Shining leather shoes

These Boots Are Made For Walking

by Jennifer Grindl

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Picture yourself as a manager conducting a job interview. A new candidate walks in the door dressed in a clean, well-pressed, conservative business suit, and wearing dollar store shower shoes. Wait! Stop! Shower shoes?! Who on earth would take all that trouble to get ready for an interview, but walk in wearing plastic flip-flops? Who indeed….Have you ever thought about your foot wear? More to the point, have you ever thought about the impression that it gives other people?

Many people spend hours upon hours shopping for a good price on quality leather shoes that are comfortable, supportive, and look nice, but very few people take the time to care for their leather shoes properly. From my experience, it is possible to get many years of almost constant wear out of leather shoes, provided that you take the time to maintain them. Just as you would never walk around in a stained and dirty shirt or pants that need pressing, there is no reason to walk around in scuffed up, dirty shoes. Below, I have outlined the basics for cleaning and polishing leather, as well as my experiences with heel and sole replacements.

To begin with, shop around and compare the cost of replacing shoe heels and soles at the various cobblers in your area. Don't forget to check out dry cleaners, as they frequently offer shoe repair services. I have found women's heel replacements ranging from $5-$12 and sole replacements for boots $15-$30. Much depends on the type of shoe/boot, the material it is made out of and geographical location. Before you balk at the idea of spending additional money on a pair of shoes you already paid good money for, allow me to point out that replacing heels and soles is still cheaper than buying new shoes. I have also found that the material used by cobblers for heel replacements lasts much longer than that used in the original manufacture of the shoes.

So, you ask, now I know that I can replace the heels and soles, when necessary…but what about cleaning them? What about those nasty scuff marks? Below I have outlined the basic materials and steps to cleaning and polishing all your leather (the cleaning methods also work well for leather bags and jackets, but you will want to leave out the polish).


  1. Rags (for buffing) - old cotton t-shirts or flannel shirts cut into useable sized pieces are perfect for this.
  2. Cleaner - I use saddle soap at .99/can
  3. Water-proofer - SnowSeal and Hubbard's both work very well. A $5.99 can has lasted me about 3.5 years.
  4. Wax polish - black, brown, neutral, and other colors, as needed
  5. Horsehair shoe brushes - You need 1 brush for each color of polish that you own, and one brush for neutral. (All of my shoes are brown and black, so I only have two.)
  6. Spray bottle with water
  7. Mink oil
  8. Edge dressing - Can be found at most cobblers and better men's shoe stores. A little goes a very long way with this stuff!

Please note that most of these materials may be found around the house or at your local drug store. The only thing that might be harder to find in a drug store is edge dressing.

Basic shine on a black boot:

  1. Cleaning: Apply moistened saddle soap with hands or a rag, following directions on the can. Generally, you want to moisten your hands or a rag, rub on the saddle soap and wipe it off with a clean dry rag. It is better to use a little less and do two applications, than it is to get the leather too wet. For very soiled boots (those with dried mud and loose dirt on them), you want to take a stiff scrub brush and scrub off as much of the loose, dry dirt as possible before starting the cleaning process.
  2. Edge Dressing: Apply edge dressing according to the directions, to the heel of the boot and the soles (not the bottom part, but the edge that shows when the boots are being worn).
  3. Scuffs: Dye any scuffed areas with leather dye, which can be found at most shoe cobblers and on the web.
  4. Apply Polish: There are two ways to do this:
    1. Ignite the polish (in the can) with a match and allow it to melt. (I recommend doing this out on the porch, or someplace else where you won't start a house fire.) Put out the flame by smothering it with the top of the can and then apply wax polish in warm liquid form to the boot with your hands (I wear latex gloves). Pay special attention to seams, cracks and crevices and make sure that you get all areas thoroughly.
    2. Apply wax polish (not melted, but straight out of the can) with a dauber or applicator, once again, paying special attention to seams, cracks, and crevices.
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  6. Brushing and Buffing: Buff the boot all over where you applied the polish with a horsehair brush until it gains a moderate shine. Spritz a small amount of water all over it and continue to buff until it starts to shine even more. Complete the shine by buffing with a clean, soft, cotton rag until glossy. Some people prefer less shine. To achieve this finish, stop after buffing the boots once and bypass the water spritz and second buffing.

Oil tanned leathers: Boots made of oil-tanned leather do not take a shine and in fact wax polish will damage that type of leather. Clean boots with saddle soap and apply a leather conditioner such as mink oil.

Unless you have an exact color match, or when a boot/shoe has decorative stitching in a contrasting color, it is best to polish with neutral wax, using a separate brush and buffing rag and following the same steps as for black boots.

Water-proofing: Treating boots with water-proofing is the only time that you should ever apply heat to your leather. Warm your boots using a hair dryer or by setting them in the sun or briefly in the oven. Rub in as much SnowSeal or other water-proofer as the leather will absorb and wipe away excess with a clean rag. Allow boots to sit overnight before polishing.

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