A complete guide to making your fancy leather shoes shine
Your fancy leather shoes have probably gathered dust in the past 18 months. The longer they wait, the harder it will be to clean them, so even if you haven’t returned to the office just yet, it might be time to make them presentable.
But properly polishing and caring for your oxfords, wing tips, moccasins, or even your classic Dr. Marten boots can be confusing. Let us help you do the best you can.
Start by getting a shoe tree
Preston Soto, founder of The Elegant Oxford, a high-end shoe shine services company in San Diego, says the first step is to buy a shoe tree.
Leather is a porous material that absorbs much of the moisture generated by your sweaty feet, making it soft and pliable. So when you get home at the end of the day, you want to take your boots off and dry them as quickly as possible to help them maintain their shape.
That’s what shoe trees are for. These foot-like shapes go inside your shoes and help them maintain their structure and prevent bacteria from thriving by wicking away moisture. They are useful for storing your moccasins and Chelsea boots, but also when waxing them.
Every shoe shine kit needs a brush. Horsehair is preferable because the soft bristles effectively remove dirt without damaging your brogues. If you’re working on snakeskin or crocodile skin, the smoothness won’t do. The nooks and crannies of the textured leather are great for building up dirt and debris, so opt for a stronger boar bristle brush instead.
You will also need a piece of fabric to apply the products. Kirby Allison, founder of the shoe-care company of the same name, uses a cotton chamois, but says an old T-shirt will do just fine.
To complete your shoe shine kit, you will need leather conditioner, cream polish, and wax. If you are overwhelmed by the vast offer, rest assured that brands like Kiwi will do a good job without breaking the bank. But if you want to go all-in, you can go for something from the French brand Saphir, which dates back to 1925, and Allison and Soto swear by.
Leather conditioners keep leather soft and supple, preventing wrinkles and cracks. Soto says that conditioning the leather is the most important step because there is no way to repair cracked leather.
Cream polishes also help keep skin soft and hide scuffs, while giving your shoes a little shine. Colored polishes can do double duty and restore pigment, so choose one that is similar to the color of your boots. Don’t worry if it’s not exactly the same, unlike dyeing leather, the color is not permanent. If you want to avoid mistakes, colorless varnish is the safest bet.
Waxing will add water resistance and durability to your shoes where they are most vulnerable to wear, such as the toe. This product is also responsible for that high gloss or mirror shine.
Master the shoe shining process
Before you start, a caveat: if you’ve purchased a pair of cordovans (Spanish horse leather shoes), something exotic like snakeskin or suede boots, you will need to consider the specific care you need. to avoid damaging them. These instructions apply to cowhide, which is most common in footwear.
Soto says polishing is really the last step in shoe care, so be prepared, you’ll be doing a lot of polishing before you can see your face on your beloved oxfords.
First, remove your laces first, insert your shoe tree (or newspaper), and use your brush to remove any dirt or debris.
If your shoes are really dirty, you may need saddle soap. Commonly used to clean horse saddles, this cleanser comes in a paste form and is commonly available in grocery stores. Saddle soap contains softening agents such as lanolin to help moisturize the leather. To use, lather by rubbing a clean, damp cloth over the soap, then rub it into your shoe to remove dirt. Finish by wiping the leather with another clean, damp cloth and allow your shoe to air dry completely before proceeding to the next step.
With clean shoes in hand, take a small amount of leather conditioner on your soft cloth and rub it into the shoe in a circular motion, using moderate to firm pressure. If you really want to get your hands dirty, Soto prefers to apply the product with bare hands, as it gives him more control. Leave to dry for 15 minutes then polish the conditioner using your brush.
Next, your shoe cream. Take a small amount on a clean area of your cloth, massage it into the shoe. Soto and Allison warn that the most common mistake is to use too much, so keep in mind that a little goes a long way. Let the cream dry for five minutes, then polish off any leftovers.
Now is the time for the wax. Find a clean spot on your cloth and apply the product the same way you did the cream. Again, less is more. Wax polish dries faster than leather conditioner or cream polish, so you’ll have to work quickly. Finish by buffing off any excess with your brush.
At this point your shoes will be clean and protected, so you can stop here. But if you really want to stand out, you can get brighter.
How to shine a mirror on your shoes
Being able to see your face on your fancy oxfords takes a lot of arm fat. And don’t think that just because your shoes have been waiting in an unworn box, they don’t need a good old-fashioned polish.
“I think a lot of people don’t know they should shine new shoes,” says Allison. He cautions that they may take longer to shine, as new leather is not as easy to absorb the product.
[Related: Everything you need to know to start leatherworking]
So grab your rag, wax, a small cup of cold water, and all the patience you have. Start shining your shoes, focusing on hard surfaces, such as the toe or heel. Avoid areas where the leather flexes, such as the upper part of the shoe that creases when you take a step, also known as the upper. If you don’t, the wax will crack and peel as you walk.
Repeat this step, adding small amounts of wax and rubbing vigorously to prevent the product from clumping.
Historically, people would spit on their shoes between coats of wax to achieve a true mirror shine (hence the term “sputum shine”), but you can use a few drops of water if you don’t want your saliva on. your fancy brogues.
Soto cautions that the process for both shoes will take you anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours, so make sure you have the time and the muscles to complete the task. Some people recommend cutting corners using baby oil, which will give an instant glow. But Allison strongly warns against them, as they deteriorate the leather over time.
Polishing takes care
Now that your shoes are polished, you are ready to go to town. But don’t think that you are done taking care of those beautiful boots. Depending on how often you wear them, you will need to repeat the whole process from time to time.
The fancy pairs that you wear exclusively on special occasions only need a sparkle before you put them on. After wearing them, clean and polish them before putting them away. But if you wear your shoes every day, Soto recommends that you clean and polish them once a week.
Allison says that once you get the hang of it, you’ll know when your shoes need love. “If they look like they need a shine, it’s about time. “