How to Clean Leather Shoes


While some people prefer not to wear leather shoes because they’re made from cowhide, leather shoes can be an economical choice.

Properly cared for, leather shoes will last a lifetime. You may have to get them resoled, but the shoe itself will wear beautifully. Cleaning leather shoes is not that difficult, and should be done regularly to keep the shoes in the best possible shape. If you can, set aside one day a month to clean all of your leather shoes, rather than cleaning each pair separately.

Gather the Following:

  • A shoe brush
  • A soft cloth or chamois
  • A commercial shoe cleaner or saddle soap
  • A small bowl of white vinegar
  • A bottle or can of commercial shoe polish

You can purchase these items separately, or you can buy a shoe cleaning kit at any grocery, drug or discount store.

Steps for Cleaning Leather Shoes:

  1. Remove the laces, if there are any
  2. Place your hand in the shoe to steady it and brush with the shoe brush to remove dust and dirt
  3. Put a small amount of the commercial shoe cleaner or saddle soap on the cloth and rub the scratches – If using saddle soap, you’ll need to use a damp cloth
  4. Wipe the shoes with a dry cloth to remove the cleaner or saddle soap
  5. Add the shoe polish according to the directions – Most will instruct you to completely cover the shoes with polish and then let it dry
  6. To remove the polish, buff the shoes with the cloth or chamois in a circular motion until all of the polish is removed

The Importance of Brushing and Buffing:

Cleaning leather shoes doesn’t usually take long. It will take even less time if you brush and buff after each wearing. Removing the dirt and dust that accumulates from just one wearing will go a long way toward protecting the leather.

When you take your shoes off each night, simply brush them with the shoe brush and then buff them quickly before you put them away. Buffing them quickly will bring out the shine.

Don’t Use Water to Clean Leather Shoes:

While you will need to add a small amount of water if you’re using saddle soap, be careful not to get the shoes really wet. Even treated leather will need to be dried and cleaned as soon as possible after it gets wet. If your shoes get wet in the rain, take them off immediately upon getting home and:

  • Stuff them with newspaper to draw out the water
  • Replace the newspaper as it gets wet
  • Once the shoes are dry, clean as above to avoid stains and water damage

Never place leather shoes or boots near a fireplace or heater to dry. Leather most definitely shrinks when heated. If your shoes or boots are placed near a heat source, they are not likely to fit the next time you put them on.


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