For accessories that constantly beat up and stepped on (literally), shoes sure are underappreciated. A pair of good shoes can make the difference between an outfit that gets you the job, and an outfit that makes people wonder if skateboards are your sole means of transportation. However, even the most expensive pair of shoes in the world won’t do anything for you in the long run if it is neglected. We’ve all been there. You buy a new pair of shoes, and at first, you’re excited, and you clean off the little smudge you got on day one when you bumped into a table. But over time, as the newness wears off, you forget to clean off all the smudges, and they add up. You end up not caring about them, and your “new” shoes are ruined, causing you to buy another pair much sooner than you really needed to. It’s a vicious cycle. But when you treat your shoes like an investment and spend some time caring for them, storing them properly, and cleaning them when necessary, you’ll protect your purchase for years to come. Caring for your shoes isn’t as daunting as you might think. Here’s what you need to know.
Some Footwear Rules
Before you try to clean and repair your dirty shoes, you should first understand the rules that will help you get the best use and longest life out of your footwear from day 1. Prevention and good practices will ensure that all of your wingtips, chukkas, and boots are wearable for the long haul.
- Wear the right shoe for the right occasion. Running shoes, boots, and oxfords are not the same shoes and should not be worn as such. Additionally, leather, suede, and canvas are not all fair game when the weather is in flux. Dress appropriately for all situations to ensure that your shoes won’t be ruined prematurely.
- Invest in quality. While the initial costs may be high, you may end up saving money throughout the lifespan of the shoe. Cheaper shoes are made with less durable materials and may end up costing you more in the long run, because of the need for constant replacement.
- When you buy a new pair of shoes, make sure to prepare them appropriately before their first wear. Waterproofing, conditioning, and polishing are all vital for a shoe’s durability.
- Avoid wearing the same pair of shoes every day. Constant rotation gives them time to rest and allows the insides to air out.
- If your shoes do get damaged, consider repairing first instead of replacing. You may only need to replace a sole instead of the whole shoe.
Caring for and Storing Your Shoes
As great as water is, it can damage and destroy your shoes if you don’t take precautions. Whenever it rains, salt can penetrate leather and stains will stay permanently. The leather is also susceptible to drying out and cracking if it is exposed to excessive moisture. Leather and suede shoes should always be waterproofed in order to properly protect them, especially if you live in a rainy climate. Once a month should be sufficient if you live in a place that doesn’t get much rain. However, if it rains daily, you may want to consider waterproofing every week just to be safe. And, if you notice that water stops beading up on the surface, that means it’s time for a new coat. Waterproofing compounds come in wax-based polishes, specialty water protectants, and spray-on solutions. We prefer spray-on waterproofing compounds because they are quick, easy, and effective. All three compounds are viable options though, so pick one that works best for you.
A regular polish will extend the lifespan of your shoes and ensure that they always look new. Only leather shoes require polish and applying it about once a month should be enough to achieve that mirror-like shine.
A horsehair brush can be used to gently brush debris and dirt off of the surface of your shoe. Feel free to use a horsehair brush on all kinds of shoe materials. The sturdy and dense hairs can help you apply cleaner and polish to your shoes too, making this brush a pretty useful tool for your entire shoe collection.
New shoes, and dress shoes, in general, are great. They’re also stiff, which is where a shoehorn comes in handy. A shoehorn can prevent you from doing that wiggle dance every time that you need to put on your shoes and protects your shoe’s heels in the process by helping you slip into them more easily. This will help prevent the back of your shoes from wearing down and getting bent out of shape.
Shoe trees are objects that are placed inside of a shoe to help preserve its shape and lengthen the lifespan of the shoe. When it comes to the shoe tree, wood is king. It has a huge advantage over plastic since it can help you dry out the lining of your shoe by absorbing built-up moisture.
How to Clean Different Materials
Leather shoes can last a lifetime if they are properly taken care of. Since shoes are subject to so much wear and tear every day, it is important to use a horsehair brush regularly to remove any dust or debris. Start off by giving your shoes a wipe down with a warm sponge in order to make the leather more porous. Next, apply the waterproofing compound of your choice. About once a month, be sure to condition your shoes to help soften and moisten the leather in order to prevent any cracks. However, if your shoe starts cracking, there is nothing that can be done to save it. The next step is to apply polish with mild pressure in circular motions throughout the shoe. Once your shoe starts achieving a mirror-like shine, you’re pretty much done!
Your first instinct may be to throw your canvas shoes into the washing machine and then hope for the best. However, the blades and heavy spin cycles may end up destroying your whole shoe. A better method is to apply a small amount of detergent and water to each spot that needs to be cleaned. A toothbrush can be used to expertly spot clean any stains, while also preserving the integrity of the shoe.
It is recommended to use a suede protector; in order to better protect your suede shoes from stains. They should also be sprayed monthly with a waterproofing solution because when suede gets wet, it’s damaging. Suede stains extremely easily, so any suede shoes that you own should be cleaned immediately as soon as they start getting dirty. A suede brush uses nylon bristles for lighter, gentler cleaning off any dirt and oil stains. For marks that have already set in, a solution made up of two parts water and one part vinegar can be applied to the stains to try and combat the damage.
While purely rubber shoes may be uncommon, rubber soles are often found on the bottom of many sneakers. It can be annoying to see that white strip of rubber turn into an unsightly mess, covered with dirt and tar. The combination of a toothbrush and toothpaste can actually clean stubborn stains away. Another alternative is to use a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser with water to wipe away dirt from the bottom of your shoe. The Erasers are made of melamine foam, which is really effective at removing tough set-in stains.
Most athletic shoes are made, for the most part, out of mesh. You’ll want to soak your mesh shoes in a warm bath (your sink should suffice) with liquid dish soap. After they’ve been soaking for a while, use a soft cloth or brush to scrub away any dirty areas. Once you’re done, allow your mesh shoes to air dry in a place that doesn’t get direct sunlight (like your porch or a safe place indoors).
Just like any of your other clothing items, your shoes should be cleaned and maintained regularly. By taking care of your shoes on a regular basis, you’ll protect all of your purchases so that they last as long as possible. Keep them clean, and you’ll ensure that you’re always putting your best foot forward.
For more on how to remove stains from your favorite ties and shoes, check out our Ultimate Guide to Caring for Your Ties and Shoes.