· Bright Ideas · How To Clean And Care For Leather Shoes

How To Clean And Care For Leather Shoes


Maintaining a nice pair of leather shoes can seem intimidating, but it’s actually a lot easier and quicker than you may think! If you already have an old pair hiding in your closet somewhere, consider this a quick refresher course that will inspire you to get them out of the closet and onto your feet!

And if you don’t have a pair of leather shoes at home, consider this: we purchased the shoes shown in these photos at a thrift shop for $5. No kidding! And with just a little know-how and a dash of elbow grease, we took these neglected shoes from blah to beautiful! Talk about a bargain. :-)

Related: How to Clean Leather Furniture

How to Clean Leather Shoes

How To Clean And Care For Leather Shoes

You’ll need:

How to Clean Leather Shoes

Step 1 – Cleaning

The first step in revitalizing your leather shoes is to clean them up a bit. Dirt, grime, scuffs, and spots can be cleaned with a mixture of one cup of lukewarm water, and a tablespoon of gentle laundry detergent. Dip a clean, soft cloth in the solution, and gently clean the exterior of the shoes.

How to Clean Leather Shoes

Step 2 – Polishing

Next, remove the laces from the shoes, and gather your polishing supplies. You’ll need shoe polish suited for leather, a polish brush, and a clean, soft cloth. Use the polish brush to apply a thin layer of polish to the shoes. You want enough polish that it dulls the color of the shoes, but no more than that. Let the shoes sit for a while until the polish dries.

How to Clean Leather Shoes

Once the polish is dry, take your soft cloth and buff the shoes to a nice shine. For an even shinier finish, apply another thin layer of polish, and drop a few drops water onto the shoe. Don’t wait for this layer of polish to dry. Instead, buff it with a soft cloth immediately.

How to Clean Leather Shoes

Step 3 – Replace the Laces

The final step is to replace the old shoelaces with a nice, new pair. It may seem silly, but you’ll be amazed at just how much better a new pair of shoelaces will make those shoes look!

How to Clean Leather Shoes

And just like that, you’re done! Enjoy your shiny, beautiful, almost-new leather shoes. :-)

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Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.
I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee


Bright Ideas

  • Use a clean rag and place 2 fingers under it. Using water dampen the spot where your fingers are. Rub this spot in some shoe polish and then apply to your shoes, polishing in a small circle. Wet the spot from time to time after polish has been applied to the shoes and continue to polish in a small circle without applying additional polish. You will get a high gloss shine.

    This technique is known as a spit shine. Served my Navy father well for 30 years, my Navy brother for 20 years, and I used it during my 4 years in the USAF. My platoon sergeant complimented me on the shine.

  • I was born in 1948, to Depression Era parents who knew how to stretch a penny ’til Lincoln smiled … All shoes were leather when I was little, and they all were carefully cared for. A regular part of the week was mom’s shoe-polishing: she’d spread newspaper on the kitchen table, line up all the shoes, and first clean, then polish them all. She used an old kitchen glove to protect her fingers from the polish, and a soft cloth to apply the polish to the shoes (the warmth of your hand encourages the polish to sink into the leather). After it “cured” a bit, she’d buff with another soft cloth. Shoelaces were washed in a soap-lathered hand and rinsed, water expelled by a pinch-and-draw technique, then looped over the dishtowel rod to dry. In the morning the shoes were relaced with clean, dry, unkinked laces.
    A tip: to clean and polish patent/glazed leather, use petroleum jelly. And white polish (for nurses’ service shoes) is/was a white liquid. It didn’t last as long as a good wax-base polish, but you could put a very thin coat of clear shoe polish over it — after the white polish was well set and gently buffed.
    I clean my leather shoes with a very soft nail brush or even the tapered side of a denture brush (where sole meets upper, especially); I use a little squirt of my el cheapo, pre-treat shampoo, which does wonders for the leather. And I rinse off with a clean, wet cloth. When the shoes are dry I polish, buff, and relace.

    • No leather shoes but 2 leather recliner chairs that really need a cleaning, spose the woolite wash would work or hurt? Then what…I’ve tried 2 kinds of leather cleaner and neither worked much.

      • As long as you dilute, I am sure it would be fine, always test an inconspicuous area first. Make sure you get all the soap residue off!

      • You can still use the woolite to clean the entire surface, then wipe dry with a soft cloth. To moisturize, make a conditioner with 2 parts flaxseed oil and 1 part white vinegar. Let dry overnight, and buff in the morning. :-)

  • Another way to finish off a leather shoe clean/polish is with some pantyhose that you aren’t going to wear anymore. Do a final buff with them – they get that deep down shine perfect.

    Good column, especially with fall and winter upon us and all those leather shoes waiting to be worn again.

  • Excellent info, excellent topics Jillee! Thank You.

    One thing I’d wish to be changed: OGT-tv.

    It’s great, but it makes my computer go bananas and I’d like to
    start the player myself. Not a big fan of an automatic tv.

    Best regards from Finland!

    • I use the liquid cleaner from COACH but I’ve never used on a white purse. There is also a shoe polish product to keep your leather tennis shoes white which I found @ the grocery store…..any place that has a shoe department. Good Luck!

  • Thank you. I thought I had to use saddle soap on my leather shoes! I’m going to use the same mild detergent I use for my hand washables. You’re so right about new shoelaces. Although the old ones can be washed, it’s just not quite the same thing.

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