A detailed step by step shoe care guide with lots of information on how and why you should take care of your nice leather shoes, including a film showing every step. Also reviews two different techniques for shoe shining, one of them being the express spit shine method, with which you can achieve a proper high gloss in 15 minutes.
Overview and direct links:
Video – The whole guide in four minutes
Step 1 – Cleaning
Step 2 – Deep conditioning
Step 3 – Recolouring, care and protection
Step 4 – Shine and protection
– Traditional spit shine method
– Express spit shine method
Links to other articles about shoe care
Video – The whole guide in four minutes
This is of course not the only way to polish shoes, but this is one that I can vouch for. Since the idea is that people with different levels of knowledge should understand and benefit from the guide, I will write it as clearly as possible. Therefore, the complete guide will be quite long, but as you’ll understand below, you can choose which parts of the one you use, and since it’s thorough, I hope that also beginners will get answers to most of the questions. Otherwise, feel free to ask questions in the comments section below.
We begin with some basics, that after each use you should brush the shoes with a horsehair brush or wipe the shoes with a damp cloth. Then insert the shoe trees directly to straighten out the sole and creases and have the shoes retain its shape. Then let the shoes rest for one day before using them again. If they are really wet, they may do good by resting two days, to be completely dry. The reason that it’s important that the shoes become completely dry is that both the upper leather, the sole and the cork filling inside the shoe wear much more if they are used when moist.
And then, of course it is necessary to polish the shoes on a regular basis. To make it easy, the guide is written in different steps, and depending on the needs, you can choose which steps to use.
Here’s how the guide is arranged:
Steps 1-4: Full cleaning, conditioning, recolouring and polishing. The whole shebang is appropriate to do maybe once a year or so, depending on how much the shoes are used to remove some old shoe cream and moisturize the shoes from scratch.
Steps 2-4: Conditioning, recolouring and polishing. Something you should do about every 3-4 months or something like that, to build up your basic protection and give it some good care. Again, differs depending on how often the shoes are used.
Steps 3-4, but only one round each: Standard shoe polishing. When the shoes have been through a more substantial routine, it is possible to restore the shine easily on the shoes with one round of cream and wax polish, or sometimes only wax, about every 5-10 use, depending on what conditions they are used in. Sometimes step 2 can be included here if the shoes are a bit dirty and/or the leather feels dry.
Only Step 3: Minimal care. If you only want to make the absolute minimum for your shoes, it’s step 3 – the shoe cream – that you can not skip. It cares and protects. You should not use impregnation spray for shoes in regular leather, you only use this for suede or nubuck.
I’m also of the opinion that new shoes always should get a round of shoe care, even though new quality shoes have been treated at the factory, the protection is often insufficient, and the shoes may have been in a box for a long time, the leather may have dried and benefit from some care before use. One might say that it may not always be necessary to take care of new shoes, but it can never be wrong, so my recommendation is to always do it.
Personally, I use many different brands of shoe care, it works well to mix between products (as long as you do not use any with silicone or other bad chemical substances), most of them consist of more or less the same content, its mostly variations in amounts, in some cases ingredients, but the natural substances that good shoe care products contain work well together. Examples of good manufacturers of shoe care products include Saphir, Boot Black, Collonil, Turms, Springyard, Columbus, GlenKaren/PurePolish, Tarrago, La Cordonnerie Anglais, Famaco, Burgol, and many others.
Step 1 – Cleaning
First of all, the shoes should get a good cleaning, and if needed (as in my case here) old shoe cream and polish removed. Start by removing any shoelaces (however, they can stay in the standard everyday routine) and wipe the shoes with a damp cloth so that they are completely free of dust and dirt. Then you can either take a form of leather shampoo/leather soap or gall soap that lathers and wash them thoroughly under running water, whereupon the shoes must be left to dry first with wrinkled newspaper and then shoe trees in them until they are completely dry. This is best for shoes that are really dirty. Otherwise, a good option is to use with a leather cleaner such as Saphir Medaille d’Or Leather Cleanser or the stronger Saphir Reno’mat, where the shoes do not need to be rinsed in water, you apply the product on a cotton clothand rub hard and carefully over the entire shoe. If there is a lot of cream that needs to be removed, as in this case, opt for Renomat and go over them again until you feel that the leather starts to get clean and pores open. Then allow the shoes to rest until they are completely dry, it may vary the amount of time needed, but at least 30 minutes.
