The Shoe Snob Blog

June 25, 2012

Written by , Posted in News

Restoring Old Shoes

A blog reader, in light of the shoe polishing contest, sent it a few pictures of some of his old Loake’s (he reckons 12-20 yrs old), that he had taken from rubbish bin status to relatively new looking in just a matter of a few hours with some of the methods that he learned on the ‘How To Create A Patina‘ post. While you can use most of those methods to really do the same thing that I will explain in this post, I will add a few more that are strictly for the sake of rejuvenation of a shoe’s leather and its overall look. In reality, it is really hard to completely ruin a pair of well made shoes. One of the only things that you cannot repair is tearing the upper leather. Sure, there are some people who might be able to patch it up for you, some way or another, but it will never look the same. However, as long as you don’t rip the upper or put a whole in your insole, most things done to the shoe can be resolved and with a little bit of know-how and the right products in order to bring the shoes back to life.

Before’s to the after above, done by me. Just a shine though – no stripping of finish

As you can see, his Loake’s were in quite a state. Most people would look at these and probably feel bad about the thought of maybe giving them to a homeless man with the amount of crap that had built upon them. But luckily the reader did not throw them away but rather saw a chance to make a project out of them to see just how well he could bring them back to life. Below I will quote his words,

“Today I found a pair of old Loake’s that I bought around twenty years ago, as probably my first “proper” shoes (incidentally, no Loake’s seem to have fit me properly since!). From the first picture, you can see these neglected beasts were in a sorry state: squashed, scratched, dried out, covered in mould and generally looking ready for disposal.

But thanks to your blog, I was inspired to go out, buy some nail polish remover, strip them down and find a lovely tan to stain in the leather, re-moisturise them with beeswax and linseed, and give them a polish. Here they are with some funky laces, and now delivered to the shoe repairer for new soles.

From garbage to salvation in about three hours! I wouldn’t have done it without “The Shoe Snob”, and I’m rather proud of these!”

And proud he should be because he did an amazing job, as you can see below!

After’s to before above

Now one other trick that I have never talked about before on this blog is reshaping the leather. When you have shoes that are 20-30 years old and have had a lot of wear and tear and then a lot of neglect, you tend to get some deformity in the leather, and a whole lot of creasing, and maybe significant loosening of it too. So to fix these things, I will share with you a few tips and tricks.

To mold the leather into nice form again:

Submerse your shoe into water, completely, and let it soak for at least 10 minutes. After that, take it out, put in your shoe trees and either put it next to the heater, but not on it, just next to it or if it is summer, then use a blow dryer to dry it up. But keep it at least 6 inches away from the shoe. This idea is kind of like how they tell you to form baseball caps or the way in which you shrink your clothes: High heat after being soaked will shrink that leather (and most things) into place.

To help get the wrinkles out:

First things first, you will want to put a shoe tree in your shoe that is one size too big so that you have a really tight fit, as you need the wrinkles to be as stretched as possible.

One way, of which is not practical for the average person, is to use an electrical heat gun (at close proximity and when the leather is dry) to blow over the leather where the wrinkles/creases are. The high heat while the leather is taut, will help to relax it and unset the wrinkles. Obviously nothing will be as good as re-lasting, but for a house remedy, it will help do the trick. The other way, which is probably more practical is to do what is called spooning. This is a old military spit-n’-polish trick whereby you heat up a spoon (with a lighter or some kind of flame) and then burn the wax into the pores of the leather to get a real smooth surface. Only this time we are not using wax but you will want to do the same thing of rubbing the leather in the crease area (while having big trees in) with the hot spoon to shape the leather back into place. Don’t be afraid to put some force into it.

Now, there is a warning when it comes to spooning. This will burn the leather. On black you will not see it, but on a tan you definitely will. So do not do this method on a new pair of shoes that you are still fond of that are lighter than dark brown. If you are going to strip the finish anyway, then it does not matter….

Best of luck restoring your old shoes!

