How to Clean Leather Shoes and Make Them Shiny and Fresh

Hey there, shoe lovers! If you’re like me, then you know that a great pair of leather shoes can elevate any outfit and last for years. However, with that long-lasting quality comes the need for proper care and maintenance. That’s why I’m here to share with you my expert knowledge on how to clean leather shoes to keep them looking their best.

Leather shoes can be quite an investment, ranging from a few hundred to even thousands of dollars. It’s no wonder that you’d want to ensure they stay in tip-top shape. However, the delicate nature of leather means that improper cleaning can do more harm than good. In fact, using the wrong techniques or products can cause irreversible damage, leaving you with a costly mistake.

That’s why it’s crucial to learn the right way to clean leather shoes and take the time to do it properly. So, let’s dive into the details of how to clean leather shoes and keep them looking their best for years to come.

What are Leather Shoes Made Of?

If you are enthusiastic about shoes, you are probably curious about what goes into making a great pair of leather shoes. Well, I’ve done my research, and here’s what I found out:

Leather shoes primarily come from animal hide, which undergoes a rigorous process of treatment and processing to create a durable and flexible material. The most common types of animal hides used for leather shoes are cowhide, sheepskin, and goatskin. However, some manufacturers also use other animal hides like pigskin, deer, or even kangaroo to create leather shoes.

To create the leather material, shoe craftsmen will treat the animal hide with various chemicals and tanning agents that remove any hair, flesh, and other unwanted substances. After that, they soften and dye the leather to achieve the desired color and texture. The end result is a strong, flexible, and breathable material that is ideal for making shoes.

Overall, leather shoes are made from animal hide that is treated and processed to create a durable and flexible material. The final product is a shoe that is comfortable, breathable, and fashionable.

Why are Leather Shoes so Good?

There are a lot of reasons why leather shoes are so good. The main point is their comfortability aspect. A more expensive and premium pair of leather shoes usually use natural leather, and let me tell you that natural leather will feel soft and comfortable to wear. Plus, they are highly breathable! This will prove to be very beneficial, especially for guys like me who sweat a lot. The air circulation will allow sweat to dry faster. 

Aside from the point above, I can also say that leather shoes are so easy to clean. Yes, they might require patience in order to avoid damaging the leather, but generally, you can remove dirt and stains easily with the right tools and methods. They are also relatively more waterproof, unlike most other types of shoes

Based on the points that I have made before, you can probably deduce that leather shoes are good and durable. Yes, they can be expensive, but they sure have a long life. We haven’t even talked about their style yet, as no other pair of shoes can beat classy leather shoes with a simplistic and awesome design! 

How Can You Tell If a Shoe Actually Use Genuine Leather

There are some signs that you can look at when trying to figure out if a pair of shoes is actually from leather. From my own experience, you can immediately differentiate a pair of natural leather shoes based on their texture. If you touch them and they feel soft and flexible, then there’s a high possibility that you’re holding leather shoes.

You can also look for information on the label of the shoe. Most shoes will provide this simple (yet often missed) information, so you can start with that.  

Another eye test that you can do is to check for pores. If you’re dealing with real leather shoes, then you will notice small pores on them. You can also do a smell test. Real leathers have a unique and distinct smell that comes from residual tanning agents.

Household Items to Clean Leather Shoes

There are a lot of products that you can use to clean your leather shoes. But if you feel like getting creative, you might opt for household items instead. Although they aren’t as pricey as shoe cleaning products, household items can still be effective. Let’s take a look at some household items that you can use to clean leather shoes, as well as the steps needed. 

#1 Baking Soda

Most of the time, dirt and stains that land their way on a leather shoe will create grease. Baking soda might help you get rid of them.

  • Prepare a nice amount of baking soda
  • Sprinkle the baking soda on the stains and dirt that you want to remove. You don’t need to cover the whole shoe with baking soda.
  • Wait for some time; it’s best to do it at night and leave it overnight. 
  • In the morning, you can wipe the baking soda and the stains along with it. 

#2 Vinegar

Vinegar can also be used to clean your dirty leather shoes. However, we’re going to need another help in the form of linseed oil.

  • Prepare a mixture of linseed oil and vinegar in a 2:1 ratio. 
  • Similar to baking soda, you can wipe the mixture using a cloth onto the shoes. 
  • Wait for around 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Wipe the shoes with another soft cloth and make them shine like new products once more. 

#3 Saddle Soap

Saddle soap is really effective when it comes to cleaning leather shoes. It can eliminate stubborn stains and dirt that are located on your shoes. Unfortunately, you need to have a conditioner and condition your shoes after using a saddle soap unless you want your shoes to get damaged.

  • Prepare a saddle soap and conditioner. Make sure to prepare a bowl of water as well. 
  • Prepare a soft brush, a microfiber cloth, a wet sponge, and a paper towel. 
  • Eliminate dust and residue using a soft brush. 
  • Use the saddle soap and rub it on the dirty section of your shoes.
  • After the dirt has been eliminated, wipe the remnants of the saddle soap. 
  • Use a conditioner across your shoes after cleaning them with saddle soap.

