Leather is a luxurious and resilient material to make shoes out of, but it’s unfortunately prone to wrinkling, scratching, and scuffing, especially if you don’t care for it properly. There’s no way to protect your expensive leather shoes from scuffs and scratches entirely (aside from not wearing them, of course), but there are several things you can do to address these scratches when they do happen.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through how to remove scratches from leather shoes, how to protect your shoes from getting scratched and scuffed in the future, and how to keep your shoe leather looking (and feeling) soft, supple, and healthy.
Why Do Leather Shoes Scuff?
If you’re wondering how to remove scratches from leather shoes, you’ve probably wondered why leather scratches the way it does in the first place at some point, too. Because only the surface of the leather is penetrated by dye when it’s created when the top layer of the leather is scratched or removed, the lower layers of the untreated and undyed leather show through.
If your leather is darker, it’s especially easy to see scratches and scuffs when they happen. If you tend to scuff your shoes a lot, you may be better off purchasing lighter leather shoes to mitigate this risk.
How to Remove Scratches from Leather Shoes
Before you do anything else to your scratched leather shoes, it’s time to give them a good cleaning. Refusing to clean your leather shoes before polishing or treating them is a recipe for disaster. Instead, brush off any lingering dirt and grime with a soft brush, then wipe them clean with a dry cloth.
Before going any further, make sure to check whether your shoes are treated or untreated. Treated leather is generally smooth and somewhat hard, while untreated leather is plush, rough, and flexible. If your boots were made with untreated leather, use oil soap or saddle soap to clean them; if they’re made of finished leather, you can alternatively use plain water to clear away any dirt and grime.
Once your shoes are cleared of dirt and have thoroughly dried, they’re ready for some scuff and scratch treatment. It’s always a good idea to stuff your shoes with newspapers before washing them, as this will both help to maintain the shoes’ shape and to absorb water as they dry.
1. The Hairdryer Method
Hairdryers and heat guns can be used to make leather more supple and flexible. If you’re lucky, the scuff or scratch you’re treating will be massaged out with some gentle heat. As you do this, be sure to keep the heat gun or hairdryer constantly moving across your shoes – don’t leave the heat on any one area for an extended period, as this can damage or burn the leather.
A good rule of thumb to follow is that, if your hairdryer setting is too hot for your hands, it’s too hot for your leather shoes. Move the heat gun or hairdryer further back from the shoes or turn the heat setting down if this is the case. Once your leather shoes are warm enough, shallow scratches and scuffs should buff out of the leather with minimal trouble.
2. Petroleum Jelly Method
Petroleum jelly has the same hydrating effects on leather as it does on our skin, and as such, applying it to leather can be a great way to help reduce the appearance of scuffs and scratches. Before you start with this method, make sure you’re using a brand of petroleum jelly without fragrances or added chemicals, as these could damage your leather shoes. If you’re wondering how to remove scratches from leather shoes with petroleum jelly, start by doing the following:
- Apply the ointment liberally to the scratched or scuffed areas of your shoes
- Let it sit on your shoes for at least ten minutes
- After ten minutes have elapsed, gently wipe any excess jelly off of your shoes
By the end of this process, your leather shoes should have absorbed a small amount of petroleum jelly, hydrating the leather and making it more supple. In addition to making the leather healthier, this should keep it from developing more scuffs and scratches in the future, too.
3. Leather Repair Products
If you need a fix for a more stubborn scuff or scratch, but you’re not willing to schedule a professional repair, there are still several things out there you can try to fix your leather shoes. Most of these products, known as leather repair products, are made to help reduce or correct the appearance of leather scuffs and scratches through various means.
Before using any serious repairing or recoloring agents, go over your leather shoes with a suitable leather cleaner or conditioner. Typically, this cleaner will be enough to buff away most superficial scratches and imperfections, but if it’s not enough, you can try several other options, such as:
- Leather markers
- Leather recoloring balm
- Leather glue
Necessarily, there are two parts to fixing a deep scratch on a leather shoe: fixing the indentation and re-dying the area. If your scratch is deep enough that the surface of your shoe is no longer smooth, no amount of dying alone will be enough to fix it. Instead, you’ll need to fill the hole with leather glue or filler first.
