How to polish your shoes
Here’s how we do what we do…
“How to polish your shoes” and similar topics have been covered many times, and many professionals have their own style that works for them. The single most important lesson is that you do something regularly. An annual ‘colouring in’ with polish does not count. Regular attention to the leather is the key; little and often.
So, with that in mind, here are some pointers from our own particular style…
1. Prepare your area and shoes. Find a bit of space and a bit of time to commit to doing a good job. You will want a bit of table to lay out your shoes, your bits and bobs, and possibly a glass of something to keep you company. An apron or cloth will come in handy as it’s easier to work on your lap.
Take out your laces – don’t lose those, you will want them later – and replace your shoe trees.
2. Brush shoes to remove dirt and dust. You will not want to rub in the abrasive dust nor work it into the layers of cream and polish to follow. That would be daft. For this step you will need a large horsehair brush. A general going over is what’s needed, focusing on the welts – use the bristles to get into the crannies between upper and sole. A quick dusting off the soles wouldn’t hurt either.
3. Renovateur Cream. A step to include every few polishes, or after a heavy downpour, but not every time is to cleanse and nourish the leather with renovateur cream. Wrap a Selvyt cloth around a finger and lightly touch the cloth to the cream so as not to get too much. Then massage in circles all over the shoe. Touch the cream again to get a little more, adjusting the cloth on your fingers to get a cleaner spot from time to time, and go again. And again and again until you have covered the whole shoe (not forgetting the laces holes and tongue) and you feel you have penetrated the leather with the cream. You will see some of the previous polish come off on to the cloth and will know when you have cleared away enough. The cloth will never come away completely clean, but you will get a feel for when enough is enough. Then leave to dry for a while whilst you restore your own tissues with a swig of something wholesome. About half an hour should be enough, and that time will go faster as you will be doing the second shoe whilst the first is drying.
Every time we are asked to contribute to an article asking how to polish your shoes, the renovateur step comes as a surprise to the journalist; it’s a step that is so often overlooked, but really does matter.
A quick buff will remove any excess cream that hasn’t gone into the leather and will better push the serum into the leather. Do not use the brush for this – you need a cloth.
4. Restore colour and further nourish using shoe cream. This coloured beeswax shoe cream has a strong colour element and can be used to darken your shoes to give a ‘antique’ look. If that’s not your plan, choose your colour carefully or use a neutral.
Bring out the cloth again and use in the same way as the renovator cream adding just a little at a time and working it in all over the shoe. Make sure the creases behind the toe box are covered (where the shoe bends as you walk). Rub the cream in along the length of these creases (across the width of the shoe) to better protect these areas.
Now leave to dry just as with the renovator. And buff as before. Ideally you will have a different cloth for every product so as not to contaminate, say, tan shoes with black shoe cream. As the shoe cream contains some beeswax, you will see a shine begin to form. But now we need to lock that goodness in and turn that shine up to 11.
The next step is to apply the wax polish. Start by using a welt brush to get in between the upper and the sole. Then use your fingertips or a cloth to massage wax in to the upper. Do not use a brush for this. Ever. Most How to Polish your Shoes guides get this bit wrong. The trick is many thin layers, not a caking of paste. So, again, we use fingers for the best feel and the best heat transfer. Using a cloth will also work, but we are trying not only to gauge the right amount of polish but also soften it with the heat from our fingers.
Once the wax has dried for a minute or two, buff off with a cloth, then apply another layer of wax and repeat.
After a few layers, also buff with a pair of ladies’ tights (we find 60 denier works well) to really get the most out of the shine.
To really set your shoes apart, we can also add a glacage finish, or ‘mirror’ finish. It is best to do only on the parts of the shoe that will not flex when walking: The toe box and rear quarter.
Using a cotton ball, or a clean part of the cloth wrapped around two fingers,touch the polish and rub a little on the area you are tackling. Now dip a free finger in water. Then let a few drops fall on to the polish you have just applied, and rub with the cloth in small circles. This will mist, but with enough rubbing a shine will emerge. Plenty of layers of this will fill in the pores of the leather and create an incredibly shiny (and protective) surface. Don’t stop until you can see the hands of your watch in the reflection.
Store your shoes properly in shoe bags to protect from dust. Before each wear, use the goat hair brush or similar soft fabric to bring out a fresh shine. Exhaling on the shoe, then rubbing the goat hair will create the best effect. Using a strip of nylon or some such fabric (such as women’s tights – or men’s tights, I suppose) moving very fast will also help.
And that’s it. You’re now an expert in shoe care and fully versed in how to polish your shoes properly.