How to Take Care of Your Shoes and Keep Them Looking Like New
Picture this: You're strutting across the street in a brand-new pair of suede heels when storm clouds appear out of nowhere. Before you know it, you're running from the rain and your suede shoes, well, they're not looking so new anymore. Most of us pound the pavement in our shoes only to kick them off into a pile the second we step into the house. Unfortunately, neglecting our footwear can mean that it's necessary to replace them a lot sooner than anyone would prefer. With a few tips and tools, however, you can stretch out their lifespan and keep them in your wardrobe rotation longer. This means they stay out of landfills longer, too.
If, for example, you had sprayed those suede shoes with a waterproofing solution, you could have avoided total disaster. Similarly, shoes will last longer if you have sole protectors installed and you condition the leather every few months or so. Shoes that see a lot of action like sneakers may be a bit sturdier, but they still require regular cleaning and proper storage.
Just as you care for your fancy knits and delicate silks, regularly maintaining your footwear is something you'll want to make time for. Keeping a shoe care kit full of all of the materials you need—including shoe polish, applicator brushes, clean cotton cloths, and waterproofing sprays—and pulling it out every couple of months or so will make an easy job even easier.
Here, Vincent Rail Jr. of renowned shoe repair shop Vince's Village Cobbler gives his tips and tricks for keeping your shoes—from pumps to sneakers—looking their absolute best.
Storing Your Shoes
Before we get to daily wear and tear, let's talk storage. Shoes should be kept in a cool, dry place. If space permits, store your shoes on shelves or in cubbies. For small-space dwellings, hang a shoe bag with many pockets on the back of a door or put shoe racks or shelves on the floor of the closet. If you keep shoes in their original boxes, label them or affix a photo to the box for easy identification.
Before you place them in their respective spots, remember to wipe your shoes clean of dirt so it doesn't dry and stain the material. Stuffing the shoes with tissue paper or shoe trees will keep them from sagging or losing their shape over time.
Although well-made shoes with stitched soles and structured uppers can be repaired over and over again, you can prevent urgent trips to the cobbler by adding a little protection when the shoes are still new. Rail says professionally installed sole protectors, rubber taps for pointed toes, and waterproof leather soles prevent your favorite shoes from wearing out too quickly.
Waterproofing sprays or conditioning creams will help protect them from snow, ice, salt, or rain—all of which can easily ruin the material. Test an inconspicuous spot before applying and, as always, follow the manufacturer's instructions.
Before you place shoes into their proper storage containers, make sure they are clean. Stock a shoe kit with everything you'll need for regular maintenance. There are a few must-have supplies: a suede soap or leather cleaner for cleaning shoes; shoe creams and polish in the most common colors of your leather shoes plus a neutral for hard-to-match colors; a suede brush and suede shampoo or cleaning liquid; a small application brush for every different color of polish or cream; two horsehair buffing brushes (one for dark colors, one for light); and several soft flannel or cotton cloths for the final buffing.
How to Rejuvenate Leather
The first step is to work shoe cream into the surface. Make sure the shoes are completely clean and dry before applying cream. Use cream the color of the shoe, and apply it with a soft cloth or an applicator brush. After applying the cream with a brush, allow it to soak into the surface overnight. This will condition the leather.
Next, lightly apply a wax polish with a cotton cloth or an application brush, using a circular motion. Allow the wax to air-dry (never place leather shoes in front of a radiator or other heat source to dry). The wax will protect the shoes.
Use a horsehair brush to buff shoes to a shine. For a high shine, or "spit shine," mist a clean cloth lightly with water and buff the shoe: Hold the cloth from both ends and pull it rapidly back and forth over the shoe.
How to Care for Patent Leather
Patent leather's high-gloss finish is particularly susceptible to cracking, so take special care not to get it wet. Clean with a soft cloth and a solution of one drop of gentle soap and water.
If cracks appear, stretch the shoe on a wooden shoe tree or cushion-type shoe shaper, and treat the cracks with leather conditioner. For scuff marks dip a clean cloth in olive or mineral oil and wipe. Petroleum jelly works as well. Always dry patent leather away from heat sources, and take care not to scratch it.
How to Care for Suede
Suede cannot be polished, of course, but the color can fade and become dusty-looking in spots, and the nap can become shiny from wear. Because suede is a porous material, suede shoes are best worn on dry days.
To clean it, sponge very lightly and gently with a shampoo formulated especially for suede. Then, brush gently with a rubber, nylon, or brass-wire brush made to raise the nap of the shoe. This will also remove dirt and mud. Use a suede conditioner, available at shoe-repair shops, to rejuvenate color.
How to Care for Canvas
You can clean canvas shoes by hand using a laundry detergent or throw them in the washing machine. If you're doing the latter, add a towel or two in the drum to prevent loud banging and set your wash on a delicate cycle. Gently remove stubborn spots with a nail brush and use oxygen bleach to brighten the color. Air dry your kicks without exposing them to direct sunlight.
Removing Salt and Rubbery Boot "Bloom"
Rubber boots are made to stand up to the elements, but they still require a bit of upkeep to stay beautiful. Rinsing off mud and winter salts after every wear will prevent the need for a thorough cleaning. You can use a bristle brush to get rid of dried grime. Follow it up with a warm, damp cloth, adding a few drops of dish soap to the water if the exterior is still looking a little worse for wear. Do a spot test on boots with patterns as some can rub off quite easily. Rinse the soap off, dry the boots with a clean towel, and leave them to air dry. If the boots start to bloom (or develop a white film) over time, rub a teaspoon of olive oil on them to remove it.