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How to Properly Clean Your Leather Shoes

Posted in Guide by Hannes Rebas

How to Properly Clean Your Leather Shoes

Keeping your shoes clean is paramount to both longevity and looks. While shoe cleaning surely isn't rocket science, there are still a number of caveats to consider before attacking that stubborn stain on your favourite suede loafers.

The process of cleaning your shoes varies slightly depending on the type of leather and their grade of soiling. For routine cleaning, a quick brushing or a wipe-down with a slightly damp cloth should do just fine, but heavily soiled leather or a shoe full of caked up shoe polish will require a more thorough procedure.

Make sure to protect yourself and your surroundings from dirt and smears. We recommend wearing an apron and covering the floor or work surface with newspaper or the like. Ideally find a well ventilated workspace well away from carpets, furniture and other things easily soiled. Always begin by removing the laces or opening up the straps, and remove loose dust and dirt with a brush. We recommend using a separate brush specifically for this purpose, obviously not your favourite polishing brush.

While shoe uppers, and leather soles for that matter, generally do not take well to water from dirty, salt-laden pavements, most calfskin leathers can actually be cleaned in running tap water without taking damage. Make sure to saturate the whole upper with water, and work up a lather with a non-abrasive brush and a gentle soap made specifically for leather cleaning: a good saddle soap, gall soap or any leather washing product from a higher end shoe care brand should do the trick. This process also works well with suede uppers (preferably using a dedicated suede brush with tougher bristles), but avoid it altogether with cordovan and exotic leathers. Rinse thoroughly.

Always let dry in room temperature, never in proximity to a direct heat source. Insert cedar shoe trees to help the shoes retain their shape.

A method of quickly stripping the surface of plain calf leather is to rub it with a soft cloth dabbed with solvent, like white benzine or nail polish remover. This method is rather harsh to the leather and is best avoided if possible, but is highly effective. We recommend washing the upper afterwards using the aforementioned method to remove any residue.

When the shoe is completely dry, the leather needs to be rejuvenated with a solvent-free, preferably mink oil-based leather conditioner. Apply in thin layers, allow 20 minutes to dry and use a horsehair brush to finish off. This will bring back some suppleness and shine, and prepare the shoe for application of pigmented cream and wax polish. Suede uppers should be treated with a waterproofing spray.

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