However, be aware that working with leather glue is a difficult and tedious process. You will most likely need to scuff or scratch the leather even more with a sharp tool before you can go through with the full repair. As a result, we only recommend doing this yourself if you’ve practiced, have professional help, or if your shoes don’t mean too much to you. You can also practice on a piece of scrap leather first if you desire.
Always follow the manufacturer’s directions when using leather glue. When you finish applying the glue and letting it dry, go over the area with a leather dye pen to make sure the newly-repaired area blends in with the rest of your shoe.
If your scratch isn’t deep enough to warrant the use of leather glue or filler, but it’s still deep enough that simple cleaning won’t get rid of it, leather recoloring balm may be just what you need to restore the look of your shoe. The leather recoloring balm will restore the look of your shoe while also moisturizing it and keeping it healthy. The lotion helps to re-stain your footwear, too, making it so the scuffed area matches the shoe and revitalizing the rest of it at the same time.
You’ll likely find other leather repairing products and kits out there, to, some of which may work better than others. When you finish applying them, coat your shoes in leather polish or wax in several layers to help smooth out the new look and to protect your shoes.
4. Call a Cobbler
Of course, if you believe you have no way of fixing and restoring your leather shoes, you always have the option of calling a professional shoe repairer before you give up. A shoe cobbler should be able to fix any nicks, scratches, or holes in your leather shoes permanently, in addition to cleaning them up and protecting them, too. While cobblers aren’t common anymore, you should be able to find one near you with a bit of digging.
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Caring for Leather Shoes
While any good pair of leather shoes will inevitably get scratched or scuffed at some point, keeping your leather shoes healthy, hydrated, and supple will help them resist such treatment in the future. In the remainder of this guide, we’ll teach you how to care for your leather shoes to keep them healthy and resilient against scuffs, scratches, and other unsightly blemishes.
1. Hydrate Your Leather Shoes
Since (real) leather was once taken from a living, breathing animal, it requires similar upkeep to what living, breathing skin needs. Just as our skin gets dry and cracked without moisture and nutrition, leather does the same. Oiling your leather shoes regularly is comparable to applying moisturizing lotion to your bare hands on a regular basis.
To hydrate your shoes, first pick out a good leather conditioner, saddle soap, or saddle oil. You may want to use more than one product if your leather shoes are very dry. If you can, go over the entire shoe with the oil or conditioner, applying the solution until the shoes are supple and hydrated. Some areas of the shoe, such as the toe area, may be drier than others. Then, wipe off any excess oil or conditioner, just like we did with the petroleum jelly earlier.
Keeping your leather shoes hydrated and supple is the best way to keep them from scuffing, scratching, and wrinkling in the future. After all, moisturized skin is flexible and healthy, while dry skin is brittle and prone to cracking. The same is valid for leather!
2. Protect Your Leather Shoes
Once your leather shoes are hydrated and healthy, it’s time to protect them from whatever natural enemies might come their way. There are several different solutions you can use to protect your leather shoes from damage. Some examples include:
- Leather waterproofing spray
- Leather shoe polish
- Shoe polish with wax
For decades, people have used wax to create a thin, water-repellent layer of protection over their leather shoes without making them look dull or unsightly. Nowadays, you can purchase shoe polish that already contains wax. This lets you get the polishing and waxing done all in one step. However, if you’re feeling old-school or want to save some money, you can use plain beeswax to protect your shoes, too, though this method is a bit more involved.
For any leather treatment that you purchase at the store, make sure to read the manufacturer’s directions carefully before using it. However, if you’re using plain beeswax, though, you’re on your own! To protect your leather shoes with wax, drip or rub the melted beeswax on your boots until you create a layer across the entire outer of the shoe. Use a heat gun or hairdryer to smooth the wax into an even layer after applying it to the shoes.
