How to Care for Leather Shoes

How to Care for Leather Shoes

Leather shoes are perhaps some of the longest-lasting shoes you can own — if you take care of them properly, that is. Leather shoes require a surprising amount of work to get the most out of them, but what you might not realize is that you need to employ all of the following tips to make sure your leather shoes last as long as they can.

How to Care for Leather Shoes

You can’t care for shoes without these essential items:


You’ll be spraying and slathering harsh chemicals onto your leather shoes to care for them properly. These materials might have dyes and other elements that could permanently stain your hands or your furniture. To care for your workspace the best, have plenty of newspaper lying around when you’re about to give your leather shoes some TLC.


Just as how you need a newspaper to care for your furniture or workspace, you need gloves so you can protect your hands from the products used to care for your leather shoes. Again, these shoes most likely have dying elements to them and will have harsh chemicals you don’t want to touch too much.

Some people manage fine without gloves but have some around just in case things get messy.

A Soft Rag

You’ll need a rag to clean any debris, sand, or dirt off your shoes. You could get a soft cloth made from 100% cotton from a grocery store or home improvement store. When in doubt, you could use an old t-shirt you don’t care about anymore.

Whatever you decide to use, the rag has to be clean and dry. Don’t introduce foreign elements onto your leather shoes before you add more material to them.

Soft Shoe Brush

You’ll need a soft shoe brush not only to clean your shoes but apply the shoe conditioner and polish to your leather shoes. A soft shoe brush helps disperse the products deep within the leather shoes so that the material does not sit at the top of the leather.

You could get by without a soft shoe brush, opting instead for another old t-shirt. If you plan on wearing your old shoes for a long time, though, it would be best to invest in a soft-bristled shoe brush to care for your leather shoes in the most efficient way possible.

Leather Cleaner

You can’t use regular soap and water to clean your leather shoes, as you could not only damage the material but dry it out. Instead, you’ll need specialized cleaner specifically designed for leather.

Pay attention to the type of leather you have, as well. Finished and unfinished leather will require different kinds of cleaners.

Finished Leather

Finished leather is typically easier to clean because the polished surface protects the leather from stains. Finished leather can still stain, of course, but you’ll be able to wipe colored liquids away without leaving much of a mark — the finish stops the leather from absorbing liquid.

Due to that nature, you’ll need a finished leather cleaner that penetrates deeply into the leather without damaging the leather finish.

Unfinished Leather

Unfinished leather is trickier to clean because the leather is much more vulnerable to stains and damage. You could accidentally buy the wrong leather cleaner and see marks of the cleaner long after you’ve concluded cleaning the unfinished leather shoes. An improper cleaner could permanently stain the leather in unsightly ways.

To avoid that outcome, buy a leather cleaner designed explicitly for unfinished leather shoes. You’ll find the product is much gentler on the leather, so there’s little risk of permanently altering the shoes.

Leather Conditioner

Not only will you need to clean the leather shoes, but you’ll have to moisturize them with conditioner.

Without regularly conditioning your shoes, you’ll find that they will begin to crack and crease unattractive ways. Besides, cracks in the leather make the material more prone to holes, which are difficult to repair.

To ensure the longevity of your shoes, you’ll need a leather shoe conditioner that is once again specifically designed for the type of leather you have — finished or unfinished. Some leather conditioners even match the color of the shoe you have, as the conditioner is deeply piercing in the leather material and could discolor the shoe, though most high-quality conditioners won’t.

There are many types of leather conditioners that accomplish different things in the shoes, so be sure to do your research and find the best conditioner for your shoes.

Shoe Polish

Leather shoes often fade in the sunlight or after getting wet. Even in perfect conditions — say if you mostly wear your leather shoes indoors, they can still discolor over time.

Therefore, you need to keep your leather shoes looking brand new with leather shoe polish. The polish will restain the shoe so that it covers the wear and tear incurred from wearing.

Shoe polishes look waxy in appearance. Once applied to the shoes, they provide a fresh, clean look. They can even give a waterproofing effect to protect your shoes from water damage.

