Polish Your Shoes Properly
Alas, here is the content that you have all been waiting for. As you will see, I have written it in detailed form as well as provided an instructional video at the very bottom of this post, of which both will hopefully allow you to learn how to shine your shoes properly. However, these in reality will simply be a tool of guidance as the only real way to learn is through trial and error. Believe me, when I first started, it was all polishing and no shine. Nothing but a dull shoe. But as I kept up at it and learned from my mistakes, it got easier and easier and now you can see the results that I am able to achieve with a spare few hours time.
You did hear that right: a few hours time. Polishing your shoes properly, to a mirror like shine takes a lot of time and patience. It is not done in 5 nor 20 minutes and those shoe shine chairs that give you a very nice shiny polish on your shoes, is simply not the same as what you are seeing here. This is a shine built through the building up of polish into the pores of the leather. There is no way to do it quickly. There is a way to shine a shoe quickly, of course, but not to get a proper glass like finish. That can only be done in manner of which you see in this post.
I hope that you all enjoy what you read and see here.
Justin, “The Shoe Snob”
Let me start off by saying that, in my beliefs, there is a profound difference between a polish and a shine. And what I do, is a polish and that is defined in the dictionary as, ‘to make smooth and glossy.’ And to achieve that, one needs to use their hands and have ample free time. That being said, you can see (above, left) the pair of Crockett & Jones’ that I had to work with. These were the most perfect shoes I could have for my post as they had some leftover polish on them. That is important because time and time again I have had customers come in with their 10 year old shoes, that have just been caked with layer upon layer of polish right on top of each other. And the bad thing about this, is that you see cracked polish everywhere and it is not pretty, yet they tend to just polish on top of that, which does not make it go away, but rather help to set it in.
Instead, one should remove the excess polish and start fresh again, each time they wish to create a new shine (edit: this is only in the case that you give your shoes strictly mirror like shines and assuming that there is cracking polish build up as in the case of this shoe. If not, then there is not a need to strip the leather every time, just use a bit of leather conditioner to replenish the shoe before applying your next shine). So that’s what I did. Now, you can do this several ways depending on how bad it is set in. For the sake of time, I used a little bit of help with the nail polish remover and added it to a rag in order to easily remove the old polish. (But before I did that, I brushed the shoe down with a horsehair brush to remove dirt and dust, as well as took out the laces) Sometimes this can be done with this liquid and sometimes you can use alcohol spirits instead of nail polish remover or stuff even more soft like Renomat (see below). The only thing is to be careful with whatever liquid that you use because you can take the finish with you if you rub too hard.
With old polish
Removed old polish
Both clean of old polish
One shoe with, one shoe without old polish
Now the next thing that you need to do is to rejuvenate the leather. You can do this with many different products: saddle soap, mink oil renovator or some cream based conditioner (edit: I don’t personally think that cream based conditioner provides as much as the shoe needs in terms of nutrients, but others swear by it). What I always use is my mink oil renovator, as shown above. You do this step in order to soften up the leather and get it ready to absorb the polish better, as well as clean off any dirt or dust that may have been missed from the brush. To get it deeply into the leather, I apply it with my two fingers that are wrapped by a cotton t-shirt that I cut up. I also use this same method to apply the polish but use a different t-shirt to do so, as to not mix the products together. After applying the conditioner, it is best to let the shoe dry for at least 20 minutes. And you will notice that in between each stage there needs to be this dry time period as to not over-soak the leather and allow for the products to truly set into the leather.
I currently use my Shoe Snob cream polish which is very good for color rejuvenation. Found at The Shoe Snob Shop.
The next step is to apply the first round of polish with an applicator brush (as shown above). I use a cream-based for this step (not a wax) as it is better for bringing back the color. You do this to really get the polish into the leather and want to make sure that you hit ever part of the shoe, like the welt and the stitching areas. Do not cake on the polish but apply thinly and evenly around the whole shoe. This step can be particularly tricky when dealing with a very light colored shoe, as light leather can sometimes be easily affected by moisture (i.e. the polish) if not applied carefully. So if you do have a very light tan shoe, I always suggest applying a small amount on the inside heel first to see how the leather reacts and if it does darken, then quickly and lightly brush that spot with the soft bristled horsehair brush to make it spread evenly. And just know that some light leathers are going to darken no matter what, so deal with it if it happens. After this stage, let the shoe sit for at least 20 minutes again.
The next step is to add the wax polish, by hand. In my opinion, a bee’s wax based polish with turpentine gives off the best shine. You will find that most of the higher end polishes have these ingredients and they are also very much used in the production of shoe polish made by French based companies (i.e. where they do the best patina’s and shines). When you apply this, you want to give it those little round about motions and do so evenly and thoroughly throughout the whole shoe. You also don’t want to be shy in applying a little bit of pressure when doing so, but not too much that you are cramping your fingers nor damaging the leather, just enough to really get into the pores of the skin. Speaking of pores, the way to get that mirror like shine, of which I am showing, is to completely fill in the pores of the leather in order to create a flat surface that then looks like glass. Getting back on subject, you want to apply 1-2 layers of wax polish for this step before going on to the next one. Let the shoe sit for 10-20 minutes.
Picture at bottom of this column of pictures: 1 tin of dry wax polish, 1 tin of fresh (and moist) wax polish, 1 tin of water (on the right). When the leather simply won’t turn flat and glossy, use the dry polish to get it there. Sometimes using the moist polish will never allow the leather to be dry enough to truly set in the polish (unless you want to wait overnight between each stage).
This next step is the hardest and in reality, will be what you will have to learn on your own, just by continuously doing it. That being, I will still try and walk you through it. As you have already applied several layers of polish onto the shoe, you have a nice coat on by now which will allow you to directly add water to the mix, as in the old spit’n’shine. The way that I do this, is to again affix the t-shirt to my hand, and then lightly dab my wedding finger (or equivalent on right hand) into the tin of water to get a drop of it on the tip to then apply to the leather before polishing over. Look at pictures to see. Again, I dab my finger into the water, then dab my two polish fingers into the wax, apply the drops of water onto the leather, then rub away the water with the polish in circular motions. Repeat and do for 1-2 hours throughout the entire shoe (1-2 hours being however many stages are required, not in one application). This is the only way of really explaining it. The only thing to look out for is to make sure that you do not apply too much water and thus over-soak the leather or leave a water stain. If you do so you will have to let the shoe sit and dry for awhile before starting again. A way to knowing when you are close is to feel the leather and how it will get smoother and smoother after each layer. And when you feel like you are nearly there, I always recommend letting the shoe dry overnight before applying the final layer of wax’n’water.
After completing the shine, the last touch is to take a piece of black nylon (think women’s tights) and rub it around the shoe, as this will help to take off dust, blend in the polish residue left behind from the cotton shirt and bring up that shine even more! And to maintain the shine, you should just use this nylon to wipe down your shoe every night. And that’s it!
Well I hope that this helps out. Best of luck and don’t be afraid to send me pics if any of you manage to get the mirror shine!!
-Justin, “The Shoe Snob”
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Video below brought to you by a collaboration between myself and Watch Anish