How to Polish a Pair of Shoes

How to Polish a Pair of Shoes

There's an old saying that goes "If you're wearing good shoes, and carrying a good bag, the rest of the outfit doesn't matter." Good-quality shoes, kept meticulously neat, speak volumes about the wearer. Actor Conrad Cantzen felt so strongly about the impression shoes make that in 1945 he bequeathed his estate to The Actors Fund with the stipulation that it be used to help actors buy shoes so they did not appear "down at the heels" when auditioning for jobs. In short, good-looking shoes can vastly improve your life!

Here are some ways to keep your shoes sweet smelling (or at least not smelling), spick and span, and in good repair.

1 Cover an area of the floor with sheets of newspaper or an old towel.

2 Check your shoes for spatterings of dirt or debris. If they're filthy, wipe them down with a damp rag and let dry.

3 Take a horsehair shoe polish brush and rub it into your wax shoe polish. Scrub your shoes vigorously. Use plenty of polish so that you leave a film on the outside of the shoe.

4 Let them absorb the polish for a few minutes, then wipe down the outside of the shoes with a soft, lint-free cloth. Use a circular motion and rub hard to buff them to a high gloss.

In the 1800s, the first commercially available shoe polish—or shine—was made from sugar, vinegar, black dye, and water. Shortly thereafter tallow (an animal by-product) was introduced as an ingredient to prevent the polish from rubbing off on clothes, but it  wasn't until 1904, when Kiwi brand introduced a vastly improved formula, that commercial shine began to resemble the modern shoe polish available today.

When Good Shoes Go Bad: Shoe Repair and Maintenance Tips

Self-Sufficiency: When to Do It at Home

Channel your inner cobbler, and your shoes will last longer and perform better.

• Heels wearing out? This seems obvious, but I'm going to say it: Alternate the pairs of shoes you wear to preserve the ones you love most.

• Slick bottoms? Rub the bottom with sandpaper or a wire brush to add traction. Still slick? Spray the bottoms with hairspray and let it dry completely before wearing.

• Waterproof it. Rub a new pair of leather shoes or boots with mink oil. This neutral-colored oil softens the leather and makes it water resistant. Allow it to dry fully, then treat shoes with spray-on water repellent at the seams and all over the insides.

• Soles or heels coming off? Glue them on at home with glue specifically designed for shoes (ask for it at a hardware store). Before you start, rub the surfaces to be glued with sandpaper to improve the bond. This works especially well on sneakers.

• Scuffed-up suede? The best tool to erase surface marks is a dry cleaning bar, usually sold with a stiff-bristle brush. The bar is like a pencil eraser: use it to remove marks from suede. Then use the brush to bring the nap back up. Finish with a deep-cleaning suede spray.

• Mark on nonpatent leather shoes or boots? Try rubbing the stain off with a gum eraser. If that fails, invest in a small bottle of shoe polish that matches the shoe color precisely and paint over the scuff.

• Crack or nick in leather? Find a Sharpie marker in the same color as the shoe, and simply draw over the affected area, and then let it dry.

Shoe Store Support: When to Pay for It

An investment in a trip to the shoe repair store for repairs and maintenance can save you money in the long run. Buy the highest-quality shoes you can afford and keep them in good repair. Here's what to pay for:

• New shoes too tight? Have them stretched. Some places can even stretch specific parts of the shoe, such as the heels or the "bunion" area. It's an inexpensive service that can make a big difference.

• Uncomfortable standing all day in your new shoes? Invest in gel insoles. Slide them inside your shoes to absorb shock between your feet and the sidewalk. It's worth the investment because they'll relieve and prevent pain.

• Want to make them last? Have your shoemaker put on rubber heels and toe taps. It's a great way to keep the bottoms from wearing out. Replace the taps as they wear down or fall off.

• Slippery soles? Have your shoemaker install sole protectors. They'll add life to a quality pair of shoes and provide traction to help you avoid slips on the ice or slick flooring.


• Use a powder. After taking off your shoes nightly, sprinkle a thin layer of baking soda inside. In the morning, take them outdoors and clap the soles together. The odor will be carried off with the powder.

• Make room in the freezer. Put each shoe in its own gallon-size zip-top freezer bag, and put them in the freezer overnight to kill odor-causing fungus and bacteria.

• Raid the laundry room. Before bed, crumple up dryer sheets and insert them into shoes.