Leather Shoe Care Guide
Whether you have a pair of leather boots, dress shoes, sneakers or slippers, after you have picked the shoes that suit your needs, you will need to maintain them to keep them in a respectable condition.
Leather is a natural material which no longer has a body to take care of it, and needs maintenance to retain its unique details, such as flexibility, softness and color shading. An important factor is conditioning your leather, for protection, avoiding them from staining, cracking, and excess debris getting caught within the material.
There is DIY step-by-step process to taking care of your leather, such as brushing, conditioning, polishing, resoling (refer to guide).
Below is a step-by-step guide for proper maintenance of your leather and suede footwear!
Caring For Leather
1. Take The Laces Off
Firstly, remove the laces from your shoes as these are most likely not leather, so a leather cleaner will stain them. They also might need a quick wash to bring them back to life!
2. Brush The Dirt And Dust Off
Use a brush specifically made for cleaning leather shoes, such as a horsehair shoe brush, and brush off any excess dirt or dust.
It is not advisable to use any other type of brush, as this can cause unnecessary scratches and scuffs to the material. Brush into any little cracks to make sure that little pieces of stubborn dirt are removed.
If excess dirt remains on the shoe then it can weaken the fibers and cause irreparable damage. Also, with footwear such as boots there is usually a welt line circling the shoe, and you can use a toothbrush to dig into this area to remove the dirt.
You can also use this brush to remove dirt from the soles. A good way to maintain shoes is to give them a quick brush regularly after wear.
3. Apply Saddle Soap (optional)
Before applying conditioning cream you can apply a saddle soap to the shoe to remove any old polish, dust, dirt or any general debris that have been missed by the brush.
Leave this to dry thoroughly before moving onto conditioning them and avoid any direct heat source during this time, as this can damage your shoes.
4. Add A Conditioning Cream
IMPORTANT! There are various types of leather of which are treated differently during their production process and therefore require different types of conditioner.
It is important that you choose the correct conditioning cream for your shoes as not doing so will result in irreparable damage.
It is also worth noting that some products that are designed for your shoes leather type will temporarily darken, or soften the leather, and in some cases permanently alter it. So, it is also important that you research the best conditioning product that will give the effect you are looking for.
Leather will dry out and crack if you do not properly moisturize it on a regular basis, which is why you will now apply a conditioning cream. A neutral conditioning cream will work fine, but a color matched one can help to cover scratches and scruffs.
Conditioner will not hurt the shoes, so add as much as you need until you feel they are fully hydrated.
Wait a few minutes and wipe any excess cream off of them. You can then buff over your shoes again with a horsehair brush, and leave them to dry before moving on and applying polish.
It is advisable to put shoe stretchers inside of your leather shoes to maintain their shape during this stage.
5. Apply Polish
After the conditioner has dried you can then apply a polish. Apply a little polish to the brush, and in a circular motion gently deal it out across the whole shoe. After this is finished you can buff them again until they look great! Some people like a shine on their shoes, and other don't, so how much polish you apply at this stage is completely up to you.
6. Add A Waterproofing Spray
After the polish has dried off, if you like, you can add a waterproofing spray which will help your shoes remain supple, adding water repellant properties by protecting the appearance of the leather after water exposure. Hold them at a distance of 7-8 inches and give a light spray all over the shoes, then let them dry off and you are good to go!
Caring For Suede
With good care, you can prevent suede from looking aged for years after you purchase your shoes. One thing to note is that over cleaning suede can cause a washed out appearance. For long term use, it is advisable to own a few pairs of suede shoes, and by using them on rotation you can avoid this happening to you.
1. Brush The Dirt And Dust Off
Firstly, use a suede brush will remove excess dirt from the fabric. Try lightly brushing in one direction at first as this will remove lighter stains, before using a back and forth motion for more stubborn ones.
2. Use A Suede Eraser
If your shoes have excess, tougher stains, then you can then use a suede eraser to literally rub them out! Then use a towel to brush excess fibers off the shoes.
3. Suede & Nubuck cleaner
The above 2 steps should take care of most suede issues, but if you have deeper stains, such as wine or oil, you will need something to penetrate deeper. This is when you can use a Suede & Nubuck cleaner to dig deep into the problem. Work the cleaner into stubborn areas.
It is a good idea to work through the whole shoe too.
After you have applied this then add a layer of water to wash the conditioner off, and leave to dry for 24 hours. If you stain your shoes and would like them professionally restored, then swiftly take them to a professional, such as a cobbler who will be able to restore them back to normality.
4. Removing Water Stains
For removing water stains the process is usually more simple. Put a shoe tree inside the shoe and then apply a thin layer of water to the whole shoe and let them sit until they dry off. Leave then in a natural temperature. Avoid putting them near a heat source as this will damage the fabric.
5. Suede Protector Spray
Then, after your shoes have dried, you can use a protective spray, which will help the material stay cleaner for longer. This will protect them from water damage and other small debris they come into contact with. Make sure you spray the whole shoe and also the welt line if they have one.
Keep The Soles Looking Fresh
You will need to replace the soles of your shoes when the edge of the heel has started to round over (around 1/3 of an inch). If you continue to wear shoes that need a sole replacement then you can damage their structure, which can cause you to walk unevenly, and as a result you may develop unwanted muscle pains.
In the case of leather soles, shoe menders might be able to add a thin layer of rubber, which will give extra durability and prevent you from needing to resole them as often. In some cases resoling can be a costly process, often exceeding $100, so weigh up your options and decide if it is worth resoling VS buying a new pair of shoes.
To prevent premature aging give your shoes a quick wipe after usage so excess debris are removed. If you stain your shoes then take care of this straight away by applying a remover and leaving to dry, or taking them to a cobbler who can professionally remove them for you.
Regarding the soles, a cobbler can add a protective rubber layer which will extend their life. A shoe tree can also help uphold their shape (make sure it matches the height and width of your shoe).
You should clean and apply conditioner to your shoes once every few weeks if you wear them regularly. A leather conditioner or cream will keep the material hydrated by moisturizing it so that it doesn't dry out or crack, and help to remove light scratches while preventing future scuffs from occurring. It also prevents bacteria build-up.
After conditioning your shoes, a protective spray can also provide defense against the elements.
The best leather conditioners will be made from non-toxic, natural products. You will need to match your shoes with the correct leather conditioner and follow instructions carefully.
Shoe polish is used to help restore the shine and color of leather footwear. It should be applied after conditioning your shoes and letting them dry off.
If you buy the appropriate polish and follow instructions then it will not harm your shoes. Actually, it will give them a nice shine, and some even provide added water resistance.
However, like most things, applying too much polish and in the incorrect manner can cause harmful effects.
Oil based formulas such as Vaseline have long been used to soften leather. However, they will not allow the leather to freely breath as other solutions do.
Leather will feel softer after using Vaseline, but this is because it is breaking down internal fibers, and over time this may weaken the material. Therefore, this is not something we can recommend in place of a reputable conditioner and wax.