Leather may seem delicate, and it is, but it is incredibly durable if well taken care of. A high quality pair of leather shoes will last for years with regular care.
Here’s a quick guide on how to care for men’s leather shoes (and boots), including how to clean and polish them plus the best products to use.
How Long Do Men’s Leather Shoes Last?
How long a pair of leather shoes last depends on how well they are taken care of. Without regular cleaning, polishing and conditioning, leather shoes will start to wear out in a year or less.
But with proper care, a pair of high quality leather shoes can easily last 3-5 years. And even when they wear out, you can restore them and get a few more years out of them.
Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to take care of men’s leather shoes. You don’t need to use expensive products or specialist tools. Regular leather cleaner, polish and conditioner are enough, plus consistency in using them.
How to Clean Leather Shoes
Water ruins leather. Use as little as possible when cleaning your leather shoes or boots. In fact, depending on how dirty the shoes are, you may not need to use any water at all.
Leather Shoes Quick Clean
If your leather shoes are not too dirty, a quick clean is enough. Use a dry microfiber cloth or a shoe brush to get dust, salt and other particles off the shoe.
If the shoes are a bit dirtier or they have some stains, use a damp microfiber cloth to wipe the shoes then leave them for a few hours to air dry.
Remember to remove the shoelaces to ensure you clean every nook and cranny.
How to Deep Clean Leather Shoes?
If your leather shoes are muddy or grimy, a deep clean will provide better results. It’s also a good idea to deep clean leather shoes once a month at the same time that you condition them.
In a pinch, you can use mild detergent like dish soap to clean leather shoes. But we highly recommend buying saddle soap for cleaning leather shoes and boots.
Saddle soap is formulated specifically for leather. It contains very mild soap that is safe for leather plus additional ingredients to soften and preserve leather shoes.
Here’s how to deep clean your leather shoes using saddle soap and a dauber brush or a horsehair shoe brush.
- Remove the shoelaces. You can hand wash them or put them in the washer.
- Use a brush or damp microfiber cloth to remove loose dirt and dust before you start the deep clean.
- Open the can of saddle soap and fill the empty lid with warm water.
- Take the shoe brush and dip it in the warm water. Rub the damp brush on the saddle soap to create a lather.
- When the brush is well lathered, use it to clean the shoes in a circular motion. Make sure you clean everywhere including the creases. You may need to lather the brush multiple times.
- Use a dry cloth to wipe away the soap on the shoes.
- Let the shoes dry for at least 24 hours before you polish or condition them.
Here’s a helpful video on how to clean leather shoes using saddle soap.
How to Polish and Condition Men’s Leather Shoes
Cleaning is not enough to maintain your leather shoes. You also need to polish and condition them regularly.
This keeps the shoes looking great. Shoe polish and conditioner also protects the leather and extends its lifespan.
Polish your leather shoes at least once a week and condition them once a month.
Polishing Leather Shoes
Make sure the shoes are clean. Do a quick clean or a deep clean depending on how dirty they are. If you use a damp cloth or brush, let them dry for up to 24 hours before you polish them.
If they are only a bit dusty, you can wipe them clean with a cloth or brush then polish them immediately. Remember to remove the shoelaces.
Wrap a clean and dry cloth around your index finger. Run your covered finger over the shoe polish in circles to pick up polish. You only want a little of the polish on the cloth.
Apply the polish onto the clean leather shoes. Start by dabbing the polish around the shoe then rub the polish in using circular motions. You can use a toothbrush to get the polish into hard to reach crannies.
When you’ve spread the polish everywhere, use a dry cloth or a brush to buff the shoes to a high shine.
Here’s a quick video from Kiwi summarising all these steps.
Conditioning Leather Shoes
Conditioning is pretty much the same process as polishing, with the only difference being that you don’t have to do it as often. Once a month or after every 15-25 wears is enough to keep the shoes looking great.
We recommend deep cleaning your leather shoes before you condition them, even if they look clean. Deep cleaning with saddle soap will get rid of any build-up or products, salts, stains and dirt.
The soap will strip some of the oils and waxes from the leather, but don’t worry, the conditioner will replenish them.
Once you have cleaned and dried your shoes, use a dry cloth wrapped around your finger to collect some conditioner and dab it around the shoes. Then rub the conditioner in, making sure you cover every inch.
Next, buff the shoes using a soft shoe brush or a microfiber cloth.
Tips to Make Your Leather Shoes Last Longer
Here are a few more tips for making your leather shoes last longer while still looking good.
Don’t Wear Them Too Often
If you wear your leather shoes daily, the wear and tear is going to show a lot sooner no matter how well you take care of them.
The daily movements and exposure to dirt, salts and water is not good for the leather. We recommend wearing your leather shoes max 2-3 times a week. Always let the shoes rest for a day after wearing them.
That’s why it’s a good idea to have two or three pairs of leather shoes and rotate between them. With good care, the three pairs will serve you well for 5+ years.
Use Shoe Trees to Prevent Creases
Proper storage is an important part of taking care of leather shoes, especially if you plan to store them for an extended period.
The main thing you want to avoid is creases. These form when moisture such as sweat or humidity causes permanent folds on the shoes, usually on the upper part.
Creases can make your shoes look a lot older than they are. The best way to prevent them is using wooden shoe trees.
After each wear, wipe the shoes clean and place the trees inside. They’ll gently stretch out the shoes, preventing any creases from forming.
Wooden shoe trees also absorb excess moisture in the shoes, which protects the leather.
Tip: If you don’t have wooden shoe trees, you can stuff the shoes with newspaper.
You also want to avoid storing leather shoes in a place that’s too humid as that can damage the leather. 30% to 60% relative humidity is perfect.
Store the shoes in a breathable dust bag and place the bag away from any extreme temperatures as well as direct sunlight.
Tip: Condition the shoes before long term storage to ensure the leather doesn’t dry out.
Consider Waterproofing Them
If your shoes are often exposed to water, whether it’s rain or dew, waterproofing them provides extra protection to the leather. Waterproofing is also highly recommended for outdoor/hiking leather boots.
There are waterproof sprays you can buy and apply on your shoes. Alternatively, use beeswax. It makes leather shoes water resistant.
The downside of beeswax is that it’s more tedious to use. You’ll need to melt it down, apply it on the shoes, then use heat to seal it in.
Can You Use Vaseline on Leather Shoes
Yes, you can. Vaseline is a great, and cheap, way to condition and waterproof leather shoes.
It forms a glossy and waterproof barrier on the leather and can also help with shallow scuffs and scratches on the shoes.
However, we do not recommend using petroleum jelly long term. It builds up quickly and can clog the leather, preventing it from breathing.
A proper shoe conditioner is still the best way to protect your leather shoes.
Another downside of using vaseline is that it can weaken certain adhesives used in your shoe, which can lead to weakening and damage.
In a pinch, vaseline is fine. But if you want your leather shoes to last a long time, get the right products for them.
Make sure you choose products formulated for your specific type of leather shoes. For instance, suede leather shoes require a different kind of polish and conditioner compared to smooth leather shoes.