Shoe Care 101: An Illustrated Guide

by Brett & Kate McKay on November 14, 2011 · 19 Comments

in Dress & Grooming, Shoes, Visual Guides

Shine your shoes after you buy them and before you wear them. Shine them regularly for as long as you own them.  When you remove your shoes, insert a cedar shoe tree to draw out inner moisture and reshape the leather.  Remove a salt stain as quickly as possible by lightly applying a mixture of 2/3 water, 1/3 vinegar with a rag, wiping off with clean damp rag, and drying with a towel.  Waterproof your shoes with mink oil (may darken the color of the leather), a wax-based polish (light protection) or a specialty waterproofing compound (heavier protection).  Clean your shoes regularly to remove dirt, stains, and layers of built-up polish. Use a specialty leather cleaner, saddle soap, Murphy’s Oil Soap, or Ivory soap and avoid products that contain detergents or acids.  To keep your shoes from drying out, every few months apply a specialty moisturizing conditioner or buff in a dab of petroleum jelly.  If your shoes are wet, stuff them with newspaper or a small towel to draw out the moisture. Replace the paper/towels periodically as they get saturated. Never place your shoes near a heat source; this can dry out and crack the leather.  Remove scuff marks by rubbing the scuff with non-gel toothpaste. Rinse, wipe, and let dry.  When your shoes become really worn out, send them back to the manufacturer for refurbishing or resoling instead of buying a new pair.

**Please Note: The toothpaste trick does not work on every kind of shoe. Be sure to test the toothpaste on a small spot on the shoe to ensure compatibility with your particular leather.**

Illustration by Ted Slampyak


This illustrated guide is brought to you by Johnston and Murphy

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jessy Diamond November 14, 2011 at 7:29 pm

Just what I needed. Thanks!

2 Ryan November 14, 2011 at 7:57 pm

You can still find decent shoe repair shops to refurb or resole shoes, especially if you live within 20 miles of a military base where there is more demand for boot repair… saves the shipping costs

3 TubbyMike November 14, 2011 at 8:41 pm

Impeccable timing. The weather in the UK is just turning into the shoe-killing sort; constant rain with a lot of standing water. Just what I needed to read.

Finding a good cobbler does save money. I’m luck enough to have one with a shop in walking distance. Last year, he resoled my Oxfords. Saved me a packet and good as new.

4 William November 14, 2011 at 8:59 pm

As far as refurbishing/resoling goes, it’s only worth it if you have a really expensive, quality hand-crafted pair of shoes. The majority of shoes have rubber soles that cannot be replaced and the upper (even if it is 100% leather, which is not often the case) has a limited life expectancy. Plus, it would probably cost you as much to refurbish shoes as it does to get a new pair.

5 Ian Wendt November 14, 2011 at 10:02 pm

Ok, so absolutely no on the mink oil and the petroleum jelly. Just… Gah! No. Mink oil will soften shoe leather far too much and tends to make shining them properly a lot more difficult. And the same goes for the petroleum jelly. Use a beeswax based material instead.

6 Gary V November 15, 2011 at 1:22 am

This is really good! I may have to print this out and keep it with my shoes & cleaning/polishing kit.

7 S.W. November 15, 2011 at 8:42 am

Thanks for the guide! Been a Converse kid all through college, and slowly learning about quality shoes since getting a job a few years ago. I’m planning to get a good pair of leather shoes soon that’ll last me years rather than months (my current work shoes were $50 and after one year the soles have cracked so bad that stepping in shallow pooling immediately soaks my foot). I’ll need to bookmark this post for when I get that new pair.

I for one have been loving Mr. Slampyak’s illustrations!

8 Preston Forster November 15, 2011 at 12:14 pm

Hold on there-
Waterproofing- Buy a good pair of rubber galoshes. Don’t ruin fine leather with waterproofing compound.
Cleaning- No on saddle soap. It has abrasives (it is designed for rough saddles!). I don’t know about Oil Soap or Ivory, I use shoe cleaning cream.
Recrafting/resoleing- Sending back to manufacturer is fine, but a local shoe repair shop will often do the work at half the price. Plus, it supports local businesses

9 Ted Slampyak November 15, 2011 at 1:33 pm

I had a pair of Stacy Adams shoe boots for years and years. I’m on my second pair now. I resoled my old pair a couple of times at a local shoe & boot shop, since they were worn through on the soles but were still pretty good on the uppers. The local repair shop did a great job. But I’m a stickler, and the new soles didn’t have exactly the same look as the originals. (No one could tell but me, of course.)

