How to Polish Shoes (with Photos) | 10 Step Guide | 3 Things to Avoid
To , start by cleaning them with a brush or cloth. Use soda to soak out any oil stains. If necessary, remove old shoe wax layers.
Next, apply conditioner. Once it’s dry, apply polish. Buff the shoe with a cloth or brush. If you’re going for a mirror shine, polish and buff several times.
Hi! My name’s George P.H. and I’m a expert. I like to keep my shoes clean and in good condition. Here’s a “before” and “after” of the last shoes I polished to a light mirror shine:
Pretty good, right? And all I used was a microfiber , conditioner, and . That’s all you need to get your shoe looking this clean:
Below, I’ll show you quickly and easily. We’ll go step-by-step with pictures and clear instructions. By the end of the page, you’ll know how to polish your own shoes quickly and easily. Afterwards, we’ll talk different polish types, removing old polish, and more. For a clean , read our guide.
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Table of Contents
Step 1 - Unlace your shoes
Before you do anything else, unlace your shoes. Clean them separately if they’re dirty. Otherwise, just set them aside for now.
Step 2 - Clean the shoes
To remove oil, dust, dirt and debris…
1. [For oil stains only] Sprinkle baking soda on the stain. Leave for a couple of hours or overnight. The soda will soak the oil out of the .
2. Use a soft to remove dry and debris. If you removed an oil , make sure to swipe the dry soda away.
3. Use a wet microfibre or wipes to remove dust and small particles. Make sure to get the soles, too.
Clean thoroughly. Stains and dust left on the can be visible on the . They can really ruin a ‘s clean, polished look.
Step 3 - Remove previous layers of shoe polish (optional)
There are two reasons to remove old layers of .
Reason 1 – they’ve been treated with waterproof polish that includes , carnauba , etc. Materials like these dry out. We want to remove them and condition the before applying more polish.
Reason 2 – the polish is so thick it affects the look of the . This is especially common with .
Removing Polish With Saddle Soap
Apply a little saddle soap to a damp microfibre . Now gently rub the over your shoes in smooth, circular motions. You should see some lather. Work as much of it lather as you can into the .
Next, remove excess lather using another . The excess polish will come right off with it. After you’re done, wait for the to dry before proceeding to the next step.
Removing Polish With Ethanol or Acetone
Make sure theis dry. Next, take a bowl of water and add ethanol or acetone. Use them sparingly; you can always add more later. Using too much will damage the you’re working on.
Now take a microfiber or , dip it into the solution and start working it into the . The excess polish should immediately start coming off. If there’s a lot of polish, let the ethanol or acetone sit on the a few minutes. It’ll work its way into the polish, making it easier to remove.
Once you’re done, use a to remove all the remaining solution and polish from the . Wait for the polish to dry before continuing.
Step 4 - Pack the shoes with paper, cloth or a shoe tree
We’re about to start applying and polish. Packing the prevents the from creasing when we’re working on it. It also makes buffing easier.
It doesn’t matter what you’re packing the with: , paper or a . Just make sure the feels firm when you press on it. Pay special attention to the mid-foot and toe section. These areas tend to cave in more than the others.
Note: I uncreased my shoes while filming this video. If you want to do the same, use the link in the previous sentence. You’ll need an iron and another microfibre . Do NOT use the guide for footwear!
Step 5 - Apply shoe conditioner
Take a microfibre or cotton . Apply a dab of . Apply all over. Pay particular attention to parts that are creased or display more wear. These need the conditioner most of all. Make sure to let the conditioner dry thoroughly before moving on to the next step.
Don’t skip this step. is a lot like your skin. If you don’t keep it moisturized, it’ll start to shrink, crack and harden. Apply , even if you’re using . Proper will extend the life of your shoes and make them look better in the long run.
Step 6 - Apply shoe polish
Take a thick dab of and apply it to your , or microfibre . Once you’re done, work the polish into the .
Make sure to get the hard-to-reach places. I sometimes use an old toothbrush or to get into the area between the sole and the upper. If you have a or a narrow , use that. Make sure you don’t miss anything. Get the , back to front.
Once you’re done applying , wait for it to dry before proceeding to the next step.
Step 7 - Buff the shoe
Take a clean buffing or . Do not use the ones from the previous step. Now gently rub your or over the dried polish. This will smooth it and give it a clean, smooth finish. It will also seal the polish, stopping and dust from getting stuck to it in the future.
There’s no need to apply pressure. Use fast, light strokes. Once you’re done buffing, let the dry one more time.
Note: do not wear shoes immediately after buffing them. Let them dry a few minutes first. Buffing can heat up and soften the polish we applied. We don’t want to expose it to dust and particles at this stage, as they can get stuck to the polish.
Step 8 - Polish shoes to a mirror shine (optional)
First, make sure you’re using the right tools. A high-gloss and a high- or are best. Using those, repeat steps 6 and 7 – and buffing – an extra 3-5 times. Keep going until the grain disappears. Make sure to let the polish dry each time you polish and buff.
3 mirror polishing tips:
1. Apply very little pressure and work quickly when buffing. The faster your movements, the more heat you create. This heat will soften up the polish and lead to a better, smoother finish.