-Justin, “The Shoe Snob”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15429440235701448538 Il Satiro

    To remove the wrinkles sometimes I use fire (a cotton ball soaked with alcohol and hold by a pair of scissors). Stick in a good shoetree and pass the wrinkles over the flame, with a fast motion.

    You have to be very careful, as you risk to burn the shoes or worse, your hands… Do not try this at home!

  • Anonymous

    Nice restauration!

    Justin, I’ve been meaning to ask you, do you have any advice on protecting your shoes while driving? I think about using galoshes to protect them from scratching but I’m worried about the grip. Changing shoes is not a viable option since I’m in&out my car 20-30 times a day, every day.

  • Anonymous

    Justin,

    If shoes are too tight is there a trick to widening them some?

    Greg

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01294352487087326933 Justin FitzPatrick, "The Shoe Snob"

    Il Satiro – yes, this is a bit more daring….

    Anon – honestly, since I have been in Europe (almost 4 years now), I have not driven and therefore don’t think about these things really. Can’t say that I know of a remedy to this besides being careful. Sorry that this is probably the not answer that you wanted to hear…

    Greg – yes, take the end of a broom handle (it must be round) and shove it inside the shoe where the leather is tight and rub it (don’t be afraid to give some force) to loosen the leather. Use your hand that has the shoe in it to guide where you want to rub, it will be more effective.

    -Justin

  • snapper

    Justin,

    Thank you for publishing these ‘tricks of the trade’ and all credit to you for teaching us techniques which could potentially take business away from you.

    Regards,
    Snapper

  • Matt

    Now all I need to do is just find a pair to practise on

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01294352487087326933 Justin FitzPatrick, "The Shoe Snob"

    Snapper – Glad that you appreciate it. My philosophy is that if no one shared what they know, then no one would know anything…..always glad to share my knowledge!

    Matt – I feel the same way….

    -Justin

  • http://www.ruosh.com/ ruosh

    Make a spray of 50 percent rubbing alcohol and 50 percent water in a spray bottle. Spray the inside of each shoe and wear for about 20 minutes

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07831578827334409838 JasonLeeming

    Hi Justin, thanks for publishing these tricks. I was just wondering how you might get the wrinkles out of a oxblood Dr. Marten boots, without ruining the colour? The thing is, my left boot has got the sort of creases in which you would expect and don’t take away from there look of the boot, and the leather remains tough,and has got a good shape. The right boot is another story. The creases are very ‘over the top’, with the leather feeling far too soft if you press it, and hasn’t held any shape. How would I go about remedying this?

    Kind regards

    Jason

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01294352487087326933 Justin FitzPatrick, "The Shoe Snob"

    Jason – Unfortunately my friend, without seeing or feeling what you are talking about it is going to be hard for me to give you any kind of direction….Getting creases out in reality is very difficult and if they are over the top as you say, then there might not be a way…there are a lot of factors that play into why wrinkles come about and without knowing what those might be for your situation, I simply cannot give you a blind suggestion…sorry

    -Justin

  • Anonymous

    Hi Justin,

    thank you so much for sharing this!

    I have a pair of new vass Oxfords that have significant stretching due to bigger shoe trees (half size). I can see the stretch marks at the sides.

    I wonder if you would recommend the soaking and drying method? Should I rub in warm water or just soak the entire pair? Is it ok to use a hair dryer?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01294352487087326933 Justin FitzPatrick, "The Shoe Snob"

    Anon – soak the entire shoe, submerge it in water….and then use a hair dryer I guess…just don’t hold it too close…..once done make sure you condition the leather as not to let it dry out too much….

    best of luck

    -Justin

  • Alonso

    dear sir,
    congratulations for your generous blog and if you allow me I’d like to use this opportunity to solve a few doubts:
    - would you recommend also the soaking and heating for a suede shoe?
    - if not, how would you addapt a suede shoe that is half a number too loose?
    - would you ever stick some rubber sole to protect your leather-soled shoes?
    - could you explain how you work the wax with water? I can’t see how they would integrate,,,
    thanks in advance,
    Alonso

    • TheShoeSnob

      Alonso,

      -no I would not soak a suede shoe….
      -unfortunately when it comes to suede I am not as expert, and since you can’t soak it then I don’t have an answer to this one…
      -this is very subjective..I personally would not, but that does not mean that one should not…it depends on many things: where you live, how many shoes you have, if you wear galoshes etc…
      -if you look at my video on the page “polish your shoes properly” found on the right side of my blog you can see how I use wax and water together…

      Hope that this helps

      • Alonso

        thank you very much for your help
        and keep this very nice and useful blog!