How Professionals Clean Their Leather Shoes

Most people think that professionals or experts have special tricks to take care of and clean leather shoes. I’m here to tell you that it shouldn’t be the case. The only difference between a professional and people like us is their experience and knowledge.

With the right training and after some attempts to clean leather shoes, you can clean them like a professional. Here’s a trick that professionals usually use to clean their leather shoes. 

  • Normally, a professional will use a shoe-cleaning product, although some still prefer homemade items. 
  • Use the cleaning product and a soft brush to wipe dirt and stains on your leather shoes. 
  • After the cleaning process is done, make sure to condition your shoes to replenish lost oils.
  • Oils aren’t the only thing that you need to retain. As a matter of fact, you can make your shoes shine once more by polishing them. 
  • Here’s a step that most newbies skip. Professionals will waterproof their shoes once in a while to increase durability. 

How I Clean My Leather Shoes

After learning a lot about leather shoes, I feel that now is the right time for you to know my secret to clean leather shoes. There are going to be a lot of kits and tools that you need to prepare. You should also proceed to clean your shoes carefully in order to avoid damaging them. 

1. Cleaning Kit

  • ShoeCleaner: A special shoe detergent needed to clean your favorite and precious leather shoes. 
  • Apron: Not an obligatory item, but it will come in handy when we’re talking about keeping your shirt clean while washing your leather shoes. 
  • Premium Brush: Used to clean the upper part of your shoes that, is usually made up of canvas, suede, leather, synthetic leather, mesh, knit, nubuck, and many more. 
  • Medium Brush: Used to clean your leather shoe’s midsole section. 
  • Standard Brush: Used to clean your leather shoe’s outsole section.
  • Small Brush or Toothbrush: This type of brush will come in handy when it comes to cleaning the inner part of your leather shoes that is usually hard to reach. 
  • Microfiber Cloth: Used to wipe leather shoes clean of dirt and stains. 
  • Shoe Tree: Essential item to keep your shoe’s basic structure intact. 
  • Container/Pan: Used to store water
  • Shoe Perfume: You can use shoe perfume in order to generate a certain odor for your shoes. 

2. Anatomy of Leather Shoes: Which Cleaning Kit is Needed for Each Section

  • The Upper Part of Your Leather Shoe: As the name states, it’s the upper part of your shoe model. You need to use two different brushes to clean this part. Premium Brush will be used in order to prevent damage to the upper part of your sneakers, while a small brush will come in handy when you’re trying to wipe additional stains that are hard to eliminate.
how to clean leather shoes
  • Midsole: The side sole section of a leather shoe. To clean the midsole, we suggest you use Medium Brush, as midsoles can often get damaged and dirty due to usage.
how to clean leather shoes
  • Outsole, or the lower part of leather shoes: To clean a sneaker’s outsole, you can use a standard brush that is strong and sturdy. This way, dirt and stains from your outsole might be cleaned easily. 
how to clean leather shoes
how to clean leather shoes

3. Leather Shoes Cleaning Process

I follow the following steps whenever I need to deep clean my leather shoes. Remember, washing your leather shoes by hand is always preferable. Avoid machines and follow the guideline below!

Step 1: Prepare your leather shoes

Get your dirty leather shoes out of the box. Examine it for spots and persistent stains that need extra attention. Also, it is a good opportunity to check if your leather shoe is in good condition, not damaged or scratched.

Step 2: Prepare the cleaning kits and tools needed to clean your leather shoes

Prepare the Shoecleaner, apron, Premium Brush, Medium Brush, Standard Brush, Small Brush, Microfiber Cloth, two pieces of Shoe Tree, and a container to store water and ShoePerfume. 

Step 3: Remove the laces from your leather shoes

I highly recommend that you remove the lace from your shoe. After you manage to separate them, you can soak the laces in water that has been mixed with Shoe Cleaner. After waiting for some time, clean it and squeeze it a bit to remove the water. Finally, you can dry it off with a microfiber cloth. 

Step 4: Insert Shoe Tree Inside Your Shoes

Inserting a shoe tree will help keep the shape of your shoes, especially when it’s being cleaned. Before inserting the shoe tree, you may remove the insole first. 

Step 5: Dry-cleaning Your Leather Shoes

Before washing the leather shoes with water, we need to brush the upper part and midsole with a premium brush to wipe off debris and dirt that is often found on the shoes. 

Step 6: Wash the Outsole and Midsole of Your Leather Shoes

During this cleaning stage, you can use a Standard Brush. Make sure to use all your strength when cleaning the outsole, as it’s naturally the dirtiest part of a shoe.

As soon as you have finished cleaning the outsole, you can proceed by cleaning the midsole with a Medium Brush. This time, patience and diligence are needed, as there will be a lot of dirty spots that are hard to clean.  

Step 7: Clean leather shoes inside

If you have managed to remove the insole from your shoe, you can proceed to clean it with a Premium Brush. Then, wait for a while and insert it back into your shoes. 

This stage can only be done if you can remove the insole from your leather shoes. If it’s not possible, don’t force it, or it may permanently damage your shoes!

