When you purchase a pair of leather shoes or boots, you’re investing in an item that will hopefully last for many years.
Real leather is a high-quality material that is durable, attractive, and resistant to a lot of different stains as well as wear and tear. In order to protect your investment, regularly cleaning and polishing your shoes and boots is a good idea.
In the following chapters, we will discuss the basics of leather shoes, how to clean leather shoes and boots, how to remove specific stains from leather, and some helpful tips to make the most of this process. Let’s not delay and get started.
In this chapter, we will be looking at leather shoes and boots. We will answer all of the commonly asked questions that you may have, including what leather shoes are, what kind of stains you might encounter with this footwear option, and what you need to do to clean them. This will ensure that your investment will serve you well into the future.
What are leather shoes?
Leather shoes can have leather as the sole, or it can be the material used for the actual structure of the shoe. The leather has been stretched to form an item that can be practically worn on your feet in most weather conditions. Leather is very durable, resistant to stains, and actually looks better and better as time goes on.
The thickness of a leather shoe or boot can vary, and this detail is measured in ounces. On average, leather tends to be about twelve ounces in thickness for the outsole, with the insole being around fourteen ounces.
The upper area of the shoe is about five ounces in thickness. Of course, these numbers can change with different styles of shoes and boots. Boots tend to be thicker to increase their durability, while fancy and formal shoes may run much thinner. The type of leather being used can also affect the thickness of the material.
Leather for shoes and boots can be sourced from a few different places. The most common type of leather is calfskin, which comes from the skin of calves that are around six to twelve months in age.
It has a very tight grain with few imperfections. Box calf is another leather variety, and it is sourced from premium calfskin. It has been around since the late 1800s. The grade of leather is also important if you’re looking to buy a pair of expensive, high-quality leather shoes.
Full-grain leather has tight collagen bundles that lead to the creation of very aesthetically pleasing shoes and boots that don’t damage easily.
What are the most typical stains on leather shoes/boots?
When you’re wearing something on your feet all day, it’s inevitable that you’re going to come into contact with something that has the potential to stain your shoes. Some stains are relatively easy to remove with a little bit of effort, while others may be more difficult.
The most common shoe stains affecting leather include water stains, ink stains, salt stains, and oil stains. Scuff marks are also an issue you would treat like a stain regarding the removal process.
How often do you need to clean and polish your leather shoes?
Proper maintenance and nourishment of your leather shoes will not only keep them looking nice at all times, but this is a great way to remove stains, protect the leather and ensure that your shoes will serve you well for possibly a decade or more.
The cleaning process removes materials from the surface of your shoe that can be messy and ugly. The polishing process will treat the leather, so it resists future stains and looks new again.
It’s recommended that you clean and polish your leather shoes and boots anytime that you notice there is something on them. If you were on the go for an entire day and ended up getting road salt and mud on them, take care of the mess right away in order to protect the shoes.
If your shoes aren’t necessarily messy, but it’s been a while since you polished them, you should try to do this about once every two weeks. If you have a pair of leather shoes that you wear every day without alternating with something else, consider once per week.
Polishing differs from cleaning in that you are applying products that soak into the leather for optimal protection. If leather dries out, it can become scratched or even crack. The finish will dull over time as well.
What do you need to clean leather shoes/boots at home?
Your shoe and boot cleaning kit should include a few ideal items that will make this process easy and effective. Let’s take a look at some of the items you should have on hand.
You don’t want to wash your entire leather shoe with dish soap, but this detergent can be highly effective when trying to remove a gunky mess that you picked up on the street. It cuts through oil, grease, and grime in just seconds, so you can gently wipe away anything that needs to be removed before it stains the leather of your shoes.
You can purchase specially formulated leather shoe products that effectively remove scuff marks, but you can also keep a cheap container of Vaseline around for this purpose. It wipes on easily, and you don’t have to use a lot of elbow grease to eliminate those scuffs and scratches.
Rags and Brushes
Be careful with the items you use to clean and polish your leather shoes. You don’t want to use anything that’s too abrasive. Otherwise, you could end up scratching your shoes and making them look worse. Have some soft, clean rags that are dedicated to wiping away messes.
