Close-up of elegant leather shoes.

Owning a pair of high-quality leather shoes speaks to one’s style, taste, and commitment to wearing only the best and most comfortable footwear. However, despite its overall impressive durability and design, leather footwear is prone to wear and tear. Luckily, protecting leather shoes is just a simple matter of taking the time of day to care for your footwear.

We’ll go over the entire leather shoe care process and show you how to maintain leather shoes so that they remain as elegant and spotless as they were the day you bought them. The first step to properly taking care of your leather footwear is having the right tools in your shoe-cleaning kit.


Your Complete Shoe Care Kit

Leather shoes with brushes and shoe creams.

If you’re in possession of any kind of leather apparel, not just shoes or leather boots, then you know how much care and attention it requires. Choosing to maintain your leather apparel properly means ensuring it stays in pristine condition for years to come. Leather care requires a bit of your time and a couple of other things, but in return, you get clothes and shoes that will outlast all the other apparel that you own.

Regardless of different types of leather, there are a couple of items you should have in your kit that will help you maintain your shoes properly. Here are some things you can use on any kind of leather apparel:

  • Horsehair brush. This special brush is better than a regular soft brush in that it’s capable of cleaning dirt and grime buildup, but without damaging the leather. It can also be used as a buffing brush.
  • Soft cloth. A dry cloth is your best friend when treating a pair of leather shoes. In case you don’t have a special brush available at the moment, damp cloth and some soap should get most of the dirt out. If possible, get yourself a microfiber cloth, as they outperform all other cleaning cloths.
  • Saddle soap. This is a special type of leather soap that doesn’t contain chemicals harmful to the material. It’s used for cleaning and conditioning all things leather, so you should have some of it lying around.
  • Leather conditioner. A conditioner helps restore some of the leather’s natural oil contents, thus keeping the leather fibers hydrated. When leather loses its natural oils, the surface begins to crack and crease. 
  • Shoe polish. Layers of polish can cover up scuffs and restore the shoe color to its original intensity and hue. Colored leathers require matching polish — you wouldn’t want to use dark brown polish on white leather.
  • Waterproofing sprays. These sprays do exactly what their name suggests they should be doing. They protect leather shoes against their biggest adversary, inclement weather. However, don’t just use any spray. Silicone and “instant-drying” sprays both do more damage than good.
  • Shoe trees. Shoe trees like cedar shoe trees, for example, are used to maintain the shape of the shoe while you’re not wearing it. More importantly, they wipe up excess moisture, keeping the shoes dry and healthy for the feet. Shoe trees can also absorb some of the odor.
  • Leather cleaner. As you know, layers of polish can build up over time and begin to trap dirt. Removing a polish layer is not at all easy unless you have a leather cleaner at your disposal. There are decent leather cleaner options out there that are nothing more than a variety of the aforementioned saddle soaps, so they won’t be difficult to find.

You don’t need to have all of the above at your disposal, and you certainly don’t need to have the most expensive cleaning products in existence. If you have a brush, cloth, and a conditioner, you’re already well-equipped to take care of your pair of shoes.


Proper Leather Shoe Care

How to care for leather shoes.

Now that we’ve gone over a couple of items necessary for leather shoe care, it’s time to put them to good use. Proper leather shoe care involves cleaning the shoes immediately after use but also thinking about their condition long-term.


Cleaning Leather Shoes Daily

It’s best to clean a pair of shoes right after use. If you clean them immediately after wearing them, dirt and grime won’t have time to build up, and you’ll be able to get clean them right off without much trouble.

A damp cloth and some saddle soap will do the trick, especially if layers of dirt are still fresh. Make sure to use a clean cloth so as to avoid applying potentially harmful chemicals to the leather. In addition to that, you should never use a sponge for the same reason.

If the dirt has already formed a crust, you’re better off using a special brush made of horsehair to get rid of the grime. A soft brush likely won’t do if the layers of dirt have hardened.

Use a microfiber cloth to remove any excess soap and leave the shoes to air dry. By air drying, we mean to leave them out in the open where they can breathe, but away from heat sources or direct sunlight.

In case the laces are dirty as well, remove them and wash them separately. They aren’t as sensitive as leather, so just simply rinse them using warm water and laundry detergent.


Shoe Conditioning - A Monthly Routine

A leather conditioner will help keep the microscopic fibers in your shoes supple and prevent cracking. You don’t have to use a conditioner every time you wear your shoes. Protecting leather shoes with a coating of conditioner once every few months is more than enough.

Rub the conditioner into the leather using a soft cloth and a horsehair shine brush. Don’t be shy when applying the conditioner — use as much of the conditioner as you need. After all, you’ll only be doing this every couple of months, so there’s no point in being a cheapskate.

Again, using a microfiber cloth is desired as it’s generally better for applying conditioner or cleaning, but any dry rag will do. Try and get the conditioner into every inch of leather, including the outsole and the tongue. A leather sole requires conditioning twice a year, that should be enough to keep it flexible and pliable.

