Shoe Cream vs. Polish

Shoe Cream vs. Polish

Having a decent assortment of shoes is important to any man. Of course, no such collection would be complete without the dressier variety. If you’ve guessed it already, yes, we’re talking about dress shoes. Whether you have a 9 to 5 gig or get invited to many dinner parties, dress shoes are a must-have in any man’s closet.

Purchasing a nice pair of dress shoes is only the beginning. Regardless of your preferences in price tag or type (the efficient penny loafer or a snazzy Oxford lace-up), the one thing that every shoe requires is proper care and maintenance. Sadly, the one mistake that many men make is to neglect to care for the shoes they have bought.

To make sure your dress shoes stand the test of time or whatever punishment your feet inflict on them, you need to put some time and effort to polish them so that the leather shoes can maintain their luster. This is where things can get a bit tricky.

In the intricate world of pairings, there are many combinations such as butter and mashed potatoes, Tabasco and pineapple, dress shoes and polish? Or is it…shoe cream? This combo is one that’s always existed, but nobody’s ever bothered to dissect the question of shoe cream vs. polish. Well, today is your lucky day, because we’re about to do just that. But first…

Shoe Polish: Beginnings

Shoe polish has always been around in some form or the other. The earliest form of shoe polish was made from animal fat, wax, soda ash and oil. The shoe polish as we know it today was invented in Australia by William Ramsay[1] and Hamilton McKellan in 1906.

Their brand ‘Kiwi’ shoe polish was named after his wife who was from New Zealand. Kiwi polish was made from a combination of dyes, turpentine, naphtha[2], lanolin[3], gum Arabic and wax. Traditionally, shoe polish is sold in 60-gram flat cylindrical tins. This is to keep the polish from drying out.

The popularity of Kiwi grew exponentially during the two World Wars where troops from both sides would polish their army boots to maintain their shine and waterproof properties. Today, the Kiwi brand of shoe polish is sold in over 180 countries. Of course, many other shoe polish brands have sprung up since, but even after more than 100 years, Kiwi remains to be the most sold shoe polish in the world.

Shoe Cream or Polish?

When one thinks of shoe polish, the first thing that almost always springs to mind is the turning of that little lever on the side to open the Kiwi tin. While not many men would claim to be passionate about polishing their shoes, it’s more of a necessity. After all, we all know the feeling of reaching for your leather shoes when you’re late in the morning only to find it dull and layered with dust.

The question here is, which should you reach for when polishing your dress shoes; shoe cream or polish? Here we’re going to break it down.

Shoe Polish: Explained

As the name implies, shoe polish gives your dress shoes a polished finish. This is achieved by adding layers of the wax on the outer surface of the shoe. This wax layer is then buffed to give the shoes a shiny glow. It is important to note that shoe polish does not seep into the leather, but rather, remains on the surfaces, making it more of a superficial solution.

In short, polish gives you the finish that’s similar to a new pair of shoes as long as you maintain it by polishing the shoes regularly.

Why Use Shoe Polish?

Strictly speaking, leather is made from skin. This means it’s got pores and imperfections that are similar to our skin. There’s a reason why women (and some men) apply creams and moisturizers to nourish and even out their skin. Polish works in pretty much the same way.

Also, with time, the outer layer of leather shoes tends to lose its luster. Flakes of the leather gradually begin to drop off but are so tiny that they are easily missed. That coupled with the nicks, scratches and general punishment that our shoes go through results in them succumbing to wear and tear. This is where they need to be replaced.

Polish prolongs the shoe sheds and the appearance of wear and tear which generally appears around the top caps, heels and in the area at the top of the shoes where the toes bend. Since leather shoes are an expensive investment, it pays to maintain your shoes by applying polish on them to prolong their life.

The good news is, there are plenty of options available when it comes to shoe polish nowadays. But purchasing a tin of shoe polish is only half of the journey. You still have to use it to polish your shoes so that they can maintain their shine for as long as possible.

Using Shoe Polish

Polishing leather shoes is a science. But, it goes without saying that keeping your shoes properly maintained can add years to its life. Besides that, clean leather shoes lend the finishing touch to a suit, making it look good while adding to the shoe’s lifespan. And finally, polishing your leather shoes is important because according to researchers, you can judge a person just by looking at their shoes[4].

Here, we are going to take a look at how you can polish your shoes the right way and what you are going to need.

Things You’ll Need: 

  • Shoe polish (any good brand should do)
  • Shoe brush (preferably made from horsehair)
  • Clean cloth
  • Applicator brush

The Method:

STEP #1: Find an Old Newspaper — First off, you wouldn’t want to make a mess while you’re polishing the shoes. Find an old newspaper or cloth that you can spread over the area you wish to work on. Since shoe polish has a distinct odor and an almost irritating ability to smudge easily on any surface, the newspaper can be very useful, especially if you will be polishing your shoes on a carpet. Once you have found the right size cloth or old newspaper, spread it over the area you will be working on and place your shoes and the other items in the middle.

STEP #2: Remove Dirt and Debris — First you will have to remove any dirt and debris from the outer layer of the shoe’s surface. Be careful not to be too rough when trying to remove any stubborn dirt or stains since you could end up damaging the leather surface. You can either use a damp cloth or a horsehair brush to remove any build-up of dust on the surface of the shoe. Make sure the cloth isn’t too wet while you’re using it, and always give the shoe a few seconds to dry.