You can also use very soft, bristled brushes that are safe for leather. Use separate, clean rags to polish or dry your shoes, so you’re not transferring any dirt to other areas of the shoe or scratching anything.
There are a number of products that you can use to polish your shoes. There are store-bought products that are tinted to match the shoes you’re cleaning. That tint will help keep your shoes looking brand new and shiny. You can also use some products that you probably already have at home, such as olive oil or Vaseline.
How can you make your leather footwear last longer?
Leather shoes and boots can last you for decades if you take care of them as soon as you purchase them. With regular cleanings and polishing, the leather of your boots can still shine even with a few scuffs and creases.
It also helps to keep your shoes in a safe space where they’re not going to get damaged by other shoes or people walking by them. Have boxes in your closet for leather shoes that you’re not going to be wearing all the time.
Simply pull them out when you need to wear them and put them away when you’re done. Just make sure that they don’t need to be cleaned before storing them.
Many people take the time to wipe off dirt, dust, road salt, and other messes from their shoes, but few will polish them with products that nourish the leather and keep it healthy for years. Don’t skip that step if you’re determined to keep your leather shoes looking nice and new for a long time.
What Should I Stay Away From When Cleaning My Leather Shoes and Boots?
We’ve talked about what you can use to clean and polish your leather shoes and boots, but there are things you should stay away from as well. Don’t use any products on your leather shoes that contain harsh chemicals.
These ingredients can end up damaging the leather or discoloring it beyond repair. Never use anything like bleach or ammonia-based products on your shoes.
Stay away from abrasive materials when you’re cleaning your shoes. They can cause small scratches that can compromise the integrity of the leather. Choose soft cloths for your shoes, or you can purchase products that are specifically intended for use with cleaning and polishing leather.
Don’t get your shoes very wet when you’re cleaning them. A little bit of dampness on your cloth is usually enough to clean up even a very elaborate mess. Saturating the shoes can ruin their interior and exterior leather.
Hopefully, we’ve touched on some of the basics of leather shoes and how to take care of them so you can get started with proper maintenance and storage of your shoes. In the coming chapters, we’ll talk more about the do’s and don’ts of leather shoe cleaning, how to properly store them, and simple maintenance tips that are very effective.
The process of cleaning your leather shoes and boots can vary based on the style of the shoe and the kind of leather that was used in manufacturing. In this article, we’ll look at the different guidelines and processes you can use for this type of maintenance.
Leather is a material that you should proceed with caution when cleaning it. There are several chemicals and processes that can actually ruin the leather quite easily. In general, it’s a good idea to be as gentle as possible with your leather shoes and boots to protect their integrity.
It’s good to refer to the care instructions that came with the shoes you purchased or contact the manufacturer to find out more before proceeding. A little bit of extra time and effort will allow you to care for your shoes properly so they look their best.
Cleaning leather shoes doesn’t have to take up a lot of your time. However, there are specific products and processes that you should be turning to get the job done right.
In the following steps, we will provide you with some valuable information that can make quick work of this chore. Don’t forget; you’ll want to clean your shoes anytime they get dirty. If they’re not overly dirty, consider giving them a quick wipe down and polishing them once every two weeks or so.
Decide on a good place for cleaning your leather shoes
Make sure you have plenty of room to work when cleaning your leather shoes. Of course, you may need to make a quick trip to a public restroom to address an emergency cleaning but deal with the whole shoe cleaning process shortly after you arrive home.
Choose a location where your shoes will be away from any excessive amounts of water or other messes that can make a problem worse. You may want to lay down newspaper or towels, so you have a clean surface to work on that won’t damage the surrounding area.
Your kitchen counter or laundry room are great places to start. You can even keep your cleaning items permanently in the location, so you will develop a quick routine of cleaning your leather shoes regularly.
Remove the shoelaces
It’s always a good idea to remove your shoelaces before you begin cleaning anything. If your laces are very dirty or damaged, they can be replaced. Otherwise, you want to prevent the laces from getting dirty or saturated in whatever products you use on your leather shoes.
You can also hand wash the laces separately and allow them to air dry. Place them into the eyelets of your shoes once everything has dried.
Brush away mud and dirt
Brush away any solid or large pieces of mud and dirt before you wash your leather shoes or treat them with any products. This prevents you from adding moisture that would cause a much bigger mess when those large chunks become loosened up and spread to other areas.