  • TheShoeSnob

    there is nothing attached alice

    • Alice liao

      I’ve reattached the picture. Please let me know if it doesn’t go through again. These boots need lots of work — just wondering if they’re 1. restorable and 2. worth the cost in repairing.

      • TheShoeSnob

        Dear Alice, few things are un-repairable. Only you however will be able to decide whether or not it is “worth” it…..depends on how much you will have to spend and how much you like these particular boots….they will need a lot of work and by a very good cobbler…but unfortunately I simply cannot answer this for you…sorry and best of luck

  • Pingback: How I ended up paying 750$ for a coat and boots in Korea | The Wonderglover

  • Sabs

    Hi

    Thanks for this blog as I have a pair of loafers which i have found has stretched a lot since i got them.

    I was just wondering whether you soak the shoes in hot or cold water?
    before i begin this shoe restoring journey :)

    • TheShoeSnob

      good question…luke warm water I believe is just fine…

  • Chris Wisniewski

    Thanks for this great source of help and info. I have a pair of Frye boots I acquired which are in good shape except the inside of the right boot at the toe cap, the leather is wrinkled and deformed and presses painfully into my toes. How do I smooth out this leather inside the boot?

    • TheShoeSnob

      unfortunately there are really only two ways to soften up the toe caps: 1, through wear or 2. through manual force by bending the leather constantly with your hands, fingers etc….it will wrinkle the leather but will soften the stiffeners.

  • Charles

    Thank you for all of the useful information. I have a question about my favorite pair of loafers. They were damaged by salt from the spreading doe by snow plow trucks. I regret to say I never cared for them immediately afterwards, and likely let this happen a few times before I tried to restore the leather. now have dried-almost crusted. What would you recommend as a remedy? Thank you!

    • TheShoeSnob

      many people claim that a mixture of water and vinegar will take the salt stains away but I don’t think that it would be good for the dryness of the leather…you need to condition them a few times, but if they are at the point of crusting up, it might be too late I am afraid…but definitely get some conditioner on there to let the leather obtain the nutrients it needs to become supple again

  • Gerry

    Hi Justin,
    Great job. I had a bit of a stain on one toecap of a tan shoe. I had to strip a lot of the polish from the toecap on the stained shoe to get rid of the stain(caused by an oily substance). Anyway now I want to bring the color backup to the original tan. Is it best to use cream or wax polish to do this and should I use Saphir Renovator first to nurish the stripped toecap or will this create a barrier between the cream/polish and the leather.
    Gerry.

    • TheShoeSnob

      gerry, best to use cream and no don’t use the renovator first if you are down to the bare leather. Just use the cream…but it is risky business on a tan shoe, as sometimes no matter what you put on the bare leather, it will simply darken to a shade of black from just being touched by moisture…best of luck..do it sparingly and slowly, don’t whack too much on

  • Jack

    Hi Justin,
    A little bit off beat, but I have a pair of Air Jordan 1′s from 1985, and as you can tell the leather is all cracked and dried out. I want to go the extra step and instead of just concealing it and painting over the leather, I want to recondition it to bring it back to the state it was in ’85. Are there any products or methods that can help me achieve my goal?

    Appreciate it,

    Jack

  • Mark

    Dear Justin,
    Imagine my despair when I realised I had entrusted my precious tan brogues to a less than satisfactory cobbler. The edge of the sole, rather than being the original natural wood finish, was now filled in with a ghastly uniform dark brown colour– in total contrast to the uppers. Please, I need your help, how do I retrieve their original splendour!
    Many thanks
    Mark