A blog reader, in light of the shoe polishing contest, sent it a few pictures of some of his old Loake’s (he reckons 12-20 yrs old), that he had taken from rubbish bin status to relatively new looking in just a matter of a few hours with some of the methods that he learned on the ‘A Guide To Dyeing Your Shoes‘ post. While you can use most of those methods to really do the same thing that I will explain in this post, I will add a few more that are strictly for the sake of rejuvenation of a shoe’s leather and its overall look. In reality, it is really hard to completely ruin a pair of well made shoes. One of the only things that you cannot repair is tearing the upper leather. Sure, there are some people who might be able to patch it up for you, some way or another, but it will never look the same. However, as long as you don’t rip the upper or put a whole in your insole, most things done to the shoe can be resolved and with a little bit of know-how and the right products in order to bring the shoes back to life

The ‘before’ to the ‘after’ above, done by me. Just a shine though no stripping of finish

As you can see, his Loake’s were in quite a state. Most people would look at these and probably feel bad about the thought of maybe giving them to a homeless man with the amount of crap that had built upon them. But luckily the reader did not throw them away but rather saw a chance to make a project out of them to see just how well he could bring them back to life. Below I will quote his words,

“Today I found a pair of old Loake’s that I bought around twenty years ago, as probably my first “proper” shoes (incidentally, no Loake’s seem to have fit me properly since!). From the first picture, you can see these neglected beasts were in a sorry state: squashed, scratched, dried out, covered in mould and generally looking ready for disposal.

But thanks to your blog, I was inspired to go out, buy some nail polish remover, strip them down and find a lovely tan to stain in the leather, re-moisturise them with beeswax and linseed, and give them a polish. Here they are with some funky laces, and now delivered to the shoe repairer for new soles.

From garbage to salvation in about three hours! I wouldn’t have done it without “The Shoe Snob”, and I’m rather proud of these!”

And proud he should be because he did an amazing job, as you can see below!

The after to the before above

Now one other trick that I have never talked about before on this blog is reshaping the leather. When you have shoes that are 20-30 years old and have had a lot of wear and tear and then a lot of neglect, you tend to get some deformity in the leather, and a whole lot of creasing, and maybe significant loosening of it too. So to fix these things, I will share with you a few tips and tricks.

To mold the leather into nice form again:

Submerse your shoe into water, completely, and let it soak for at least 10 minutes. After that, take it out, put in your shoe trees (preferably snug ones) and put it next to the heater for a few hours, but never on it, then use a blow dryer to dry it up, drying from about 6 inches away (but dont do the sole…let that dry naturally). Dping this basically shrinks the leatjer onto the form of the shoe tree. This idea is kind of like how they tell you to form baseball caps or the way in which you shrink your clothes: High heat after being soaked will shrink that leather (and most things) into place.

To help get the wrinkles out:

First things first, you will want to put a shoe tree in your shoe that is one size too big so that you have a really tight fit, as you need the wrinkles to be as stretched as possible.

One way is to use an electrical heat gun (at close proximity and when the leather is dry) to blow over the leather where the wrinkles/creases are. The high heat while the leather is taut, will help to relax it and unset the wrinkles. Obviously nothing will be as good as re-lasting, but for a house remedy, it will help do the trick. The other way, which is probably more practical is to do what is called spooning. This is a old military spit-n’-polish trick whereby you heat up a spoon (with a lighter or some kind of flame) and then burn the wax into the pores of the leather to get a real smooth surface. Only this time we are not using wax but you will want to do the same thing of rubbing the leather in the crease area (while having big trees in) with the hot spoon to shape the leather back into place. Don’t be afraid to put some force into it.

Now, there is a warning when it comes to spooning. This will burn the leather. On black you will not see it, but on a tan you definitely will. So do not do this method on a new pair of shoes that you are still fond of that are lighter than dark brown. If you are going to strip the finish anyway, then it does not matter….

Best of luck restoring your old shoes!

-Justin, “The Shoe Snob”


64 thoughts on “Restoring Old Shoes”

  1. To remove the wrinkles sometimes I use fire (a cotton ball soaked with alcohol and hold by a pair of scissors). Stick in a good shoetree and pass the wrinkles over the flame, with a fast motion.

    You have to be very careful, as you risk to burn the shoes or worse, your hands… Do not try this at home!

  2. Nice restauration!

    Justin, I’ve been meaning to ask you, do you have any advice on protecting your shoes while driving? I think about using galoshes to protect them from scratching but I’m worried about the grip. Changing shoes is not a viable option since I’m in&out my car 20-30 times a day, every day.

