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How To Care For Your Leather Shoes

by Yilun Law

How old is your oldest pair of shoes? Mine is a pair of leather lace-ups that are about to turn 15. After all these years of wear, they perfectly hug my feet and remain one of my favourite pairs that I regularly wear, and I still see many years ahead with. 

A well-made pair of leather dress shoes takes roughly around 100 steps to make. With the collective labour, knowledge and care put into such delicate production, they are meant to be durable, long-lasting and grow more comfortable with wear.

It might not come as a surprise that in order to increase the longevity of your beloved leather shoes, you'll need to put in some love and care. The general impression of leather shoe care seems to be complex and require lots of specialist tools. This might be a good option if you have decided to pick up shoe care as a new hobby (in fact DIY shoe shining is quite a big trend in Japan), but if not, don’t worry! Caring for leather shoes is easier than you think.

How to care for smooth leather shoes: 

  • Wipe dirt off the shoe with a soft cloth. You could use cuts of your old discarded t-shirts or knitwear and apply shoe cleaner if you have any.
  • Now apply conditioner onto your shoe. I recommend using store-bought shoe conditioners, however I sometimes use skin moisturiser that might have expired, or olive or walnut oil would also do the job. Dab your cloth onto the conditioner of choice, evenly distribute it on the cloth, clear off the excess and apply it to the shoe surface.
  • Wait a few moments for the conditioner to be absorbed. 
  • Apply a thin layer of clear or matching colour shoe cream to polish your shoes to make them as shiny as new.

How to care for suede or nubuck leather shoes: 

  • Use a bristle or nylon brush to carefully remove dirt from the surface. You could even use a large paintbrush or a soft toothbrush. Remember not to scrub too hard, as this may damage the surface of the shoe.
  • For tougher stains, carefully scrub with fine sandpaper or try an eraser.
  • It is recommended to waterproof these shoes prior to wearing as suede and nubuck leather cannot be polished.

How to care for patent leather shoes: 

  • The high gloss effect of patent leather is created by applying a layer of lacquer or varnishing on top of natural leather.
  • Therefore, patent shoe care is relatively easy. You can simply remove the dirt with a moistened cloth and polish dry with a dry cloth.
  • With time, cracking on the surface would be inevitable, however, you may want to apply matching nail polish on the surface to make the cracks less visible.

What to do if your leather shoes get caught in the rain?

  • Try and wipe as much moisture off your shoes as you can with a dry cloth or towel.
  • Shape newspaper as your shoe shape, or apply some newspaper onto a shoe tree, then stuff this into your shoe to absorb the remaining moisture. Let the shoe dry in a well-ventilated place, away from heat and direct sunlight. Wet leather is particularly sensitive to temperature change and this might cause it to crack or harden. 
  • After it is properly dried, resume shoe care as usual. Give it some love!

Don't forget these general rules...

Make sure that your shoes are dry before putting them back in the shoe closet. Ideally, always insert shoe trees to keep your shoes in their best shape and protect them with a dust bag and shoe box if possible. Avoid long exposure to direct sunlight and during the hot and humid seasons, take them out occasionally and let them breathe to prevent mould growth. 

One last thing, shoes also need their rest. No matter how much you love your shoes, try and rotate between 2 or 3 pairs so each will get their rest days. Happy shoe caring!