Long used to craft some of the finest shoes around, leather is one of nature’s most beautiful and durable materials. It’s got the potential to last for years, looks great, and offers a wealth of benefits – from protection and style to comfort and versatility. But, leather comes with one minor caveat—if you want your leather shoes to take care of you, you must take care of your leather shoes.
Leather is tough, but it will last the longest and look the best if you invest a little time and energy providing it with the TLC it needs to flourish. Importantly, different types of leather require a slightly different approach. Rest assured, though, you don’t need a chemistry degree or 500 concoctions to keep your collection of leather shoes looking great. A few homemade remedies and strategically purchased products can go a long way.
So, let’s break it down by leather type and go over the necessary steps for each one. Slip off your shoes, relax, and get ready for your lesson in leather care 101.
How to care for regular smooth leather
There are essentially three steps in the care process (which may not all be required depending on the leather you’re dealing with)—cleaning, conditioning, and polishing/protecting.
Brush and clean
For regular leather shoes, you want to begin by brushing off any dirt and debris using a gentle brush or lightly damp cloth. If there are spots or stains that require a little more elbow grease, then apply a specified leather cleaner, let sit for the recommended amount of time and wipe off. Alternatively, you can lather with saddle soap using a damp paper towel or cloth, wipe off any excess soap before allowing the shoes to air dry.
Condition and polish
Now you have the option of applying a neutral conditioning cream. We recommend an all-purpose variety that will help your shoes last longer in addition to covering up small scratches, scrapes and scuffs. Allow the product to air dry and then carefully buff using a clean cloth or gentle brush.
Finally, it is time to get your shoes looking their best with a touch of wax. Apply a thin layer of neutral shoe wax such as Bata Natural Wax using a horsehair brush or soft cloth and massage it using a circular motion. Allow to air dry (no sun exposure!) and buff up as you did following any conditioning product you used.
Pro Tip 1* Avoid silicone sprays or liquid shoe polish for your regular leather shoes. It can damage full-grain leathers.
Pro Tip 2* If your laces require cleaning, remove them before cleaning the shoes and hand wash them in a small container using laundry detergent and warm water. Remember—aces should be completely dry before lacing up the shoes again!
How to keep patent leather shining
Characterized by its high-gloss finish, patent leather is easy to look after but can lose its sleek varnished finish over time if not cared for properly.
Clean and gloss
To keep that shine, though, you can skip the dry cloth cleaning and go straight to gently rubbing the shoes with a soft, damp cloth containing a drop of mild soap. Be firm but not too rough—the idea here is to remove as much haze from your shoes as possible. Afterwards, your pair of footwear should be treated with leather cleaner and conditioner formulated for patent leather. Unlike natural leather, you want this formula to specifically contain silicone, which will go a long way to restoring that initial high gloss look.
How to clean suede shoes
The reverse side of smooth calfskin, suede is a wonderful and often under-appreciated material for shoes. Perfect for a more casual and everyday look, suede is durable, resistant to scuffing, and is easily cleaned with the right approach.
Dry brush and spray
Fundamental to the ongoing upkeep of suede shoes is regular brushing using a proper suede brush. It is useful to think of suede shoes a bit like a carpet that needs to be vacuumed (or brushed) to remove any embedded dirt and help keep the surface looking fluffed and fresh. If you have noticeable smudges or engrained dirt, you can also (gently) take a rubber eraser to your suede leather shoes. For stains, you can simply use your everyday sneaker cleaner!
Finally, it is essential to remember that this material’s unique properties require a special touch and that you should only brush in the same direction of the grain or circular motions, instead of back-and-forth. Avoid using polish or wax on suede as well. Cleanup of your suede shoes should be limited to wipes and cleaner, without any added water. You can also follow this up with a silicone spray to help them resist stains and moisture.
How to make PU vegan leather last
Synthetic leather, typically made from petroleum-based plastics or polyvinyl chloride, is an excellent choice if you don’t use animal products or are looking for a more affordable option than natural leather. Although it doesn’t take on quite the same rugged look over time that aged leather does, with proper care, you can still keep it looking good for the long term.
Soap and a touch of product
To remove stains from faux leather shoes, use a mixture of dish or hand soap and warm water applied with a soft-bristled brush. Always let synthetic leather shoes and boots dry thoroughly before wearing them again.
Many products made to protect genuine leather also work just fine on synthetic items. The trick is to use them sparingly. Leather stain removers and water repellent products are safe for synthetic leather. If you don’t have leather care products, though (because you don’t believe in wearing leather, duh), then a little baby oil can also keep synthetic leather shoes looking like new as it forms a protective barrier.
The final word on leather shoe care
Engaging in regular, low-maintenance care is the best way to keep your leather shoes looking and feeling great. Depending on how often you wear them and under what conditions, you should aim to do a quick cleaning every couple of months. And remember, you don’t need a cupboard full of products to take excellent care of your shoes! A simple leather cleaner and wax is really all you need to keep your shoes looking as spiffy as the rest of you.