  3. Il Satiro – yes, this is a bit more daring….

    Anon – honestly, since I have been in Europe (almost 4 years now), I have not driven and therefore don’t think about these things really. Can’t say that I know of a remedy to this besides being careful. Sorry that this is probably the not answer that you wanted to hear…

    Greg – yes, take the end of a broom handle (it must be round) and shove it inside the shoe where the leather is tight and rub it (don’t be afraid to give some force) to loosen the leather. Use your hand that has the shoe in it to guide where you want to rub, it will be more effective.


  4. Justin,

    Thank you for publishing these ‘tricks of the trade’ and all credit to you for teaching us techniques which could potentially take business away from you.


  5. Hi Justin, thanks for publishing these tricks. I was just wondering how you might get the wrinkles out of a oxblood Dr. Marten boots, without ruining the colour? The thing is, my left boot has got the sort of creases in which you would expect and don’t take away from there look of the boot, and the leather remains tough,and has got a good shape. The right boot is another story. The creases are very ‘over the top’, with the leather feeling far too soft if you press it, and hasn’t held any shape. How would I go about remedying this?

    Kind regards


  6. Jason – Unfortunately my friend, without seeing or feeling what you are talking about it is going to be hard for me to give you any kind of direction….Getting creases out in reality is very difficult and if they are over the top as you say, then there might not be a way…there are a lot of factors that play into why wrinkles come about and without knowing what those might be for your situation, I simply cannot give you a blind suggestion…sorry


  7. Hi Justin,

    thank you so much for sharing this!

    I have a pair of new vass Oxfords that have significant stretching due to bigger shoe trees (half size). I can see the stretch marks at the sides.

    I wonder if you would recommend the soaking and drying method? Should I rub in warm water or just soak the entire pair? Is it ok to use a hair dryer?

  8. dear sir,
    congratulations for your generous blog and if you allow me I’d like to use this opportunity to solve a few doubts:
    – would you recommend also the soaking and heating for a suede shoe?
    – if not, how would you addapt a suede shoe that is half a number too loose?
    – would you ever stick some rubber sole to protect your leather-soled shoes?
    – could you explain how you work the wax with water? I can’t see how they would integrate,,,
    thanks in advance,

    1. Alonso,

      -no I would not soak a suede shoe….
      -unfortunately when it comes to suede I am not as expert, and since you can’t soak it then I don’t have an answer to this one…
      -this is very subjective..I personally would not, but that does not mean that one should not…it depends on many things: where you live, how many shoes you have, if you wear galoshes etc…
      -if you look at my video on the page “polish your shoes properly” found on the right side of my blog you can see how I use wax and water together…

      Hope that this helps

    1. I’ve reattached the picture. Please let me know if it doesn’t go through again. These boots need lots of work — just wondering if they’re 1. restorable and 2. worth the cost in repairing.

      1. Dear Alice, few things are un-repairable. Only you however will be able to decide whether or not it is “worth” it…..depends on how much you will have to spend and how much you like these particular boots….they will need a lot of work and by a very good cobbler…but unfortunately I simply cannot answer this for you…sorry and best of luck

        1. aim5586: Good advice for the leather, but did you notice the sole is nearly split in half? That’s kind of a major issue. They’re rubber soles, whic5h are not commonly replaced although it is possible.

          Alice liao: It looks like you got some serious use out of those boots! I had a pair of J&M boots (that go up to the ankle) and similar things started happening: toecaps seem to be devoid of dye and the rubber sole was splitting. For about $11 you can probably patch them up for awhile, but it won’t last. 1) Buy some shoe glue for about $5 and generously slap in the cracks of the sole being careful not to get it on the leather above (although a little bit can be removed without too much trouble unlike, say, superglue.) Then figure out how to keep it together while it dries. Do NOT put a table leg directly on the toecap (and do not ask me how I know…) A clamp with light pressure would probably work. 2) Buy some leather dye for $6. Black would work great. If you want to keep them a similar color, I would suggest a medium brown because dark brown is very dark. There are other interesting colors available, and from what I’ve read, most of them will cover old leather dye fairly well.

          I’m sure you’ve either repaired them or thrown them away by now, but hopefully this advice someone!

  9. Hi

    Thanks for this blog as I have a pair of loafers which i have found has stretched a lot since i got them.

    I was just wondering whether you soak the shoes in hot or cold water?
    before i begin this shoe restoring journey 🙂

  10. Thanks for this great source of help and info. I have a pair of Frye boots I acquired which are in good shape except the inside of the right boot at the toe cap, the leather is wrinkled and deformed and presses painfully into my toes. How do I smooth out this leather inside the boot?

    1. unfortunately there are really only two ways to soften up the toe caps: 1, through wear or 2. through manual force by bending the leather constantly with your hands, fingers etc….it will wrinkle the leather but will soften the stiffeners.

