A quick n’ dirty guide to leather shoe maintenance


While wear and tear, salt, heat and moisture can quickly destroy your beloved  boots, polishing and properly waterproofing your kicks takes only a few dollars and a bit of time each week. (Erich Stussi/Creative Commons)

For those of you rocking leather pumps or breaking in your new Timberlands, I’ve got news for you: like a car, leather shoes require maintenance. Sure, L.L. Bean might have an unlimited warranty and a generous return policy, but after a while it gets tiresome to replace your cracked, leaky boots year after year. While wear and tear, salt, heat and moisture can quickly destroy your beloved boots, polishing and properly waterproofing your kicks takes only a few dollars and a bit of time each week, and can make your boots last a lifetime. Here’s how!


  • Paper towels/a washcloth
  • An old toothbrush
  • Shoe Polish (I use Kiwi, though certain boot manufacturers may recommend a certain brand)
  • Soft polishing cloths/An old t-shirt
  • A buffing brush or cloth

1. Clean your boots!

Excess dust, dirt and residue can all significantly shorten leather’s lifespan. Stuck-on mud can also suck away the natural moisture in leather, making it less pliable and more likely to crack. Salt will also quickly dry out an unprotected boot. To clean your shoes, remove the laces of each shoe and brush off the dirt, using your toothbrush to get into all the nooks and crannies. Take a damp washcloth or some wet paper towels and wipe off any remaining residue, until each boot is clean and clear. Don’t forget to clean around the lace holes and along the rims!

2. Apply polish

After making sure that your boots are completely dry (let them air dry– putting them near a heater can damage the leather) grab your tin of Kiwi. Make sure that it’s the right color to match the leather (if you’re unsure or unable to find the exact shade, use “Neutral”) and grab your polishing cloth. Wrap the cloth/t-shirt around your index finger (or your index and middle) and wad the excess cloth in your palm. Apply polish to the cloth and start rubbing it onto the boot, using small, circular motions to really get the polish into the leather. Apply more polish to the cloth as needed. If the cloth starts to get overly dirty you can move to a cleaner part of it. Continue until the entire outside surface of the boot is covered in polish. When you start on the next boot, let the first one sit for at least three minutes while the polish settles and dries.

3. Buff it

Once the boot is dry, grab your polish cloth/brush and start channeling your inner Andy Dwyer. Wrapping the clean cloth around your fingers once again, make quick circles across the polish-covered areas of the boot. If you have a buff brush, brush the boot in quick back-and-forth motions to shine it. Keep going until the cloudy layer of polish disappears and the shiny surface underneath starts to show. You can use the cloth, as well, to do the classic “seesaw” across the boot’s toe with a strip of cloth to really make it shine. Continue until your boots are shiny all over and have a “squeaky” feel to them.

I recommend that you polish your boots at least once a week, but do it more often if your footwear experiences a lot of action or comes into contact with water often. Once you make it a routine, polishing your shoes can be a relaxing and fun activity to help you unwind at the end of a hard week, and your boots’ lifespan will increase exponentially. So go to the store and grab a can of Kiwi— your shoes will thank you.   

Marlese Lessing is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at marlese.lessing@uconn.edu. She tweets @marlese_lessing.

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