Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Dubbin: apparently, no it doesn't work!

As per yesterday's post, I have done a little more research on the subject of waterproofing my leather work boots, and although I found any number of forums full of people smugly saying "oh yes, I've used dubbin for years" I also came up with this:

It's a website selling dubbin - and if you read it, the product description actually states "It is very good at keeping leather healthy and good for many uses, but does not repel water."


I also found a few sites recommending not dubbin at all, but beeswax.

So I dug out the tin of beeswax that came with my expensive Ducal furniture (20 years old but still looking good) and used some of it on one pair of boots.

I've done another pair with vaseline,  as that seemed to be better than the (useless) dubbin.

I've left both pairs for it to soak in overnight, as recommended. Apparently that might be part of my problem, I tend to apply the dubbin just before I leave for work, and it seems as though it needs a little time to work its way in. Although Pappy's Dubbin does clearly say that it doesn't repel water, so it might not matter how long I left it to soak in.

We'll come back to this issue in a few days.... 


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  1. traditional dubbin is usualy a mix of lanolin/neatsfoot/mink oil and beeswax so should repel water if applied properly, is does sofen and condition too, Vaseline is a bad idea as its mineral oil and can damage the leather over time :)

  2. ps, dubbin wont sink in unless the leather is clean with no polish dirt etc, to strip leather back use saddle soap :)

  3. Thanks for your comments - I am interested to hear your description of the ingredients of dubbin, and I'd be very interested to hear where you found this information, so that I can check it.

    You have hit the nail on the head when you say that all these oils "should" repel water.

    Yes, they darned well SHOULD repel water but they darned well DON'T!

    Vaseline did better than the dubbin: no, I don't care about long term damage to the leather, I go through a pair of work boots in just a couple of months, so there is no question of them lasting for a long time.

    Honestly, if I thought that yacht varnish would work, I would slap on a couple of coats..

    PS and yes, I did ensure that the boots were clean before applying dubbin. It still didn't work.

    1. Ma'am, Pappy's dubbin would tended to be a nourishing product which would render the leather soft and usable for years, but it was all just oils so the oils can float out pretty darn quick.

      I have personally used Pappy's dubbin before - it's nourishing properties are incredible, taking a worn pair of boots into a supple, nice and new again. However, I have to either then put a heavier wax based grease on top, or polish with wax based shoe polish because, yes, it won't repel water. Pappy's dubbin was made mostly out of natural oils and greases, better for nourishing, yet it won't seal the surface and would tended to let water penetrate the fibers. The leather will remain completely supple - supple, not sloppy nor stiff as brick, but it will take time to dry. If you prefer some more water resistance, Pappy does offer a beeswax based version which can repel water efficiently.

      Would hope that I had helped.

    2. Thank you for your response, very informative and interesting: so no, dubbin won't keep out the water and I shouldn't expect it to.

      I have tried beeswax, too, by the way: and no, it didn't keep out the water.

      However, your suggestion of the wax-based shoe polish is very interesting, so I will find some and have a go.

      Watch this blog!


    3. Sure I'll keep watching, ma'am.

      For your request of an even heavier water repellent grease, I would suggest you try the ones from Ray Holes.

      I wonder if the condition of your boots was the main concern, because I tried the beeswax version on my combat boots and voila, no problem at all!

      Ray Holes offer two products - the saddle butter - more "buttery" but with wax content, and the Chap Wax - a true to name heavy boot and chap wax. You might as well need those twos.


  4. Thanks, Travers, for taking the time and trouble to come back and add further comments. I'm very interested in the items you mention, and I've had a look at Ray Holes' website - it sounds as though his Chap-Wax might be worth trying, if I can get hold of it in the UK.

    But the bad news is that I consulted a former Military person, and asked what they did about keeping their boots watertight. The answer was to clean them, wax polish them (every day) and to always carry a dry pair of socks.

    So no, even the might of the Military can't find a way to waterproof leather boots.


  5. If the question is "How do I waterproof my boots?" for me, the answer is neatsfoot oil. I am a geologist and have been using neatsfoot oil for 40 years. It is cheap, easy to apply, and it works. Before that, I often used WWII surplus dubbin. It worked well, although it was as much as 30 years old.

    1. Hmm, it didn't work for me - I have a particular pair of leather boots which have absorbed as much Neatsfoot oil as I could pour into them (not literally, I applied it with a cloth and rubbed it in, not that much rubbing was required) and yet they still absorb water. Perhaps you'd be kind enough to comment again, with your detailed application routine? Maybe I'm doing something wrong?