Step 8: Wash the Outer-Upper Part of Your Shoes

Use the Premium Brush to wash the upper part of your sneaker in order to prevent any damage to your shoe. When cleaning the upper part of your sneaker, make sure to do it carefully! Shortly afterward, you may wipe it with a microfiber cloth by gently tapping it on the shoes and letting water get absorbed

Use a small brush to clean certain parts that will be hard to reach with a normal brush. Then, wipe it with a microfiber cloth. You can also use a Premium Brush when possible, but never ever try to force it! 

Step 9: Detailing

Use a wet microfiber cloth to clean details on your leather shoes that are dirty, which are normally found on your midsole or outsole.  

Step 10: Drying Process

Dry off your shoes by using a fan. As an alternative, you can also dry it by waving your hands or placing the shoes in a cold area with minimal moisture. Try not to dry the leather shoes by placing them under direct sunlight, as it can damage the glue or paint of said shoes

Step 11: Finishing 

Once all necessary parts are dry, then you can place the insole back inside the shoe. The same thing also goes for the laces. Now, your shoe is back in action and looks fresh again!

Leather Shoes Do and Don’t


  • Clean your leather shoes with a moist cloth before storing them.
  • Regularly polishing your leather shoes to make them shine brightly as well as preserve their original color.
  • Use a shoe tree when you’re storing your shoes. It really helps to maintain their shape and structure.
  • Store in a dry place.


  • Don’t use them too often.
  • Don’t use them for regular or casual occasions. Try to maximize your leather shoes for important dates only.
  • Don’t store it inside a moist space or area.
  • Never put your shoes outside or under direct contact with the sunlight.

How to Clean Moldy Leather Shoes

how to clean leather shoes

When a leather shoe has mold on it, you know that it hasn’t received a nice treatment from its user. That’s the reason why you should always try and clean them regularly. But what’s done is done, and if mold has already grown on your shoes, you might need to follow these steps.

  • Prepare a nylon brush and alcohol. You may want to make sure that your cloth is ready as well. 
  • Create a mixture of water and alcohol. Then, rub it across the dirty section of your shoes. Make sure to avoid pouring pure alcohol directly, as it may damage your shoes. 
  • Wipe the remnants of the alcohol using a cloth.
  • Let your leather shoes get dry for a while before storing them in their original box

How to Clean Leather Shoes Without Leather Cleaner

how to clean leather shoes

Using a leather cleaner to clean your leather shoes will do a lot of wonders. This way, you won’t need to use other items aside from a brush and a microfiber cloth. But you won’t need to worry if you don’t own a leather cleaner (and don’t want to bother buying one!).

As a matter of fact, all of the cleaning ideas that I have brought up before don’t even require the assistance of a leather cleaner. Just use a homemade item like baking soda or saddle soap, and you’re golden!

Tips to Prolong the Lifespan of Your Leather Shoes

Before I wrap this article up, there are still some more tips that I would like to pass on to you. I hope that this knowledge might make you a wiser shoe collector and can help you to preserve your leather shoes!

  • Avoid wearing your shoes every single day. Even though leather shoes are durable and strong, they can wear out quickly when you use them too often. 
  • Leather shoes might be prone to a change in shape. Therefore, I suggest putting a shoe tree when you’re storing them. 
  • Don’t wear them in an extreme environment, i.e., somewhere too hot or muddy environment. 
  • Don’t store your leather shoes recklessly. Make sure to put them inside a box and stack it with other shoe boxes. 

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Frequently Asked Questions about Leather Shoes

How do you clean leather shoes without damaging them?

To clean leather shoes without damaging them, you’re going to be extra careful. Use a soft brush that is paired with the right cleaner in order to avoid any damage or scratches. 

What is the best way to clean leather shoes?

The best or easiest way to clean leather shoes is by using a set of wet tissues. Then, you just need to wipe it across the upper part of your leather shoes. If the tissue manages to eliminate dirt and stains, you won’t need to wash them with other tools anymore!

What is the easiest way to clean leather shoes?

The easiest way to clean leather shoes will be to polish them before usage. After the process, you’ll notice that they’ll look shiny again. However, it might not be as effective as the other methods that I have mentioned before. 

Can I clean leather shoes with water?

Yep, water is a viable option when it comes to cleaning leather shoes. However, you shouldn’t use too much water as it can make the leather shoes get moist. In turn, it might cause a bad odor when you can’t dry them properly. 

Will soap and water ruin leather?

Both soap and water won’t ruin a leather shoe. However, you really need to condition the shoes after this kind of cleaning process in order to recover lost oil.


As someone who has owned my fair share of leather shoes, I know firsthand the frustration that comes with trying to maintain their pristine appearance. And now, after reading this article and learning how to clean leather shoes properly, you will feel much more confident in your ability to keep your footwear looking like new.

Whether you’re dealing with scuffs, stains, or just general wear and tear, the tips and tricks outlined in this article provide a comprehensive guide to caring for your leather shoes. So, take the time to give your shoes the tender, loving care they deserve, and enjoy the benefits of a well-maintained leather shoe collection for years to come!