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It’s Time to Take Better Care of Your Leather Shoes. Here’s Where to Start

Taking proper preventative care, and addressing problems as soon as they come, can keep your leather shoes and boat shoes looking good--and it doesn't have to cost a lot.

It’s Time to Take Better Care of Your Leather Shoes. Here’s Where to Start

Even the best leather shoes and boots can lose their sheen after a year of wear and tear without proper care. Sometimes all that’s needed is some time and elbow grease to buff out the material. Other cases require dedicated products for a fix. Preventative care, of course, is the best way to stop the problems before they start–if not on a daily or weekly basis, then at least semi-regularly. At the end, you’ll end up with better looking shoes and also save money by protecting your investment in footwear and having the satisfaction of long-wearing style that develops a sought-after patina rather than looking broken down.

The good news for people who have never had “leather shoe care” on their to-do list? There’s never a bad time to get into the habit of maintaining your leather boots, loafers, chukkas, and dress shoes.

Understanding the Different Types of Leather

Not all leather is created equal. Different types of leather are used for different things, and knowing each can help you care for your shoes more effectively.

  • Full grain leather:

    Known for its durability, full grain leather comes from the top layer of the hide and retains the grain, making it resistant to moisture and wear.

  • Top grain leather:

    Slightly altered from full grain, top grain leather is sanded and refined to remove imperfections, resulting in a smoother appearance. While still durable, it may be more prone to damage than full grain.

  • Genuine leather:

    Often considered lower quality as it's made from the layers beneath the top grain. While still genuine leather, it lacks the durability and aesthetic appeal of full or top grain.

  • Suede:

    Suede is created from the underside of the hide, giving it a soft, napped texture. It's more susceptible to damage from moisture and requires specialized care.

How to Fix Rain Damage

Leather shoes can sustain water damage if not properly protected. To prevent this, apply a waterproofing spray specifically designed for leather before wearing them in wet conditions. If your shoes do get wet, stuff them with newspaper and allow them to air dry away from direct heat sources.

How to Fix Dirt and Stains

Regularly brush your leather shoes with a soft-bristled brush to remove dirt and debris. For tougher stains, use a leather cleaner or saddle soap applied with a soft cloth, following up with a conditioner to keep the leather moisturized and supple.

How to Fix Wear and Tear

Over time, leather shoes may develop creases, scuffs, or scratches. To minimize these, invest in a quality shoe cream or polish that matches the color of your shoes. Apply a small amount using a soft cloth, then buff to a shine for a polished finish.

How to Fix Mold and Mildew

Leather shoes stored in damp environments are susceptible to mold and mildew growth, which can cause discoloration and an unpleasant odor. To combat this, regularly air out your shoes, store them in a well-ventilated area, and use a leather-safe anti-fungal spray if necessary. Additionally, consider using cedar shoe trees to absorb excess moisture and prevent odors.

How to Fix Salt Stains

During the winter months, salt used for de-icing sidewalks and roads can leave unsightly stains on leather shoes. To remove salt stains, mix equal parts water and white vinegar and gently dab the solution onto the affected areas with a soft cloth. Follow up with a leather conditioner to restore moisture and prevent further damage.

Products to Fix, Maintain, and Care for Leather Shoes and Boots
Kiwi Select All Protector
Kiwi Select All Protector

Provides long-lasting protection against water, dirt, and stains without darkening or impacting the color of the leather.

Buy: $14.99
Lexol Leather Cleaner
Lexol Leather Cleaner

Gentle yet effective formula that safely cleans leather without causing damage or residue buildup.

Buy: $14.95
Bickmore Bick 4 Leather Conditioner
Bickmore Bick 4 Leather Conditioner

Conditions, cleans, and polishes leather while replenishing natural oils to prevent drying and cracking.

Buy: $9.99
Saphir Médaille d'Or Pommadier Cream Shoe Polish
Saphir Médaille d'Or Pommadier Cream Shoe Polish

This is a top-line cream polish available in a variety of colors to nourish and revive the appearance of leather shoes.

Buy: $26.95
Jason Markk Premium Shoe Cleaning Brush
Jason Markk Premium Shoe Cleaning Brush

Features soft hog bristles that effectively remove dirt and debris without scratching or damaging delicate leather surfaces.

Buy: $10