If your favorite pair of leather shoes has seen better days, fear not. With just a little time, patience and elbow grease your faithful footwear can be restored to its former glory. Your leather shoes may have lost their shine and appear old, scuffed and creased – but a few simple tips from the experts will soon sort them out.
How to clean leather shoes
Before you can assess the damage properly, remove the laces (if there are any) and give your shoes a thorough clean. Grab a soft bristle brush and remove all traces of dust, dirt and debris.
Youtuber and leather restorer Jeph Journals advises that you pay special attention to the areas of stitching or other detail: “Stitching does tend to collect a lot of dust. Especially if the shoes have been conditioned, waxed, or oiled previously, the dust will stick a bit, so get in there the best you can.”
After removing the worst of the loose dust, use another brush to give your old leather shoes a gentle but thorough wash with saddle soap or leather cleaner. Don’t be tempted to put your damp shoes in direct sunlight or by a heat source to speed up the drying process. Leave the leather to dry naturally overnight to avoid cracks and brittle patches.
How to give your shoes a professional polish
When the leather is thoroughly dry, roll up your sleeves and get ready to polish. The only supplies you’ll need are a cotton cloth, a little moisture, and some quality shoe polish. Get comfortable and prepare to spend some time working up a good shine. Members of the military will confirm that an hour per shoe is not excessive – but once you’ve got them back into shape it’ll be quicker to maintain them in the future.
- Wrap the cotton cloth around your finger.
- Dip it in the polish and apply to the shoe.
- Use a small amount of polish at a time, applying in a circular motion.
- When you feel the leather becoming a little rough, dab your cloth on a wet sponge to add a drop of water.
- Continue to build up layers of polish, adding water if needed.
- Keep going until you get a smooth, even shine.
The trick is to build up lots of thin layers of polish, rather than one thick application. Work it carefully into any dry or damaged areas. As shoe care blog FootFitter explains: “Less is more. Start with a small amount of polish…and build it up as necessary to keep it manageable and the most effective.”
How to dye leather shoes
If your old leather shoes have been scuffed beyond repair, or you simply find yourself ready for a change, dying them a new color is easier than you might think. But remember that you can only dye your leather shoes a darker shade, not lighter. Here’s how:
- Use a specialist stripper product to remove any residual soap, wax, or oil from the leather. If you don’t do this carefully, the dye won’t be absorbed.
- Leave your shoes to dry overnight.
- Invest in a good quality leather dye and a brush to apply it.
- Do a test on the tongue or inner heel to see how the leather will absorb the color.
- Apply in small areas at a time until the entire shoe is covered.
- You’ll need to build up a few layers, allowing each to try before you proceed to the next.
- Seal the finished leather with a good quality natural-colored cream or polish.
In their guide to dying your own shoes, the Shoe Snob Blog points out that: “Depending on the strength of the finish, it may take several applications of stripping. You don’t need to take it down to the bare color of the leather, unless you really want to get a light color as the base for having greyish/tannish textures in your new color.”
Resole leather shoes for a new lease of life
Now that your old leather shoes are cleaned and polished, it’s time to turn your attention to the soles. Even if there aren’t any holes, if you find any soft or spongy areas you should replace them.
If, like Samuel Windsor’s leather footwear, your shoes have a Goodyear Welted Sole, it’s a very easy job for a shoe repair shop to replace the damaged sole with a brand new one. Resoling and re-heeling a good quality pair of handmade leather shoes is much cheaper than buying a new pair, but as it requires re-stitching, it’s best left to the professionals.
If the soles of your old leather shoes are non-stitched, it’s relatively simple to repair them yourself.
- Make sure the soles of your shoes are clean.
- Rub them with sandpaper.
- Apply a layer of shoe glue all over the sole with a sponge.
- Coat the new sole you want to attach with glue as well.
- Leave them both for a few minutes, until the glue is ‘tacky’.
- Carefully press the new sole onto the bottom of the shoe.
- Secure tightly, until the glue dries. This can take a few hours.
- Use a small hammer to apply nails to keep the soles in place.
How to look after leather shoes
To get the maximum life from your newly-restored leather shoes, be sure to use a shoe tree when you store them. If you live in an area where roads are salted in the winter, it’s helpful to apply a leather conditioner to your shoes, as repeated exposure to road salt and moisture wears them down more quickly.
Finally, replace the laces from time to time and try to rotate the shoes you wear each day to give the leather time to dry and rest between outings.
A good quality pair of shoes, properly taken care of, can last a lifetime. Take a lead from men’s fashion icon Joseph Abboud: “Be well dressed, behave like a gentleman, and keep your shoes shined.”
Be sure that your footwear sends the right message about who you are. And if you’ve rescued or dyed a pair of leather shoes recently, go ahead and share the results in the comments! We’d love to see the results.