  11. Thank you for all of the useful information. I have a question about my favorite pair of loafers. They were damaged by salt from the spreading doe by snow plow trucks. I regret to say I never cared for them immediately afterwards, and likely let this happen a few times before I tried to restore the leather. now have dried-almost crusted. What would you recommend as a remedy? Thank you!

    1. many people claim that a mixture of water and vinegar will take the salt stains away but I don’t think that it would be good for the dryness of the leather…you need to condition them a few times, but if they are at the point of crusting up, it might be too late I am afraid…but definitely get some conditioner on there to let the leather obtain the nutrients it needs to become supple again

  12. Hi Justin,
    Great job. I had a bit of a stain on one toecap of a tan shoe. I had to strip a lot of the polish from the toecap on the stained shoe to get rid of the stain(caused by an oily substance). Anyway now I want to bring the color backup to the original tan. Is it best to use cream or wax polish to do this and should I use Saphir Renovator first to nurish the stripped toecap or will this create a barrier between the cream/polish and the leather.

    1. gerry, best to use cream and no don’t use the renovator first if you are down to the bare leather. Just use the cream…but it is risky business on a tan shoe, as sometimes no matter what you put on the bare leather, it will simply darken to a shade of black from just being touched by moisture…best of luck..do it sparingly and slowly, don’t whack too much on

  13. Hi Justin,
    A little bit off beat, but I have a pair of Air Jordan 1’s from 1985, and as you can tell the leather is all cracked and dried out. I want to go the extra step and instead of just concealing it and painting over the leather, I want to recondition it to bring it back to the state it was in ’85. Are there any products or methods that can help me achieve my goal?

    Appreciate it,


    1. jack, sorry for the late reply and answer here, but considering the state of these (particularly the chewed up sole) I am not sure if you will be able to get these back to ’85 state of condition…trainers are not like dress shoes unfortunately…sorry I can’t really be of further help…best of luck

  14. Dear Justin,
    Imagine my despair when I realised I had entrusted my precious tan brogues to a less than satisfactory cobbler. The edge of the sole, rather than being the original natural wood finish, was now filled in with a ghastly uniform dark brown colourin total contrast to the uppers. Please, I need your help, how do I retrieve their original splendour!
    Many thanks

    1. dear Mark, sorry for the late response. You would be best to try and strip the stuff with acetone. But it might be a tough job as the dye used on the sides of soles is quite strong….best of luck…on a more drastic note, you could use sandpaper…

  15. My husband spilled cooking oil (he was barbecuing) on his brand new Sperry boat shoes. They are leather and mesh. We tried leather cleaner and at a friend’s suggestion, corn starch overnight. Not a dent. Any suggestions? As the shoes cost $90, I’d spend up to $40 or so, or just get a new pair.

    1. Saddle soap, or any degreaser will help to get the oil out, but you won’t remove it all. If you like the color with the oil, then just oil the whole shoe! Or, die a darker color to mask the oil. Stains on light color shoes are tough.

  16. My daughter’s cat urinated in a nice pair of suede and leather loafers. She has worn them a couple of years and the shoes still look great. Can you give advice? I would be willing to take them to a cobbler. I just don’t know whom to use. I want them clean and in good shape. I bought them at Neiman Marcus and it was funny because the price was high for the brand name (Toms) but the salesman assured me that Neiman’s had asked Toms to improve the shoe in every single way, and if ANYTHING ever happens to them to bring them back to the store. I don’t think he meant having them urinated on by the cat. Please don’t judge the kitty she is sick and was having a tough day. Any help and advice would be appreciated.

    1. If you go to a store that has a reasonable amount of shoe maintaining supplies, they typically have shoe cleaning kits. I find that a basic cleaner with a brush attached gets all but the worst stains out.

  17. Ive had these shoes for only a few months. They are inexpensive Alfani Leather Chukka’s from Macy’s.

    Do I have any chance of getting rid of the wrinkles and the discoloration?


  18. I have a pair of silver leather pumps that I made the mistake of walking through deep gravel in. As a result, the heels are significantly scuffed and scratched. How might I go about attempting to repair them myself? Thanks!

  19. Hello! I have a pair of Lloyds loafers over 30 years old. They are like new except they’ve lost their shine. How do I restore? Thank hou.

  20. Hello good sir! I have purchased about 10 pairs of wooden heeled shoes and they are getting scratched and scuffed. What is the best option to clean them up and make them look fresh again?? Everytime I get them polished, the have something that they rub on it, but it never lasts. I have heard oils work, but I wanted to ask the aficionado.