You can actually make quick work of cleaning your leather shoes by trying to brush off as much of the caked-on dirt as possible. From there, proceed with any further cleaning that is needed.
Wipe down the exterior surface of your leather shoes/boots with a water and soap solution
Mix together a diluted solution of gentle soap and water. The water shouldn’t be too hot or too cold. Stick with something that is lukewarm. You also want to avoid any soaps containing bleaching ingredients or anything that could discolor the leather of your shoes.
Use a soft rag to absorb some of the solution, and then wipe the surface of your shoes to remove dirt, dust, and grime. Rinse the cloth out frequently and re-saturate as you continue. You may want to replace the soapy water with plain water. Wipe down your shoes one more time to remove any residual soap.
Pick a dry cloth and wipe your leather shoes down again
Once you clean your leather shoes or boots, grab a dry, soft cloth. Wipe down your shoes to get them as dry as possible. Make sure that there isn’t any other mess left on the shoes. You could end up scratching the surface of your shoes with small particles of dirt or debris.
Allow the shoes/boots to air dry
Leather shoes shouldn’t be exposed to heat inside your dryer, so set out your shoes and boots to air dry. If you managed to keep them from getting very wet, then you probably only need to let them dry overnight.
Make sure that you confirm they’re completely dry before you pack them away into a closet. Leaving moisture on the shoes and then boxing them up could result in mold growth.
Apply leather conditioner to clean your leather shoes/boots with a dry cloth
Purchase a leather conditioner or polish that you can apply to your leather shoes and boots for protection against things like dirt, water, road salt, etc. Use a completely different cloth than you used for cleaning and drying your shoes.
Apply small amounts of product at a time, working in small circular motions. Remove any residue that doesn’t soak into the leather. Avoid getting the product into the eyelet holes or any crevices where leather is sewn together.
Keep Your Cleaning Cloths Clean
Once you’re done cleaning your shoes, you’ll want to ensure the items you used in this process are clean for the next time you need them. Run your cloths through the washing machine and set them aside. They should be dedicated to cleaning your shoes only and nothing else.
Be Wary of Your Products
There are many different leather cleaning and polishing products out there that you can use on your shoes and boots, but you’ll want to be very careful about what you buy. Make sure you’ve determined that a specific product can be used on the type of leather shoe that you own.
There are also some safe and natural items you can use on leather if you’re unsure what to buy. Olive oil makes an excellent leather shoe polish, and Vaseline can be used to remove scuffs and scratches naturally.
How to remove water stains from leather shoes
Stepping through a puddle or getting your leather shoes wet can result in a water stain once the moisture dries. The stain usually looks like a faint outline on the shoe where the water was.
Don’t worry if you notice one of these markings. There are some different steps that you can take to remove water stains. If one doesn’t work, feel free to try another until you can fix the issue.
Adding more water to the problem might seem counterproductive, but it often works to use this method. Dampen a soft cloth with slightly warm water. Wipe at the edges of the water stain to see if it begins to fade.
You may need to use a little bit of force to remove it completely. You can also mix together a fifty-fifty mixture of vinegar and water. The vinegar may help break down any of the minerals in the water stain, so it isn’t so prevalent.
Lemon juice and rubbing alcohol are stronger substances you can try on your water-stained leather shoes. Start out by diluting them a bit and wipe away the stain to see if it makes a difference. Let your shoes dry completely being trying another method or determining if the process worked.
How to remove salt stains from leather shoes
Salt stains are very common in areas that deal with cold weather, snow, ice, etc. Rock salt is sprinkled down on road surfaces and sidewalks to prevent a slippery surface from forming. However, this salt can do a number of stains on your leather shoes. You might not notice anything at first, but salt stains may form once your shoes have dried.
To clean up your salt stains, mix together two parts of water with one part of white vinegar. Use this mixture to dampen a clean cloth and rub the stains until you see them lightening.
It may be necessary to repeat the process a few times until you see the original condition of the shoe come back. It may be necessary to allow the spot to dry completely before determining if your effort was fruitful.
There are salt stain remover products that you can purchase for leather shoes and boots. We recommend spot testing your shoes to confirm that the product won’t cause any further damage.
