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BY AlphaM May 10, 2012


Shine On! Polished Shoes

Polished shoes say so much about a man.  Seriously.  When I see a great looking pair of shoes or boots that aren’t new, yet are clean and shiny, I can tell they belong to someone who truly cares about his appearance.  Like a clean and neatly pressed outfit, polished leather shoes reflect volumes about the wearer’s sense of style and his commitment to looking his best.

However, there’s more reason to take care of our shoes than just looking spiffy.  Taking proper care of our shoes is a smart financial decision, as well.  Shoes are expensive, so no matter which brand you’re sporting, keeping them in good condition extends their life expectancy; resulting in saving you big money by buying fewer shoes.  No matter what they cost, caring for shoes is a wise thing to do – for the sake of our image, as well as our wallets.

Shoes deserve the same attention and care the rest of our wardrobe receives.  Nothing’s worse than seeing someone all decked out with scuffed shoes or broken laces.  Nasty looking, beat up shoes only take away from our best efforts and intentions to look sharp.  Caring for shoes may take a little time, but the end result is so worth the energy invested; I’m confident you, too, will appreciate the benefits.

There’s more to leather shoe care than just polishing.  There are actually four different steps or procedures to preserving leather, which should be performed on shoes, belts, leather coats, and everything leather that’s not suede, nubuck or exotic leather.  Leather, which was once the skin or hide of an animal, needs appropriate care to keep it healthy and supple, in order to prevent it from drying out, cracking, and peeling.

The following four steps explain how to properly address smooth leather shoe care – a dying art that needs to be revitalized and mastered – so you can spend some of that hard earned money on a sweet sport coat or hot date, instead of replacing shoes.  But before we get started, here’s a list of things you’ll need to get the job done right:

  • A well ventilated room, so you don’t have to breathe the toxic chemicals found in many shoe care products.
  • Wear old clothes for obvious reasons.
  • Rubber gloves, so nails and hands don’t take on chemicals or color.
  • Newspaper to protect the table, countertop, floor or wherever you polish shoes from getting messy.
  • Soft cotton fabric or rags.  Old t-shirts are perfect for the job.  Be careful of terry cloth towels, since they can streak and leave lint on shoes.
  • Sponge (optional).
  • Soft shoe brush for buffing (optional).
  • Leather shoe cleaner designed for smooth leather.
  • Leather conditioner designed for smooth leather.
  • Shoe polish – wax, paste or cream.
  • Leather waterproofing / protectant product.


Ok, got everything?  Let’s get started!

Clean: Leather cleaners remove old, built up polish, stains and dirt. They come in various mediums: liquid, foam, gel, spray, and creams.  I believe old, reliable saddle soap is still available for those who prefer to use it.  My guess is it’s less expensive than other cleaners.  Regardless of what you use, follow the manufacture’s directions and clean your shoes.  This is when a shoe brush comes in handy, since it’s very effective in knocking dirt off shoes, and reaching hard-to-get dirt that hides in seams, cracks, and stitching.  Once finished applying the cleaner, wipe shoes clean with a soft cloth and allow them to dry for a few minutes.

Condition: Conditioners do just that – condition the leather by moisturizing it, which makes it soft and prevents drying and cracking.  There are different type conditioners, so be sure of what you’re using.  Natural conditioners like mink oil will soak into the leather, where synthetic ones like silicone tend to sit on top of the leather.  Conditioners that soak in are more effective and beneficial to leather; however, natural oils typically darken leather, which can be a problem for lighter shades.  Choosing a conditioner is a personal choice; still, I suggest doing a test to see how any new conditioner reacts before using it.  Apply a small amount to either an old pair of shoes or piece of leather before putting it on good shoes for the first time.  Conditioners come in various forms from paste to liquid, and can also be found combined with cleaners in one product.

Rub small amounts of conditioner onto the entire shoe, and wipe off after a few minutes.  This should be adequate time for the shoe to absorb the conditioner.

