I’m hard on my things. Not that I’m intentionally destructive, but I don’t give things the TLC they deserve. Dry Clean Only items hang out in the back of my closet for years. Hand Wash items are destined for a short life. And shoes, oh shoes. I did discover the joy of a cobbler to recap heels or fix torn in-soles, but mostly I put well-loved shoes away and pull them out in moments of desperation until it’s too embarrassing to wear them outside at all.
A big part of this DIY project is around minimalism – purchasing fewer, quality things and making them last. Here’s how I’m approaching that with shoe care.
- Only buying quality shoes that I’ll actually wear. My days of painfully hobbling around on wobbly 4″ heels are over. Nowadays, I spend a little more and only buy things that are wearable and comfortable.
- I try to follow the shoe longevity tips of people better with their shoes than I:
- Alternating pairs. Shoes like to breathe, and to dry. Wearing faves day in and day out is the quickest way to a pair that falls apart.
- Clean the insides. Alcohol or tea tree oil will help disinfect and minimize odour.
- Using shoe trees. I’m still working up to this, but people swear by them. Cedar ones even help dry out shoes after wearing.
- Cleaning and conditioning.
Cleaning and conditioning is shoe care 101. If you want your leather shoes to last, they need to be babied. The salt in sweat or on the streets can dry and crack leather. Scuffs immediately age your shoe. Conditioning can help with both.
Embarrassingly, I’d never gone to task on my shoes. Until now!
Step 1. Gather your supplies! You’ll need a couple of clean cloths (old rags is fine), shoe cream (or conditioner and polish) in a neutral colour (or one designed for your colour shoe), and something to buff with (a cloth or a buffing brush.) Gloves will minimize the risk of staining your hands.
Step 2. Create the surface. Lay some newspaper down on your kitchen table, or on a dedicated old towel.
Step 3. Clean your shoes. Get the mud off with a clean cloth, and get them dry. An old toothbrush works well to clean between the sole and the leather upper. The pros recommend a leather cleaner, but I just used a slightly damp and then a dry cloth, and it was fine.
Step 4. Condition the leather. Put a small amount of shoe conditioner or cream on a clean cloth, and rub it into the shoe leather. Work the shoe upper, then put the first shoe aside and move onto the second. Let them sit for 10 minutes.
Step 6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 for the toe and heel, or anywhere showing a little more wear and tear.
Step 7. Polish*! Follow similar steps to conditioning if you’re choosing to polish your shoe. Polish doesn’t moisturize the leather in the same way shoe cream or conditioner does (see below for the difference between all types), but does add more shine and some water resistance. I don’t like to polish my shoes for the most part, as I like a more worn in look. If you are using polish, use black polish for black shoes, and neutral polish for brown or coloured shoes (unless you can match the colour of the polish to the leather exactly, your shoes will take on the tint of the polish over time.)
The experts recommend doing this once a week, but I’m going to try to do it once a month and see if it makes a difference in terms of longevity. There’s an immediate visual difference at least.
I’ve learned the differences between shoe conditioner, shoe cream and shoe polish, and they are:
Shoe conditioner. Intended to moisturize leather shoes, shoe conditioner is absorbed into the leather keeping it supple and flexible, and preventing cracking.
Shoe cream. Shoe cream both moisturizes the leather, and adds a layer on top of the shoe which polishes and adds colour. (I use shoe cream because a) I don’t like shine and b) I’m lazy! 1 step is better than 2.)
Shoe polish (also known as wax, or wax polish). Best for polishing, covering scuffs, and sealing and protecting leather. This adds the shine of a polished shoe, but also builds up and dries shoes out over time (so should be used in conjunction with shoe conditioner.)