Polishing Shoes

Taking care of your shoes through correct polishing is important, not only for aesthetic reasons such as achieving that appealing glossy finish, but also to preserve the longevity and condition of your shoes, by keeping the leather moisturised and protected from the elements. Leather that is left unattended will dry out and crack and eventually disintegrate, causing your shoes to literally fall apart.

It is a good idea to polish leather shoes at least once a month, especially if they are worn regularly. If the shoes are seldom worn, then cleaning once a month and just shining when needed is sufficient.

Types of products:

  • Leather Cleaners – this is the first step as leather needs to be thoroughly cleaned before it can be polished and waterproofed. It is important to remove all the dirt, grit and debris that may embed themselves in the leather, as well as removing any scuff marks and minor stains. Make sure you determine which type of leather you are dealing with and use a appropriate product – for example, suede or nubuck will need to be treated very differently to smooth leathers.
  • Shoe Brushes – these are useful in helping to remove the dirt and debris during the cleaning process. They are also good for adding shine after the polish has been applied.
  • Wax Polish – this is primarily for waterproofing as it prevents moisture from seeping into the leather. Thus is it usually used on shoes such as hiking boots, which suffer a lot of exposure from outdoor elements. Wax also adds a high shine to the leather. However, it can be very drying as well so it is important to use a leather conditioner underneath it first, to preserve the quality of the leather.
  • Cream Polish & Pastes – very common, these help to moisturise the leather as they penetrate deep below the surface. They also help in covering up scratches and other imperfections and can be used on a variety of leather types, from shiny to matt, textured to smooth.
  • Liquid Polish – although very easy to apply, this is really only good for emergencies and quick fixes as it has little conditioning value for the leather. Like wax, it does not penetrate the leather and so does little to moisturise or preserve its condition.
  • Spray Cleaners – these provide a metered spray directly onto the shoe (or cleaning cloth) and are convenient to use in emergencies but like liquid polishes, do not provide the real benefits of traditional shoe polish.
  • Shine Sponges – again, like liquid polishes and spray cleaners, these are a convenient quick-fix, especially between polishings. They can really help to brighten up tired, old shoes by giving them an instant glossy new look.
  • Shoe Wipes – similar to the sponges, spray cleaners and liquid polishes again, these come in small, disposable pouches which contain a small piece of cotton-fibred cloth that has been pre-moistened with a combination of cleaners and combination. Great accessory for those on the go and during travel but again, they cannot replace traditional polishing in the long term.

How to Polish Your Shoes

First, use a soft rag dipped in some leather cleaner to completely remove all dirt and debris from the surface of the shoe. If the shoe is made of smooth leather, then you can also use a damp cloth and some saddle soap. As you’re cleaning, pay special attention to the heels, soles and any stitching.

Next, use a leather conditioner especially made for your leather type to moisturise and soften your shoes. Using a conditioning cream that is one shade lighter than the colour of your shoe can help to tackle scratches, scuff marks and other imperfections.

Now apply the polish, choosing a product appropriate to your type of leather. Smooth leather should do well with all types of cream, paste and wax polishes. Start from the heel of the shoe and work your way forwards, using small, circular motions to apply the polish and rub it in. Again, pay special attention to the seams, stitching and soles and check for scratches and scuff marks. Finally, wait for the shoe to dry completely and then apply a waterproofing product.


While they may be beautiful and soft to the touch, suede products can be a nightmare to take care of. Suede shoes in particular will require regular special attention. Remember that suede (and nubuck and patent leathers) should NEVER be shined with shoe polish – they should simply be cleaned and then conditioned and waterproofed.

For suede, you will need to clean it of marks and stains using a special suede cleaner or even just a common pencil rubber. Even a small piece of fine grain sandpaper will do the trick. Next, use a small towel to gently rub the suede surface to help restore its nap, thus removing any shiny, damaged spots. Finally, apply a specialised suede or nubuck conditioner followed by a waterproofing product if you wish.

Tips To remember…

  • Try to clean up any dirt or other stains and marks from your shoes as soon as possible, between polishing, using a soft rag. Dirt and stains that are left for longer may embed more deeply and be harder to remove.
  • Always allow your shoes to air dry after you have cleaned and polished them – this will give them the best finish. Also, remember to remove all shoe laces from shoes before cleaning or polishing.
  • Don’t forget to protect your floors or other surfaces by placing several layers of newspapers beneath your shoes before you start polishing them. Shoe polish stains can be a nightmare to remove.
  • If your shoes are covered in mildew, use a solution of equal parts rubbing alcohol and water sponged onto the leather and then allow to air dry, followed by cleaning, conditioning and polishing as usual.

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