Your Guide To The Perfect Shoeshine
Did you know that one of the first things both men and women notice about you are your shoes?
When Will Rogers said, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” he very well may have been describing what people think as they evaluate the condition of your footwear.
Why do you think “well heeled” means “wealthy”?
So if you want to start winning friends and influencing people, start by shining those shoes like a pro.
This guide will show you all the steps to a great shoe shine.
FIRST, SOME BASIC SHOE CARE
Always shine your shoes when you first buy them and before you wear them, then shine them on a regular schedule after that. Preventive maintenance will help protect your shoe investment.
Daily care of shoes like a pair of great Sebago shoes will not only keep them looking pristine, but also increase the lifespan.
Keep shoe trees in your shoes when you’re not wearing them (it’s a little difficult to wear them with the shoe trees in there). Put the shoetrees in immediately when you take your feet out. The trees will do more good if the leather is warm and moist.
Moisture protection is a must. Mink oil will waterproof and preserve the shoe, but it can darken lighter shades of leathers. Silicone spray provides water protection and doesn’t alter the color. Shoe care products are readily available at your local shoe repair, drug or grocery store.
SHOE POLISH PLUS
There are two kinds of shoe polish: Cream or Paste polish and Wax polish.
Cream or Paste polish moisturizes fine leather and keeps it flexible. It soaks into the leather and allows leather to breathe. Most cream or paste polishes contain mineral oil. They can help restore shoe color, but are not as good as wax polishes for covering scuffs.
Wax polish shines leather better than cream, but it seals the leather and can cause it to dry out over time. Most wax polishes contain Stoddar Solvent (Naphtha) or turpentine plus Carnauba and/or Beeswax. Wax is the most effective for covering scuffs!
Avoid liquid polish, although it puts a fast shine on your shoes it can dry out and crack the leather.
A water and stain protective spray for leather, provides water protection, and doesn’t alter the color. It’s not a substitute for polish, but is a good companion to shoe care when you need the water protection. Mink oil will water poof and preserve leather, but it can darken lighter shades of leathers. There is some controversy about silicone or any petroleum-based product causing damage to shoe leather.
Clean your shoes periodically with leather cleaner. Then put in cedar shoetrees and let the shoes air dry. (Shoes should never be put close to heat sources, which can dry out the leather.) When shoes are dry, you can apply conditioner if needed and polish.
Shoe Cleaner is good for removing dirt, stains and the old built up polish from leather. When extra layers of polish build up the leather is not able to breathe as well and perspiration can eventually break down the leather. Cleaning can also restore the natural oils that keep leather pliable.
Don’t use any cleaner on leather that contains an acid or a detergent. You can use saddle soap, Murphy’s Oil Soap, Ivory soap or a cleaner made for shoe leather. Apply with a damp cloth, wipe off and let dry.
Many shoemakers recommend a conditioner to keep leather shoes soft and supple, and to moisturize them. This keeps the leather from cracking. Paste or cream polishes also keep the leather moisturized.
Some conditioners come in combination with cleaners.
There are many good leather conditions on the market, mostly sold for leather jackets, furniture and purses. Some of the conditioners are known as balms.
If you have a deep scuff or a watermark on your shoes you may want to strip off the polish. You can try using vodka or a rubbing alcohol. This is best left to a shoe repair shop, thus saving the vodka for yourself!
If your shoes are in really bad shape look into a complete refurbishing by the original manufacturer. Most provide this service. You may have to send in your shoes to the factory, but you’ll get back a pair of shoes that look almost new.
Shoe Color Damage: Polishing will not restore damaged color. A polish has the ability to enhance the existing color. The lighter the color, the less dye is in the polish. If your shoes have been scuffed deeply enough to have removed some color it’s best to take your shoes to a professional shoe repair person. There are color sprays available.
NOW YOU’RE READY TO SHINE
1. Change into some old clothes.
2. Clear an area and put down newspaper.
3. Remove all dust and dirt by wiping the shoe, especially the heel and sole, with a cloth. If your shoes are really dirty, or if the shoes have stains use a leather cleaner such as saddle soap. Ivory soap or Murphy’s Oil soap also work.
