Shoe Care Made Simple

easy shoe care tips

There’s a real art to caring for your wardrobe. Each item has its own needs in terms of cleaning and storage, and keeping track of it all can get overwhelming. Luckily, caring for your SHOES is relatively simple. While there are plenty of involved, advanced, and potentially preservative techniques you can engage to help your gorgeous shoes last a lifetime, these are the very basics:

Wipe them off if they get dirty

Unless you live in a network of carpeted tunnels, your shoes will meet the Great Outdoors. And that means they WILL get dirty. Water, mud, dust, sidewalk salt residue … shoes love to suck ’em all up and carry ’em all around. Before you put your shoes away at the end of the day, check for soil. Wipe with a dry cloth or slightly moist paper towel, depending on the shoe’s material. Easy peasy.

Treat them with water repellent spray

Of course, any shoe that will be regularly exposed to the elements should get more than just a nightly rub-down. Leather and suede shoes benefit from a spray treatment that will make them water repellent. These sprays won’t turn your pumps into Wellies, so don’t plan any puddle-jumping expeditions … but they will ward off minor water damage. I trust the Kiwi line of products with my leather and suede shoes, though I know much fancier products exist.

Store them upright

OK, I’ll admit that I don’t do this with my slouchy boots. But every other pair is stored upright – boots, pumps, sandals, everything. If you want your shoes to maintain their shape, don’t pile them, squish them, or otherwise mangle them. If you use an over-the-door storage system, limit it to naturally rigid pairs. Those pockets squish the heck out of soft leather and plastic shoes.

Store boots with rolled mags or wine bottles

To make the previous tip possible, you’ll need something to keep tall boots from tipping over. I roll up old magazines and stick them in my boot shafts, but I’m told that empty wine bottles can work well, too. Since I store mine on high shelves, the thought of glassware inside my boots makes me cringe … but floor or low storage would be ideal for the wine bottle system. There are also boot stays if you’d rather invest.

Store them out of direct sunlight

Common sense, right? Well, it still bears repeating. There are so many amazing wardrobe-as-decor ideas floating around out there, but the fact is that hanging your dresses on the wall and leaving your shoes on a living room end table expose them to sunlight and, therefore, fading. Just be aware!

Image courtesy Amazon

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  • Bubu

    Great tips – thank you! I learned that magazine trick from your blog a while back and it works wonders! If I may, a couple follow-up questions:
    1. Any guidelines on polishing? How often? What polish? And exactly what does one do? My mom used to do a complicated polish, brush, buff routine that I can try to re-create but I’m not sure that’s the best or most effective.
    2. I wore out about 3 heels on some of my favorites driving around and, I guess, leaning on the backs when not pushing the pedals. Any tips for a) preventing this and b) fixing the damage? I’ve heard just a black permanent marker will hide it, but the delicate leather off my favorte black boots and it makes me sad (not weeping sad, just a touch verklempt).

    thanks as always!

    • Sal

      Oooh, good questions!

      Very few of my shoes are polish-able, since I don’t have tons of basic blacks and browns, so I’ll admit to knowing little about polishing routines. This post gives some decent instructions: http://hubpages.com/hub/shine-shoes Personally, I use an oil sponge on most of my shoes that look scuffed and dull. It restores the natural color and I don’t risk dyeing the leather darker than it naturally is.

      The best way to prevent driving wear on shoes is to wear driving-specific shoes. I know that sounds like a pain, but just keep a pair of cheap moccasins in your glove box, and you’ll get used to it after a while. Putting anything beneath your heel while you drive means you risk driving fluently and easily, so I don’t recommend it. As for repairing the damage, I’d consult a cobbler before doing anything else. You never know what kind of magic can be worked!

      • Bubu

        thanks!

  • I admit I am a fanatic when it comes to cleaning shoes. You are right on the mark regarding the proper storage of shoes. The hanging storage thingy with pockets for squeezing in the shoes always gets my blood flowing.
    Another good advice is to always store shoes in their original boxes. Most of them now have holes for ventilation. If they don’t, just punch a few holes in the box yourself. Never store them in anything plastic. It goes the same for clothing as well: none of those water, dust protecting plastic sheets. Eeek!
    As for wiping the shoes with a damp cloth, I only partially agree with this one. When it comes to leather it is imperative to understand that as a natural material it dries out. When it’s dry it’s vulnerable. So leather must be moisturized, much like our skin. But in reasonable amounts, don’t go slathering shoe products all over. Apply a small amount with a soft cloth and that should do the trick.
    As for my favourite leather cleaning product: plain Vaseline. People gawk when I tell them but Vaseline really does work. On leather only of course. Never use it on suede!

  • Velma

    The idea of glass in my boots also scares me! I keep mine stored upright, using a crumpled piece of newspaper in the toe and a plastic liter bottle (with the cap on for more stability) in the shaft. Works great.

    • Anonymous

      The best way I found to store my boots upright is to fill them up with thick wash cloth. It’s clean and works great!

  • Thanks so much for posting these tips! I love the idea of using rolled-up magazines to help tall boots keep their shape. Now I know what to do with all the magazines lying around my house, and it’ll save me money on buying those overpriced boot shapers.

  • I stuff newspaper inside all my shoes…mainly because I’m too cheap to invest in cedar shoetrees, but it’s easier for boots. And I’m definitely an advocate for heel taps on leather soled shoes – they make a clacking sound when you walk, but they make your soles last waaay longer.

