A Guide to Polishing Shoes

Little things will downgrade your look than unpolished shoes. You could pull out the best made suit or shiniest gown from your wardrobe and make sure to put on your best accessories but the outfit won’t be complete with a pair of shoes – clean and proper. A well-polished pair is what differentiates sophistication from mediocrity. 

Yes, some people do spend 45 minutes shining their shoes (or they pay others to get it done), but when you’re in a time constraint and afford that, here’s a 5-step guide on how to polish shoes in less than 20 minutes!

You will need:

  1. An old towel or newspaper
  2. A dry, cotton cloth
  3. One horsehair shoe brush
  4. Wax polish and/or shoe cream
  5. Leather cleaner/conditioner

How to Polish Shoes Properly

Step 1: Collect Your Tools and Set Them Out

Polishing shoes can be compared to a form of painting; essentially meaning it does everywhere. You can’t really avoid it, so it’s wise to simply prep yourself to lean into it without causing too much of an inconvenience. 

Lay out some old newspapers – that works well. Or, you could use an old towel. We do prefer the towel as it’s reusable and greener. If applicable, remove laces and keep the shoe trees inside.

Step 2. Brush

You must brush the shoes nicely before applying the actual polish. This removes dirt and other debris off the surface later, and it’s especially important to get the polish into the shoe’s welt, right where the sole meets the upper. Simply apply light pressure against the surface and using a back-and-forth motion, take the gunk out. 

Horsehair bristle brushes do the best job here. They are a bit pricier than regular synthetic bristle brushes, but there’s a very notable quality difference. Plus, utility in the long run!

Step 3. Condition the Shoes

Before adding the polish, we find applying a layer of leather conditioner/cleaner works best. Why trap old surface level dirt underneath the new layer of polish? Take a small portion near the shoe and spread that. However, make sure to test the product in a small, inconspicuous region of the shoe, like the heel counter’s top to make sure there’s no discoloration issue.

Even if the shoes aren’t that dirty, it’s still recommended that you pull out a bottle of leather conditioner. As your shoes feature animal skin construction, a good quality leather conditioner delivers much needed nourishment.

Step 4. Polish

Take note that there’s difference between wax polish and shoe cream. Just because we call it “how to polish shoes” doesn’t mean it’s only polish being used.

Grab a small applicator brush, like horsehair bristles (any soft, dry cloth will work just as fine). In our experience, the soft cotton cloth has worked better as you have more control over the product and region you’re massaging it onto. There’s no need to over-apply the polish. Begin with a coin-sized dab and rub starting at the upper of the shoe. After you’re done, the application won’t be very even and contain a matter finish. Don’t worry, we’ll fix this in the next step.

Pick out a cream color that matches the color of your shoes perfectly. Try a neutral shoe cream if the shoes in question are of an unconventional color.

If your choice of applicator is a horsehair brush, try to have multiple ones on hand for dark brown, black, tan polish, and whatever colors you might require.

When the polishing is done, let the shoes dry. There’s really no time limit. The idea is to allow the polish to seep into the leather, nourishing it from the inside. The longer it sits, the better this process works.

Step 5. Buff the Surface

When the cream has dried, get a dry, soft cloth or a big horsehair brush to buff the shoes. Gently apply pressure and repeat the motion mentioned in step 2.

They should have a nice sheen to them already. 

What’s the Difference Between Shoe Cream and Shoe Polish?

There is a wide variety of shoe care products the market has to offer, but still most men choose to section everything under “shoe polishes.” There are mainly two kinds of products that can cover scuffs and add color to shoes: shoe wax, also referred to as carnauba wax, and shoe cream.

Our preferred product is the shoe cream. It adds color and shine to the shoes as well as conditions them, adding moisture. You can’t understate the value of incorporating moisture to leather shoes. Leather is simply treated skin which dries out with time. It’s similar to applying moisturizer to dried skin. What would you expect from this scenario? Your skin will start cracking and turn brittle. Shoes experience the same thing and shoe cream can reverse the effects.

On the other hand, shoe wax offers great scuff protection and shine. It also protects and seals the leather. But there’s a catch: it builds up with multiple uses and dries out. So if you’re applying wax, focus the effort on the heel counter and toe box and provide a light coating to the vamp. Neither the heel counter nor the toe box crease, but the vamp does, and fast at that. This can lead to the formation of a white film once the wax dries up.

You can use a combination go wax and cream when polishing shoes. Start with a cream to buff it and then apply wax to the heel and toe of the shoe.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know how to polish shoes properly, follow the steps we discussed, and let your shoes serve you better than before.

If you can dedicate 15 minutes of your time to take care of your precious shoes after wearing them out, you’ll give them a longer, better life. Who doesn’t want that?

Read about Cool Ways to Lace Shoes.

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