How To Clean Shoes

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It doesn't matter if you have expensive leather shoes or cheap rubber ones, one of the most important things for any shoe owner is how to clean them.

It may seem like a daunting task, but in reality, if you know what cleaner to use and how to get it done, it's quite a simple process. In this article, we'll teach you how to clean shoes so they are always fresh and ready to wear. Keep reading to learn more.

How to Clean Your Shoes
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Cleaning shoes is easy.

You can't have a clean house but then step inside with dirty shoes. This is a common problem that many have because one of the biggest issues with cleaning shoes is simply removing dirt.

Most people try to clean their shoes by using a harsh cleaner on the surface of the shoe, but this can often cause damage and discoloration. It can also void your warranty, so it's best not to do this at all if possible.

What you should do is gently rub off as much dirt as you can using a dry cloth or bristle brush, then seal the rest of the dirt in with a coat of shoe polish. 

Shoe polish comes in both cream and wax forms, and each has their own pros and cons for different types of shoes

Wax polishes are usually recommended for rubber/plastic footwear due to their flexibility and resistance to cracking. They're also easy to apply evenly.

Cream-based shoe polishes are recommended for leather or suede shoes, as they offer a more even shine and filling in of scratches. It's harder to work with than wax polish though, so it may require some practice before you get it right.

If the shoes you wish to clean have special detailing such as broguing or perforations, then there is no need to seal them afterward as the dirt will not cause damage. If your shoes do not feature any such details though, then you should consider gently brushing them after polishing with an old toothbrush dipped in shoe polish if possible.

Once your shoes are cleaned, always remember to let them air dry before wearing them. If your shoes feel a little tight after they've dried, try putting in a shoe stretcher to gently stretch the leather and make it more comfortable.

Types of Shoe Polish

Cream Shoe Polish

Cream polishes are recommended for use on suede or leather shoes. They fill in any scratches in the material and provide a long-lasting shine. It's harder to work with than wax polish though, so it may require some practice before you get it right. If you can't seem to achieve an even sheen when using this polish, consider whether your shoes were originally dyed red or black, as the cream polish will work well with these shoes.

Wax Shoe Polish

Wax polishes are usually recommended for rubber or plastic footwear, as they offer a more even shine and resist cracking. It's easier to work with than cream polish, so it may be a good place to start if you're new to shoe cleaning. If your shoes have any special detailing such as perforations or broguing, then there is no need to seal them afterward as the dirt will not cause damage.

wax shoe polish
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Shoe Polishing Cloth

A shoe polishing cloth can be used instead of a wax/cream polish, but only when there is already a coating on the shoes that needs removing. If not, then it won't be effective at removing the dirt. The cloth has to be soft and suede-like, so it does not damage the shoes in any way when used properly.

Rubbing your shoes with a polishing cloth will remove the old polish/wax, but it won't seal anything new into your shoe like cream or wax-based polishes will.

Bad habits to avoid when cleaning shoes

The following are all bad habits that people sometimes have when it comes to taking care of their shoes:

  • Using a brush with metal bristles to clean shoes. This can scratch the surface and ruin your shoe's material. Use a dry cloth instead.
  • Throwing both boots and other footwear in the same storage bin/shelf/bag. This can damage or stain them. Separate different types of shoes so they don't touch each other.
  • Scraping off dried dirt with your fingernails, knives, etc. If you do this, small pieces of debris may get stuck underneath the surface of the leather which will not only look unsightly but could also lead to stains or holes appearing in the material. If you're trying to remove dried dirt, use a toothbrush and shoe polishing cloth.
  • Using too much pressure when brushing. This can damage the leather or leave streaks on your shoes that will not come out.
  • Dust off your shoes with dry towels/cloths before cleaning them. This moves dirt around rather than removing it, so avoid this habit if you want to keep your shoes looking spotless.
  • Wearing dirty socks while wearing clean shoes. Remember to always wear clean socks in clean footwear. Having smelly feet is good for neither yourself nor others; A little foot spray won't harm anyone either.

How many times can I use shoe polish?

There is no definite answer. Toothpaste-like polish usually needs to be thrown out once it has hardened, while cream/wax polishes last until they are fully removed. However, if the polish appears to have a watery consistency then you should throw it out immediately as bacteria could be present.

How do I remove black scuff marks from my white shoes?

Black scuffs on light shoes can sometimes be removed by applying some toothpaste and rubbing them off with a wet cloth. However, this may not work very well depending on how old or stubborn the mark is.

Will wearing creased shoes damage them?

Creased shoes are usually caused by not storing them properly. The crease will wear out with time if the shoe is worn often, so there's no need to worry about it.

Right after I get my shoes polished, they look terrible. Why is that?

Sometimes your shoes may have a powdery residue on them after being polished by professionals. This powder comes from the tools used for polishing and sometimes can't be avoided. However, don't worry because the powder should disappear after you've worn your shoes for a few days.

how to clean your shoes
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How do I remove old polish/wax stains from my shoes?

Paste wax stains can usually be removed by rubbing a damp cloth with a clean towel. After the stain has been reduced, you can use regular shoe polishing methods to get rid of any remaining residue.

My shoes are shedding/flaking leather. What's wrong?

It depends on how bad it is. The most likely explanation is that your shoes have been exposed to water at some point in their lifetime and the air is causing evaporated particles from this exposure to start falling off. Wiping or brushing away loose particles should solve the problem if your shoes are not too bad, but sometimes a professional might need to fix the issue with glue or other means.

Organizing your closet is also a good idea. If you don't have enough space/shelves for shoes, buy a shoe rack and store them in a place where they won't get dirty.

Final thoughts on how to clean shoes

In conclusion, it is important to always take care of your shoes. Shoes are an investment​, and usually not one with a return policy after a specific amount of time. If you want them to last, they must be cleaned regularly. It doesn't matter if you're only wearing the shoes for “special occasions” or everyday use, dirt makes them look old and worn out. 

By taking proper care of your shoes, you're not only making them last longer but also yourself. When you're wearing dirty shoes, everyone can see it and it just looks bad. On the other hand, when they are clean and polished, the opposite will happen. The next time that you want to avoid ruining your shoes while making them look as good as new in the process, try using the steps I've provided for you.

Mark Weber

Mark Weber

Mark started out as an electrical engineer before he became a licensed bathroom remodeling contractor. He loves writing about bathrooms and remodeling in his spare time, as it relaxes him to think of something besides work.

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