If you've stumbled upon this blog, then we don't have to convince you on the benefits of having high quality leather footwear.
Whether you've got sneakers or loafers, brogues or boots, dress shoes or leather work boots. Leather is an amazing material to make shoes from. Full grain or split suede, calf or deerskin, the list goes on.
Your leather shoes can support you all day long, for years to come. If you take care of your shoes, they will take care of you.
Here, we'll discuss shoe care 101 (and some 201). How you can protect your investment and make sure your leather shoes last as long as possible.
We break this down into the basics of leather shoe care. In the order that you'll need this info. Wearing best practices, how to clean, how to polish, and how to protect. We also have a few bonus tips at the end for shoe care aficionados who want to go the extra mile.
Note that we use shoes and boots interchangeably in this post since our recommendations will work for both! Also note that we are talking about real leather in this article. If you have faux leather shoes, they won't last as long regardless of your care routine. For faux leather we recommend only using cream polish.
Let's dive in.
Don't Wear Your Shoes Every Day
This is hugely important. When you wear your shoes, your feet sweat. Even if you don't feel it. All this extra moisture is transferred to your shoes.
This, coupled with the pounding they take from walking around all day, puts your leather shoe in a compromised position. It's not as strong.
You have to give your shoes a day off to let them air dry. We recommend at least 24 hours, and 48 is even better. So if you wear dress shoes five days a week, you should have 3-5+ pairs to rotate through.
Use Shoe Trees
Shoe trees are wooden inserts for your shoes. Cedar shoe trees are the most popular given their aromatic nature and longevity. These should be in your shoes whenever your feet aren't. They absorb the excess moisture we spoke about above. They reduce odours and minimize creasing of your shoes as well.
Plastic does not absorb moisture like wood. So make sure they are wood. Cedar is the most popular but it can be any natural wood. This wood is often unfinished to make sure it can absorb as much moisture as possible.
Wearing your shoes daily and not using shoe trees are the #1 mistakes that break down high quality shoes quickly. Don't do it.
Also, before performing any shoe care, make sure you insert a shoe tree into whatever you are working on. This will help the shoe keep its shape and prevent you from crushing it will working on them.
Clean Your Shoes When Dirty
A simple one, however it's worth explaining further. All of the maintenance steps we describe later work best on clean leather shoes.
If you shoes have a bit of dirt of them, wiping them with a damp cloth should do the trick. Start with a clean cloth, simply wet it a bit and wipe as needed.
If you have a lot of dirt or a stain on your shoes, such as a salt stain or a coffee droplet, then you'll need to use some shoe care product, such a leather cleaner. No, you should not use soap and water on your shoes. The strong detergents in normal soap with dry out your shoes. We feel the same way about saddle soap most of the time.
For smooth leather shoes, we recommend Saphir's Cleanser. This gentle cleaner will help remove built up old polish, stains, and grime. It will do so without drying out your leather.
Apply a small amount to a clean cloth and apply an even coat to your entire boot. Working in the cream in a circular motion. Repeat on your other boot. Brush vigorously with a horsehair shoe brush. Voila, clean leather boots!
Using a cleaner on your shoes too regularly will wear down the leather. You shouldn't have to use it after every wear. Usually every 10+ wears. Use a cleaner if something happens, or every couple of months, depending on your wearing habits. Don't use it more frequently than that.
If your shoes are made out of suede, you need a different shoe care product. For suede shoes we recommend Saphir's Omni Nettoyant Suede Shampoo. This cleaner is specially formulated to clean suede without damaging the nap or drying out the leather.
Put a small amount in a small dish of water. Agitate until bubbly. Use the provided brush and brush the solution into the entire suede shoe. Repeat with other shoe. Rinse off excess soapy solution with water or pat dry with a microfiber cloth. Let air dry overnight. Do NOT put your shoes next to a heater to speed up the process. This will damage the leather.
Condition Your Shoes
Now that you shoes are nice and clean, it's time to condition them. Conditioning leather is essentially moisturizing or hydrating it. Much like your hands could use some lotion when its cold or dry out, your leather is the same.
You are adding back in oils, fats, and waxes that keep the leather supple and healthy. Hydrated leather is more pliable and flexible. Dried out leather is prone to cracking and looks weather. Conditioning is a crucial step in leather care of any type.
For smooth leather, you'll need a leather conditioner. Saphir's Leather Lotion or Saphir's Nappa Balm work wonderfully here. They contain highly nourishing natural ingredients such as lanolin and jojoba oil.
Apply a thin to moderate coat to your entire shoe using a soft cloth or soft brush. Repeat with the other shoe. Brush out with a horsehair brush. The friction and warmth from brushing helps work in the conditioning cream as well as evenly distribute it. That's it. Easy.
For suede, you'll also need a leather conditioner. This will be a spray instead of a cream though. Saphir's Suede Renovateur is only of the sprays that is a leather conditioner for suede. It's specially formulated with almond oil.
Spray a thin and even coat all over your entire shoe. Let it air dry. At least 30 minutes or so, and there is nothing wrong with waiting overnight. Brush with a suede brush or a horsehair brush when done. That's it. This spray comes in multiple colours so it can help fill in scuffs. This doubles as the "cream polish" of suede. So what we have to say about scuff marks for smooth leather kind of applies to this. Keep reading to learn more.