STEP #3: Apply the Polish — Now, cover the shoes with the polish by applying it with the brush. Remember to be generous while spreading the polish over the outer layer of the shoe, but not too generous. Otherwise, your shoe will end up with a dull, lusterless look.

STEP #4: Shining the Shoe — Once you’ve applied a generous amount of the shoe polish over the entire shoe it’s time to start shining it. You can do this by using the horsehair shine brush. Getting that lustrous shine often takes a while, so don’t grow impatient if it’s taking a few swings. The idea of using the shining brush is to remove all of the excess polish while leaving just a thin coat of polish that gives leather shoes that familiar luster.

STEP #5: Now, Focus on the Heel and Toe — With the entire top portion of the shoe brushed and shining, its time to turn your attention towards the heel and toe of the shoe to get that extra shine. Dip the cloth or cotton ball into some water, squeeze and dab the cloth in the polish. Make sure the cloth is not dripping with water. Now, apply the polish on the toe and heel in a circular motion. Remember to remove excess polish before applying a new coating. This might take a while, so be patient.

Shoe Cream: Explained

The shoe cream is a type of shoe polish that helps add color to leather shoes. The cream is often thick and also contains a large number of pigments. The downside of using shoe cream is that while it can be used to mask scratches, it does not give you that brilliant shine as shoe polish. In short, shoe cream is ideal for those who are looking for a matte finish rather than a shine on their leather shoes.

Why Use Shoe Cream?

Shoe cream can keep the shoes looking vibrant and well maintained. Its ability to cover up any scratches or discoloring means that you can maintain the new look of your leather shoes for a longer period. When it comes to shoe cream vs. polish, unlike shoe polish, which changes the shoe color, the shoe cream works by leaving a thin layer behind which helps enhance the original color of the leather shoes.

This is beneficial since it does not produce a different shade if you accidentally use the wrong color shoe cream. As long as it’s a close color match, you should be fine. The same cannot be said when using shoe polish. Shoe creams are the ideal choice for adding subtle color to your leather shoes, but not the shine.

It is also important to note that shoe creams come in two types; synthetic and natural. Leather shoes can absorb shoe creams that are made with natural oils and waxes better as compared to their synthetic counterparts.

Using Shoe Cream

Shining your leather shoes using shoe cream is a lot similar to using polish. Since shoe cream is a dye, the process differs slightly. Thanks to the many brands that are available today you will be spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing a shoe cream.

Here, we are going to take a look at how you can polish your shoes the right way and what you are going to need.

Things You’ll Need:

  • Shoe cream (any good brand should do)
  • Shoe brush (preferably made from horsehair)
  • Clean cloth or cotton balls

The Method:

STEP #1: Find the Right Shade — The most important part of using shoe cream is finding the right shade for your pair of leather shoes. Since shoe creams come in various colors, ranging from white to black, brown, and a range of less natural colors, you must match the color of the cream to the shoes, or at least select the closest option. The best part about using shoe cream is that even if you do make a mistake and choose the wrong shade, it can be easily cleaned off.

STEP #2: Find an Old Piece of Newspaper or Cloth— You wouldn’t want to make a mess while your polishing the shoes. Find an old newspaper or cloth that you can spread over the area you wish to work on. Once you have found the right size cloth or old newspaper, spread it over the area you will be working on and place your shoes and the other items in the middle.

STEP #3: Remove Dirt and Debris  — First, remove any dust and debris from the outer layer of the shoe’s surface. Be careful not to be too rough when trying to remove any stubborn dirt or stains since you could end up damaging the leather surface. You can either use a damp cloth or a horsehair brush to remove any build-up of dust on the surface of the shoe. But, make sure the cloth isn’t too wet while you’re using it, and always give the shoe a few seconds to dry.

STEP #4: Apply a Leather Conditioner — Rub a thin layer of leather conditioner over the outer layer of the shoe. This can be done with a clean cloth or cotton ball. The conditioner will help moisturize the leather and will prevent it from cracking. Leather conditioners are available in the market as sprays and resins.

STEP #5: Wait for 15 to 20 Minutes — After applying the conditioner equally over the shoe, let the conditioner get absorbed into the leather for about 15 to 20 minutes.

STEP #6: Applying the Shoe Cream — Apply the cream on the shoe in a circular motion using the soft cloth. Be careful not to apply too much of the cream or else the leather surface will end up looking streaky and will build up in the creases of the shoe. Unlike when applying shoe polish, you do not have to apply a generous amount of the shoe cream.

STEP #7: Allow the Cream to Dry — Once you have applied the shoe cream with the help of a cloth you need to set it aside for the cream to work its magic.

STEP #8: Buff the Shoe with the Horsehair Brush—  Now buff the entire top portion of the shoe until it starts to give off a light shine. While buffing use rigorous side to side strokes to help the polish move deeper into the leather, while removing any excess cream from the upper surface.

Ending Note

While the preferences of whether to use shoe cream or polish are pretty evenly divided into two camps, with each defending the benefits of either the shoe cream or the polish for their dress shoes, at the end of the day, it all comes down to personal preference.

Some folks switch from cream to polish as they wish while others prefer to use a shoe conditioner that helps open up the pores of the leather and is also a remedy for wax buildup on the surface of leather shoes. Regardless of which you choose, you need to master the technique of polishing your dress shoes so that they may last longer.

[1] http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ramsay-william-8152

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naphtha

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lanolin

[4] https://www.medicaldaily.com/you-can-judge-90-percent-strangers-personal-characteristics-just-looking-their-shoes-240793

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