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Polishing Shoes

Cleaning Tips for Your Leather, Suede and Nubuck Shoes

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Man at table polishing children's shoes
Bernd Opitz/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Love shoes? Chances are you’ve got a fair amount of money sitting in the bottom of your closet. Shoe care -- cleaning and polishing -- is the best thing you can do to protect your investment and extend the life of your footwear.

What You Need for Polishing Shoes

Only a few items are necessary to keep your footwear in tip-top shape:
  • Natural bristle brush
  • Old toothbrush
  • Wax or cream polish
  • Soft cloth or rag
  • Newspaper or an old sheet

Polishing Leather Shoes

Select a polish that matches your shoe color. Polishes that contain dyes, pigments, wax and conditioning agents keep footwear looking fresh, add shine and cover scuffs. They are available as liquids, pastes and creams. Although liquid polishes, with their foam applicator tops, are easiest to work with, shoe repair experts recommend the protection and conditioning offered by creams and pastes -- liquid polishes can dry out shoe leather and cause cracking.

Remove the laces. Use a brush or damp cloth to clean dust or dirt from the shoe, heel and sole. With a soft cloth, apply a small amount of polish in a circular pattern. An old toothbrush is useful for getting polish into small or tight areas. Place the polished shoes on newspaper or an old sheet to dry. When the shoe is dry, usually after about 15 minutes, brush with a natural bristle brush, then buff to a shine with a clean rag. If you are polishing several pairs of shoes, be sure to use a different brush and rags for each color of polish.

Cleaning Suede and Nubuck Shoes

Shoes with a nap, such as suede or nubuck, can’t be polished. According to the Shoe Service Institute of America, preventive maintenance is the key to keeping these types of shoes in top shape. After purchasing a pair of suede or nubuck shoes, you’ll first want to apply a protectant to repel water and stains. However, repellant only lasts for a while, so you’ll need to reapply it periodically. Gently brush suede and nubuck footwear to remove loose dirt and restore nap on a regular basis. If you own a pair of oiled nubuck shoes, you may also want to apply conditioner to preserve them. Stains should be treated immediately with a solvent-based suede cleaner. If they prove hard to remove, take the shoe to a shoe repair professional.

Caring for Athletic Shoes and Sneakers

Athletic shoes with fabric or suede uppers and trim can be cleaned the same way you clean your suede or nubuck shoes. Special sneaker shampoos, used with brush applicators, do a good job of cleaning stains and dirt from leather sneakers. Cover scuff marks with matching polish. Sneakers made from canvas, such as Converse All Stars, can be washed by hand using a toothbrush, mild soap and water.

For more information on caring for specific types of shoes, check out the following resources: LifeWire, a part of The New York Times Company, provides original and syndicated online lifestyle content.
Related Video
How to Polish Leather Shoes

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