By Une Femme, Already Pretty Contributor
Before and after: right side has been polished.
While shoes can add visual impact to any outfit, there’s really nothing that can drag down your look more than shoes that are scuffed, cracked, stained, or worn down. (We’ll leave aside “distressed” finishes for the moment, assuming the distressing is intentional.) I’ve had well-maintained shoes last for years, even with frequent wear. It usually isn’t complicated, expensive, or time consuming to keep shoes looking nice. Below are care tips for different types of materials.
Smooth Dyed Leather
This is all you need to keep shoes polished.
One of my very favorite chores is polishing shoes. Seriously. My Dad showed me how to do it when I was a child, and I love the before-and-after transformation that occurs at my hands. Polishing not only makes the leather shine, but actually helps make the surface more water-resistant. I usually use the old standby Kiwi polish, which you can usually find in grocery stores. I use black for black leather, and neutral for just about everything else. Black shoe polish especially stains like crazy so you’ll want to pick a work space that isn’t precious or lay down some newspaper. Also if it gets under your nails it’s a bear to get out. Here’s my trick: use an old cotton sock to apply the polish. Just slip your hand inside to apply the polish and no stained fingers! (You can use inexpensive medical gloves too.)
Using a sock or soft rag, gather some polish from the tin and apply to smooth leather portion of shoes in a circular motion. Pay special attention to toes, heels, any scuffs. You don’t need a heavy coat, but once applied the polish should look dull and matte. I sometimes will add a second application of polish to areas that get a lot of wear and tear.
(Backing up a bit, if the shoe leather is really dried and cracked, I’ll apply a leather conditioner first and allow to dry overnight before polishing.)
Some say this isn’t necessary, but I’ll let the polish dry for 15 minutes or so, then buff with a soft polishing brush (also inexpensive and easily found in grocery, drug and box stores) in a back and forth motion until you get a shine. Magic!
No longer just for dress-up, patent leather is everywhere. It’s generally an easy care choice, though it can become scuffed, dulled, and water-spotted (especially in areas with high mineral content in the water). First just try wiping/buffing with a soft cloth. If that doesn’t remove spots, a little mineral oil, petroleum jelly, or even vegetable oil should remove spots and scuffs. If you’re not sure if your patent “leather” is really leather or a man-made material, first test a small area of the shoe that’s not as visible. I’ve heard people recommend ammonia based window cleaner, but I’m hesitant to try that for fear of ruining the finish.
Suede and Nubuck
You remembered to apply a waterproofing spray before wearing, yes? Good. Even so you probably want to avoid wearing good suede shoes out in wet, snowy, mushy, or muddy conditions. Though drops of water may be visible when wet, they’ll usually disappear once dry. For stains, scuffs, or spots, try removing with a pencil eraser, then brush with a suede brush. This should get rid of most day-to-day spots or dirt. For really stubborn marks or stains, there are suede cleaners, which I’ve seen recommended but have not tried. You can also have suede shoes professionally cleaned, or ask your BFF cobbler what he or she recommends.
Canvas shoes can often be washed in a machine or by hand and tumble dried on low heat or rack dried.
A Mr. Clean Magic Eraser will whiten up the rubber toe caps and sides of sneakers.
For other materials like imitation leather, or distressed leather, again it’s probably wise to consult your cobbler.
Do you have any favorite shoe care tips to share?
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Already Pretty contributor Une Femme is fifty-six, married to the same wonderful monsieur since 1995, the mother of a special-needs teenager and two hooligan dogs, a full-time administrative professional, a coffee-holic, Paris-obsessed, native Californian, and a petite and curvy femme d’un certain age. She believes that personal style is an essential form of self-expression, and started her blog, Une femme d’un certain âge, in 2007 hoping to start a conversation about style for women over 50.