Once you have removed the salt stains, you’ll want to polish the leather. Salt has the ability to really remove the natural moisture from leather. You don’t want to observe any additional wear or damage from the process of removing the stain and the stain having sat on the spot for some time.
Leather polish, conditioning cream for leather, and even olive oil all make acceptable methods of polishing your leather shoes and boots.
How to remove ink stains from leather shoes
You likely have leather shoes that you wear to work throughout the week, and this is an environment that can cause a number of stains to form on your shoes. For instance, ink can spill onto your shoes from things like a printer, fax machine, or collection of office supplies.
Hopefully, you’ve noticed that the ink has spilled, so you can quickly mop up as much as you can. However, you may face a more challenging situation if the ink has dried on the surface of your shoe. Let’s look at some tips for removing these pesky ink stains.
Plain water and vinegar aren’t likely going to work for ink that has set into the leather of your shoes. You’ll need to turn to stronger substances that will actually break down the ink so it can be wiped away. Use a solution of detergent and water mixed together, saturating a clean cloth.
Use the mixture to scrub at the stain a bit, being careful not to smear the ink around to a larger area. You may need to rinse out your rag in running water and re-saturate it a few times to really get the area clean.
Make sure you wipe down your shoes with fresh water when you’re done. Let the shoes air dry and evaluate whether or not you’ll need to repeat the process.
If you have a costly pair of leather shoes or boots that you have to remove ink stains from, there are ink remover sticks that you can invest in, which will work to dissolve the ink from the surface of your shoe.
The type of ink you’ve spilled will determine what kind of ink removal stick you need. Also, the type of leather your shoe is made out of will impact the process. Always spot test a product of this type to prevent further damage.
A leather shoe cleaner that contains glycerin and lanolin may be effective against an ink stain. Stay away from products that claim they can ‘fade a stain fast.’ They usually contain bleach-based ingredients that will cause discoloration.
How to remove greasy stains from leather shoes
Greasy stains on your shoes can come from many sources. Maybe you were out to eat at a restaurant, and food was dropped on your shoes. Grease can come from several parts on your vehicle.
There are other greasy substances that you may encounter that you don’t know what they are or where they came from. This should be a relatively easy stain to remove if you’ve gotten to it quickly enough.
Remove as much of the grease as possible with a soft cloth. Make sure you’re changing out the section of the cloth you’re frequently using so that you’re not spreading the grease.
The next thing that you want to do is sprinkle on some sort of absorbent powder that will soak up some of the residual grease. Two ingredients you may already have in your home that will work for this process include cornstarch and wheat germ.
If you can, let this powder sit on the stain overnight. Remove it with a damp cloth. The hope is that all of the grease and moisture have been absorbed. It may take some time, but you can completely remove a grease stain with this process.
If you have some residual grease left over, you can repeat the process or turn to something else like a water and soap mixture with a little bit of elbow grease.
How to remove scuffs from leather shoes
Maybe you rubbed two of your shoes together, and a scuff resulted. Storing your shoes closely together in a closet may have caused friction that left a scuff behind. Scuffs tend to be easy to remove, as long as a scratch isn’t accompanying it.
Some people don’t even mind the scuffs, especially if you’re wearing a style of boot that looks distressed to begin with. Here are some helpful tips that you can try if you would prefer to bring back the original quality of your leather shoes.
This method uses heat to remove scuffs from leather. Heat is generally something you want to stay away from for stains because it can cause the stain to set it further, but your goal here is to make the leather more malleable to massage the scuff out.
Use your hair dryer on its lowest heat setting. Don’t leave the heat directly on the spot but move it around to heat the entire area slightly. Use a soft cloth to rub the scuff until you see it start to fade. Check the leather to make sure it’s not getting too hot.
You can also use store-bought Vaseline to remove scuffs from your shoes. Just rub a little on it with a soft cloth to remove the markings.
Hopefully, this chapter has given you some hope that you can effectively remove a greasy stain from your shoes. It’s always a good idea to tackle a stain as soon as you realize it has happened to prevent permanency.
If all else fails, there are shoe stores and professionals that you may be able to make your leather shoes and boots look as good as new. They can use commercial cleaning products and polishes to bring new life to your footwear.