Polish: There are several types of polish to choose from.  Wax will give the best shine and scuff coverage, but since it also seals the leather, leather can eventually become dry, since nothing is able to penetrate it, including conditioners.  Paste and cream polishes are very moisturizing and allow leather to breathe.  Paste stays on shoes longest, but can be messy to work with.  Creams are fairly easy to use and give good results.  Liquid is convenient, but tends to dry leather out, so I never recommend it.  You might want to experiment with the different types and find one you like.

Before polishing the entire shoe for the first time, apply a small dab of polish with a soft cloth to an inconspicuous area of the shoe to test for color compatibility.  Choosing a matching color can be a challenge, especially when you’re dealing with any color beyond basic black.

If you like the color, continue rubbing the polish onto the whole shoe with a cloth and allow the polish to dry completely; usually about ten minutes.  Another option for applying polish is to use a damp sponge, which adds moisture to the polish and enhances the shine.  Let’s not forget the infamous “spit shine”, which really brings up a great shine.  Spit is effective because it gives moisture to drying polish as you polish.  If you want to try it, I suggest using a drop or two of water instead of the real thing, but it’s up to you.

Once the polish is dry, remove it by buffing the shoes with another clean rag or brush until desired shine is acquired.

Waterproof: Many guys don’t feel the need to weatherproof their shoes; however, if you encounter a lot of wet, moist conditions, it’s definitely smart to do it.  Because we leave the house no matter what the weather is, waterproofing is a good insurance policy.  Rain, snow, and the occasional puddle can change the color and condition of leather easily, especially finer leathers.  I suggest everyone use a protectant based on their lifestyle.  If you encounter a lot of water and messy conditions, products containing beeswax would be most protective; however, beeswax will probably alter the color of the shoe somewhat. If your shoes don’t usually get into messy situations, you may want to use a protective spray that is invisible.  Silicone sprays are not as shielding as beeswax, but they also don’t change the color.  Waterproofing should be based on the shoe’s need, so having one of each type protectant in your shoe kit is a good idea.

Shoe Care Tips

  • Shoes will be easier to shine with shoetrees inside them because they firm up the shoes.  Leave the trees inside the shoes until they’re dry, or better yet, until you wear the shoes again.
  • Remove all shoelaces before polishing to avoid staining them.
  • Liquid sole and edge dressing restores the edges of shoes and heels.  Nice touch!
  • Before wearing new shoes, condition them, which will give them great protection from the start.
  • Don’t use polish to change the color of your leather shoes.  This might be the time to invest in the service of a shoemaker.
  • Investing in having soles and heels replaced may not be the most economical thing to do like it once was.  Shoe repair is not cheap, so if it’s time to resole, check out new shoe prices and compare them to repair costs.
  • Many shoe manufacturers refurbish their own shoes.  This, too, can be costly, so compare the price of refurbishing to buying new.
  • The downside to a brush is it can leave too much polish on the shoe, which often ends up on the inside of your pant leg where it touches the shoe.
  • If your shoes are scuffed so deeply that the color has come off, it’s best to bring them in for service and have the shoe repairman correct the problem.
  • Plan ahead by having shoes cleaned and shined before you need them.  It will save time at critical moments; plus you will avoid the temptation of not shining your shoes if you are short on time.
  • Some of the best leather cleaners and conditioners are labeled for leather jackets, leather furniture, leather purses, and car seats.  Check these products out, too.
  • Most grocery stores, pharmacies, general retail stores, and shoe repair shops sell shoe care products.  There are quite a few online companies that offer a wide selection of products that can’t be found in stores.


Whether you spend a lot of money on shoes or not, they should always be kept in good condition.  If shoe care is not your thing, find yourself a reliable shoe repair shop.  Do whatever it takes to keep your shoes looking as great as the rest of your wardrobe.  I promise it makes a difference in today’s world!

by Aaron Marino

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