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  • I always face one shoe forward and one shoe backwards on the shelves in my closet. They fit closer together and I’m reminded of what the back and heel look like! My cobbler has put toe taps on quite a few pairs of my shoes and they help so much! I used to always scuff up the tip of the shoe but not any more!

  • Gracie

    I polish and spray my shoes every 1-2 weeks.

    It annoys me so much when I see dull, scuffed, and damaged leather shoes that would look better (and last longer) if they were only taken care of. It doesn’t take much. And there is such a rainbow of polish available to go with every colour of leather…there really is no excuse. I keep a pair of shoes that I wear exclusively when it’s pouring down outside, and I know I have to go out in it. I hope I take enough care of my shoes and boots that they can survive a sudden downpour, if I am caught unawares.

    I remember my Dad polishing our school shoes every Sunday night. That image has stuck with me! Scuffed and unloved shoes ruin an outfit. It’s one of my top pet peeves! It doesn’t matter how much you’ve spent on them – cheap or expensive), there are few reasons not to take care of them.

  • These are great tips! I admit I am not as good at keeping my leather moisturized and I really must do a better job at that. Personally, I use wire hangers that I bend into a big U and throw them into the boot to keep my boot shafts upright when I store them. One thing that I did try was keeping shoes in the shoe bags and original boxes but when I did that I found that I would forget about these shoes and they would never get worn (out of sight out of mind). So, now I have them all nicely lined at eye level in my closet and that has really helped me get more use out of my collection.

  • Cel

    Heh, the thought of a carpet-tunnel lair made me smile. I admit I don’t take such good care of my shoes, but now that I’m acquiring some vintage pairs, I’m going to have to start doing so!

  • Great ideas all around, especially the magazines and bottles for boot shape maintenance. I am a pretty bad shoe owner, especially about wiping the dirt off at the end of the day. I do only use certain pairs when I take outfit photos outdoors….

  • I love this posting. I work in the shoe industry and can’t tell you how often I see people not take care of their shoes. If you are going to invest in a nice pair of shoes, read this article and advice on taking care of shoes.

    I second the Kiwi brand of shoe care. I also like Norviegan shoe care which is a local Minnesota based company. We sell Troentorp Bastad leather clogs on our website and recommend all customers treat their shoes first with a water protector and periodically shine, buff, etc to keep them in tip top shape!

  • It may be too obvious, but rotate what shoes you wear! Don’t wear the same shoes two days in a row. Women don’t seem to have this problem as much as men do, but everyone gets into a rut now & then. Even when you’re traveling, bring at least 2, if not 3, pairs of shoes & rotate thru them all. That gives shoes time to air out.

    In fact, any time your shoes get damp (inside or out), you need to give them time to dry before storing them. So don’t put those rolled-up magazines / shoe trees / newspaper / etc. in immediately if you were walking in the rain (or got all sweaty ;-)).

    Also, find your local cobbler in the phone book or on Yelp, & get shoes repaired as soon as something goes wrong. Worn, cracked soles can be replaced easily, broken buckles & straps can be fixed, many things can be repaired inexpensively.

  • I’m lucky enough to have a shelf in my closet wide enough to stack all my shoes in their original boxes. Boots stay in their boxes as well, stacked on the floor. I use a marker to write a description on each box (“black t-straps,” “brown tweed flats”) and rotate out-of-season shoes to the less-accessible side of the shelf.

    Having those descriptions on the boxes really helps me when I’m in the mood for shoe-shopping; I can quickly determine what I have (i.e., three pairs of “tan wedges;” if I buy one more pair I officially have a problem).

  • In addition to keeping my shoes clean, I go through my collection periodically and pick out the most weathered looking pairs to spruce up with some conditioner and polish. I really like Dr. Marten’s Wonder Balsam for polishing my shoes; it’s colorless so it’ll work on any shade. It will also take minor scratches out, particularly on the softer, scratch-prone leathers and nubuck. I usually finish by buffing the shoes with a soft brush. Mind you, I only pick about 5-6 pairs to do at one time; I shudder to think how long it would take to do the whole collection at once!

  • I learned the magazine trick from you. And seriously I should be thanking you for help keep my boots in good shape. So Thanks! I need to work on keeping all my leather shoes cleaned and polished/oiled/treated. One day this spring I need to sit down with all my boots and do it.

  • Lauren

    These are great tips. Can you tell us what brand/style the boots in the picture are? They are totally amazing. Thanks!

    • Sal

      Sure, they’re Antelope brand, the style is Alma. I don’t think they’re available anymore, but Amazon sells Antelope brand shoes.

  • Fabulous post, Sal, per usual. I know I need to take better care of my shoes, and this will definitely help me!

  • This was one of my biggest pet peeves in London! Young women in fairly nice suits and cute dresses running around in ballet flat style shoes that were in tatters or stilettos with the heels worn down to the metal. It just ruins an outfit (and any attempt to look professional). Thanks for the post, I’m not sure how motivated I can be right away to wipe down my shoes every night, but I’m going to add magazines right away to my boots.

  • Sara

    Sal, I love these tips. Your magazine tip is my favorite — such a great way to make use of old magazines, too. And I swear by pre-treating my shoes. It makes such a huge difference. That, and if they get super soaked, don’t dry them on a heater, or with a blow dryer, or anything like that as it will cook the leather (not so good). Just blot them, stuff them with towels so the leather will relax back to its shape as it dries, and treat them again when they’re thoroughly dry.

    And thank you for the link love! Those were some of my favorite posts to write.

  • Missey

    I must know what boots you are wearing in this picture! I must!

    • Sal

      Mentioned them in another comment! Antelope Alma.

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