Many people take for granted the durability and high quality of their real leather shoes. While leather is indeed a material that can withstand a lot of wear and tear, there is damage that can quickly occur from improper washing or maintenance.
While some people may like the look of distressed and worn leather, it’s not appropriate for every type of shoe. This is especially true for your professional footwear.
Let’s break down some of our best tips to help you clean your leather shoes and boots without creating a tricky situation that could require replacement or repair.
Do use warm water and a soft cloth for cleaning your leather shoes/boots
The materials you use to clean your shoes and boots are incredibly important. The basics that you need are a soft cloth and warm water. Never use extremely hot water or anything that is too cold. Either one can cause damage to your shoes.
Soft cloths are much better than a scratchy paper towel. Just make sure you’re rotating your cloths out frequently, so you’re not transferring dirt from one area of your shoes to another.
Don’t soak your leather shoes in water
It’s a much better idea to spot treat your shoes than it is to soak your leather shoes completely. Soaking your shoes can cause the leather to warp, which will change the shape of your shoes. You could also ruin the quality of the leather or even ruin the interior of the shoes. Use a moist cloth and wipe away any messes that exist.
Do allow your shoes to air dry
While some shoes made of canvas may be able to hold up in the drier, leather should not be exposed to the heat of your drier in any scenario. Always let your shoes air dry, which should happen within about 24 hours. You may even be able to wear your shoes right away if you were simply wiping the exterior of the shoes.
Don’t apply shoe polish over dirty shoes
Polishing your leather shoes is an important part of keeping them looking nice and new. However, your shoes need to be completely clean before you do so. Spot clean your shoes, and either let them air dry or wipe them dry before you use a polishing product.
If you skip the drying step, you’re likely mixing together polish and water, which can dilute the product and affect the final result.
Do remove shoelaces before the cleaning process
Before you get started with cleaning your shoes, always remove the laces. If they are dirty, you can soak them and give them a good rinse. Let them air dry before putting them back into your shoe’s eyelets. If they’re not dirty, removing them will prevent them from getting anything on them while you’re cleaning the rest of your shoes.
Don’t Use Just Any Product You Find
There are a lot of shoe cleaning and polishing products that you can find at the store and online. However, many of them aren’t made with high-quality ingredients that are safe for your shoes. Rather, you can end up decreasing the condition your leather is in.
Don’t skimp on your products, and always read the labels to make sure that the kind of product you might be using is safe on the type of leather your shoes are made out of.
Do Perform a Spot Test
Even if you’re confident that you’ve purchased a proper leather shoe care product, take the time to do a spot test before you saturate your entire shoe. If a negative reaction occurs, you’ll be happy you spent those few extra minutes to prevent ruining your shoes.
Do properly Store Your Shoes Once They’re Clean
Once your shoes have been cleaned and polished, you’ll want to ensure they’re dry. Then, place them into storage boxes where they will be safe from things like dust and moisture.
The box your shoes came in is acceptable, but your nicer shoes should probably be transferred to a better box that is airtight and has a well-fitting lid. You can then easily stack your boxes of shoes in a closet where they are protected.
Don’t Let Messes Sit for Too Long
If you notice that something has gotten onto your shoes, take the time to clean the mess up as soon as you can. The longer you let something sit on the surface, the more likely it is that you’re going to be dealing with a stain that’s difficult to remove. If you don’t notice any big messes, strive to clean your shoes every week or two.
Do Make Cleaning Your Leather Shoes a Routine
Cleaning your leather shoes and boots should become part of your routine, just like you spend time doing laundry every so often. The purpose of routinely cleaning your shoes is to keep them clean and free of damage.
This will ensure that your shoes look new for years to come. Keep a kit of items handy so that it’s simple to clean your shoes before storing them or wearing them again.
Now that you’re an expert on adequately cleaning leather shoes and boots, you can make your footwear collection brand new again. Don’t forget to keep up with routine leather shoe maintenance every couple of weeks at least to protect your investment in high-quality accessories.
In this chapter, we will review the importance of keeping your leather shoes clean and storing them properly. If you’re not keeping your shoes protected, then you can expect them to become ruined or damaged in a short amount of time.
When leather shoes rub up against one another, they will develop scuffs and various markings that can compromise how nice they look. Throwing your nice leather shoes next to a pair of muddy athletic sneakers can result in your nicer shoes getting messy as well.
