Friday, 22 September 2017

How to properly care for your leather shoes

From brogues and boots to sneakers and slippers, ensure your leather lasts for years

shoecare of leather brogues with brush
Jonathan Wells

Take a look at your shoe collection. Chances are, they’re made in many types of leather. And, from nubuck to suede, these tanned hides and skins are used for their different qualities, each having their own way of finessing elegant style. But these are natural materials, that should be cared for accordingly.

But whilst your boots, your brogues, your sneakers and slippers could conceivably all be crafted from leather, do you know how to sufficiently maintain the material? Leather should last for years, in any of its forms, so follow these two simple steps and you could extend your the lifespan of your loafers by years: clean and condition.

Illustration by Joe McKendry
Illustration by Joe McKendry


The first step to keeping your leather shoes looking fresh is to keep them clean. Begin, whatever the leather, by wiping off any excess dirt with a soft, dry cloth.

If the leather has a finish, then use a mild soap and a damp cloth to clean the surface of the shoe. Avoid from 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.

Gold label soft soap

Cleaning suede

Suede is a difficult material to work with, but its understated stylishness is worth the effort. To clean a pair of suede shoes, thoroughly dry them and then gently use a suede brush to remove any dirt. The stiff metal bristles will work for tougher stains, and the rubber or plastic end for scuffs and smudges.

Greasy stains can 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.

shoe polish wax with brush


Leather needs protecting and polishing to keep it secure against the elements.

Begin by polishing your leather shoes with a wax-based polish, which will enrich the colour of your leather and give it a perfect shine. Put in some real elbow grease here and work the polish into every crevice of your shoe – which may be particularly time-consuming with brogues, but entirely worth the trouble.

Next, apply some conditioner or protector, which may take the form of a resin or a spray. Apply liberally, but don’t stray too far from the manufacturer’s instructions.

Many of these protectors – especially the sprays – can also be used on suede, which needs even more protection again. Remember to recondition and retreat every month or so, or more often during times of inclement weather, to ensure your shoes stay looking fresh.

leather boots with shoe polish and brush


Storing your shoes correctly also plays a prominent part in how long they last. If they get wet, stuff with newspaper overnight and allow to dry naturally. Shoe trees are also an invaluable part of your arsenal – we’d suggest cedar wood trees with a split toe and large, shaped heel for the best support.

Leather shoes should 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, go to a reputable cobbler, and try swapping out your laces every six months to give your shoes a new lease of life and stop them looking too worn.