One always talk about how much easier things are with good tools, and this also applies to shoe care and the brushes we use. Here is a comprehensive guide on the various shoe brushes available, how to use them and examples of good alternatives.


Horsehair brush – medium hard all-round brush

When you talk about shoe brushes, this is what most people think of, and like the shoe cream (more about this in the big shoe care guide here), it’s the only product you can’t do without. It can be used to brush away dirt, both from regular leather and suede shoes, and it is used to brush up the shoe cream to remove excess and build shine. The horse bristles comes from both the man and tail (where tail hair is of slightly higher quality), and is relatively stiff but still compliant. The denser the brush is built, the better the function generally. Avoid shoe brushes with synthetic bristles, they are more difficult to handle.

Brushes from Saphir with horse bristles. Image: District Leather

It’s often discussed whether different brushes are needed for different colours of shoe polish and wax. To recommend is to have one brush for dark colors (black and dark brown), and one for lighter (other colours), this is because brushes used on darker shoes can color off a bit on mainly light brown shoes, especially if you miss laying on the thin fine layers there should be. It works with just one brush as well, as long as you are aware that a slightly darker splash can appear on lighter shoes. If this type of brush is used to remove dirt when you come home it’s good if it is completely separate, so you don’t work in dust and other dirt when you put on the cream.

Horsehair brushes in two different sizes from the brush collection that I have been part of developing for Skolyx (also the top picture). These have the horse’s tail tail, which is of higher quality and minimizes the risk of release. Picture: Skolyx


Application brush in horsehair – for applying cream

An application brush is used to apply shoe cream (not the wax polish, for this a polish cloth is much more suitable), either just in the area between the edge of the sole and the upper leather, or over the entire shoe instead of a polishing cloth, it is a matter of taste. Personally, I prefer a polishing cloth for smooth leather, but use an application brush on embossed grain leather.

A common variant of application brush from Valentino Garemi. Picture: Valentino Garemi

The design on the brush is also a matter of taste, but I think that a brush with a straight shaft is superior especially since it’s much easier to get it into the shoe cream can. The brush should be made of horsehair, for best function, and here as well be a dense as possible. Here one should also really use one brush for dark cream, one for light coloured.

Nicely designed application brush made by Famaco. Picture: Shoepassion

The dried cream causes the brush to become stiff when you are to use it, but if you just rub it against any apron or a cleaning cloth it softens again, and when it is so encrusted that it needs a proper cleaning it’s easily done with dishwashing liquid in the sink.


Goat hair or yak hair brush – soft for finishing

Clear nice goat hair brush from Bäckman’s Skoservice own brand Brookman. Picture: Bäckmans Skoservice

My favourite brush is a soft, lovely brush in goat hair (or yak, more unusual and even more expensive), I have lots of different varieties and use them a lot. The main purpose is to have a brush to brush up the shine after using wax polish, as the slightly harder horse hair brush tends to create small scratches in the shiny finish. Here it’s enough with one brush for all colours of shoes. This is since the wax (if you do it correctly) is in such thin, hard layers that it is extremely limited how much that colours off on other shoes.

A superb finishing brush made by hand in Japan for Boot Black. The special design enables very dense bristles. Picture: Leffot

A soft goat hair brush is also excellent to use to brush off dirt from the shoes when you get home, especially if you have a good shine on your shoes, as you don’t risk scratching the finish. However, this “dirt brush” should be different from the one used when polishing the shoes.

Even softer than the goat hairbrush is a yakhår, this exclusive variant from the Hanger Project. Picture: Hanger Project


Nylon cloth – for the final finish and restoration of gloss

Even if you have a goat hair brush for the finish, you will get a last little snap on the shine with a nylon stocking. Technically not a brush, obviously, but suits here anyway. So we talk about ordinary women’s pantyhose, best to buy short knee highs, semi shine in about 60 den (relatively thick). Put the sock over the hand and rub with very fast movements. A nylon cloth is also brilliant to use to bring out the shine again before using the shoes, and if you have one lying in the bag, you can rub off smaller marks that you likely to occur during use.

A nylon stocking is a great way to finish the shine, or restore the luster after use.


Brush with pig bristles or wild boar bristles – hard brush to work in cream

Brush with shorter, more rigid wild boar bristles from Skolyx, made in Black Forest in Germany. Picture: Skolyx

A bit overambitious, not a brush that is necessarily needed, but appreciated by some. Above all it is to be able to work in the shoe cream effectively that this harder brush is used for, it’s easier to get up good heat with a harder brush. Can also be good for embossed grain leather for brushing the cream more effectively, and some use it as a suede and nubuck brush.

Classic wild boar brush from Saphir. Picture: The Shine


Suede brush – for lifting suede fibers

As mentioned above, both a horsehair brush or a brush with wild boar bristles can be used to brush suede shoes clean, but when it comes to really lifting the suede’s fibers, which needs to be done occasionally to get out of some dirt and restore life to the material, then a specific suede brush is best. Here there are a few different variants, where I usually recommend a brush that has brass bristles in the middle and stiff pig bristles or synthetic bristles at the outer ends, which makes them a bit more gentle than pure brass brushes. Regardless, one should use these relativitely carefully, and only with soft, fine movements work up the suede’s fibers, and nothing that needs to be used after each use of the shoes (then the horsehair brush works when surface dirt is to be removed). After washing, a suede brush is also extra important.

Suede brush from Crockett & Jones with brass core and nylon brush at the top. Picture: Grafford

Other variants are suede brush with phosphor bronze bristles, which is just perfectly rigid and works brilliantly, or rubber crepe brushes in natural rubber which I know some appreciate, to me, however, they are a little difficult to work with.

Very exclusive and well-functioning suede brush from Japanese Edoya with bristles in phosphor bronze (review available here).


Suede – clean stains on suede and nubuck

Traditional suede eraser from Collonil. Picture: Euroleathers

For more obvious stains on suede, a suede can often be an excellent solution for quickly and easily removing the stain. The most common variant is made in a kind of gritty material that falls apart when you gently work away the stain, and this loose grains are then brushed away with a regular shoe brush. Another often even more effective and gentler variant is suede eraser in raw rubber which can be surprisingly effectively remove proper stains.

Effective suede eraser from Skolyx in raw rubber, with natural sponge back to remove the last dirt of the stain. Picture: Skolyx