How To Clean Leather Shoes Like a Pro:
The Complete Inside Scoop

Tuesday Bote — Sept 6, 2020

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So you’ve now made a commitment to a beautiful new pair of leather shoes but you just don’t know how to keep it. We feel your pain and we’re ready to help! 


Be it your first pair, or your umpteenth, within a closetful of fine leather shoes, handling each one like a vintage car – spot cleaning as needed, getting it maintained regularly, and restoring it, is an essential part of dressing well. 


Treating your shoes like a gentleman, or genteel woman would, offers infinite rewards. You don’t only make your leather shoes look good, (making yourself feel good), but you can make your prized pair last longer (helping your future self be even more confident). 


If that alone doesn’t do it for you, there’s a completely zen-like, ASMR feeling attached to the whole process of polishing shoes. So relaxing.


What You’ll Find in This Guide:


Common Leather Problems and Why They Happen

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Neglect is the number one culprit of ruining the beautiful partnership with your classy leather footwear. Add exposure to the elements, plus using the wrong methods for cleaning leather and you’ve got the perfect recipe for disaster. And by disaster, we mean cracked and peeling leather – not sexy at all.  

3 Things that Are Out to Get Leather Are: 

  1. Too much heat or sun exposure – just like your skin, leather will dry out too much or fade under prolonged periods out in the sun.
  1. Going Hot and Cold – cleaning your leather footwear will be more difficult if you store it in extreme heat then go out in humid or freezing temperature. When heat or moisture levels are too much, your leather shoes will be a nice breeding ground for mold and mildew. Combine that with sweaty feet and you’ve got funky smelling shoes.
  1. Using harsh cleaning agents – your leather shoes need the same gentleness as human skin so strong detergents or bleach is out of the question. They can wreak havoc on leather’s natural texture. It’ll dry out and yes, crack like nobody’s business. And if you’re wondering, ”Can leather shoes be washed?”, read on.


How (and When) to Clean Leather Shoes, According to the Experts

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In the book, “Tanning Chemistry: The Science of Leather”, Professor Anthony D. Covington, a leading expert on leather science from the University of Northampton, says that to maintain leather, it has to be kept away from water, but still allow water vapor and air to go through the material.
Cleaning leather shoes, especially how to clean white leather shoes without washing or soaking is tricky. So you may ask, “What can I use to clean leather shoes?” – the answer is in using the right shoe care products. Just like you would “cleanse” or “moisturize” your skin, your leather shoes needs its own leather cleaner and conditioner to keep it clean and supple. 
A typical home cleaning routine for your leather footwear can include:
    Use a leather cleaning product to lift off dirt from your leather shoes.
    How often: A once a week total clean, or a spot clean as needed
    Next, apply a leather conditioner, to replenish any lost oils.
    How often: Can be once or twice a month
    Then, polish your shoes to revive them – get back that color and shine, and seal out dirt at the same time.
    How often: Once a week
    And the final touch – waterproofing/weatherproofing your leather shoes. This can protect them from all the bad stuff – heat or moisture, even stains. There’s nothing like finishing off a nice cleaning job with this last step to get that deep sense of satisfaction for a job well done.
    How often: Once a year, or depending on your environment or lifestyle
Common tools and products for leather shoe care:
Cleaning – cleaning cloth, a shoe brush and a custom leather cleaner
Conditioning – cleaning cloth and a leather conditioner
Polishing – cleaning cloth, leather conditioner and a shoe brush
Weatherproofing – weatherproofing shoe sprays

Treating Your Leather Footwear Like a Cobbler

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A soft cleaning cloth that's made with microfibre material, and horsehair shoe brushes make the most effective cleaning and buffing tools. Be wary of tough brush bristles as they tend to scratch leather. Saddle soap is also a good alternative to liquid leather cleaner products.
To clean the inside of your leather shoes:
  • take out the insole, if it's detachable, and do a surface clean with a microfibre cloth
  • place your insole on top of a newspaper and apply mild detergent, or facial cleanser on the leather to lift away stubborn stains and odor (use a damp cloth moistened with lukewarm or cold water) 
  • don't rinse out and pat dry with a soft cloth
  • use an anti-bacterial spray to mist a thin layer to cover all the insides of your leather shoe (this will kill and prevent mildew and odor-causing bacteria from spreading)
  • wrap the newly cleaned insoles in a towel or newspaper, and do an overnight dry (avoid sunlight or heat)
  • moisturize the next day with a pea-sized amount of leather conditioner
If you can't take out the insole, do as much of the above steps as you can while cleaning the inside of your leather shoes.
Baking soda and vinegar are still a toss up for leather shoe experts - the first one is messy and sometimes doesn't work, while vinegar can dry out your leather. So use with caution.
Many claim that an equal parts mixture of water and vinegar can clean out salt lines and watermarks - but for surefire results, the best bets are always quality shoe care products specifically designed to address any problem. You don't want to have any regrets.