You really should never have more than a couple of pairs of shoes together near your entryway. The shoes that aren’t regularly worn should be kept safe, so they look beautiful for the next time that you want to wear them.
It’s a good idea to clean and maintain your shoes before storing them. Putting footwear away when they have visible signs of dirt or damage can ruin a pair of shoes or result in stains that won’t come out even with the best cleaning processes.
Let’s get started with some tips for storage, care, and maintenance that can provide you with some insight into how you should be caring for your leather shoes and boots.
Avoid wearing leather shoes in wet weather
Leather is a durable material, but you don’t want to take advantage of that. If it’s very rainy or snowy outside the day you’ll be going out, try choosing another pair of shoes that can withstand exposure to moisture. You could also pack your leather shoes to take with you and wear a pair of rain boots for the time being during your commute.
Let Your Shoes Dry If They are Exposed to the Elements
If you get caught in unexpected rain, and your leather shoes become wet, take the time to let them dry properly before they’re worn again. They should be air-dried in a safe place inside your home.
Never put them in the drier or on top of a heat vent where they will be exposed to drastic temperature changes. This could warp the leather or damage it.
Store your leather shoes/boots in a cool and dry place
The storage spot that you choose for your shoes should be somewhere that is cool and dry. Most people choose a front closet or the closet in their bedroom if they have the extra space.
Stay away from locations like your garage, which can see very hot temperatures (and humidity) in the summer, as well as cold, freezing temperatures in the winter.
Your basement is another location that you should avoid. There’s a lot of moisture down there, which can affect the quality of leather shoes and boots.
Remember you must rotate your shoes, don’t wear your leather shoes every day
The same pair of shoes shouldn’t be worn every single day. You should have various pairs that you can rotate through depending on the weather and what you’re wearing.
If you try to wear the same pair of leather shoes day in and day out, you’ll probably be replacing them much sooner than you should have to because they’ll wear out quickly.
Clean your leather shoes/boots after wearing them
If you come home and you notice that something got onto your shoes, take a few minutes to clean the mess off. It won’t take long for something like dirt or grease to permanently set in, and then you’ll either have to replace the shoes or have a professional try to repair them.
Develop a Routine Shoe Maintenance Schedule
Set aside a little bit of time every couple of weeks to clean your leather shoes. This includes removing any messes that are on them, taking care of stains, allowing them to dry, and then storing them in their boxes.
Ditch the Original Shoe Boxes
The box that your brand-new shoes came in is fine for the store shelf, but this isn’t the box you want to use for permanent storage. You can find affordable plastic bins at many retail stores that can then be used to safely store your shoes.
Make sure you buy bins that are large enough for the shoes you’re storing so they aren’t crushed inside. The lids should tightly fit on the box to prevent moisture from getting inside.
The great thing about using plastic storage bins for your shoes is that they can be easily stacked on top of one another. If you choose a clear variety, you will be able to easily see what’s inside each box.
Have a Special Location for Your Shoes
Keep your shoes in a dedicated area of your home where they won’t be disturbed or damaged. One option is on a shelf on the top of your closet.
Keep Extra Items Around
If you pull down a pair of shoes from your closet that haven’t been worn in some time, you may notice that the laces aren’t as clean as you would like, or the shoes themselves don’t shine as much. Keep some extra shoelaces and polish around so you can quickly spruce up your shoes before putting them on.
Use Inserts to Hold Form
If you have a pair of soft leather shoes that you’re concerned will lose their shape while they’re being stored, you can purchase special inserts that will expand to hold the shape of your shoes. They can be stored like this.
We hope that our shoe maintenance and storage tips will inspire you to reassess how you’re taking care of your leather shoes and boots. It doesn’t cost much money to purchase some storage items, but the money you spend will save you a lot of money on new shoes and repairs later on down the line.
The information we’ve shared in the past few chapters should be more than enough to get you started with regular maintenance of your leather shoes and boots. Take a little bit of time to prepare with the right products and tools, using these items only for cleaning your footwear.
If you have questions about cleaning a specific pair of leather shoes, leave a comment below so we can assist you. You can also share this post with your family and friends so they can keep their shoes in good condition, just like you. Read our other posts for helpful fashion advice and tips.