If your shoe polish doesn’t provide waterproofing, you’ll have to add one more step to your leather shoe care routine.

Waterproofing and Leather Protection

Once the shoes have been cleaned, conditioned, and polished, the last thing you’ll need to do is protect your shoes from the elements. To do this, you’ll need high-quality leather shoe protection.

Most of these products will include a waterproofing element, such as a protective wax or another coating. Some of these leather protectants come as sprays, so you’ll need to go outside to apply the protectant to ensure you don’t directly breathe in the harsh chemicals.

If the leather protectant comes as a type of wax, you should apply the protectant on your shoe with a rag or old t-shirt. Be sure to wear gloves too, so that you don’t get any product on your hands, and also ensure you’re spraying away from you when you apply the protectant.

Read Also: How to Waterproof Ugg Boots

How to Clean, Condition, and Protect Leather Shoes

Lay down your newspaper and have your materials nearby. Stuff your shoes with a newspaper, socks, or a shoe tree and rub away any loose dirt with the soft rag.

Follow the instructions on the bottle for the cleaner to avoid harming the shoes. Once the cleaner dries, apply the conditioner.

Use a soft brush to work the conditioner into the shoe. Employ vigorous motions to not only drive the product deeper into the shoe but to create heat that will open up the leather’s pores. Once the conditioner dries, top off the shoe with polish, letting the product dry.

Voila, your shoes are clean, shiny, and ready to go. For some added shine, you can dot some water on the smooth, non-creased part of the shoe and rub it in. This is called a spit shine, so you could theoretically use your own saliva, but it’s more sanitary to use water.

Read Also: How to Shrink Leather Boots

A Note for Caring For Suede

Suede is made from leather, but it’s an exception when using the above method to care for your shoes. Don’t use any leather product on suede shoes unless that product is specially designed for suede. Using a product not meant for suede can damage the sensitive shoe material.

Instead, get a suede-specific brush or a small wire one to wipe away dirt. Avoid getting your suede shoes wet, as the water could not only stain the leather but cause it to crack.

Other Tips for Caring For Leather Shoes

Condition Your Shoes Regularly

If you wear your shoes every day, you need to clean, condition, and polish your shoes weekly. Regular upkeep prevents the leather from losing its sheen and prevent cracks from forming.

If you wear your shoes occasionally, say once a week, you can get away with a monthly polishing.

Properly Store Your Shoes

Get a shoe tree. No, they’re not the same as a shoe rack, in which you physically place the leather shoe onto the shoe tree.

Instead, you place the shoe tree into your shoe. The shoe tree keeps the shape of the shoe over time, thus preventing creases in the leather. Shoe trees help the shoes keep their shape, and are much more efficient than stuffing your shoes with newspaper or socks for the night.

Shoe trees are built from a variety of materials, but they’re best for your shoes if they’re made from wood. Cedar is a popular choice, as the cedar improves the smell on the inside of your shoes. Wood is especially vital if you wear your shoes without socks.

The wood absorbs the moisture from your feet sweat and reduces the potential for lining rot.

When to Use Shoe Trees

It’s best to use shoe trees immediately after taking off your shoes. If you wear your shoes for several hours, the leather has absorbed lots of moisture due to sweat. Inserting the shoe tree stops the leather from deflating and creasing, keeping its natural shape.

In addition, the wood absorbs the moisture immediately, stopping it from penetrating into the shoe leather, damaging it. The sooner you put the shoe tree into your leather shoes, the less likely cracks and creases will form in the shoes.

Use Dust Bags

Dust bags are essentially cloth bags with a drawstring at the top. They can be used to hold your shoes when you’re traveling to minimize damage to the leather.

Dust bags are breathable yet protective. The breathability is important — when your shoes are in the bag, they’ll release moisture. The moisture needs to go somewhere, so it’s best for the pores in the bag to let the water molecules go out.