These conditioning steps don't have to be done every time you polish your shoes. 3-6 times a year is enough for most people in most climates. Make sure you condition your shoes whenever you use a cleaner.
Polish Your Shoes
Now your shoes are healthy. They're clean and conditioned. It's time to make them shine.
For a healthy glow, we recommend using cream polish. Sometimes referred to as shoe cream. Saphir's Pommadier is ideal here. Its a Shea Butter oil base so it adds some extra moisture. It comes in 13 colours so you can add some extra pigment in. You can learn a bit more about selecting colours in our post about choosing the right shade of brown.
In short, if you don't want any colour change you should go with a neutral cream polish. It will hydrate and shine your shoes without changing colour. It won't fill in scuffs and marks well.
If you can find an exact match to your shoe colour, great. Use that colour cream polish and it will fill in marks and scratches moderately, with minimal colour change.
Alternatively, use a cream polish that is a half or full shade darker than you shoes. It will darken your shoes slowly over time and many uses, and it will be the best at filling scratches and marks.
The pigment is important for scuff marks. That colour fills them in and helps reduce their appearance. This is really a product that will take your shoes from "oh" to "wow" in about five minutes.
Using a soft cloth or applicator brush, apply a thin coat to the entire upper of your leather shoe. Repeat for your other shoe. Brush vigorously with a horsehair brush. It's really as easy as that. Your shoes will thank you.
You can apply cream polish often as you like. We find once a month is a great frequency. Often simply wiping your shoes with a damp cloth and then brushing them is enough to restore their shine. If that doesn't work to your desired level of shine, use a cream polish.
At this point they should be looking fantastic. They are happy, nourished, and shining with a healthy glow. You're ready to rock that presentation, or look your best on date night.
There are a few extra steps if you want to take things to the next level though. Keep reading to learn more.
Here are some bonus tips if you want to take things from good to great. You could technically get by without any of these steps, however you might not want to miss out.
Use A Wax Polish For A High Shine
We've spoken before about the differences between cream vs wax polish.
Wax polish, sometimes referred to as paste wax, shoe polish, or shoe paste, is the polish that comes in a tin and is a hard puck.
This is what you need if you want an extremely high shine on your shoes. A spit shine, or mirror shine, is what it is usually called.
Apply a very small amount of this with a very soft cloth. An old cotton t-shirt works very well. Using a small circular motion, work the polish onto the toes and/or heels of your shoes or boots. The paste should go on hazy and then slowly start to become shiny. When it goes from hazy to shiny that is one coat. Repeat this process until you reach the desired level of shine.
We highly recommend Saphir's Pate De Luxe. It's high concentration of waxes such as Carnauba, Montan, and Beeswax, make it effective. Turpentine oil acts as an emulsifier and also smells wonderful. We wrote a whole post about Pate De Luxe if you want to learn more.
Use Saphir Renovateur
This product is nothing short of a miracle product. It has the ability to clean, moisturize, and shine all in one. It's a true 3-in-1. It's unique formulation has a mink oil base. This proprietary blend is a lone star in the shoe care world.
It can take care of dirt, it can add some moisture back, and it shines up wonderfully.
We don't think we product has enough conditioning components to be the only thing you ever need, however it's close. If you use a leather conditioner such as a the Nappa or Leather Lotion above, you'd be set.
A minimal routine of leather conditioner followed by Saphir Renovateur would be all you need. Assuming you're not worried too much about adding back in pigment. With these two and some brushing, your shoes would go from dull to mesmerizing in under 10 minutes!
We wrote a whole post about the magic of "Reno" if you're interested.
One quick note is that Renovateur is best suited for finished leather. That is to say leather finished at the factory, not the shoe maker. Some shoe makers will use unfinished leather, sometimes referred to ask "crust" leather. This means they dyed it themselves in their shop.
Renovateur can be a bit hard on crust leathers and we recommend you avoid using it on those. If you're not sure if your leather is crust or not, it likely isn't. We recommend you confirm with the maker before proceeding if you're worried.
Don't Forget About Your Leather Sole!
All the stuff that we spoke about above in terms of conditioning leather also applies to a leather sole.
Since it is so hard, some people mistake the sole of their shoes for wood. Unless you're wearing clogs, that isn't the case. A special tanning process can produce some extremely firm and strong leather. This is the leather sole you're walking on.
Like all leather, it benefits from being conditioned with oils and fats. Especially so since it is getting worn down from wear.
Saphir's Sole Guard is a unique product for exactly that. It's vegetable oil blend revitalizing, rejuvenates, and protects leather soles. We recommend using it a few times a year.
Apply an even coat to your soles and let them dry. It's as simple as that.
Wear With Pride
If you've made it this far, you have all of the info you need to have some amazing looking shoes and boots.
Our closing note is to wear your shoes with pride. As we say, patina trumps pristine. The only way to keep your shoes in perfect shape is to keep them locked away in the closet.
Shoes are meant to be worn. Don't be shy. With the info you now have, you can take care of your shoes should something come up. Without a doubt you'll now have the best looking shoes in the office or at the event you're attending. And you'll have that for many years to come.