  21. Lone one on kristinawinter

    I sell many leather products on eBay and contrary to popular belief you can shove them in a washing machine. I put them on a cold wool wash inside a pillow case with a bit of washing up detergent, never use fabric conditioner. Don’t rush the drying process. This is not advisable for delicate coloured leathers. I recently washed a pair of red patent ladies vintage flat shoes and made a tidy profit. I also saw a YouTube video and on that they used a green scourer on leather which I thought was ridiculous until I tried it on a dark stain on some tan brogues and it worked like a dream. Obviously cheap shoes with card inners are a problem but I would generally replace them. It’s all in the finishing.

  22. When you use the heat gun stick to the creases near the toe cap. If you try to get the creases on the softer parts of the shoe e.g. The quarter or eyelid tab, you will put that area out of shape. If you do screw up, submerge for 10 minutes.

  23. Sanjuanita Kania

    Greetings Jeffrey . my partner acquired a fillable a form version using this http://goo.gl/Cwe4yp

    1. This is what I’d be interested in knowing too. I got a new pair of Carmina, but the shop didn’t fill one of the shoes with the packing paper. As a result it was creased by being bent during transit. It’s not horrible, I’ve kept it treed all the time (just over 24 hours now) with an extra layer of foam over the trees. I was thinking of steaming it or applying heat with the blow dryer to see if it’ll work, but I’m apprehensive about how suede will react to focused heat.

      Another edit, sorry: I don’t want to return the shoes because I got them at a significant discount, and this was the last pair in this size. The crease isn’t as visible with the shoe trees in them, but I have a relatively low volume foot, so it’s more visible when I actually wear the shoes than when it is treed (even without extra padding). I was wondering if tongue pads would help at all? The crease happened at the intersection / cut between the left side of the tongue and vamp.

      Link to photo: http://i.imgur.com/qQ0e2V9.jpg

      The crease is visible on the left shoe. It was much worse when I got it.

      The shoe without shoe trees: http://i.imgur.com/cVOoJza.jpg


  24. Got a used pair of Maine boat shoes and a friend said, “I bet you’ll like ’em. If they are tight, try soaking them in a bucket of water and walking a few miles. Then stuff with newspaper overnight.” Thoughts?

  25. I have a 5 year old pair of Rockport “rocksports: dress shoes. I used the cardboard fillers that came with the shoes for a few years. Since then, they have lost the shape a bit in the uppers. I have a good pair of tight shoe lasts for them (I’ve never used). They seem to bring the shape right back. Should I spray them with water with a spritzer and let them dry in the shoe lasts to retain the shape? And the give them a good polish? – Or should I do more than just spray with water?
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/6153e3e8bd38044f3641803c418499dd4a73d53c2563d888f67abd3880966185.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ef650061b6cf43a4b4111a4790177753fc626c1538cf148cde2d195d308fcc3e.jpg They’re a good looking pair I’d like to refurbish. Any advise would help. Thanks. See the photos of the shoe lasts in and out, attached.
    Thanks, James

  26. Actually it’s going to be very hard for cobbler to restore it. To fix a crushed toe cap you need to re-last the whole shoes. The reason why they say no to it is probably because 1. it takes too much of effort to fix it (rip apart the whole boot, putting new celastic toe, relasting, rewelting, resoling) & 2. There is a very high chance that they dont have the proper last because obviously Doc Mart themselves is the only one who have the original last unless you dont have any problem with your shoes being relasted with a different last which will result in the whole overall boot’s shape changing.

  27. I purchased a pair of used un-dated Bally Scribe shoes. The leather uppers were deformed so I decided to try your method with a few differences. I used tepid water with bit of dishwashing soap and let them soak for 15 minutes. I brushed them a few times while in the water. The water colour turned brownish. I don’t think this was the dye. I put them in the clother dryer at low heat for about 3 hours and then outside for a day in the sun. I didn’t used a shoe tree. Well, it worked quite well. The leather has returned to its original shape and I see no dame to the shoes. Only the rubber heal section of one shoe needs to nailed down a bit. Next step in leather conditionner and cream.

  28. @ Shoe Snob,

    I accidentally forgot to condition a pair of black oxfords that I did the heat gun crease trick on. After molding them, I polished them and forgot to condition them before. I have not worn them and had left them in my room over night, and then realized a day later that I had skipped a step. There’s some cracking showing on the leather, so I immediately caked on some leather conditioner balm wax that I had. It’s helping but I may have messed them up.

    My question, is there a leather filler that you recommend to fill in the small cracks on the shoe?

  29. I was tearing down an old barn and found a lot of old vintage women’s shoes, I’m thinking 1940s. They aren’t in the best of condition and was wondering if there’s is any way to save them, I hate to just throw them away.

  30. Do you think this shoe tree trick can smooth out creases in clogs?
    I am just learning about shoe trees and they all look too shallow to snugly fill the high vamp of a ckog like Dansko.. Do they make differently shaped shoe trees for different shoe shapes?

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