If the bag isn’t breathable, say if you used a plastic bag or synthetic bag, moisture from the leather could escape and damage other parts of the shoe. Besides, the humidity could cause the shoes to soften, and even if you use shoe trees, it might make creases form in the leather.

Your leather shoes need to be protected when you’re traveling. Other items in your bag could scrape against the leather and permanently scratch it. Not only that, but the bag protects the soles of your shoes from contaminating the surrounding clothes with germs.

If you don’t have a dust bag on you, you can use two old pillowcases. Separate the shoes in each pillowcase, twist closed the top of the pillowcase, and tie the case closed with a shoelace or string. If you want, you could cut off the extra part of the pillowcases past the shoelace, or you could tuck the excess under the shoe and put it directly into your bag.

For sanitation, protection, and breathability reasons, use dust bags, as opposed to other bags, to store your leather shoes when traveling.

Avoid Walking on Rough Ground

Try to walk on smooth, even surfaces as much as possible. Rough surfaces increase the likelihood of scratching or scuffing your shoes.

If you wear your shoes in a city, avoid walking too close to people to prevent them from stepping on your shoes. Accidents happen, and you can’t avoid them. If you take proper precautions, though, you can mitigate actions as much as possible.

Put On and Take Off Your Shoes Properly

When you first buy your leather shoes, you’ll do everything in your power to avoid scuffing them. After a few months, though, your precious care wanes, and you use utterly utilitarian behaviors to put on and take off your shoes.

For example, you most likely take off your shoes by using the toe of one foot to step on the heel of the other, holding the shoe down while you slip your foot out of it. When you put your shoe back on, you probably move your fingers in the back of the heel to hold the shoe open while you slide your foot in place.

Both of these actions can scuff your shoes.

To properly care for your shoes, you need to take them off and put them on properly. First, get a shoehorn to facilitate proper foot insertion into your shoe. A shoehorn is a thick piece of metal or plastic that slips on the back of your heel on the interior of the shoe so that you can then guide your foot into the shoe.

Shoe horns stop you from using your fingers to hold the shoe open or stepping on the heel while you guide your foot in. If you’re in a pinch, you can use the end of your belt to help your foot slip into your shoe. Otherwise, invest in a shoehorn to stop creases from forming in your leather shoes.

Correctly taking off your shoes mean unlacing them as wide as they’ll go, so you avoid stretching taught leather. Once you’ve loosened the laces, hold the shoe from the bottom and slip your foot out of it. Then, of course, put your shoe tree into your leather shoe to further protect it.

If you need further instructions on how to care for your shoes, you can use this video as a guide.

Avoid Rain and Extreme Heat

Water can get into the creases of your leather — the places polish and waterproofing product has a hard time reaching — and damage the material. If you know it’s going to rain in your area, opt for a different pair of shoes for the day. If you’re caught off guard and have your shoes rained on, condition and polish your shoe that night.

Secondly, avoid wearing your shoes when it’s sweltering outside. Extreme heat can stretch the leather too much and cause it to be more brittle and thus be more prone to cracks and creasing. On hot days past 90 degrees Fahrenheit, opt for shoes made from a synthetic material that can withstand higher temperatures.

Lastly, don’t put your shoes in direct sunlight as well. The sun’s radiation will break down the pigment of your leather and cause it to fade over time. There’s not much you can do to protect your shoes when you’re out and about in the light of day, which is why you need to condition and polish your shoes regularly to keep them looking brand new.

Buy Leather Shoes In Neutral Colors

You’ll find it challenging to find a polish to match bright yellow, white, or red leather. Besides, more vivid colors tend to show stains more easily. The dyes used to get those wacky colors could also break down the leather quicker over time.

If you want to buy cheaper shoe polish and have your shoes last longer, opt for leather in the most common colors — black, brown, and tan.

Leather shoes can be some of the snazziest footwear you buy. They can also be some of the most expensive. As a result, you need to find the best ways to care for your leather shoes that allow them to last as long as possible. By following the above tips, your leather shoes will not only look great but last for at least a decade — maybe even more.