Leather shoe care can seem daunting, but leather is actually incredibly durable when given just a little love. Proper care for leather shoes (whether dress shoes, boots, or casual sneakers) really comes down to two main concepts: keep them clean and keep them dry. Just a few simple steps will greatly improve the longevity of your footwear.
Here are 6 steps to care for your leather shoes.
1. Don’t wear your shoes every day
Leather needs to breathe, just like your skin. You should always have at least two pairs of shoes in your regular rotation to avoid having to wear the same pair every day.
Your feet sweat throughout the day (facts are facts), and the leather absorbs that moisture. Damp leather is more susceptible to stretching, scuffing, creasing, and staining. Wearing them every other day gives them adequate time to dry, increasing the longevity of your footwear by a significant amount.
2. Clean them after each wear
Keep a shoe brush or microfiber cloth handy and give your shoes a quick clean after each wear. This will keep any dirt or grime from being ground into the leather as time goes on, saving you from having to deal with staining later on.
3. Store leather shoes with a shoe tree in them
A cedar or poplar shoe tree is perhaps THE most important part of shoe care, and it’s usually the most overlooked step. Leather is porous, so it absorbs moisture and odour, eventually causing it to break down. A shoe tree absorbs that moisture and odour while keeping the shoe’s proper shape to prevent creasing. You can extend the life of your shoes dramatically with just this single step alone.
4. Avoid inclement weather
This should go without saying, but if at all possible, avoid wearing leather shoes in a downpour, and try not to traipse through salt- and snow-covered sidewalks in the winter. Water can stain even waterproofed leather shoes, and leather soles become more vulnerable to abrasive surfaces like concrete when wet.
If you know you’re going to have to wear them in the rain or snow, wear a pair of galoshes to protect them all around. In fact, we suggest keeping a pair of Swims at home AND in your car just in case.
If your shoes do happen to get wet, avoid the urge to dry them near a radiator or window. Heat and sunlight can crack and damage the leather. Just let them air out on their own (with a shoe tree) for a couple days.
5. Polish them every 6 wears
Just like you don’t want your leather to get too wet, you also don’t want it to dry out because it can crack. We know. It’s fickle. Luckily, there is an easy way to keep a healthy balance: Use a shoe polish every 6 wears or so.
Shoe polish helps moisturize the leather while adding a layer of protection to repel dust and water. It also restores colour and hides scuffs and blemishes. You just have to decide between wax or cream polish (or both).
Cream is more moisturizing than wax, and it creates a natural finish. Wax polish offers slightly better protection and a higher level of shine, but it can be more drying. We suggest starting with a cream and finishing with wax, but the choice is up to you depending on the finish you want.
Apply the polish to clean shoes in a circular motion using a microfiber cloth. If you want to go the extra mile, you can use a pig hair brush to work it in deeper. Finish off with a polishing glove and/or brush to buff the shoe and bring back the shine.
6. Store shoes in a dust bag when not in use
Dust can work its way into leather shoes over time, resulting in staining and degradation. If you won’t be wearing your shoes on a regular basis, keep them in a fabric dust bag to protect them while also allowing them to breathe.
There are certainly other steps you can take to prolong the life of your shoes, like using leather conditioner or taking them to a cobbler for rejuvenation, but these six simple steps will do the majority of the heavy lifting. You’ll be surprised how much longer your shoes last if you take proper care of them.