How to Clean Leather Shoes

Why should you learn how to clean leather shoes?

Well, are you a sucker for leather shoes? Boots even, maybe? No? Are you a sneaker person then? Or perhaps leather heels? – I do know some people who look good in leather heels.

Anyway, whatever your poison is, the fact is that leather shoes bring lots of suave and elegance to our feet. Their other significance is that most of them come as multi-weather resistant.

But, like everything else, if left neglected, leather shoes wear out and lose their material quality. This means you have to take care of them.

Otherwise, they’ll look like a cracked hog’s back, and that is no Bueno.

How to clean your leather shoes

Leather shoes are mostly sturdy and durable. They can serve you for years on end when you administer proper care to them.

One of the ways is by carrying out regular cleaning after wearing to prolong and sustain their quality. Cleaning frequently will save you from unnecessary shoe expenditure. It will also keep your leather footwear looking sharp and professional.

The best part of the deal is that cleaning leather shoes is also easy. You can either use commercial or improvised techniques and still get the same results.

Here’s what you need to learn on how to clean your leather shoes in 2021…

What you will need when cleaning leather shoes

Now, before you begin, below is a list of items that you’ll need to make it successful. A good number are readily available in our homes.

They include:

a. Polishing cloth

You will need a polishing cloth or chamois to clean and apply polish separately.

If you can’t get your hands on these, then any old cotton shirt would do just fine.

b. Horsehair brush

Ideally, it is a safe bet to keep two brushes around. You can use one for clearing out debris and dirt and the other one for polishing afterward.

If you only have one brush, then ensure that you have a shoe towel at your disposal. You can use the shoe towel to clean off the dirt and now the single brush for polishing.

Worth noting is that the bigger your brush, the better. Bigger brushes have larger surface areas that cover more friction grounds when buffing.

c. Shoe conditioner for leather

An ideal leather conditioner will clean, hydrate, and bring shine to your leather shoes. It is a vital accessory and you should not shy away from spending a buck on it.

d. Water in a spray bottle

Your water spray bottle should be either small or medium size. Water spray bottles ensure that you sprinkle even layers of soap solution when cleaning.

You can use mild soap and water to create your homemade cleaning solution. On the other hand, you can use leather cleaners if you prefer them.

e. Shoe cream polish

Shoe polish adds color pigmentation and fills microscopic scratches on your shoes. You may choose temporary color creams if you intend to recolor your shoes in the future.

A darker color adds patina to your shoe while lighter shades only maintain your present color. Also, you can remove cream polish by wiping it off using isopropyl alcohol and a cloth.

f. Newspapers or shoe trees

Newspapers and shoe trees play a huge role in maintaining your shoe’s shape and size.

Now, you can use any other paper as long as it can absorb moisture from within your shoes. Shoe trees (wooden) on the other end, also hold up your shoe well during cleaning.

Steps to cleaning your leather shoes

So, how do you clean your leather shoes at home?

Check the steps highlighted below:

1. Take off the shoelaces

Whenever possible, remove the laces to cover as much surface as you can.

And if they have been on a while, then you should give them a good wash with soap. Otherwise, if it’s just a weekly clean-up, then you can tuck the laces inside the shoes.

2. Brush off any debris or dirt

Using a horsehair brush, thoroughly brush off any signs of rock, dirt, or dust debris from your shoe. Keep in mind the welt and the creviced region joining the shoe to the sole. Most people tend to forget about these areas and end up doing half-work.

You may also use a piece of cloth to wipe out grime if you wish.

3. Use soap

Using warm and soapy water is a great hack at removing chaffs from the exterior leather. It will also do wonders with most boot leather stains.

With a spray bottle, apply the soap solution onto the leather surface and wipe clean using a cloth. This works wonders against the more sticky stains.

4. Wipe the soap

After cleaning the debris and dirt stains, wipe off the soapy foam using a separate cloth.

You can also use a shoe towel if you have one.

5. Use leather cleaner for tougher stains

If you are still left with stains after the above steps, then you should get a reliable leather cleaner. Leather cleaners work well in removing stubborn scuffs from your shoes.

Press a small amount of the cleaner on the stains and use a soft brush to rub it in. For best results, use a back-and-forth and circular motion for consistency.

6. Use talcum powder for grease and oil stains

If your shoe has more grease and oil stains, sprinkling some talcum powder on top will absorb them. After application, you have to let it stay for at least 2 to 3 hours for it to work its magic.

Afterward, you can scrape it away using a soft-bristled brush.

Alternatively, instead of talcum, you can also use baby powder to achieve the same results.

7. Dry

Leave your cleaned shoes to dry before applying any conditioner.

Take great care that you do not air them under direct sunlight. This could damage the leather by causing it to crack and fade.

Drying should take a maximum of 20 minutes.

8. Apply leather conditioner

After your shoe has completely dried, it is now time to put on some leather conditioner.

Leather conditioners do a great job of cleaning and hydrating leather shoes. On top of that, they also leave in an exquisite shine that brings new luster to your shoe’s surface. [1]

Use a bean-sized amount of leather conditioner then spread using your fingers.

After a few minutes, brush off any dried-up conditioner flakes that may be on your shoes.

Note: Always use a conditioner matching your shoes’ color. That means a black leather conditioner should go with black shoes, so on and so forth.

9. Use shoe polish

This last step includes buffing your shoes using a shoe polish of your choice. You can also use wax instead and you’ll still get an impressive shine on your shoes.

