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Shoe Care – Why You Should Be Practicing It

You say, “Why does it matter so much?” I say, “Because it makes a big difference in your shoes’ attempt to persevere!” You say, “But I will need to buy another pair in two years anyway!” I then say, “Yeah so will I but my old pair will still be on rotation while yours are sitting in the garbage!!”

Shoes aren’t free, right? Unfortunately not! So, why not maximize our investment and treat our shoes nicely as they should be? If you have nice leather shoes you should be investing in the little things that can double their lifespan. They are not many and they are easy to use and store. A shoe must never be taken off and thrown in the closet unless you really want your shoes to stink, your leather to wrinkle and break down and your shoes to look like shit. That being said, here is the list of things you need:

1. Shoe trees
2. Shoe bags for storage
3. Leather lotion/saddle soap
4. Shoe Wax
5. Old T-Shirt (for polishing)
6. Black nylons (try-on footies for shining/cleaning)
7. Horse-hair brush
8. Edge dressing (Black & Brown)

I have put these in order of importance, in the sense of what will keep your shoes lasting longer. If there is only one thing that a person much purchase when getting a pair of leather shoes, it should be shoe trees. Shoe trees alone will help add time to your shoes’ lifespan. For each one I will explain why they are needed and how you use them to your advantage.

-There are so many things that shoe trees do but in my opinion the most important is the fact that they will absorb moisture (water & sweat) from your leather. This is important because moisture left in your leather will not only stiffen your leather, increasing the chances of cracking but will also slowly deteriorate the integrity of your leather (decay it). Shoe trees will also aid in maintaining the form of your shoes, keeping creases from setting into your leather and will also fight odor. Always have your shoe trees in your shoes when you are not wearing them. If you happen to get your shoes quite wet the most important way to dry them is to insert your trees and lay each shoe on its side. Let them sit for 1-2 hours and then rotate the shoes to lay on their opposite sides. That way there is not any uneven drying which will leave dried wet spots. There are several types of shoe tree shapes and woods used for them. Depending on who you ask, many people recommend cedar shoe trees especially because they fight odor the best. Since I don’t have this problem I don’t really care what type of wood they are but more in the shape of the shoe tree. There are really two main types of trees and those are one’s that fit exactly the last of the shoe and those that are generic in shape and sizing. Obviously the one’s that fit the last are much better but they are harder to find, expensive and heavier (in case of travel). Here are pictures:

These will help shade the shoes from light that can harm your leather and will also keep your shoes free from dust. They will also lessen the chances of you scratching the leather of your shoes from other objects in your closet.

-Leather is like your skin, it needs to be treated to maintain it’s soft looks, shape and feel. Leather lotion (saddle soap is a leather lotion) is the moisturizer that you need to use to maintain these qualities in your leather. Ideally you should apply leather lotion to your shoes anytime that they might be looking a little scuffed. However, if this is too much for you to do just make sure that you apply it before every polish and let it dry 10 minutes before applying the wax. Use an old t-shirt or soft rag to apply and do so evenly. This will buff the scuffs out and clean unseen dirt.

-This is for polishing your shoes. I prefer this over a paste or a cream. In my opinion, it absorbs into the leather better and gives your more a shine as well as protects your leather from water. There are many brands of wax, Lincoln is a famous one and you can find it at any shoe repair store.

-I use these to apply the leather lotion and the wax. It is preferable to have one for each but is not absolutely necessary.

-These are the trick to keeping your shoes clean and shiny. Working in retail, I always carried a footie (try-on size nylons) in my pocket to wipe down my shoes to clean the dust that would collect on them. You will be amazed at how fast they will clean and shine at the same time. They are also used at the end of the polishing process. Once you have applied the wax and think that your shoes are ready to go, let them sit for 10-15 minutes and then wipe them down with a black nylon to really bring out extra shine.

-These can be used for several different reasons. The most knowledgeable use is to bring out the shine after applying wax, however if you know how to give a real shine you would not use it for that, just the wax, t-shirt and nylon. I will explain that in another post when I show how to shine a shoe properly. Instead what I use these for is to clean the shoe and get in the cracks between the welt and the upper leather, to get that dust and dirt out. If you use these for shining make sure that you have one for black, one for dark brown and one for lighter colors. They will collect the wax on the bristles and will stain your lighter shoes if you were to use the same brush that you used on your dark shoes. They come in different color bristles to keep it simple.


-Edge dressing is the product that you use to apply to the sides of your soles to give them their color back. Now this is not completely necessary because you can also use the wax so long as you have the right color. The thing about edge dressing is that it is chemically based and will stain your leather if it hits it so you have to be careful. Even a black edge dressing will stain your black leather and leave a little spot that looks like a gasoline leak.

Obviously none of these things will make a difference if you treat your shoes like shit, so be aware of puddles and rocks. Don’t be clumsy and accidentally scrape the sides of your shoes or your toe part on the concrete. Be aware, especially if you spent a hefty amount on your shoes. And if you do screw them up take some ownership in it and buy yourself a new pair and don’t try to return them saying that the leather just broke, salespeople in shoe departments are not that stupid and trust me, they think you are when you do such things.

If you ever have a question on what to do, leave a comment or email me directly.

