How To Polish Your Leather Shoes

It is absolutely vital to take care of your leather shoes for two reasons:

  • Aesthetics – achieving that appealing glossy finish
  • Preservation – making sure your investment doesn’t go to ruin!

By far the best way to take care of your shoes is through correct polishing.  Polishing ensures that the leather is kept moisturised and protected from the elements.  Leather that is ignored and not polished will dry out, crack and eventually disintegrate; your shoes will actually fall apart.

If your shoes aren’t worn regularly, polishing once a month and then just shining when needed will be more than adequate.  However if they are worn regularly you will need to polish them more often.  We don’t think you want your favourite shoes to fall apart as you parade them down the street, do you?

What you’ll need

  • Shoe polish:  Wax-based polishes are used primarily for waterproofing, but they also add a high shine to the leather.  Cream polishes may be easier to use, but they won’t give you the same shine.  Liquid polishes do very little in the way of conditioning leather and so are usually only good for quick fixes.  In terms of colours, you don’t need every colour in the shop.  You’d do well with a black, obviously; a darker brown; and perhaps something a bit more neutral for light-coloured shoes.
  • Welt brush:  This brush is designed to remove grit from the welt (the seam where the shoe’s upper joins the sole).  It looks rather like a toothbrush, and if you don’t have any idea where to find one, you can use a toothbrush instead.
  • Polishing brush:  Intended to add shine to the shoe after the polish has been applied to the leather.  A horsehair brush is recommended.
  • Polishing cloth:  Used for putting on the polish and for buffing.  It is a good idea to use the same cloth for both polishing and buffing.  And it’s a great idea to keep the same cloth to use every time you polish your shoes, because the more you use it, the more the oils and dyes from the polish will permeate your cloth, giving you a great polish result in the future.  A lint/fluff-free cotton or linen cloth is recommended.
  • Sole dressing:  The edge of the sole takes a scuffing from doorjambs and sidewalks.  Restore the pristine look of your shoes with an edge dressing, applied with a small craft brush or a cotton swab.

Polishing

  1. Wipe off dust, dirt and stains with a damp cloth, or using leather cleaner.  Pay special attention to the heels, soles and any stitching.
  2. Wet the welt brush/toothbrush and scrub out the entire welt strip.  Make sure you do this thoroughly; you’ll be surprised how much dirt gets trapped in here!
  3. If the shoes need it, apply sole dressing along the sole edges.
    Tip:  Please be extremely careful when using sole dressing because it will stain permanently if you get it on the uppers.
  4. Let edge dressing dry completely.
  5. Use a leather conditioner for your leather type to moisturise and soften your shoes.
    Tip:  A conditioning cream that is one shade lighter than the colour of your shoe will help get rid of scratches, scuff marks and any other imperfections.
  6. Apply polish using a polishing cloth.  Start from the heel of the shoe and work your way forwards, using small, circular motions to apply the polish and rub it in.  Again, try to pay special attention to the seams, stitching, soles, scuff marks and scratches.   Make sure you also get the inside of the creases of your shoe if they have any.
    Tips:  You don’t need to put loads of polish on.  Instead, a better way is to build the polish and shine up in layers.  And you also don’t need to be gentle with your shoes (think of what they go through every time you wear them!)  In fact, the more you rub, the better the result you will get.
  7. Let the polish dry for at least 5 minutes.
  8. You can now repeat steps 6 & 7 until you reach the shine level that you’d like.
  9. Buff the entire shoe with a polishing brush until they sparkle!
    Tip:  For an extra shiny shine, at the end buff the toe with the polishing cloth.
  10. Finally, wait for the shoe to dry completely and then apply a waterproofing product.