How to Clean and Polish Leather Shoes

by Jamie Wilson

Reviewed & updated: October 19, 2022 by Jamie Wilson BA

Leather shoes are known to be hard wearing and perfect to wear on those drizzly days; however only with the right care will they manage to sustain themselves against the typical British weather- rain, rain… and you guessed it, more rain.

It’s without a doubt that leather shoes are a huge staple in the fashion industry, and every man should have at least one pair, even if they’re stashed at the back of his wardrobe. Whether you’ve got a vintage pair from the 70’s, or you bought your first pair recently on the high street; all leather shoes need the right care regardless of their age and style. This ‘how-to’ guide will give you the low down on how to revive your favourite leather shoes or boots and bring them back to their former glory- before they end up in the bin!

When you buy leather shoes you have the responsibility of making sure they’ve given the correct care and treatment. Leather care is kind of like skin care in the way that you need to keep it safe from sunlight, heat and anything that might dry it out.

Even a little care every week can help your leather shoes stay in good shape, so don’t feel you need to be polishing them up every day. Ignoring basic leather care can drastically cut the life span of your shoes, and well… that would just be a huge waste of money in the end. Be sure you understand the implications of what is needed for your leather shoes so that you are able to justify your big shoe investment!

How to Take Care of Leather Shoes and Boots

Cleaning Leather Shoes and Boots

    • Firstly, lay down sheets of newspaper on the surface that you will be working on to avoid damage. You may wish to remove the laces from your shoes or boots to prevent them getting dirty during the cleaning process.
    • Soap and water would be the quickest and easiest way to remove minor dirt and stains from your leather shoes, however may not be as effective as buying products that are geared towards tackling these stains. Products of this kind are readily available online and in stores.
    • Dip a small scrubbing brush into the soapy water and apply in circular motions on the surface of the shoe to get rid of any loose dirt. You should notice it loosening and falling away over a short period of time.

Be sure to target as much if it as possible due to the fact that dirt can weaken fibres within the leather which causes cracks and try and act as soon you notice any. The longer the dirt sits, the more excessive long-term damage will set in, so just bear that in mind if you think to yourself “Ahhh, I’ll do it some other time!”. Pay attention to scuffs and scrapes when cleaning for the best looking results. Leave your leather shoes to sit for approximately 20 minutes before polishing.

Removing hard stains may be something you have to tackle due to the effects of the awful British weather; such as muddy puddles and grit from the icy roads during winter. If the dirt on your shoe is being totally stubborn- try the method below after you have finished the initial cleaning process.

  • Mix white vinegar and water into a bowl and dip a small cloth into the mixture. Dab onto the stains to begin with, but if  proving tough to remove, start to rub gently onto the stain with some pressure.
  • The stains should begin to disappear. Once removed, clean away the substance with a damp cloth and leave to dry again for around 20 minutes before polishing.

How to Polish Leather Shoes and Boots

After cleansing, be sure to give your shoes a good condition, protect and polish- a little like if you were to moisturise your face after washing it; the conditioning gives the shoes the shine and ultimately repairs the damaged parts of the shoe. Apply a cream polish to a soft cloth and use again in a circular motion. Do so until you feel you have covered the whole shoe. Be sure to use a polish that is clear in colour or the exact same shade as your shoes to prevent discolouration of any kind.

Experts generally recommend a lanoline- based beeswax polish, which will soften and protect at the same time

Eugene Quek ( Luxury Insider).

Leather Shoe Care

Leather Shoe Protector

It is always best to make sure your leather shoes and boots are protected by purchasing leather shoe protector. There are a variety of brands on the high-street at all different prices, however there are also the options of making your own homemade leather shoe protector at home if you can’t part with your money.

You should use this sparingly before polishing, and allow it to set for no less than 10 minutes. If the product is over-used during one application, the moisture could soak into the leather and cause disastrous consequences, weakening the leather further; so make sure you take into account how much you are using.

Although it’s sole purpose (get it?) is to be used for leather shoes and boots, the product can also be used on all other leather items you may own, so all in all, this is a great investment buy if you believe you will get your use out of it.

There are spray alternatives too which protect your leather shoes and boots from weathering. It’s a great form of prevention to avoid having to condition regularly due to weathering. It is a product that is always handy for those living in the UK; we can guarantee a heavy downpour at least once a week!

If buying a product isn’t something you are interested in, how about making your very own at home? Mixing olive oil and beeswax, which is heated over a pan and then set is a great way of doing it yourself; non-toxic and cheap; you can’t go far wrong!

Leather Shoe Conditioner

So you may be asking, why do I have to condition my leather shoes? Well, the answer is that men nowadays probably own more leather shoes than any other item in their entire wardrobe. They are usually worn to work as well as having  separate pairs for casual wear, therefore constant use means that they are extremely prone to damage.

Conditioning is perhaps the most important part of the care process- it should bring the life back into your dull and dirty leather shoes. Leather is extremely fragile, therefore needs to be tended to often in order for them to do the job that they are capable of- staying waterproof and durable in rough weather conditions.

Without a thorough conditioning, the fibres within the leather can break down, causing lack of flexibility which eventually leads to unrepairable cracks. It is always best to prevent the damage rather than attempting to treat the damage as your shoes will never be what they once were.

Your Quick Guide to Cleaning and Polishing Leather Shoes

  • Use soapy water to clean the shoes with either a soft cloth or soft bristle brush in a circular motion
  • Remove any hard stains with a mix of white vinegar and water with a fresh cloth
  • Use a clear or similar coloured polish to your leather shoes and clean in a circular motion until the whole shoe is covered
  • Aim to polish your leather shoes approximately once a month for best results
  • The most important part- condition using a sparing amount of solution; beware of soaking the shoe which will cause sogginess.
  • You don’t away have to buy products from the high street; sometimes homemade products can be just as effective, although time consuming!
  • For the long term, be sure to use a shoehorn when putting on your leather shoes. This prevents the heels getting worn down when roughly slipping on and off, which can break down the leather over time. Be as gentle as possible.

On That Note…

If you are dying to go out and grab yourself some leather shoes or boots, be sure to accept the implications of their upkeep. Although leather shoes are expensive, they are a great investment buy to wear during all four seasons.

It should be said however, that they are only a great investment if they are cared for properly, otherwise you may be the one to have to throw yours away ; therefore wasting your money, due to the fact that they will crack and fall to pieces very easily.

Leather is delicate and like our skin, needs frequent attention in the form of conditioners and moisturising against harsh weather conditions- therefore needs to be looked after accordingly. Yet, having said that, leather shoes are and always will be super trendy and is worth forking out the cash as an investment buy. Before purchasing your leather shoes, why not add leather-care products to your basket in case you forget when it is too late?

Feature image from Pinterest

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