Take a look at your shoes. Leather? We thought so. In fact, we’d wager that the majority of your shoe collection is made from varying types of leather. From full-grain to split-suede, these tanned hides and skins are reliable, stylish and hard-wearing. But, despite being tough natural materials, they still require a certain level of care.
Be they boots, brogues, sneakers or slippers, your leather shoes demand that you look after them accordingly. Cleaning and conditioning are two simple steps, but ones that could extend the lifespan of your loafers by years. So unlace your shoes, show them some love and invest in the best in shoe care.
Start off by thoroughly cleaning your shoes
The first, and arguably most important step in caring for your shoes is simple: keep them clean. But, depending on the type of leather your shoes are crafted from, the method changes.
“Leather shoes are like a brand new car,” says Sam Gill, store manager for Duke & Dexter. “Treat them well and they will return the favour. That’s why leather care is a practice that you can’t afford to neglect. Begin, whatever the leather, by making sure it is free of dust and dirt by giving it a quick clean with a soft brush.”
Next, if the leather has a finish, use a mild soap and a damp cloth to clean the surface of the shoe. Avoid using a sponge, as many contain chemicals that can seep out and detrimentally affect the leather.
If the leather is unfinished, use saddle soap. Gently create a lather and rub softly onto your shoes, making sure to wipe off any excess. Allow to dry naturally as saddle soap contains a wax that will help seal and protect unfinished leather. If your shoes are water or salt-stained, take a mixture of two parts water to one white vinegar, and apply to the affected areas, wiping until the stains disappear.
Jason Markk Premium Microfibre Towel
Bickmore Saddle Soap
Abbeyhorn Horn and Boar Bristle Brush
Learn how to properly clean suede
“A pair of suede shoes are a staple of a gentleman’s wardrobe,” says Euan Denholm, Head of Brand at Edward Green. “They pair perfectly with the soft flannels and brushed natural tones and fabrics which men are wearing in abundance this winter. But with winter comes the hazards of rain and wet and mucky streets. It’s probably best to avoid wearing suede on the grimiest of days but treated with care a good suede can be pretty resilient.
“If dirt has built up on the shoe,” Denholm continues, “then use a suede cleaner with a soft rubber suede brush, this will allow you to rub the suede while not damaging its structure. If the marking is really persistent then one trick we use is to keep a kettle on a rolling boil and steam clean the suede, gently rubbing with the suede brush before wiping down with an absorbent cloth.”
Greasy stains can also be the end of suede — so try to avoid wearing your napped finish shoes anywhere they may get marked. However, if the worst does happen, blot with a paper towel, tip a little baking powder or talcum powder onto the stain and then brush lightly the morning after.
Jason Markk Suede Cleaning Kit
D.R. Harris Talcum Powder
Cherry Blossom Suede Brush
Next up, condition your shoes to keep them looking new
“Leather uppers require regular treating with a good-quality wax polish to protect the leather and give a high shine finish,” says James Fox, Brand Director of Crockett & Jones. “This should help to prolong the life of the uppers and maintain their appearance.”
Ensure your shoes are dry before application, says Fox, and try to avoid using unsuitable liquid polish applicators as these can potentially damage the surface of high quality leathers and often create a lacquer which is hard to remove.
Put in some real elbow grease here and work the polish into every crevice of your shoe – it may be particularly time-consuming with brogues or detailed shoes, but it’s worth the trouble.
Next, apply some conditioner or protector, be it a resin or a spray. The same goes for suede — which arguably needs more protection than any other leather. Remember to recondition and retreat every month or so, more often during times of inclement weather, to ensure your shoes stay looking fresh.
Crockett & Jones Wax Polish
Attirecare Shoe Protector Spray
Edward Green Shoe Cream
Keep your shoes safe by storing them correctly
Storing your shoes correctly also plays a prominent part in how long they last. If they get wet, stuff them with newspaper overnight and let them dry naturally — but also invest in some gear to keep them looking new.
“The single most important thing you can do to keep your shoes in shape and looking great is to use shoe trees,” advises Sepand Oboudiyat, founder of Sons of London. “Choose high quality cedar shoe trees which have natural antibacterial properties and a fresh fragrance. They will absorb moisture and prevent the dreaded crumpled and turned up toe effect.”
Leather shoes should also be kept in shoe bags – which help shade the shoes from potentially damaging dust and sunlight. Suede shoes should be stored in open air, but away from sunlight.
Follow these rules and your shoes will stay looking fresh for longer. If you need them resoling, do your research to find someone who’ll do a good job, and try swapping out your laces every six months to give your shoes a new lease of life.