Apply the cleaner with a damp cloth (very little water), wipe off and let them dry for five minutes before you start to shine them.
Many shoemakers recommend a conditioner to keep leather shoes soft and supple, and to moisturize them. This keeps the leather from cracking. Some conditioners come in combination with cleaners, which remove the old polish.
When extra layers of polish build up the leather is not able to breathe as well and perspiration can eventually break down the leather.
There are a lot of good leather conditions on the market, mostly sold for leather jackets, furniture and purses. Some of the conditioners are known as balms.
4. Shoes will be easier to shine if you leave your shoetrees inside the shoe.
5. Make sure the polish matches the shoes.
Neutral is the “color” for light colored shoes. Other colors may have to be matched by taking one of your shoes with you when you buy polish because some of the fancy names will throw you. Or you can ask your local shoe repair person what color is right.
6. Cream or Paste polish moisturizes fine leather, keeps it flexible, and soaks into the leather to allow leather to breathe. Wax polish shines leather better than cream, but it seals the leather and causes it to dry out. Avoid liquid polish, although it puts a fast shine on your shoes it can dry out and crack the leather.
7. You can apply the polish with a soft, clean polishing rag; old socks will work fine. Wrap the corner of the cloth around your first and second fingers of your dominant hand. Twist the remainder of the cloth to tighten the portion around your fingers and hold that part in the palm of your hand.
You may dampen the cloth. (see spit shine and reader’s tips below).
You can also use a horsehair brush dauber instead of a cloth. They’re available at shoe repair or drug stores. If you use a dauber, you’ll need a different one for each color of polish you use. Even coffee filters can be used to apply shoe polish evenly!
Option – if the shoe has laces you may want to remove them in order to best get to the shoe tongue and avoid staining the laces.
Apply polish to the first shoe and let it soak in while you apply polish to the other. Start from the heel, toward the toe on one side, and back to the heel on the other, applying the polish evenly in a circular motion. Excess polish doesn’t help and takes longer to dry.
Option – SPIT SHINE: as you apply polish the surface will dry and the cloth will slightly drag then add a drop or two of water (avoid spit, especially if you are eating candy or drinking beer, or both). Continue this process over the entire shoe.
- Here’s a tip from “Dan from Boston” — Use a wet sponge to apply your polish, the polish will go on evenly and it helps add the right amount of moisture necessary for a good shine.
- And for a “military shine”, another tip from Allison M. from Ventura, CA — When she was in the Marine Corps she used HOT WATER to keep the polish soft so that it worked into the leather better, and applied it with an old T-shirt. “I had such a great shine on my shoes and boots that many people asked me if I wore Corfam (fake patent leather) boots!”
- Russell Keith, UK says, “did you know that after polishing (with wax polish), a buff up using a real (oil-dressed) chamois (NOT a synthetic chamois) folded into a pad will bring out a deeper shine and remove any excess polish which might otherwise come off on trousers or socks?”
8. Allow the shoes to dry (about 10 minutes).
9. Buff the shoe with a polishing brush — preferably horsehair — and use a soft clean cloth (ladies hose work well) to bring out a high luster.
10. Liquid sole and edge dressing may be used to restore the edge of the soles.
CARE INSTRUCTIONS FOR SPECIAL SHOES:
Cordovan shoes (real shell cordovan, made from horse hide, not just shoes that are burgundy color) need some special care. Neutral cream or paste polish tends to leave a white film on Cordovan leather. Most cordovan shoe makers recommend using cordovan color paste wax polish, and not shoe cream. Also beware that the shell cordovan creases are usually lighter, not darker, in color.
The Hanger Project has shoe polish from Saphir especially for Cordovan.
Cordovan leather is vegetable tanned instead of the modern method of “chrome” tanning. Since cordovan leather already contains a large amount of oil/wax, the polishing requirements are different from calfskin.
Use a damp soft cloth for cleaning shell cordovan shoes.
The most common mistake in shining cordovan shoes is using too much polish. The excess polish creates a layer of build-up, which has three negative effects:
1) it covers the natural beauty of the leather, 2) it creates a grainy texture in the creases of the shoes, 3) and the build-up of polish scuffs easily and attracts dust.