Now, after you’ve applied the polish or wax, use a cloth or brush to rub it in using circular motions.

How to clean patent leather shoes

Enough about cleaning genuine leather. Do you know how to clean patent leather shoes?

Cleaning patent leather shoes is also a breeze. You can get done with the whole process in a matter of minutes.

Very quickly, let’s look at the steps involved in cleaning patent leather shoes below:

1. Wipe shoes

Just like with genuine leather, you have to first remove your laces if they are too dirty.

The next step is to wipe your patent leather shoe using liquid soap or a water and soap solution. You have to wipe every part of the surface using a wet piece of cloth.

FYI, patent leather is just regular leather mixed with plastic. [2] The final material (patent leather) has a glossy finish that can repel water. Therefore, this means that you can use water and liquid soap generously when dealing with tougher stains.

2. Remove any scuffs

You will need some cotton swabs and hand sanitizer to carry this out.

Dip the cotton swab in the hand sanitizer and gently rub it against the scuff marks.

Wipe any excess residue using a clean cloth.

3. Polish the shoes

Patent leather shoes require a bit of cleaner containing mineral oil. Most patent cleaners include it as an ingredient so you don’t have to buy it separately.

To do this, apply at most 5 drops of the mineral oil cleaner and rub them on the surface using a piece of cloth. Afterward, buff your shoe with a different cloth until you get your shine.

A cotton ball also makes a great substitute for cleaning cloth. [3]

How to clean your suede shoes

Suede shoes require a slightly different approach when cleaning them. This is because they are a sanded-down leather type with a softer texture. [4]

Follow these 4 easy steps when cleaning your suede shoes:

1. Brush the suede shoes

Use a suede brush with nylon bristles. This protects the suede from damage when brush-cleaning.

Use a back-and-forth motion when brushing to remove dirt and debris.

2. Remove any scuff or smudges

Using a pencil or suede eraser, rub the suede surface to remove any scuff or sticky smudges.

You should move the eraser in a uniform pattern to avoid damaging the suede.

Then once you finish, wipe the eraser residues only using your suede brush.

3. Remove any grease residue

Unlike like in genuine leather, you’ll need cornstarch to remove greasy stains from your suede shoes.

To do this:

Sprinkle enough cornstarch to cover the stained area and let it sit for 3 hours maximum. Thereafter, brush the powder off with a suede brush to clear the grease or oil stain.

4. Waterproof your suede

Now, it’s very important to protect your suede shoes each time after cleaning.

Protective agents include silicone waterproofing sprays amongst others.

Silicone-based sprays will weatherproof your suede shoes, making them impermeable to water. This in turn minimizes the chances of water damage to your shoe.

Hint: Always make sure that you follow the instructions provided for cleaning suede shoes. Suede and nubuck shoes will get damaged when you use leather cleaning products on them.

How to clean inside your leather shoes

So, we’ve talked much about cleaning the outer shoe. But, how do you go about cleaning inside?

To clean inside your shoes:

  1. Remove and clean the insole (if detachable) with liquid soap and a clean cloth. You can use a facial cleanser to deal with stubborn stains or odor.
  2. Pat-dry the insole using a separate soft cloth.
  3. To kill and control mildew or bacteria that brings bad odor, spray a thin layer of anti-bacterial agent inside your shoes.
  4. Dry the insoles overnight by wrapping them in a newspaper or lint-free towel.
  5. Lastly, you can moisturize the inside using a leather/suede conditioner of your choice.

What destroys leather shoes?

Moving on, you should know the 3 main factors that are likely to damage your leather shoes. At first, they may seem harmless but constant exposure will take an ugly toll on your shoes.

These are:

A. Extreme heat and sun exposure

Prolonged exposure to heat and sun will cause your shoe’s leather to stiffen and crack up.

B. Exposure to fluctuating temperatures

Maintaining clean and sound leather will prove difficult if your shoes keep getting exposed to irregular hot and cold temperatures.

For instance:

If you take your leather shoes out of a warm closet and wear them in cold weather, you’re likely to get fungus growth. This is because warm and humid conditions provide the best mold/mildew breeding grounds.

It’s much worse if you wear your shoes with sweaty, moist feet. That’s a great recipe for cooking one ugly stink bomb. But I need not tell you that, do I?

Always keep your feet dry. Also, apply talcum powder whenever you suspect moisture inside your leather shoes.

C. Wrong choice of cleaning agents

Leather shoe surfaces will get negatively affected if you use strong cleaning agents on them.

In most cases, using strong detergents will upset the leather’s natural texture. It will also cause a chaffed-up dryness and bring cracks once again.

Thus, always ensure that you only use approved leather cleaners and shoe polish.

Wrapping it up

If maintained well, leather shoes could become a long-term traveling companion.

Thinking of braving a drizzle? They’ll have your back. Planning to stroll on the tarmacked pavements? They’ll surely keep your feet from burning in the midday sun.

Other than that…

It’s always advisable to give your leather shoes a quick brush each time you take them off. Also, the frequency of cleaning with a conditioner will depend on how much you wear your shoes.

Note: Before you begin cleaning your leather shoes, it’s always a good idea to spread out a newspaper or rug cloth down first. Doing this ensures that you don’t stain the floor or any surrounding surface near your workstation.


Hope this guide helps you maintain your leather shoes.

To better and durable kicks!

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