How to clean leather shoes: step by step


How to clean leather shoes: step by step

Leather shoes form an important part of any wardrobe, especially where formal apparel is concerned. Leather finds its way into oxfords and heels alike, and knowing how to take care of this material is important.

Some shoes wear out in a year or two of regular wear. However, with proper attention, your leather products can last for several years.

There’s some amount of anxiety when it actually comes to taking care of leather, though. You know you’re not supposed to get them wet, so how can you clean them if they’re dirty?

Put all your worries aside. Below, Kizik has everything you need to transform any dirty leather shoe into a pristine piece.

Step 1: assess your shoes — and gather supplies

The first thing you should do is check out your shoes to get an idea of what needs to be done.

Are you looking to simply refresh them? Have they gathered a great deal of dirt and need to be completely reinvigorated?

You’ll also want to figure out the type of leather they are. Suede requires more delicate care than other types of leather.

You’ll also want to find the grain of your shoes. The grain is the natural way that fabric goes. Take a finger and run it over the shoe. Whichever direction results in the smoothest feeling is the grain. Then, you can move on to gathering supples.

What supplies do you need?

To complete all of the below tips, you’ll want to gather the following:

  • Soft-bristled brush
  • Water, mild soap, and white vinegar
  • Leather conditioner
  • Leather polish
  • Smooth rags, ideally multiple
  • Suede brush (optional)
  • Suede eraser (optional)
  • Baking soda, talcum powder, or starch (optional)

Step 2: remove your laces and clean them

This next step is for those cleaning leather shoes with laces. Before doing a deep cleaning of your footwear, undo or remove the laces. This can help in a variety of ways.

First of all, being laced up puts a small amount of strain on your shoes. Taking your laces out gives them a chance to relax.

This will also stop your laces from gathering any discoloration from shoe polish. Here, you can instead take an opportunity to clean your laces for future use.

Don’t bother with a washer and dryer for your laces, since you can clean them by hand in minutes.

Make a solution of water with a small amount of dish soap and white vinegar. From there, submerge your laces briefly. Use a toothbrush or other small brush to rub on any stains the laces have. With any luck, they’ll be looking (and smelling) better in minutes.

Step 3: scour lightly to remove dirt

This is where you really get to cleaning your shoes properly. You’ll want a brush with soft bristles to lightly scour your shoes to remove dirt.

Brush hard enough to remove debris, but be careful not to scratch the shoes. This step will prime your shoes for a deeper clean.

Step 4: delicately soap your shoes

Here, you’ll want to use the mildest soap you have. In the case of leather, you have a variety of options to choose from for your base.

For water-based solutions, you’ll want to mix in a little bit of white vinegar and detergent. Avoid petroleum-based detergents, and use the mildest option you can find.

With some leathers, you may not want to use any water at all. In this case, use a 2:1 mixture of olive oil and white vinegar.

The exception to the rule is suede. With suede, you’ll want to be as delicate as possible. Use either rubbing alcohol or white vinegar in your solution.

Then, take a cloth and lightly wet it. If it’s saturated, you may get more moisture on the shoe than needed. This can cause damage, especially to delicate leathers.

You may alternately put your mixture in a spritz bottle. This can help add just a bit of solution to mist your shoes.

Either way, as you clean your shoes, blot the moisture away. This reduces drying time, as well as moisture exposure overall. Incidentally, this also works as a way to clean casual footwear, not just leather.

Step 5: condition the shoes

From here, you’ll condition your shoes. Just as moisturizer works well on your body, conditioner works on your leather shoes. However, you’ll need a special type of conditioner for your shoes.

Leather conditioner helps extend the life of your shoes by maintaining the material. This improves color, as well as softness. There are three main types of shoe conditioner.

Leather creams are the first type. These tend to be thicker, and they help maintain leather’s color and appearance. This makes them especially good for high-end leathers.

Leather oils are somewhat slicker than other types. By restoring natural oils, they can soften leather, which is especially helpful when a piece has hardened from age or use.

The last type of leather conditioner, and the most hard-wearing, is leather wax. Of these types, leather wax does the least to benefit the moisture of leathers. However, it also does the most when it comes to waterproofing. Leather wax is great for work boots or winter boots that see heavy-duty use.

You’ll want to apply whichever of these conditioners you choose with a smooth cloth rag. This can help avoid any issues that come from saturating the leather. Use a gentle, circular motion when applying your conditioner of choice.

Once you’ve applied your conditioner, leave your shoes alone for a moment as they dry. Once your shoes are totally dry, it’s time to finish with one last step.

Step 6: apply polish

If nothing else, do your best to apply shoe polish to finish caring for your shoes. Shoe polish is a fairly new commercial invention, relative to the history of leather footwear at large. The first commercial shoe polish only appeared in the early 20th century.

Shoe polish has a variety of benefits. It offers some waterproofing, just as wax conditioner does. It can also restore the color of footwear and eliminate the appearance of scuffs. Unlike leather conditioner, shoe polish covers the outer layer of the shoe, rather than penetrating deeply.

The most important thing when applying your shoe polish is that you get the proper color. Black and brown are the most common leather colors, but not all shoe polishes will match your shoes. If you accidentally apply the wrong shade, don’t worry or panic; leather polish can be removed and does not last forever.

There are three steps to properly applying shoe polish. First, apply the polish with a cloth in concentric movements. The goal here is to get decent coverage on your shoes.

The next step is to rub a soft, stiff-bristled brush against the shoe. This helps get rid of any excess polish and create a more uniform appearance.

The final step in applying your shoe polish is to use a clean rag. Gently run the rag along your shoe with swift, back-and-forth motions. This step creates the classic shoe shine that’s the reason many apply polish in the first place.

With a proper shine and layer of polish, even old shoes can be given a new lease on life. This final step completes cleaning your leather shoes. However, we’re going to highlight one additional step to protect your leather footwear.

Step optional: suede repair

This step isn’t about cleaning shoes in general, but about a very specific issue: suede scuffs. Suede is one of the most delicate materials for shoes, made from the underside of leather.

You should gently brush your suede periodically with a suede brush. This maintains the matte appearance that makes it so notable. In case of scuff marks, you can lightly rub a suede eraser over the scuffed spot. Then, use your brush to restore its appearance.

In the case of water damage, take extra caution. Water damage on suede can easily become irreparable if improperly treated.

First, lightly sprinkle baking soda, talcum powder, starch, or a similarly absorbent powder on the stain. Whatever you do, do not rub it in. Let it sit and dry for at least 15 minutes. Then, brush the powder off using your brush.

If the stain still persists, you may need to go to a suede repair store. Ideally, though, your suede will look just as good as new.

Keeping your leather shoes clean

Not all shoes are as difficult to keep clean as leather. Sneakers are endlessly loved for their hard-wearing nature. However, maintaining your leather shoes is well worth it for their beauty and timeless style.

How is Leather Made? | Leather Naturally
Kiwi Shoe Polish History Recorded in Book by Late Author Keith Dunstan | Herald Sun
Moisturizers: Do they work? | Harvard Health

Written By: Chris Fry

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