Text: Jon Carrington
Photos: Patrik Johansson
Proper care can increase the lifespan of your shoes considerably and keep them looking like new for much, much longer. To this end, this guide contains some general advice on how to look after your footwear as well as guides for long-term care of shoes of different materials.
Whatever the material of your shoes, you should insert a shoe tree before beginning your shoe care routine. A shoe tree will press out creases that would otherwise make it difficult to evenly apply shoe care products and will also provide a more stable surface. Laces should also be removed prior to cleaning as they can easily get in the way.
After you have done this, use a brush to remove dust and other dirt from your shoes. This will remove loose dirt that could otherwise damage the leather or hinder the shoe care products from sufficiently penetrating the leather.
The equipment you will need largely depends on what shoes you own. The equipment needed for each stage is indicated in the following sections.
One important thing to remember when buying shoe brushes is to not re-use the same brush with multiple care products. In particular, you should make sure to use a separate applicator brush for each cream and wax you plan to use, to avoid mixing colours or have two products cancel each other out from being mixed together on the brush. Polishing brushes can be used more flexibly – it is often enough to have one each for light brown, dark brown and black polish. The same principle applies to suede brushes where you will need a few different brushes for lighter and darker colours.
Begin by carefully dabbing a very small amount of cream onto the shoe with an applicator brush. The total amount used per pair should not exceed the size of a small coin. Be aware that Crème Pommadier 1925 contains a relatively large percentage of pigment, and it is therefore important to use it very sparingly so as not to distort the original colour of your shoes. As with all shoe care, less is more.
Unpigmented shoe creams are also available, but these should be used with caution as repeated use can give your shoes a less than attractive grey tinge.
Once applied, you can begin to spread the cream using the applicator brush, ensuring an even layer over the whole shoe. Avoid circular motions and follow instead a figure of eight as this is easiest on the leather. Leave the cream for 2-5 minutes to take effect before gently brushing the shoes with a horsehair brush. When the shoes begin to look polished, you can increase the pressure somewhat to add a little more shine. Avoid repeatedly brushing the same area as brushing too hard may cause friction damage and dark spots on the leather.
When finished, the brush should be dry to the touch, provided you haven’t used too much cream. If you want your shoes to have even more shine, you can then treat them with a wax, which we describe in the following section.
To give your shoes that little bit more shine after using shoe cream, we recommend polishing them with a wax cream such as Pâte de Luxe from Saphir. Since wax is primarily used for polishing, it does not offer much in the way of leather care. For this, a shoe cream such as Crème Pommadier 1925 is a better option.
Start by brushing a thin layer of wax over the leather. When the polish begins to take effect, you will notice that your shoe takes on a slightly greyish appearance. Leave the wax to work for at least five minutes, sometimes it can even be left on overnight. Gently brush the shoe, preferably with a goatshair brush as this will result in the best shine. A nylon sock or horsehair brush can also be used but without giving the quite the same polished look.Wax can even be used to add extra shine to the sides of the sole.
It is a common misconception that suede is harder to maintain than other materials. In fact, both suede and nubuck are some of the easiest materials to look after. In very general terms, a pair of suede or nubuck shoes will only need to be treated around once a month with a suede protector spray. This can be complemented by a more thorough cleaning once a year or even less, depending on the model. We recommend that you clean your suede shoes and then waterproof them with a renovateur spray.
The care of fabric shoes is largely similar to that of suede. They can be cleaned using a product such as Saphir’s Omni’Nettoyant and then waterproofed using neutral (unpigmented) Renovateur spray. For detailed instructions of how to do this, see the above section on caring for suede and nubuck.
Patent leather should not be treated with any kind of spray, as the production process itself uses a coating that can become damaged if further layers are applied. Instead, they should be cleaned with a cloth dampened with lukewarm water before being polished to a shine using a cotton cloth.
If desired, wax can be applied to the sides of the sole to give a little extra shine.
Cordovan rarely needs any kind of cleaning or treatment as the material is already full of natural fats from the production process itself.If the leather should start to appear dull, use a deer bone to restore its shine.
Unlike animal leather, synthetic leather is not a living fabric and therefore, shoes using such synthetic materials do not usually require quite as much care as other models, neither are they able to absorb most shoe creams. However, there are still a few things you can do to touch-up their appearance.
Begin by brushing off dried-in dirt before cleaning them off with a damp cloth. They can then be treated with a waterproofing spray (see "Caring for Suede and Nubuck" above) or can be given a little extra shine by applying wax (see "Caring for Leather").Be aware that shoes in synthetic materials should be cleaned with caution as shoe care products may cause a chemical reaction to occur in certain synthetics.
Salt stains are a recurring problem during the winter months, especially for those of us at more northerly latitudes. Taking a proactive approach is the best way to ensure the salt doesn’t damage your shoes: After having walked over salt and slush, wipe down your shoes with a damp cloth as soon as you get home. This will remove most of the salt before it finds its way into the leather. Unfortunately, removing salt stains that have permeated the leather are extremely difficult, and sometimes even impossible, to remove, so you should try to clean them as soon as possible.With that said, a method of removing existing salt stains that can, in many cases, produce good results, is to scrub the area with a scouring pad dipped in lemon water.