    2. Hi Rachel, an oil penetrates the leather, makes it supple and repels water, but does not water proof the leather.the oil can form an emulsion with water and come out of the leather over time.any wax, paraffin Melting point 37 degrees celcius (body temp) or bees wax melting point from memory 62 degrees celcius (very hot water out of your tap) provide a barrier between the leather and liquids on the leather...The wax MUST be melted (lowest setting on heat gun or gentle hair dryer) to melt the wax so it can form a waterproof layer. Heat gently .. Rub this in and spread to make a sealed layer. The wax needs to be replaced every year or so as it can be worn off.
      This can be done in 2 steps ...or one step ....more oil softer (less waterproof) 1:1 works...Extra virgin olive oil works well (cheap mans way to restore very dry leather...) and I add a few drops of tea tree oil (antimicrobial and antifungal)

    3. If you live in cold climates Snow) paraffin, melted, painted on and and rubbed into seams and all outer the cheapest and best water proofer...should only be used on top of oil to make leather soft and supple...Chemistry teacher ;-)

    4. Waxes form a total waterproof protective layer...try it..get a candle (paraffin) and put it in water for a month..if it goes soft then it will on ya boot..beeswax works the same...whereas the oil can be mixed with water to form an cream is an emulsion of anhydrous (no water) lanolin and lots of water blended together to create mixture of lanolin wax and water( the more water the more runnier the cream) ...if left to settle for a long time the oil and water will form 2 layers.

    5. Thanks for your three comments, Mark, it took a few re-readings to work out what you meant, but I think I get it: oil them first until they are nice and supple, and then apply beeswax, heat gently with hairdryer and rub it in well.

      You don't say "leave to cool/set overnight before going out in the long grass" but I'll assume that to be necessary!

      I will give it a go...

    6. I've read all the posts above & must tell my technique. I've used Dubbin for years on full grain leather boots & shoes. Also tried Mink oil as well as a beeswax/lanolin waterproofer. I tend to go back to Dubbin for my spring mukluk (full grain leather) mainly due to the water proofing affect. I must add that during the process, I heat the leather. After leaving the Dubbin on for 12 hrs, I get my hairdryer about 3 inches away from the boot, & keeping a keen eye on the leather, notice that it melts the oils into the leather further. After it turns liquid, it quickly dulls. This is when you stop the heat, as the oil has absorbed. All you do is buff it, & you're good to go. Leaving the Dubbin on top of the leather, really does nothing! My WW2 vet/father taught me to heat the leather up to open the pores of the skin. Makes sense as it is exactly like your own skin. They would use a heater or stove to warm the boots first. Most footwear these days however has plastics & rubbers that would melt if you put them into a stove. Thus, the hairdryer! Hope it helps. I must add that I can full submerse my boots in slush after this treatment. No leaking at all!

    7. Thanks for taking the trouble to reply, Withinastone: I hate to say this, but I've given up writing about waterproofing boots because NOTHING works.

      And yes, I did exactly as you described with the hairdryer, both with dubbin (total failure, wet toes) and with beeswax - which was better, but after two days, they were leaking again.

      So I have rather given up on the idea!

  6. I've had various leather boots (for countryside walking my dog, in all weathers) over the years, and while they start out 'waterproof' (i.e. my feet don't get soaked when its raining) they invariably don't stay waterproof forever. I've both used Dubbin and G-Wax - sometimes even apply both one after the other - and it does help for a while (you can see rain or water from grass or puddles beading on the leather rather than just coating it wet or soaking in) but it doesn't last beyond a couple of outings.
    If you want permanent waterproof, rubber wellies are the only way to go.

    1. Alas, it's not possible to work in wellies! There's a lot of bending at the ankles in my job.. trust me, I've tried!

  7. I know this is an old thread, but very interesting. The dubbin I use has beeswax, cod liver oil, and lard. I assume the beeswax is what is doing most of the waterproofing. But, what is of utmost importance is also treating the welt around the edges of the boot. I am not sure any leather boot is 100% waterproof as water can get in from the top edges and through the lace area if there is enough water. I will say my no lace cowboy boots are as waterproof as it gets. I think these treatments just make things better, but if you are in pouring rain or walking through water puddles, you are going to get wet.

    1. Hi Virgil,

      Thanks for reminding me about this topic: you are quite right, the seams are the weak points, and if you'd like to read my update on this subject, come back tomorrow, there will be a new post!


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