We got a request from a buddy of ours on how to polish shoes, but we thought we’d use the opportunity to go into detail about all sides of shoe care. To put it simply, your shoes cannot survive without good care. Here are some rules.
1. Before you put them on…
Well, actually, we’ll start with when you’re getting them on. Use a shoe horn. Not just because it enables an easy slide into the shoe, but also because it protects the counter (a hard, bowl shaped piece of material placed in the back of the shoe for sturdiness and shape maintenance).
And before you go outside, just make sure that you’ve sprayed them with weatherproofing or protective spray within the past few months (re-spray every four months) before you go out if they are leather or suede.
Always store your kicks with shoetrees inside. Use cedar shoetrees because they absorb moisture. And believe it or not, you have over 100,000 sweat glands in your feet and you can produce up to 4 oz. of sweat — and a fair amount of that goes into your shoes. Sweat will cause wrinkles in the leather, make it smell bad, and cause other physical deformations that you don’t want. Also, cedar shoetrees smell good. The smell will also deter moths from your closet. (In general, your only other option for material is plastic and plastic shoetrees are garbage.) So bottom line: use the shoe tree.
Use split toe shoetrees for softer leather
Use solid shoetrees for more rigid leather
What type of shoetree, you ask? Good question. Remember there are two types — the split toe shoetree and the solid shoetree. Use a split toe for softer shoes. Use a solid shoe tree on more rigid shoes.
Store in room temperature areas. Really hot areas will dry your shoes out. Really cold areas can’t be good either.
Use shoe bags when traveling! These bags ensure that the polish doesn’t smear on your clothes, and they just protect the shoes. Plus, often times, they’re cool looking.
3. Polishing and cleaning
Remember you can use a paste polish, wax polish, or liquid polish.
Kiwi Shoe Polish is one of the most commonly used wax polishes. Get it for under $5 in shoe stores.
These are three different things. Paste polish, also called cream polish, is a leather moisturizer. It essentially makes your leather supple and not oppressively rigid. It also increases breathability. Wax polish does a better job shining but because it is a sealant, it often inhibits any moisture getting to the shoe and causes them to overdry. As for liquid polish: it sucks. It shines your shoes up but totally destroys leather.
Remember, just because you polish doesn’t mean you don’t have to clean the shoes.
Equally cheap as its wax competitors, Yong Ma is a great paste polish.
Get a leather cleaner to treat the leather and a general shoe cleaner to get rid of unsightly stains and buildup from polish. If you don’t get rid of the polish buildup, your shoes won’t breathe and the leather will break down without proper ventilation for all the moisture it’s exposed to.
All you have to do to clean your leather is get a damp cloth, lather it up, wipe the shoe, and air dry. Use saddle soap or even just Ivory soap. Make sure that there’s no acid in the soap.
Seriously. You really only need one soap. Ivory will do the trick.
Don’t bother using shoe conditioner to maintain leather shoes if you’re using a cream polish. The point of conditioner, like cream polish, is to moisturize, so only use it in conjunction with a wax polish, which tends to dry leather out over time.
As for unsightly scuffs that you just can’t get rid of: just try a little witch hazel. The alcohol often does the trick but if that doesn’t work consult a shoe shop.
4. How to do a shine
(1) Remove any laces on the shoes, but keep the shoetrees in there.
(2) Clean shoes down with a cloth to get rid of dirt, etc. If you haven’t used soap on them before, now’s a good time, especially if they’re really dirty.
(3) Make sure your polishing cloth is really tightly stretched and that no stray cloth will touch your shoes.
(4) Use a cream polish.
(5) Apply the polish gently in a circular motion from heel to toe on one side, around to the other side of the toe, and then back to the heel on that side.
(6) Make sure you use no more than the minimum layer of polish or they won’t dry fast and you’ll get polish buildup quickly.
(7) Allow to dry, but assuming you’re using cream, it can’t stay on too long or it will stick. If you use wax, give it a lot of time so the leather soaks it up.
A horsehair shoe polishing brush
(8) Once dry, buff the shoe with a horsehair polishing brush, like this one for just $10
. Make small circular motions again.
(9) Now do a final buff with a clean rag.
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