2. Use as little polish as possible for each layer. We’ll be using multiple layers so we need to keep them thin. This is especially true for the toe box and heel areas. Since they’re smooth, they need a little less polish to get a finish.
3. If you want really shiny shoes, i.e. a parade gloss look, use the method below.
How to shoes
Here’s the trick to “spit shining” a pair of . For the last few layers, use a slightly moist or microfibre. We’re talking one or two drops; hence the term, “ “. The trick is to apply a tiny amount of dampened using very little pressure. Otherwise, you’ll be washing away and removing the previous layers you worked so hard to apply.
Apply that little bit of polish in very quick, very light motions. Two things will likely happen. First, the may start to get more matte instead of glossy. Second, the the polish and will both dry out. Buffing the further will get hard if not impossible. When this happens, take another drop of water and apply it to the again. Repeat if necessary.
The main trick to spit shining is to use very little water. If we use too much, the combination of heat, pressure and moisture will rub off the previous layers of polish. We don’t want this to happen.
Once done, wait for the shoes to dry before wearing them.
Step 9 - Touch up unfinished areas (optional)
Are your shoes polished and buffed all over? If not, you want to touch the areas you missed right now. This way, the shoes will have a uniform, smooth look. Leaving areas that need extra work for later can give the a bit of a spotty, mottled look.
Step 10 - Enjoy your polished shoes!
A good polish job can turn old, busted leather shoes into something you’re proud to wear. I always get a feeling of accomplishment once I’m done. I hope you do too.
Note: I uncreased my shoes while filming the materials for this article. If you want to do the same, learn how to uncreasehere.
What You Need to Polish Shoes
A A is best when you need to work polish into thick . Personally, I prefer – microfibre or cotton – for most shoes. brushes are usually better for boots.or .
. There are a few different kinds of . We’ll talk about them at the end of the article. As a rule of thumb, shoe cream, a.ka. . doesn’t but can be glossier. You can achieve mirror with either, but is better for a strong effect.
To buff the after
A soft buffing . These will help buff the until it’s shiny and even. A good or will work best. A tough microfibre is fine too., a cotton or a microfiber
A or high (optional). If you want a effect, buy these. They have fine, densely packed bristles and fibres that you need to get shiny shoes.
. is a lot like human skin. It needs to be moisturized to stay soft and supple. This is where the comes in. Using it before applying polish extends the life of your .conditioner
For cleaning the …
A bowl of water. Warm water is best.
A microfiberor wipes. You can also use some all-purpose wipes
For removing old polish..
Acetone, ethanol or saddle soap. This will remove the old polish quickly and easily. If you can find saddle soap and don’t mind paying for it, get that. If you’re using acetone or ethanol, dilute with water first so you don’t damage the .
A I like microfibre and hog hair, depending on whether it’s or . A non-abrasive cotton is fine too. I don’t recommend soft unless you’re working with fine, .or .
Different Types of Shoe Polish
There are many, many types of out there. Let’s go over some main ones.
Colored vs Clear Shoe Polish
You can buy brown polish for brown shoes, black polish for black shoes, etc. You could also buy an all-purpose clear polish.
In most cases, go with colored shoe polish. There are only 2 times you really need the clear kind.
1. Shoe repair
If your shoes are dried out and discolored, neutral polish will refresh them.
2. Multicolor leather and rare colors
If your shoes are bright aubergine or orange and black, then yeah… Clear polish may be what you need.
Cream Polish vs Shoe Wax
is absorbed by . It tends to moisturize the , improving its condition.
The downside is that has a matte finish, rather than a glossy one. This doesn’t mean you can’t make shiny; you certainly can. It just takes more work, especially for a .
is shinier. It also has water-resistant properties. This is why I use carnauba in the winter and autumn. It protects shoes from rain, puddles, etc.
Overall, vs. polish is mostly a matter of personal preference. If you want glossiness and water resistance, use . If you want to nourish the and give it a more natural finish, use .
Can I use and together?
Absolutely! You can apply as the first layer of polish, wait for it to dry, then apply . This will result in a shinier finish, but give you the nourishing benefits of .
Should I use a a to polish? or
For thick , use a . Its bristles make it easy to work polish into the . For thin, , use a microfibre or cotton . They require less effort to use. For a mirror polish, get a .
Can I with salt stains?
No! Never that have salt stains on them. Instead, use a quality saddle soap product to get the salt out.
Can I polish over ?
In my experience, you can definitely polish over most in the photos above. The one I didn’t polish has visible ; the other one looks smooth. Without polish on, they look identically scuffed and nicked. If you do need more help, check out . You can tell that’s what I did with the this video.
Can I polish ?
Absolutely not. If you have that need to be cleaned, check out our “how to clean ” article. If you’re looking to repair and restore color, my advice is to seek out a specialist.
To , clean them with water – and maybe a light application of cleaning solution. Then apply conditioner and wait for it to dry. Once you’re done, apply polish, let it dry and buff the until you get the desired effect.
If you want a , apply and buff multiple layers of polish. For a strong parade gloss effect, spit- the shoes. This involves using a drop of water when applying the final polish layers. Make sure to apply no more than 2 drops of water and keep your strokes very light.