Step 2 – Deep conditioning
After a wash, it is good to restore the leather with a product that conditions and moisturise. You can use different varieties of leather balm or lotions, especially if you find that the leather has been very dehydrated, but for shoes it is usually best with a form of conditioner. Here I use Bick 4, other options include, for example, Saphir Creme Nappa, Saphir Renovateur, Collonil 1909 Leather cream conditioner, Boot Black has several good conditioners, and many others.
Take a cotton cloth and a very small amount of conditioner, which, as above, is applied step by step over the entire shoe with circular movements, using less pressure this time. Also on the sole and heel edge. It does not require much of the product, with a good conditioner only a very thin layer is needed. Conditioners usually also cleaned to some extent, and can be used for simpler cleaning, which is good if you do the conditioning, recolouring and polishing with steps 2-4 . Apply it only gently in small amount gives mainly the moisturising effect, rubbing harderfor a few more runs cleans and remove cream and dirt more.
Allow to dry for about 5-10 minutes before going over them with a horsehair brush.
Step 3 -Recolouring, care and protection
Now it’s time for shoe cream, a thick cream often found in glass jars or tubs, not to be confused with wax polish that we use in the next step.
It is caring, protective and if it is pigmented it also recolours. I recommend using pigmented cream, or at least polish (which does not color as much), since it has the golden feature that it covers over the scratches and marks you inevitably get on a pair of shoes. Neutral cream doesn’t do this in the same way. Just neutral cream and polish I personally only think should be used if you have an advanced antique-treated shoe or two-tone model that you don’t want to change the colour on. Even then, pigmented cream may be good if you want to cover any scratches, but then you go with neutral on the rest of the shoe.
If you use pigmented cream and want to keep the original shade of colour on your shoes, you should use a cream in the same or slightly lighter shade. It definitely does not have to be exactly the same color. If you want darker shoes with more depth over time, use a cream that is slightly darker than shoe. For even greater depth, it is nice to vary the color of the cream. For example, on a pair of medium-brown shoes, I usually switch between brown, dark brown, burgundy, and sometimes even blue and black. Even the most pigmented shoots are still far from any paint, it takes time before noticeable colour changes appear.
When applying the cream, I recommend starting with the space between the sole and the upper, and using a small application brush (a toothbrush will do if you don’t have anything else), an important area not least since moisture can penetrate the shoe this way. For the upper leather, I prefer to leave the application brush and take a cotton cloth again, as I find it easier to get the cream applied evenly with this, if it’s not shoes in embossed grain leather, then the brush is good also for the rest of the shoe.
Take the cotton cloth and wrap it around one or two fingers (myself I prefer two as it’s more sturdy), apply a small amount of shoe cream and progress step by step over the whole shoe in small circular movements. More cream is added to the cloth for each new area of the. With the cream you should put more pressure on the movements to really work it into the leather, but still no heavy pressure. Do not forget the tongue or the sole and heel edge. When the whole shoe has got a very thin layer of cream on it, allow to dry for 5-10 minutes, then brush with a large bristle brush to smooth the cream layer, remove excess cream and cure it slightly.
Repeat this procedure twice when the shoe has been completely clean, it is good to add a solid base now.
It may also be advisable to treat t leather sole, if any, with a layer of neutral shoe cream or sole oil (may take some time to dry, so do this at later stake).
Step 4 – Shine and protection
The last step in this shoe care ladder is of course some wax polish. It’s a hard mass found in a metal jar or plastic jar, which provides a little bit of care for the leather, but mainly creates shine and protection. There are those who dislike shiny shoes, but even so I recommend using polish as it forms a hard barrier that provides excellent protection against rain and scratches. If you don’t want it too shiny, you can settle for a couple of layers and just go over a quick run with a brush at the end, and leave it at that.
Here I will briefly go through a more traditional but a bit more time-consuming method of creating a so-called spit shine gloss, then a more comprehensive description of a method I call express spit shine that is significantly faster, but may require a little more of the shoe shiner.
Traditional spit shine method
Here a cotton cloth definitely is to recommend, wrap it around your fingers and put on a really small amount of polish. Dip a finger quickly into the water and put it on the shoe, and work out the polish with small, fast circular movements. Here I think it works best when using only a very light pressure, and allows the heat generated by the speed of the movements to do the job. The moisture makes it slip very easily without friction, but water splashes should not be formed on shoe, then the cloth has become too moist. If this happens change to a dry part on the cloth and continue.
