Care for your Shoes like a Pro (part 2)

So you’ve got a growing shoe collection and you’ve read part 1 of this post but you are still not fully clued up on shoe care.

I get that you are not in the military and have little desire to spend hours buffing shoes to a shine. Moreover, your Kiwi express shine sponges have been keeping you going this long.  I hear you bro.

And yet you know that there is something within you that feels this is a skill that you ought to have. You’re a man, so you’re supposed to know how to shine shoes, wire a plug and put up a tent. And if you can start a fire without matches (or light a BBQ without splashing it with gasoline) you are an uber-man.

So how to shine shoes like a pro? Here are my 7 steps to the perfect shine.

  1. Spread some newspaper on the floor so that you don’t get polish into the carpet. It’s much more comfortable than the alternative; cleaning your shoes in the garden shed.
  2. With shoe tree inserted clean the shoes, either with a brush to remove dust, or with a damp cloth if it’s a little muddy. There is nothing to be gained by putting polish on top of dirt. Let the shoe dry.
  3. If the shoe needs it apply some moisturising cream with a lint free cloth to nourish the leather. Timpsons cobblers cream is a good one. An old sock would be a fine aplicator. Bear in mind that leather is a living material; it once kept a cow warm. So it will need maintenance to keep it from becoming brittle.  If you prefer your shoes to have a matt rather than shiny finish then simply buff the shoes and job done. If you prefer a shiny finish you will need to apply steps 4-7.Use an applicator brush to apply a good quality polish to the leather. There are special applicator brushes you can buy but any small shoe brush will do.  If you prefer to use a cloth that’s also fine.  Don’t use lots of polish. Small amounts worked into the leather are precisely what you need. Kiwi produces some fine polishes. Some polishes include silicone and debate rages over whether this is damaging to shoe leather or not. My own preference is to avoid silicone based polish. Non-silicone polishes have less potent fumes. Unless your shoe is dark brown or black try to make sure that the polish is a slightly lighter shade than your shoe so that you don’t change the colour of your shoe by polishing it.
  4. Leave the first shoe to dry while you apply polish to the second shoe.  If you are polishing more than one pair of shoes at a time go on to apply polish to those allowing more time for the polish to be absorbed by the leather. If you are extremely keen you could leave the polish to dry overnight.
  5. Spray a small amount of water in a fine mist on the shoe and buff to a shine with a different brush from the one used to apply the polish. You will need a different buffing brush for black, brown and tan shoes, ideally made from horse hair. Some people prefer to start buffing with a brush and to finish with a polishing cloth. I am told that women’s tights are excellent for buffing to a high shine but have never tried it. Try breathing on the leather, a bit like you do when cleaning glass, before further buffing.
  6. For a deeper shine repeat steps 4-6 so that you add further coats of polish and buffing.  The more you repeat these steps the deeper the shine you will create. Professional shoe shiners speak of applying at least four coats of polish to get a really exceptional shine.

Crockett & Jones have produced a great videoclip on How to Care for Your Shoes which uses most of the steps I’ve outlined but adds a few more.  I have yet to try what they suggest to care for leather soles but it sounds good to me.

For suede shoes I confess that I still have much to learn.  However, The Hanger Project has some great instructions on How to Clean Suede Shoes which are what I am following at the moment.

If you have any tips from your own shoe polishing experience why not share them?


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