Now having said all of the above, suede, sheepskin and nappy kinds of leather require a different kind of care. So please check your leather shoe care products if you are using the right kind for your specific kind of leather. 


Common Kinds of Leather Shoe Materials and How to Care for Them


Different kinds of leather need their own unique brand of cleaning, unfortunately. We’ve made it easy for you and broken down what you need to know about each one, so you don’t ruin your leather grails so soon:

Boots and Casual Leather Shoes

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Vegetable Tanned Leather

A professional shoemaker’s standard for casual leather shoes, this type of leather uses modern tanning methods that produce cinnamon colored leather with a distinct patina. 
What to preserve: sheen and color
What to avoid: getting it wet
Products that work best: oil-based leather conditioner as its absorbed, not just coating leather, polish that contains beeswax  

Pullup Leather

Slightly-oily to the touch, this kind of leather can do a magic trick: scratch lightly and then rub with a dry finger, and the mark disappears! 
What to preserve: color, use the right kind of wax color to match the original hue
Products that work best: quality leather conditioner, beeswax-based polish

Chamois Leather

Ultra-soft and nappy, it can soak water like there’s no tomorrow 
What to preserve: keep it clean from immediate stains. You’ll need a lint roller: roll in one direction to get all unwanted debris out.
Products that work best: suede shoe brush, natural crepe rubber or rubber eraser, suede cleaner and spray

Suede Leather

Similar to Chamois, suede needs to be on rotation, otherwise, your shoes will look worn and bleached out. Even overcleaning is not going to do your suede any favors. A trick to soften hardened mud stains: hold the shoe near the spout of a steaming kettle (at a safe distance) and buff out the stain with an emery board.
What to preserve: nappy quality, look out for immediate stains and moisture
Products that work best: brush, cleaners and sprays strictly for suede only, rubber eraser for stains

Pebbled Leather

Pebbled leather has a rugged appeal that invites a second look. Not surprisingly, this is the easiest kind of leather to take care of. Wipe down regularly with a damp cloth, moisturize with an oil-based conditioner and protect with beeswax polish in the right color.
What to preserve: texture
Products that work best: same as pullup: quality leather conditioner, beeswax-based polish

Luxe Leather Shoe Categories


Cordovan Leather

Made from one of the rarest kinds of leather, equine leather – Cordovan is the ultimate in leather shoe luxury. Bespoke shoes often use cordovan leather for its rarity and high quality. 
What to preserve: color and luster. Avoid over waxing or conditioning so that you don’t dull Cordovan’s famous patina. Avoid Saddle soap and chemical products.
Products that work best: wax polish that contains mink-oil, renovator cream

Calfskin Leather

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Now’s the time to break out your polishing fetish because this baby loves being shined up. Put a spit of warm water into your polish and work into shoes in tight circles until you can see your face on your shoe.
What to preserve: shine
Products that work best: same as pull up and pebbled leather: a great leather conditioner, beeswax-based polish

Patent Leather

Patent leather is a go-to dress shoe material that’s known for its glossy finish. Unfortunately its also a scratch and scuff magnet. For quick fixes: dab a little petroleum jelly on light blemishes to smooth them out. If the minor scratch is on the heel, use clear nail polish. 
What to preserve: gloss
Products that work best: chamois cleaning cloth, cleaner and finishing spray that’s only for patent leather


Making your Leather Footwear Last Longer

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We know that in these tough times, splurging on an expensive pair of shoes can be a long-deserved treat or an absolute necessity for work. Learning how to clean leather shoe stains is a must if you want to protect your investment. Bank on the following tips to keep enjoying your stylish leather shoes:


 - Invest in cedar shoe trees to keep your leather footwear smelling fresh, and in perfect shape, free from toe-curling creases 


 - Buying the right kind of quality leather shoes saves you a lot of heartache in the long run. Whether you’re coughing up money for casual white leather sneakers, sturdy work boots or formal leather dress shoes, you’ll want to gofor leather that’s within budget but offers the best value. 


 - Investing in the right shoe care products and tools saves you a ton of effort. Leather shoes, when properly cared for, can last for years given the right conditions and treatment.


But don’t take our word for it. Just google the “Areni-1 shoe”. You’re welcome.