For beginners, I usually go over the entire shoes two times with a very thin layer of polish. Here you do not have to wait for it to dry. Also put polish on the sole edge, but not on the tongue, it’s not necessary. More polishthan this isn’t needed on the edges or the moving parts of the shoe, since the shiny surface will still disappear there when the shoe moves, and too thick layers will only crack and it can look really ugly. However, you may choose to continue working with toe and heel, to get an even better shine there. You simply proceed with the same procedure, thin layers of polish that are built on each other with fast movements. After a while you will notice how the surface changes and a natural shine will appear. It is recommended, especially if you aren’t too used to shining shoes, to take a break every now and then and allow the polish to dry before continuing. It’s mainly a matter of time.
When you are completely done with polish, go over the shoe with a brush with very fast movements all the shoe properly. If you have more shine on your toes you should avoid a horsehair brush, it is too hard and makes scratches in a spit shine. If you have a goat hair brush, I recommend it for this part. And for the finishing touches, use a thin nylon cloth (for example, some old pantyhose, if you don’t have access to it they don’t cost too much in any clothing store). Pull the cloth/sock over your hand and rub with very fast movements throughout the shoe. Here it’s also the heat that is produced which makes the products react and further shine appears.
Express spit shine method
One common truth is that it takes a lot of time to get a good spit shine on your shoes. However, it does not have to. Here I go through a technique that will allow you to get a proper spit shine in 15 minutes. It should be mentioned that it is easier to fail with this technique, both during the actual polishing and that there may be a tendency for the polish layer to crack a bit easier. It is easier to find the right technique if you are used to polishing a high gloss with wax, as you get that feeling for the work that usually only comes with experience (and many mistakes).
As most people know, it’s easier to work out a shine when the shoes have already been polished before, so to give a “fair” picture, the shoes I show below are stripped of old wax and shoe cream with a proper rubbing with renovateur.
This time I use wax polish from Saphir Medaille d’Or, but it works just as well with wax from other good shoe care brands like Collonil, Burgol, Springyard, Boot Black, etc. I also use Boot Black’s polish water, it contains some alcohol which I think that makes the job slightly easier, but with plain water, there is no significant difference more than you might take a little less than I do here. A thin, fine cotton cloth is recommended for this type of shining work, the slightly coarser felt-like cloths tends to make the layers tear together.
I take a lot of wax on the cloth, and then put on quite a lot of water (I dip my finger in the water and put on the shoe in a couple of rounds, make sure the water drops are not too long in one place only since marks can be formed). Then with medium-pressure and circular movements I put on the wax on the toe. Now the surface will be matte and a bit tacky, but keep working and then take another round of water, a little less this time, and polish with circular movements until the matte surface starts to disappear and becomes more even and brighter. By the end of each round I have a quite light pressure, and sometimes a drop of water is needed before the layer feels set. This procedure I repeat two more times before I go over the rest of the shoe with the polish (also sole and heel edges). Over the heel that also has a stiffener, I add two extra layers in the same way as the toe.
After the entire shoe has been covered with wax, I’ll put two more layers on the toe, according to the principle above, although I’m taking a bit less wax polish at a time now. The risk that exists here is that you break the layers and get it ruined. It’s here that feeling I’m talking about above comes in, knowing how and how much to polish, water and pressure to keep the balance right. Very hard to explain in words, and in addition, it’s very individual since everyone shines shoes a bit differently, so you have to try it out.
After this you take the other shoe and do the same procedure on them, so that the first shoe gets to rest and the wax will dry a bit. It takes about five minutes per shoe here if you work pretty fast. Then on the first shoe you go over them quickly with a nylon cloth, before taking another three to four layers on the toe part, where the first ones with a big amount of wax like the first layers above, the last ones a bit less like the latter. Towards the end of each layer, it’s even less pressure and faster movements used, and the shine should now really start to show.
Now the other round when I’m just going over the toes, it takes maybe five minutes for both shoes. A quarter in total in other words, when you work really quick (of course it can vary between different shoes, some leathers are easier to shine than others). Do let them rest a few minutes before taking a round with the nylon cloth again. Then I have gained a clear, bright shine on mainly the toe party, a quite decent spit shine. If you want even higher shine, continue with the last part in a few more rounds, with some rest between them.
Now you should have a pair of well cared for, very nice looking shoes in front of you.
If you are a beginner, it’s not certain that you achieve a good result even if you’ve followed the above in detail. It’s about having that feel for how it should be done, to get a good result, and the only way to get there is through practice. It’s as if you are cooking a meal and fail even though you’ve followed the recipe completely correct, if you lack the feel for cooking it still can go wrong.
What’s nice is that once you have laid a good foundation, it’s easy to reboost the nice shine, and you do not have to use the same efforts every time you want to get a spit shine anymore.
If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments field below, where I’ll try to answer them and maybe update the post if needed until the article really live up to its headline.
Links to other articles about shoe care