Though there are many low maintenance shoe options on the market today (such as rubber soles and faux leather), there’s still nothing quite like a well-made pair of leather dress shoes. Quality leather not only looks better but will also last a lifetime when cared for properly. A key component of caring for leather dress shoes is a great shoe shine. When dressing for formal events, a pair of carefully shined shoes (ideally with some statement laces) is a definite must. Just this small detail can give your outfit a more put together and proper feel.
Giving your shoes a good shine does more than just make them look great, it also greatly extends their lifespan. By learning how to shine your own shoes, you will no longer need to shy away from owning a pair of quality dress shoes. Educate yourself with this video or scroll down for step by step visual and written instructions.
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The Essential Shoe Shine Supplies:
- Shoe polish: There are two types of shoe polish to choose from: a cream or a wax. Whether you choose a cream polish or a wax polish depends on the type of finish you want. A cream polish will provide less shine but also moisturizes the leather as it is absorbed. Beware, cream polish can also affect the leather’s color. A wax polish, on the other hand, will add a layer of shine, cover scuffs and protect the leather. Be sure to match the polish to the color of your shoe’s leather as closely as possible. (If you are really unsure, use a neutral or uncolored polish, although it will add only shine, not add color). We recommend using a wax polish (like we’ve done here) for that classic shoe shine look.
- Polishing Cloth: A soft polishing cloth is essential for shining your shoes. While you can buy a cloth specific for shoes, an old t-shirt wrapped around two fingers also makes a terrific polishing cloth.
- Clean Rag: You’ll use this for cleaning your shoe and wiping off excess polish
- Horsehair Buffing Brush: We recommend brushes that are specifically designed for shoe shining like Alden’s Natural Brush . Horsehair brushes are the best because they are sturdy but soft enough to not scratch the leather. They also help raise the fibers of the leather to create a great surface for shining.
- Welt Brush: This smaller brush will help you scrub dirt out of the welt strip and allow you to apply polish to hard to reach areas. We recommend Saphir’s Pommadier Brush. You can also use an old toothbrush.
- A Cup of Water: For a “spit-shine” finish.
How to Shine Your Shoes
Get all your materials together so they’ll be close at hand. You may want to cover the surface you’ll be working on with a towel or a newspaper, as the shoe shining process can potentially get messy.
Step 1: Remove Laces
Remove the shoelaces to prevent getting polish on them.
Step 2: Fill Your Shoe
Insert a shoe tree or stuff the toe of your shoe with paper. This will give you a firm surface to work on.
Step 3: Clean Off Dust & Dirt
Use a dry brush to remove any dust and dirt from your shoes. You can use the welt brush and water to get into small spaces, but make sure to let the leather dry completely before moving on to the next step. Scrub the welt of any dirt or grime with your small brush.
Give your shoes a thorough inspection before moving to the next step because lingering dirt specks can scratch the leather while shining. Wipe them off with a clean, dry rag.
Step 4: Apply Polish
Add a dab of polish onto your polishing cloth. Apply your wax polish to the shoe surface with circular motions. This causes friction that slightly melts the wax and allows it to spread more evenly.
Add more polish as needed. Continue until the shoe has a waxy matte look to it.
Step 5: Don’t Forget the Welt
Use the welt brush or a toothbrush to apply polish to the welt, heel and any other neglected areas. Allow the polish to dry for about 10 minutes.
Step 6: Buff
Take the horsehair buffing brush and buff the entire shoe with quick side to side movements. A nice shine will start to come through.
Step 7: Wipe
Wipe off any excess wax using a rag, making sure every part of the shoe gets equal love. Wait at least 10 minutes before moving to the next step.
Step 8: Spit Shine
Finish off your shoes with a signature “spit-shine” finish. To start, use your finger to place a droplet of water on the shoe.
With the polishing cloth, rub a small amount of polish into the water droplet in fast, small circles. Repeat this process around the whole shoe.
With similar fast movements, wipe down your shoe with a dry section of the polishing cloth. Repeat the “spit shine” stage once or twice to your liking.
Step 9: Dry and Re-lace
Allow your shoes to dry for 10 to 20 minutes. Once they’re completely dry, re-lace your shoes. If you’d like to liven up your favorite shoes, try adding some colorful shoelaces or a new lacing style .
Watch the complete shoe shining process:
Wear your newly shined shoes with pride. We recommend a shining them once a week depending on the frequency of wear. If you only wear your dress shoes occasionally, we recommend a shining them once a month or the night before you wear them. You’ll be surprised how much longer the shoes will last when you take proper care of them. Don’t forget to pair them with the perfect tie!
Additional Shoe Maintenance Tips & Tricks
Follow these tips and tricks to keep your shoes looking like new even longer.
- If your leather shoes have absorbed some of the salty slush of winter, add a teaspoon of white vinegar into a cup of warm water and use a cloth to dab away salt stains before shining.
- Place cedar shoe trees in your shoes to maintain their shape between wearings.
- Always use a shoe horn when putting on your shoes. This vastly extends the life of the heels by preventing bending and deterioration of the heel structure.
- Applying water and stain protectors routinely can further protect the leather from the elements.
- If the leather of your shoes is really dried out and scuffed, use a shoe conditioner to nurse them back to health. Check out our review of Chamberlain’s Leather Milk here.
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