Shoe Trees for Leather Shoes
Another essential tool for keeping your leather shoes in tip-top shape is the shoe tree. A shoe tree isn’t quite what it sounds like, though! A shoe tree is an insert you slide into a shoe to stretch it and help it to maintain its shape. For leather shoes, you should try to keep a set of shoe trees handy as much as possible.
Preferably, you would place your shoe trees inside your leather shoes after each use. Since leather tends to be a supple material that loses its shape over time, a shoe tree will help the leather reshape itself and reform after each use. This is especially true if your leather shoes have dented, caved in, gotten wet, or otherwise compromised their natural shape.
Storing Your Leather Shoes
Storing your leather shoes is just as important as cleaning them and protecting them. If you’re not planning to wear your leather shoes for a while – over the summer or winter, for example – putting them properly into storage is critical.
Leather shoes should never be stored in a shoebox, even if it’s the one they came in. For the most part, shoe boxes do not breathe enough to keep leather shoes healthy while they store. Never store your leather shoes in any of the following, either:
- Plastic bags
- Cardboard boxes
- Cramped conditions
- Damp rooms or closets
- Direct sunlight
Instead, store your leather shoes in a shoe bag specially made for leather. These bags will let the shoes breathe and release moisture without growing mold or becoming otherwise unwearable over time. However, storing your shoes in a damp environment will result in mold buildup despite your best efforts, so it’s best to store them somewhere mold-free, to begin with.
Read Also: How to Remove Creases from Shoes
Rotating Your Leather Shoes
Believe it or not, one of the best ways to maintain the health and freshness of your leather shoes is to switch them with another pair. If you only wear your leather shoes once or twice a week, this step may not be necessary, but for those who wear the same shoes to work every day, your leather shoes have probably become stinky.
When we wear a pair of shoes everyday, leather or otherwise, we end up sweating in them, getting them wet, covering them with dirt and dust, and much more. However, leaving your shoes unworn for just one night isn’t generally enough time for a good pair of leather shoes to dry and reform their shape. As such, having a spare pair of leather shoes to wear on off days is an essential key to keeping your leather shoes hygienic, well-fitting, and good-smelling.
Clean the Inside
While leather shoes require special care and attention on their outsides to keep them looking fresh and attractive, you should never forget that their insides need maintenance, too. If you neglect to care for the soles of your shoes, they could end up growing stinky, collecting dirt and mud, or worse. As such, it’s a good idea to disassemble your leather shoes and take a crack at the inside every once and a while, too.
An excellent way to get started on cleaning the insides of your leather shoes is to pay special attention to their soles. If the soles of your leather shoes are removable, take them out and wash them gently with water mixed with a gentle detergent. Then, wipe off any dirt and sweat, making sure to let them dry thoroughly before returning them to your shoes.
Since leather shoes are made to last for so many years, the inner sole will likely need replacing several times in their lifetime, too. If you’re experiencing back pain or foot pain while wearing your leather shoes, it may be time to get the soles replaced.
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Removing Stains from Leather
Just like with any other shoe, it’s possible to remove stains from leather. However, due to the porous, absorbing nature of leather as a material, it can be very, very hard to get certain stains out. Water stains are one such problem, and this is why you should be careful never to saturate leather shoes.
If you do end up with water stains on your expensive leather shoes, all is not lost yet. Often, you can restore the look of a water-stained leather boot by reproducing the effect across the whole shoe. In this scenario, you would get the rest of the shoe wet just enough to stain it. This way, the previous water stains will not be visible. Just be careful not to make the problem worse!
If you take the time to care for your leather shoes properly, even a scratched leather shoe will reward you with years of wear. A leather shoe is a lifetime commitment, and while they may require a bit more care than other shoes, they give that back in beauty, resilience, and protection when you need it.