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How to care for leather shoes

Leather shoes are generally more expensive than footwear made of synthetic material; however, if the leather isn’t cared for properly, it will dry out, crack, and look shabby in no time at all, even if they cost a small fortune. 

When leather boots and shoes are looked after and maintained, they’ll be looking smart for years.  Collectible footwear specialists also recommend maintaining leather shoes and boots; it’s possible that the shoes you buy today could be worth double or triple their value in the future, but only if they are in good condition.

Basically, when it comes to caring for smooth leather shoes there are four steps:  cleaning, conditioning, polishing, and preserving.  For leather athletic trainers, nubuck, and suede, other maintenance procedures are required, which will not be discussed here.

Before you start, you’ll need a few items.  These are:

  • Newspapers
    • Soft cotton cloths that are dry and clean
    • Shoe brush that is soft
    • Cleaning product for smooth leather footwear
    • Leather conditioner
    • Shoe polish
    • Waterproofing product to protect leather

You may also want a pair of close-fitting gloves to protect your hands and health from exposure to toxic chemicals found in shoe polish.

Step one:  Put down some newspapers to protect your floor, and make sure the area is well ventilated.   Apply some of the leather cleaning product to the shoe, and use either the applicator of the product to clean away dirt or use the soft shoe brush.  Once cleaned, let the shoes dry, and then shine the shoes with a soft, dry, clean and lint-free cotton cloth.

Step two:  Condition the shoes to prevent the leather from drying out and cracking.  Rub a small amount of a leather conditioner that’s appropriate for the type of leather on your shoes or boots, and cover the entire surface of the leather.  Let it sit for a few minutes, and wipe off any excess.  Leather will only absorb what it needs. 

Step three:  Polish your shoes or boots.  Remember that most shoe polishes are toxic; so wear gloves and work in a well ventilated area.  Furthermore, do not consume alcohol while working with shoe polish.

Test a small area of the shoe to make sure that the polish is the right colour.  If it is, then rub a small amount of polish all over the leather parts of the shoe or boot, and allow it to dry completely.   Afterwards, buff the shoe with a soft cloth or a shoe-shining brush.

Step four:  Protect your shoes.  Leather shoes can be ruined by water, so a degree of water-proofing is recommended.  Beeswax products will form a waterproof barrier; however, the thick layer will alter the look of the footwear’s leather.   Spray protectant, on the other hand, while it doesn’t provide a water-proof barrier, will make the footwear water resistant and is basically invisible.

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