Knowing if your leather product is waterproof or water resistant is essential if you plan to use it in situations where it may come into contact with water but, firstly, what’s the difference between the two terms?
Well, a material that is water resistant is one that is naturally able to resist water penetration to a degree, but it will not protect it entirely. This means it will be perfectly protected in a small rain shower but anything more and there might not be adequate protection. In contrast, a waterproof material is one that can be treated so that it can be submerged in water without being damaged. However, this imperious barrier can only last for so long, so if a material that is waterproofed is fully submerged in water it will only remain undamaged for a certain amount of time.
Leather itself is not well mixed with water. Yes, it has some water resistance, but too much water will cause the leather to become wet – due to the material’s permeable nature – and as the leather dries it can become stiff and hard, losing that wonderful supple texture. If the leather doesn’t dry quickly enough, it could even start to rot.
Due to its permeable nature, leather can never be truly 100% waterproof - especially as the leather gets older and is left untreated. However, if leather is treated in a specific manner you can not only increase the lifespan of your leather, but also improve its level of waterproofness.
TREATMENTS AND SPRAYS CAN HELP MAKE LEATHER MORE WATER RESISTANT
There are several treatments on the market that can help make your leather more water resistant. The most popular of these treatments is the use of a wax such as dubbin or Nikwax. Waxing is a relatively simple process for most types of leathers as seen from the method below.
1. Ensure that the leather is entirely clean as any dirt or foreign materials can interfere with the effectiveness of the wax.
2. A small amount of wax should be added to a cloth (not directly to the leather) and then rubbed all over the leather. It’s important that the wax is pliable so if you find the wax is too hard you should warm it up beforehand with something like a hair dryer.
3. This should be repeated as necessary.
4. The wax should be allowed to dry naturally for around 30 to 60 minutes. Do not be tempted to speed up this process by heating up the leather as this might cause the leather to crack and be ruined.
5. Once totally dried, buff off the wax with a dry, clean cloth.
As well as waxing, it is as equally as important to keep your leather conditioned, as this will keep the suppleness of your leather. If you find your leather is becoming cracked and/or hard then now is the time to condition. Not only will it make your leather feel like new again, but it will help upkeep the waterproofness of your leather.
Like waxing, conditioning is simple. You should refrain from over-conditioning though, as leather should not be made overly soft – especially in something like boots or a bag where a level of support is needed.
1. Dissimilarly to waxing, when you condition leather it should be done when the leather is wet. This is because the permeable nature of leather means it will absorb more of the conditioning treatment as the water evaporates off the leather.
2. Add either a small amount of conditioner either to a cloth or your fingertips and work into your leather, being careful to get the treatment into all the nooks and folds of the leather. Any excess should be removed.
3. The leather should be allowed to dry naturally at room temperature. Keep in mind though, that this waxing and conditioning method will only work with certain leathers. If you have something like suede, then you will ruin the material by putting wax on it. In these cases, you will need to use a special spray. These work by creating an invisible, water-resistant and oil-repellent layer that will keep your leather safe as it stops any water ever actually touching the material, which is particularly important in suede as it is less water repellent than other types of leather. Indeed, all types of leather have different degrees of waterproofness.
ULTIMATELY, IT DEPENDS ON THE LEATHER:
It’s a common misconception that faux leather will have the same properties as real leather, however, as it’s made from a type of plastic – polyurethane – they have very different waterproofing needs. Waterproofing leather is essentially putting a layer of synthetic plastic between your leather and any water. As faux leather is already made using a plastic then it is already waterproofed.
Synthetic leather is usually lighter and cheaper than real leather, and like real leather it also readily absorbs water. This means that in order to make it waterproof you need to add a synthetic spray that will create a waterproof barrier between the water and synthetic layer.
Nubuck leather is a buffed down version of full grain leather that resembles a very fine, but durable, suede. Like leather, nubuck is naturally water resistant to a small amount of water, however it needs further waterproofing from a spray.
Suede is very easily ruined by water, which causes stains on its surface. Even a rain shower can ruin a pair of suede boots. But the sensitive nature of suede also means you must be careful of how you waterproof it, as something like a wax cannot be rubbed on its surface. Rather, suede needs to be treated with a waterproofing spray and even then, it should not be readily subjected to high amounts of water.
FULL GRAIN AND TOP GRAIN LEATHER
Full grain or top grain leather is made from the strongest part of the animal hide and therefore makes the most durable and most water-resistant form of leather. However, like other leathers it should also be treated with a wax or spray to improve its waterproofness.
The majority of our MAHI bags are made from full grain leather and therefore have a certain level of natural water resistance. However, you may wish to improve this further, and for this we would recommend using a wax based product. For our products in vintage cognac, we recommend using a waterproof spray only.
Please note: it is advised that you always patch test a new leather care product on an inconspicuous area of the leather before applying it all over, as some products may alter the colour and/or texture of the leather in a way you are not happy with.
I used waterproof wax for reconditioning wax cotton fabric on a full/top grain leather product. Its the only time I used it, should I be concerned, or will it hurt it it?