To avoid these effects, use only the thinnest film of polish when polishing your cordovan shoes. Just a very small amount, spread very thin over the shoe, is all that is needed to restore the color and luster. You should not have to polish your cordovan shoes frequently, and often all that is needed is to brush and cloth them in order to remove scuffs and restore the shine.
After the polish is applied, let it dry, then brush it off with a horsehair brush. Next, wipe the final film of polish away with a soft buffing cloth.
Here are the “don’ts” of shell cordovan care:
1. Do not use “neutral” polish
2. Do not clean cordovan shoes using saddle soap
3. Do not attempt to clean cordovan shoes using petroleum distillates or cleaning fluids
4. Do not use any spray shines or aerosol type waterproofs
5. Do not attempt to dry wet shell cordovan shoes with heat or a heater. Wipe them dry, and allow them to dry naturally
6. Do not attempt to polish shell cordovan shoes while wet
Contact with water can sometimes cause cordovan leather to form small raised areas called “welts” (tiny bumps).
This is normal, and the welts will recede once the shoes are allowed to dry. Wipe the shoes dry as soon as convenient, and allow them to dry naturally.
Spewing, a natural milky residue of wax will often form on new shell cordovan shoes. This is a normal residue from the tanning of the leather. Wipe it off with a soft cloth or brushing. To remove the wax in difficult areas, such as between stitches, use a toothbrush.
Exotic skins can be treated like calfskin, or with special conditioners that keep the leather from cracking. Take extra care when brushing to prevent scratching the surface.
Fabric shoes can be cleaned with a mild spray fabric cleaner. Let the cleaner dry to a powder and brush off the residue with a stiff brush. You can also use Woolite.
Suede can be cleaned with a clean soft brush (like a toothbrush), or you can buy special erasers (suede bars) to remove stains and dirt. Raise the nap on suede by applying steam from a steam iron from about 10 inches away. Also special brass-bristle brushes are available to raise the nap after cleaning. A protective non-silicone finish (like Scotchgard) sprayed on new suede shoes will help repel water and stains.
Nubuck – (brushed leather similar to suede, but with a finer nap) treat the shoes with water repellent, use rubber-bristle brush (not nylon) or a suede bar. Use the bar damp to clean and condition, and use the brush to lift the nap
Patent leather can be cleaned with a damp cloth using lukewarm water and plain soap or Windex. Shine with a smooth soft cloth. Don’t get any of the fabric wet (like the ribbon bow).
Wet shoes. If your shoes get wet, stuff them with terrycloth or paper towels, and let them dry away from direct heat at room temperature. Don’t polish your shoes while they are still wet.
Salt on shoes – Damaging white salt marks should be rinsed off immediately with a 50/50 mixture of white distilled vinegar and water. Wipe dry, and follow the directions for wet shoes.
Squeaky Shoes: the shoe’s soles may be breaking down due to the rubber or synthetic material, try replacing the soles preferably with leather. Or the shank, which is made of steel, is loose or defective. Some companies make their shanks out of leather. This is an easy replacement for your shoe repairperson. Or the easiest the tongue may be rubbing where the shoes are laced – just apply saddle soap to reduce the friction.
Scuffmarks on shoes can be treated in an emergency with a small amount of toothpaste on a damp rag, and then wiped.
To keep shoelaces tied, try a light spritz of water on the laces after you’ve tied them, or pull the laces out and rub them lightly with a candle or paraffin wax to help them stick better to each other. Flat or waxed shoe laces stay tied better than round and unwaxed laces.
Moisture protection—Mink oil will waterproof and preserve leather, but it can darken lighter shades of leathers. A water and stain protective spray for leather, provides water protection, and doesn’t alter the color. You can use the protective spray inside the shoes also.
If your shoes are in really bad shape look into a complete refurbishing by the original manufacturer. Most provide this service.
You may have to send in your shoes to the factory, but you’ll get back a pair of shoes that look almost new.
Now that you have a beautifully pair of shined shoes you’re ready to go out on the town and really make a great first impression. After that it’s all up to you.