When it comes time to get my current pair resoled, I’ll definitely call Stacy Adams to see if they refurbish their footwear. Thanks for the tip, Brett & Kate!

10 tradedate November 18, 2011 at 1:14 pm

Another tip on taking care of your shoes is to buy more than one pair. You can’t wear the same pair of shoes to work every day and expect them to last. A man should have a few different pairs that he can rotate. This will allow your shoes to rest, and last much longer.

11 krag November 21, 2011 at 6:11 pm

I agree with Ian. NO mink oil. NO petroleum jelly. I only use Obenauf’s leather products on all of my leather. It’s a beeswax based product so it doesn’t contain any harsh chemicals that can damage leather. It can darken leather so just be aware of that.

12 Gary V November 24, 2011 at 1:34 am

I’ll second the notion of having more than one pair of shoes. For one, it allows me to change things up by switching from black to brown. Another is that by having four or five different dress shoes, and rotating them along with some sneakers for run around, I’ve eliminated athletes foot problems without the use of sprays or creams…. and of course foot odor has improved too. In addition, the shoes just last longer because you wear them less. I’ve bought used, and then try to bring in new shoes to replace the old ones when I can afford it.

13 R Kelly Johnson December 3, 2011 at 8:35 am

A good polish is far better than petroleum jelly. Kiwi makes a fine product and has for years, and in many colors. No other conditioning products are necessary. And be careful with that shoe tree. If you put it in too tight, you can stretch out the leather and damage the stitching in the shoe. Invest in a nice horse hair buffing brush to shine the shoe after the polish has set. To remove scuffs, use an old, wet tee shirt, a dab of polish, and a circular polishing motion. Once the scuff is gone, and the polish is set, buff with the horse hair. Toothpaste is for teeth; any other application is for housewives…

14 Darren A November 13, 2012 at 4:05 pm

This is some of the BEST advice complied in one place for shoe care that I have seen in looong time! Thanks for taking the time to make this succinct (OH – And BIG THANKS for the diagrams!!)

15 Darren A November 13, 2012 at 4:07 pm

This is some of the BEST advice collectively compiled in ‘one place’ for reference regarding shoe care that I have seen in looong time! Thanks for taking the time to make this succinct (OH – And BIG THANKS for the diagrams!!) and easily understandable.

16 Ash December 13, 2012 at 10:31 am

What happens if you put oil based shine on your tan shoes which causes an uneven darker look? What can be done about that?

17 Dann Anthony January 30, 2013 at 9:21 am

So true – if you really love a pair of shoes, it’s worth it to buy two pairs, three if you can manage it.

Has anyone tried something called “Parade Gloss?” I can only get it in an Army/Navy store near me, a black polish with dimethicone.

Also – anyone tried the old military trick of pouring lighter fluid into the wax, melting the wax, then using the softened wax on the shoes? An incredible shine.

18 John March 11, 2013 at 4:18 pm

Parade Gloss is a Kiwi product and is truly fantastic if you want a true mirror shine. Apply it with a soft cloth (a yellow duster is fine), wetting the cloth and rubbing lightly in small circles with very small wipes of polish. Add more polish when the smears start to go and keep the cloth damp. Spit works well if you haven’t eaten anything greasy for an hour or two. About 1/2 hour on each shoe will look like patent leather and then takes about 10 minutes to keep looking good.

19 Philip Thomas June 20, 2013 at 9:13 pm

i have a pair of Stacy Adam Shoes, Very little used. It has a strong oily kind of smell. I put it away. I was shopping for new shoes and found that most of the new shoes had that smell. It is very strong in my shoes is there any way to get rid of it?

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post:

Site Meter