Reader Request: Shoe Care 101



Gorgeous reader Ashley asked:

How about shoe care? I’ve only been buying quality shoes for the last two years or so and I don’t really know how to care for them. Before, all my shoes were inexpensive and synthetic so I didn’t really worry about up-keep. And I’ve noticed that in your shoe posts, yours are immaculate. I’d love some tips!

My shoes probably look immaculate because I’ve got a sizable collection and few pairs get worn more than once a week. But I am a careful steward of my collection, and do a few things to make sure my shoes STAY in good shape. You’ll be delighted to hear that none of those things involve stuffing my boots with newspaper or hauling out the shoe polish on a weekly basis. No way. Too lazy for THAT. But here are some shoe care activities I do engage.

  • Carry delicate shoes in inclement weather: You may have noticed that I have worn pumps and even open-toed shoes during the long MN winter. But believe you me, none of those delicate shoes ever hit the snow. I throw my shoes in a big black tote bag and haul them to my destination, where I swap out. On the weekends, I err on the side of boots.
  • Watch where you walk: OK, I know that sounds elementary to the extreme, but just think of it as a reminder. If you step around puddles, tread lightly over wet pavement, and stay sharp when giant trucks pass you on the street, your footwear will stay nicer longer.
  • Buy durable: I am a grade-A klutz in every way, which means my shoes have to include either chunky heels or wedges. If you’re concerned about actual breakage, don’t buy spindly stilettos or thin-strapped sandals. Go for well-made, durable shoes.
  • Avoid fabric: Canvas, silk, satin, and hemp all make for cute and inexpensive shoes. And one false step into an unexpectedly-deep puddle, and they can be RUINED. I used to own a pair of canvas espadrilles, and all they did was gather dust. Weather is changeable, and I seldom want to risk getting stuck in a summer thunderstorm with cloth and straw protecting my feet.
  • Walking shoes for walking, sitting shoes for sitting: Before I pick my shoes for the day, I think about my itinerary. Will I be hauling around town for appointments? Will I be dashing across the backyard in pursuit of a nephew or two? Or will I be hanging out in my little home office? Certain pairs work better for walking, and others for sheer decoration. Choosing unwisely can damage both shoe and foot.
  • Invest in an oil sponge: Since you’re unlikely to find shoe polish in the exact shade of every single pair, and since polish is actually dye and quite permanent anyway, I must recommend an oil sponge. Treated leathers can mark, and a few sponge swipes erase most mild to moderate marks.
  • Clean before storing: If you get mud on your boots or muck on the bottom of your sandals, don’t put ‘em away dirty. You never know what kinds of substances might be lurking in that nameless slime, and better to get it OFF your shoes before stashing them away for their next wearing.

Most of these techniques are common-sense based, but I hope they were helpful!

Image courtesy Amazon

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details. Sustainable options are either used, handmade, made in the U.S., artisan made in non-sweatshop conditions, or made using sustainable/fair trade practices.

Originally posted 2010-04-02 05:47:00.

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19 Responses to “Reader Request: Shoe Care 101”

  1. Flitryss

    You mean "Throw shoes in pile at foot of bed" isn't the best way to go about it? I have good intentions but like you, most of my shoes are seldom worn. Unlike you, I usually forget to take care of them and put them away.

  2. Bridget

    Shoe forms are pretty important for boots; you can make a makeshift one fairly easily out of cereal box cardboard.

    Also, if you use oils on leather and want to avoid use of animal oils (the most common is mink, I think, and is saved through the process of making mink stoles and fur items)…you can actually use olive oil to moisturize your leather. I wouldn't recommend the super extra virgin oil because it will smell a bit like leather + dinner which is odd, but it works just fine for a day when you wore your leather boots to work and it rained unexpectedly on the way home…you dry off the leather and then pour a bit of olive oil on a cotton rag and rub it in slow circles. I usually let mine "sit" overnight and then rub off the excess shine in the morning.

  3. SWF_Terra

    What a timely post. I just went to my shoe guy to have a few heels re-tipped. I asked him if they clean salt off of suede and he said no. But he did give me a solution that is supposed to work on suede and fabrics. I'll let you know how it goes!

    And shoot, you have SO MANY SHOES! What size are you and are you selling any? 😉

  4. fröken lila

    when it comes to polish i'm with audi and cannot recommend the dr.martens wonder balm highly enough. it's colourneutral oil and wax and comes with a sponge to put it on. perfect for all colours, really.

    also, i recommend to befriend a local shoemaker. they will resole and reheel your shoes for little money. if you check those soles and heels regularly and have them replaced in time, your shoes will last much much longer and look so much nicer. i always kringe and feel sorry for those poor shoes when i see ladies walking on heels that have clearly lost a few cm of height already due to non-reheeling.

  5. orchidsinbuttonholes

    I love this post! I believe you use a car for the bulk of your daily travel, but these ideas work well with a carless city gal's day to day as well.