21 thoughts on “Shoe Care – Why You Should Be Practicing It”

  1. I think a shoe horn would qualify as shoe care equipment and were it on this list, would fall in at #2 on this list. A shoe horn every time you put on your shoes and shoe trees every time you take off your shoes.

  2. Can you clarify the use of the horsehair brush please?I like your idea for using nylons instead of having a bunch of different brushes. Does that mean I use my horsehair brush before I start the shoe maintenance process (the first step before I apply saddle soap)?1.) wipe shoe down with horsehair brush2.) apply saddle soap and let it sit for 10 minutes3.) apply wax (cream) and let it sit for 10-15 minutes4.) shine with nylon5.) apply edge dressing6.) put in shoe tree7.) put in protective bag or other form of storageIs that right?Also, can you explain the terminology of creams vs. waxes vs heavy duty weather protectors (i think this is a wax?) vs. polish. When I go to buy products to protect my shoes it can be a little overwhelming with all the different products.Thank you,Josh

  3. Dear Josh – The horsehair brush can be used for many things. One is for getting any dirt off of the shoe in the first stage of shoe cleaning. Another is to have handy when you are polishing light and easily affected leathers to brush when you apply the polish and the leather darkens immediately. You brush the shoe so that they dark spot does not stain. Another use for the brush is for a quick shine or buffing your shoes at the end of the day. But I never use the brush to 'shine' when creating a high shine, just a t-shirt affixed to my hands and polishing fingers. Your list is correct for a basic shine and to maintain your shoes. A cream is usually intended to absorb into the leather and affect the color and feed the leather with it's necessary nutrients. A wax polish is used to create a high shine as well as protect the leather as it creates a coated surface on top of the leather but is not great for adding color back to the shoe.A regular polish is kind of like the best of both worlds but wont work as well as having both. For example, it will help cleanse, give color back and shine, but won't give color as a cream would and won't come to as high of shine as a wax. Heavy duty weather protectors don't exist. Maybe you can have your shoes professionally waterproof but a heavy day of rain will go right through any product. Galoshes or having a spare change of shoes is the only way for wet weather. A good and deep wax shine will prevent from light water drops from setting into the leather.I hope that this has helped. -Justin, "The Shoe Snob"

  4. Justin,I have been searching your blog for a post on your shoe polishing technique. Have a missed it? I did find the Japanese video that was way cool, though.Thanks,Kyle

  5. Dear Kyle,While you did not miss anything because I have not done a true post on it, I did briefly mention how to do it in this post: have not done a true post for it yet as I just have not found the time to, since I would have to do it at work. But really it's easily said, but harder to do as one learns it simply by trial and error, as I did. I actually still learn new things to this day.-Justin, "The Shoe Snob"

  6. In reality, I am not sure, I have yet to see it. I did see this guy who polishes in the Burlington Arcade using some type of sole dressing, so it must be available. I can ask him for you. This seems like the obvious question, but have you tried independent cobblers?-Justin, "The Shoe Snob"

  7. Shoe trees are really wonderful tool to keep my shoe in shape. And I love cedar shoe trees because it absorbs moisture & deodorise my shoes at the same time.

  8. Very helpful post, thank you for sharing.

    I was wondering if you use any kind of taps on the toes of your shoes. Most of my shoes are almond toed and so the soles tend to wear quite quickly at the front of the toe. I am starting to get quite a collection of very expensive shoes together, and would like to extend their life as much as possible.

    Thank you

    1. yes, I try to put toe taps on all of my shoes…indented ones though, not those nailed-on blakeys that fall off all too easily…

      1. Thank you for the reply. I asked the question and then forgot to check back. Can I get those done at regular cobblers? Also do you bother with anything for the heel?

        1. no, not all cobblers can do the indented ones…you will have to find a good one that does….i dont put anything on the heel…the top piece is easily replaced without affecting the sole

  9. Dear Justin,

    Reading your BLOG is always refreshing and educating. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and experiences with us, your readers.

    I do have two questions though: I own quite a good investment of great dress shoes that I obviously care for and maintain regularly. Now, I do not use wax on my shoes, just good quality cream after having cleaned the leather properly, much like the technique you describe in this article. So my first question is how often would you say it is a good practice to clean and polish your shoes in order to keep them in great shape? And my second question regards the winter season: I am always so afraid of those chemical salt-like products they throw out on the sidewalks for melting snow and ice in the city. What would be a good and quick practice to try to remove any leftovers of these chemicals around the shoes and the sole once I get to my office? Notice that I say -quick- because I get busy the minute I walk through my office door, but I will happily take a couple of minutes to take care of my shoes before getting to business if there is something I can do.

    As always, your advice would be highly appreciated.


    1. Dear Luis, Thanks for your kind words. How often you should shine your hoes varies upon how many shoes you own and how often you wear them…could be once every 2 weeks for frequent wear or 1 ever 2 months for infrequent wear, so it’s hard to answer that definitively…

      As per the upkeep during the winter months, well a good brush down (with stiffer bristles) and a renovation (with mink oil/saddle soap etc) if really necessary….

      Hope that this helps

    1. Brian Forbes Colgate

      Actually, you can … I have purchased show bags a number of times over the years. More recently, I made bags from flannel PJ bottoms that I cut off into shorts.

      1. No, they just look new and stiff, and I wondered whether there is anything other than wearing them a lot (they’re too dressy for everyday wear) to make them a little softer and “broken in”. Thanks for all the good info.

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