How to Clean Leather Shoes

Leather shoes are a timeless and elegant addition to any wardrobe. People may seem intimidated by owning a pair of leather shoes, believing that cleaning them may seem daunting, but with the proper techniques and the right tools, it can be a simple and rewarding process. Cleaning and maintaining your leather shoes regularly will help them look good and prolong their life. Remember, keeping your leather shoes is not just a matter of aesthetics; it’s a practical and economical choice, contributing to their longevity, comfort, and overall quality. Here are some steps to help you clean your leather shoes effectively.

Tools and Materials You Need

  • Chamois or polishing cloth
  • Soft bristle brush, toothbrush, or horsehair brush
  • Leather cleaner, mild soap, or saddle soap
  • Water
  • Leather shoe conditioner
  • Spray bottle with cold water
  • Shoe cream polish
  • Soft fabrics or microfiber towels
  • Shoe trees or newspaper

Step 1: Prepare your area

Find a clean and well-ventilated area to work on your shoes. Lay down a newspaper or old towel to catch any drips or debris.

Step 2: Remove the laces

It’s always best to remove the laces before washing shoes to check the stain spots. If dirty, run them through the washing machine or replace them.

Step 3: Remove Dirt and debris

Use a soft-bristled brush, an old toothbrush, or a horsehair brush to gently remove any loose or excess Dirt, dust, or debris from the surface and seams of the shoe. Pay attention to the areas around the sole and heel.

Step 4: Prepare cleaning solution

Mix a small amount of mild soap, like dish soap, with lukewarm water to create a soapy solution in a small bowl. Avoid harsh chemicals or excessive amounts of water, as they can damage the skin. However, saddle soap is ideal for a filthy pair of shoes or for removing wax and shoe polish buildup. 

Step 5: Test the solution

Before putting and applying the solution to the entire leather shoe, test it on a small, unnoticeable area to ensure it doesn’t cause any adverse reactions, like discoloration or damage.

Step 6: Clean the leather shoes

Dip a soft and clean cloth or sponge into the soapy cleaning solution and wring it out until it’s damp, not soaking wet. Gently wipe the entire shoe surface, moving downward in a circular motion, paying particular attention to stained or soiled areas. Use a soft brush or toothbrush for harder-to-reach spots or crevices. Be gentle to avoid scrubbing too hard, which can damage the leather.

Step 7: Wipe off the cleaning soap

Use another clean cloth, preferably a soft one, to wipe off the soap. Dry your leather shoes with a towel. Warm, soapy water will also remove the excessive water stains and scuffs. Pay attention to brushing the welt and the crevice where the shoe meets the sole. 

Step 8: Start the conditioning process

After cleaning, it is crucial to condition the leather to keep it soft and supple. Apply a small amount of leather conditioner to a clean cloth and rub it onto the shoes in a circular motion. Allow the conditioner solution to penetrate the leather for a few minutes before wiping off any excess with a clean cloth.

Step 9: Add a pigmented cream polish

Pigmented cream polish restores color and hides inevitable scratches. It can be applied in the same way as conditioner.  Using a cotton chamois or your finger, apply a small pea-sized amount of shoe polish to each pore of your skin. Spread and rub the shoe polish in small circles until it absorbs into the leather. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes before using a horsehair brush to blend and remove excess paint.

Step 10: Dry the shoes

Allow the leather shoes to air dry at room or cool temperature. Avoid direct heat sources like radiators or hairdryers, as they can cause the shoes’ surface to crack or lose shape. You may stuff the shoes with newspaper or shoe trees to help them maintain their shoe shape as they dry.

Step 11: Polish, relace, and store

Completing your cleaning routine with a layer of wax polish gives your precious leather pair a lasting shine and an extra layer of water protection. If you want to restore the shine and color of your leather shoes, use a suitable shoe polish that complements the color of your shoes’ outer surface. 

Use a cloth or soft brush to apply shoe polish in a circular motion, then buff with a shoe brush or clean cloth for a shiny surface. Use your fingers or chamois cotton to gently treat the surface with a thin layer of wax in small circles onto the skin. Because the wax will harden and crack when applied in multiple coats, experts recommend using one coat for the entire shoe but may apply numerous coats to areas with hardener, such as the toes and heels.

After polishing, replace your leather shoes and store them in a dry place at room temperature. Your beloved pair of shoes must avoid direct sunlight, which may have irreversible effects.

Leather Shoes Care Tips for More Protection

  1. Waterproofing your leather shoes and boots is a quick one-step process with the right product. A temporary coating from a waterproofing spray takes 30 minutes to dry, and you’re suitable for weeks.
  2. It’s best to use the shoe horn when wearing shoes. A shoe horn allows your foot to slide into the back of the shoe without damaging the leather sole.
  3. Some leather shoes are designed to be water-resistant or waterproof. Cleaning routine and conditioning the leather can help maintain these properties, ensuring your feet stay dry in wet conditions.
  4. Dirt and grime can become embedded in the leather over time, leading to long-term damage such as cracking, fading, or discoloration. Thus, a preventive cleaning and thorough one helps prevent these issues, preserving the leather’s integrity.
  5. Don’t wear the same pair of leather shoes two days in a row, and try to alternate them evenly if possible. Leather shoes need time to dry because of the moisture they absorb. Just giving them a day to breathe, with a pair of cleats installed, will significantly extend the life of your shoes.

Removing Different Stains in Leather Shoes

  1. Grease or Oil: Sprinkle baking soda or cornstarch on the spot.

Rub gently with a damp cloth. Leave for a few hours, or have it overnight. These ingredients will absorb the oil. 

  1. Ink: Dip a cotton swab in nail polish remover or rubbing alcohol and gently blot the stain. Do not rub. Otherwise, the ink may spread.

Wipe gently until the stain disappears. 

  1. Scuffs: Use non-gel toothpaste to clean leather. Squirt a dab of the solution sort on the scuffed area. Rub with a soft cloth.
  1. Other Types of Stains: Mix the same amount of lemon juice and tartar. Combine to create a paste. Apply to the stained part and let sit for a couple of minutes. Use a clean piece of damped cloth to get the paste. Lemon juice and cream of tartar crate have a mild bleaching effect, so it’s advisable only to use this on light-colored leather.


 You can keep your leather shoes looking their best for years to come if you put an effort into maintaining the cleaning routine and proper techniques. It may seem overwhelming initially, but once you know the basic steps of regular cleaning and conditioning, everything is a piece of cake!