    I do a lot of good-shoe carrying – so do a lot of women. But I love my super cute flats for those days where I'll be doing lots and lots of trekking (and since your doctor told you to stay away from the heels, it seems like the perfect excuse for you to increase your cute-flat collection!).

    I also swear by shoe shapers (foam ones from the cobbler work well on delicate leather since they're more gentle and have no rigid corners) and by checking my heels and toes for excessive wear. A great cobbler can do wonders for a well made and well worn pair of shoes. And about twice a year, I use Apple Guard Leather Conditioner on my leather shoes, especially my workhorse shoes that see their fair share of puddles/rainstorms.

  6. Rosie Unknown

    I stick empty wine bottles in the shafts of my knee high leather boots to keep them straight while I'm not wearing them, it helps keep the zippers in better shaper.

  7. Syed (dapper kid)

    Wonderful advice. My brother always looks at me odd when I clean my shoes off at the end of the day and stick a shoe tree in them, but shoes last a lot longer than people think if you look after them. The soles should always wear away before the actual shoe, then all you need is to resole them!

  8. Anonymous

    Having a cobbler you trust is great even if you don't buy exspensive shoes. I have cheap shoes that I LOVE and by keeping them well maintained, they still look great after lots of heavy rotation.

    When I get to slurge on crazy-expensive shoes (for me=$200+) I take them to my cobbler before I even wear them to see if there is anything I can do to make them last. And it feels nice to have my cobbler drool over my fancy shoes.

  9. cwhf

    I try to clean, condition and weather treat my leather shoes at least twice a year, before fall winter and before spring. My Fluevogs, especially, I want them to last forever!

  10. Leanna:

    Any recs on shoe storage for small spaces? Stuffing them in totes is my current solution and NOT one I particularly like.

  11. The Raisin Girl

    Sadly, I'm still too cheap/poor to buy quality shoes. Although I'm adding it to my list of "things to do when I have a real job after college."

    Even with my $7 Wal-Mart flats, though, I find if I want them to look like they're NOT $7 Wal-Mart flats, I have to wipe them down after I wear them to remove any scuffs or mud, and try not to walk through grass. I go to Berry College–aka land of deer and grass–, so this is quite difficult.

    I actually end up repairing my shoes a lot. I had a pair of beautiful white shoes that I loved, and I used white fabric paint to cover unwashable blemishes for the LONGEST time before nothing more could be done for them. I wouldn't recommend this for really nice shoes, though.

  12. Vix

    Aside from watching my dad do a quick polish on his work shoes, shoe maintenance was never on my mind til my late thirties…but you're smart to be thinking about it because it does make a difference!

    — Beeswax paste is another great help in waterproofing/moisturizing. [Disclaimer: do a test spot for colorfastness.]

    — There's a whole world of colored shoe creams out there (who knew?) that you can use to condition the leather and help keep scuffs from showing; Tarrago and Meltonian are two brands I like. You can also use these to shift the color of your shoes.

    — Joining the chorus of those who say to find a good shoe repair shop.

    Preventive care = adding a thin plastic full-length anti-slip sole when shoes are new (not cheap where I am–$18–but worth it if you live in a rainy climate like me). You can also get a thin-but-rugged Vibram rubber sole added.

    End-of-season care = resoling, retipping, repairing tears in the leather, pro polishing, etc.

  13. Sheila

    Yup, I do most of these things, although I don't really think about them too much. I am guilty of putting away boots that've gotten muddy, and I do own some fabric shoes (and you can be sure they rarely see natural light!), though.

  14. Anonymous

    I remember my dad lining up all of our shoes and cleaning them regularly. He used coloured shoe cream and gave the shoes a shiny finish with a brush.

    When I moved to my own place I started caring regularly for my shoes, too. However I have since learned that you should never wear a brush on your nice leather shoes! Only use a sponge or a cloth.

    And if you ever plan to store your shoes for a season, don't put them in plastic (grocery) bags. The plastic might somehow react with the leather dye. You might store a pair of blue shoes and after some month take out a pair of green ones. Don't ask me how I know…

  15. Audi

    Great advice, Sal! I'm all over the oil sponge idea — that seems WAAAY more convenient than messy shoe poish and a cloth.

  16. lisa

    In rainy Vancouver, I find it's best to take a preventive stance by spraying all of my new leather shoes with stain repellant before they're worn for the first time. I then spray them about every year or so, and like you, I clean the gunk off before putting them away. It makes a huge difference!

  17. All Women Stalker

    Great tips! I, too, have many shoes. Taking care of them seems to be an aspect where I find myself lacking. I will bookmark this post 🙂

  18. Lorena

    These are great tips…
    I have a lot of issues with humidity in my closet.
    Shoes literally fall apart… the inner part of the shoes (for example the Nine West red pair I am wearing today) begin to "shed"….and even crack !
    I do not know what do do…