in a sauna."
Pick a Water-Resistant Spray Instead
Water-stain repellents are your best bet—they're light enough so that even if you accidentally oversaturate the material, you won't damage it, Mesquita says. Another perk? Cleaning, dyeing, and conditioning your shoes (aka everything you need to do to preserve the life of your shoes) are actually doable if you use a water-resistant spray. "Waterproof sprays are too strong; they act as a sealant, and because of that, it won't absorb polish or leather conditioner," Mesquita explains.
Test a Patch First
"I recommend doing a spot check before applying anything over an item," Mesquita cautions. "Always test-spot first."
"Hold the spray eight to 12 inches away from the article and mist one very light application. Let it dry. Then, apply a second layer, and if you want, you can do a third," Mesquita says. His pick: Leather Spa water and stain protector ($17; leatherspa.com).
Avoid One Certain Finish
"Do not spray patent leather. Think of it as plastic—it may not necessarily ruin the material, but it will just sit on top and look messy or wet," Mesquita says. "You can use the water-resistant spray for all other materials, like leather, suede, nubuck, and fabric."