Cleaning (or “Shining”) Your Shoes

This next section will tell you how to go the extra mile for your shoes, after they have gone so many miles for you.  The following is a step-by-step guide to cleaning your leather shoes.

Recommended tools: hard-bristle brush, welt brush, cotton cloth, shoe cream, shoe wax (optional)

Step #1 – Clean the shoes with a hard-bristle brush.  Using firm backward and forward strokes lengthwise on the top and sides of the shoe, your aim is to brush away any dust or debris that may have collected as you’ve gone around doing all the crazy things people seem to get up to in our shoes.  As you brush all over the outside of the shoes, pay special attention to the feather edge, which is where the leather meets the sole of your shoe. This is the area most likely to have collected the evidence of your active lifestyle.

Step #2 – Apply shoe cream*.  This is what will moisturize your leather (it is skin, after all!) and allow it to remain supple. 

First, you want to make sure you get into that crease between the leather and the sole of the shoe.  To do this, take your handy welt brush, and dip it very lightly into the shoe cream in order to get just a bit of cream on the tip of the brush.  Then use the brush to apply the cream to the crease all the way around the shoe.  This will serve to rewax that thread that holds the sole to the shoe. 

Next, you are ready to clean the rest of the upper.  Take a cotton cloth (that you don’t mind turning brown or black), and wrap it around your index finger, so that you can dip it into the cream and pick up about a dime-sized portion of cream.  Using that index finger, proceed to work the cream into the leather using a small, circular motion to avoid streaking.  Think of this like massaging you’re shoes, since your feet no longer need massages these days.  Just as you would pay attention to knots when massaging a person, pay extra attention to flex spots when massaging a shoe.  The areas of your shoe that bend the most will need the most moisturizing in order to remain flexible.  Continue to dip your finger in the cream and apply in thus way until you have sufficiently covered the whole shoe.  Unlike so many other things in life, there is no such thing as too much shoe cream.  Your shoe will absorb what it needs, and no more.

A couple of tips on cloth and cream selection:

1.     Use the same cloth every time, as it will actually improve with use.  Not to mention, your mom, girlfriend, or whomever else in your life cares about clean cloths won’t need to have a tizzy.

2.     Shoe creams come in different colors.  You want the one that matches your shoe best.  If you feel the leather is in between two shades, choose the lighter shade to keep your shoes the color they are, or choose the darker shade to enrich your color a bit.

*You might be more familiar with the term “shoe polish.”  Well in fact, polish comes in two types: cream and wax.  This section focused on use of shoe cream to moisturize and clean your shoes.  You’ll get to learn all about wax in the next section, where we discuss how to give your shoes that glossy look.

Step #3 – Wait ten minutes.  Go read a book (or part of one, if you can only read at average speed). 

Step #4 – Brush your shoes with a hard-bristle brush (again).  See step #1 if you need a reminder on how to use the brush.  The goal here is to remove any excess cream or residue, since you undoubtedly overdid it when we told you there’s no such thing as too much.  At this point, your shoes should be starting to look as beautiful as they did on that first day you met.  If you’re happy with how they look, then you can stop now, slap those babies on and get back to whatever you were doing!  But if you want a little more alone time with your shoes, and you think maybe the relationship could use a little extra zest after all these years, then continue on to step #5.

Step #5 (Optional) – Wax your shoes to add a bit of shine (“patina” as we say in the biz).    Wax is applied much the same way as cream, using a cotton cloth wrapped around your index finger, and making circular motions.  But wait!  Remember all that stuff about focusing on the flex points?  Okay, so do the opposite this time.  The wax is meant to harden on your shoes and provide a shiny outer barrier.  Think of that barrier as being a little more brittle than the leather itself, which means that where your shoe flexes, that wax barrier has a tendency to crack and break away.  Be patient as you wax your shoes, being sure to cover every square millimeter (1 square millimeter = 0.00155 square inches, for those of you who haven’t calculated it in your heads already).  If it’s been a while since the last wax, it could take five to six coats to get a wax to really hold on the shoe.

Once the wax has been applied, you’ll notice that it begins to look a little misty.  To fix this, take a drop of water on the tip of your cloth and apply it to the surface of the shoe.  This will cause the paraffin in the wax to rise to the surface, bringing out the shine.  Not shiny enough for you?  Repeat the process as many times as you like, alternating between a dab of wax and a dab of water.  Once you’re (finally) satisfied, leave the shoe to dry for about five to ten minutes.  Read another book, or if you’ve already read them all, maybe go online and donate to your favorite charity. 

Step #6 (or #5 if you skipped waxing) – Go outside and conquer the day!  Or night.  We’ve written this guide to be read any time you like.