Dear Professor Nikwax,

My summer plans have me climbing several peaks, riding my bike along the California coast, and wearing my sandals to the Farmer’s Market. Of course I’ll also be logging a lot of time in the office. I’ve invested in some good shoes for the different sports, but I want to take care of them so they last through the season and beyond. Help!



Dear Wanderluster,

Your instincts are correct; even the highest-quality footwear needs regular cleaning and conditioning to last.

Congratulations on taking the time to learn about the best steps for caring for your kicks.

I’ve put together a handy chart to remind you about what to do for different shoes and when. Print it out and hang it in your gear closet!

Then, read on for a break down by sport.


Hiking/mountain climbing

As you know, stable boots or hiking shoes with lateral support, excellent tread, and waterproofing are priority number one when you’re heading to the high country.

Leather: Before you do anything, clean ‘em with Nikwax Footwear Cleaning Gel. This gets rid of the dirt and establishes a clean slate for the next step: waterproofing.

Are they pretty beat up? Treat them with Conditioner for Leather, which is absorbed into the leather and helps keep the material supple.

Then, even if your boots come with a waterproof membrane like Gore-Tex, waterproof them. We’ve got both a wax and liquid waterproofing product, and both can go directly onto wet leather. So sit down, clean, waterproof, and leave to dry.

Finally, send me a picture from one of the peaks you climb this summer.

Fabric and leather combo: Whether we’re talking about your ultra light trail runners or your low-top hiking shoes (which is what I use in all but the most epic mountaineering adventures), this leather and fabric combo needs to be cleaned with the Nikwax footwear cleaning gel and then treated with our Fabric & Leather Proof product. I guarantee this will add water repellency and keep your shoes in better condition, longer.


Until recently, I thought high-end, leather cycling shoes were the purview of professional cyclists. Then I got a pair. Wow. They’re comfortable, lightweight, and they make me feel powerful. I, like you, want to return the affection. So I use the same products on my leather biking shoes that I do for my leather hiking boots: clean, condition, waterproof.


The worst thing about sandals is the stench. Sporty sandals with a rubber sole and technical fabric upper can collect stinky bacteria and, put simply, reek. Fortunately the Nikwax Sandal Wash deodorizes and sanitizes those bad boys.

Office/Daily wear

Are your office shoes nubuck or suede? Then treat them with the Nikwax Nubuck & Suede Proof waterproofing. Leather? See the instructions for leather footwear above.

I hope that answers your questions. Follow these tips and your shoes will last far beyond this summer.

Happy travels!


Professor Nikwax

10 thoughts on “Dear Professor Nikwax: How do I care for my footwear?”

  1. I have two questions:
    1. How do you tell the difference between Nubuck and Suede?
    2. I have boots made of Fabric and either Nubuck or Suede. Which of the Nikwax proofs should I use on them?

    Thank you

    E.M. Oliphant

    1. Hey E.M.!

      Nubuck is actually a type of suede and both are generally made of leather like calfskin, although they may also be made from the hide of a sheep/lamb, cow/calf, goat, or deer. At first sight, they both look and feel similar but are in fact created and treated differently. Both of these leathers are created by sanding process, the nubuck being sanded from the outside and the suede from the inside. Generally, nubuck is “velvety” to the touch and suede is softer, more flexible, and fuzzier. If you have boots made of material that includes either one, definitely opt for the Nikwax Nubuck & Suede Proof. It won’t negatively affect the parts of the boot that are not suede or nubuck.

      Glad to help! – Brennon

      1. Hi I’ve bought the nikwax fabric and leather proof spray on waterproofing, I’m going out on my gold dofe tomorrow and am wondering if the nikwax footwear cleaning gel is needed? I don’t have the gel and wouldn’t have the time to buy it so if it is necessary would it be okay to use the waterproofer without the gel?

        1. Hey Connor! It’s always best to clean before waterproofing, so even if you only have access to something like warm water and soap, that would at least be better than skipping the cleaning step and going straight to the waterproofing step. Waterproofing an uncleaned boot is similar to waxing a dirty car…it simply doesn’t give the desired results. I hope that is helpful! – Brennon

  2. Hello,

    I wanted to waterproof two new pairs of shoes that appeared to be disappointly NOT waterproof during a trip in Scotland (very wet conditions, it’s true) :
    – suede SCARPA Ribelle OD (
    – nubuk Mammut Kento High (

    A vendor sold me the Nikwax Waterproofing Wax for Leather™. I used it and, well, it changed the texture of the leather very much. Now it’s like if the suede was greasy…
    I have 3 questions:
    – Will the waterproof capacity of my boots be better?
    – Won’t this treatment alter the breathability of my shoes?
    – Did I do well to use this product as recommended by the seller, as I just saw on your site thet there was a special product for nubuk & suede?

    Thank you for your answer

    1. Hey Cedric! First off, thanks for reaching out with your question. We love being of assistance to our customers. Second, it’s true…we do make a specific product called Nubuck & Suede Proof that is designed to waterproof textured leather without ruining or matting down the texture. Which vendor sold you the Waterproofing Wax for Leather? That is for using on smooth, full-grain leather, not textured leather. It will definitely provide a level of water resistance to the boots, but since that product isn’t specifically designed to be completely compatible with textured leather, you may lose some of the volume of the texture. As far as breathability, you should be good to go. All of our products are designed to maintain or enhance breathability, not hinder it. Apologies that the vendor sold you the wrong product for your boots. I might recommend using a suede brush to regain some of the suede nap. Hope that is helpful! – Brennon

  3. Hi!

    I have the Nikiwax Nubuck & Suede proof that I am using on my suede boots with gore tex. The boots manufacturer recommends that I should use a water repellant spray and then shoe wax. When using this Nikwax product, do I still need to wax the boots and if so, should I do it after of before the Nubuck & Suede proof?

    1. Hey Johan!

      If you use Nubuck & Suede Proof, you won’t necessarily need to wax the boots afterward. It all depends on your leather’s condition. If it is new, non-broken-in leather, then it may need to be conditioned with Nikwax Conditioner for Leather after using Nubuck & Suede. If it is older, brittle leather, same thing. If it already feels broken-in and conditioned, then just waterproofing with Nubuck & Suede should be fine. 🙂 Remember to make sure to clean your boots before waterproofing or conditioning them. Hope that helps! – Brennon

  4. Hi. The gore-Tex website says NOT to use any leather oil, wax, cream, or silicone spray on leather hiking boots with gore-Tex. They said it will affect breathability.

    Why do you disagree?

    Note: It makes sense to me to condition the leather.

    Note: My newest boots are Merrell which has its own gore-tex like membrane.

    Thanks for your advice.

    1. Hi Tom,

      This is a common question! While our products (and Brand!) use the word “wax” they do not contain those materials. Our products do not impair the breathability of items, and are great to use on anything with a GORE-TEX membrane.

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