You should leave the shoes to air dry after conditioning. Buff them out using a cleaning cloth or a dry rag, and you’re all done. Additionally, you could give them another wipe with a dry rage the next morning to get rid of any excess conditioner


Polishing Shoes

A man polish leather shoe.

Over time, shoe dye breaks down due to exposure to water and light. Tiny leather pieces tend to fall off and mar the beauty of your favorite pair of shoes. That’s when you’ll notice your shoes are beginning to look old and worn out. It can happen to any type of leather — brown, dark brown, or white leather; all real leather will begin to peel sooner or later. Faux leather is more durable but not nearly as good as the real deal.

That’s where polish comes into the picture. It restores the color that was lost due to deterioration of the leather surface, while also providing your pair of leather shoes with nutrients and oils they need to remain supple, much like the conditioner does.

Here’s what you need to do to polish your shoes properly:

  1. Grab the horsehair shine brush.
  2. Apply plenty of polish to every surface you can reach in a circular motion.
  3. Let it air dry for a couple of hours.
  4. Use one of your shoe-shine brushes to buff out the shoes and get a nice matte look.

Shoe-shine brushes are very much necessary for the proper care of your leather shoes, and as we’ve previously mentioned, horsehair ones are the best. They are really inexpensive, so equipping yourself with quality shoe-shine brushes should be a priority.

Polishing your shoes isn’t necessary after each use, but try and remember to polish them at least every six or seven uses.


Can You Waterproof Leather?

Waterproofing sprays can provide your leather boots with much-needed water resistance. However, you should be very careful when buying sprays and avoid the silicone ones as they’ll leech moisture from the leather. By that, we’re referring to the natural oils that leather shoes rely on for pliability.

A better alternative is certain types of shoe polish that we’ll discuss in the following section. Whatever you decide, do keep in mind that waterproofing leather is crucial, especially if you live in a wet and rainy climate where you can’t avoid wearing your shoes on rainy days.


Types of Leather Shoe Polish

Leather shoe polish restores color, moisturizes the leather, and layers of polish can even serve as protection against dirt and grime. Suffice it to say that polishing your shoes is absolutely necessary for protecting leather shoes properly. Don’t forget that there is such a thing as too much polish, so use a leather cleaner from time to time to get rid of excess layers.

Before you overdo polishing your shoes, however, you need to be aware of two different types of polish you can opt for — cream polishes and wax polishes.


Cream Leather Shoe Polish

Shoe cream for shoes.

Cream polishes are excellent for providing leather shoes with nourishment, prolonging their life, and keeping them fresh and new-looking. They’re also used to fill in scruffs that naturally occur in the leather. 

Moreover, cream polishes usually have a high pigment concentration and are thus the number one choice for restoring the color vibrancy of leather apparel. Since cream polish doesn’t dye the leather, rather it adds another layer of color, you don’t have to match the color of your shoes perfectly. That doesn’t mean to get any color you like — try to come as close to the original color as you can. If the polish is a bit lighter than the shoes, it’s completely fine.

Remember that cream polish won’t make your shoes too shiny. Instead, you’ll give your leather shoes a matte sheen that’s more elegant and innocuous.


Wax Leather Shoe Polish

On the other hand, wax polishes are all about that mirror shine that some people tend to go for. Wax will give your shoes a layer of glimmer that a cream polish simply can’t achieve.

However, wax isn’t nearly as nutritious as cream, and won’t provide the leather fibers in your shoes with the sustenance they require. For that reason, you’ll often hear people describe wax polishes as aesthetically pleasing rather than useful.

That’s not entirely true. A layer of wax polish will still provide a modicum of protection against dirt, but also make them resistant to water. Wax polish is a much better alternative for making your leather shoes waterproof than a shoe spray. Wax will protect the entire shoe from water stains.


Leather Protector for Shoes

Galoshes, or rubberized boots, are great for protecting leather shoes from mud or water. They’re quite popular in areas with excessively rainy weather where avoiding water is near impossible.

They’re not the number one choice for style, as plenty of people dislike wearing a protective layer over their elegant leather shoes. However, sometimes it’s absolutely necessary if you care about the longevity of your leather shoes, which is objectively more important than looks.

Not even wax polishes will protect you against too much water, but leather protectors will.


How to Store Leather Shoes?

We’ve covered daily and monthly routines that help you in protecting leather shoes from wear and tear. But storing leather shoes properly also has an important role to play in prolonging their life span.

First off, get shoe trees if possible. They’ll wick away moisture from sweat and prevent bacterial growth. In addition to that, they’ll ensure your shoes are always a perfect fit, even if you haven’t worn them for a long time.

Secondly, try to keep them in a shoebox or a dust bag to prevent dust accumulation. Don’t leave your shoes out in the open where dust can get to them and work its way into the leather.

Women's shoes stored in the box.

Finally, remember to condition them from time to time, even if you’re just storing them and rarely wearing them anywhere.


Long-Term Leather Shoe Care

If you keep your shoes clean, conditioned, and polished, you’re providing them with the long-term care that every pair of leather shoes needs. Avoiding inclement weather and storing your shoes properly will also extend their life span and leave you with a trusty pair of leather shoes that will last you for quite a long time.

Leather shoe care