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How To Shine Shoes

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On your next commute to work, take a look at the ground around you. What do you see? Probably tons of shoes…men’s shoes…men’s shoes in REALLY bad shape. In fact, if there was a 1-800-Domestic-Shoe-Abuse hotline, it’d be your obligation to use most of your monthly minutes on anonymous tips to save all those poor soles. Lots of guys’ dress shoes look like they were toys for angry kids in a gravel covered play ground. And while that dirty, scuffed up look might work for a pair of Chuck Taylor’s, dress shoes require a higher degree of care. So trust us on this because no matter how sharp the rest of your outfit looks, you won’t look like a thousand stacks of a thousand bucks if it looks like you borrowed your shoes off a hobo.

Your dress shoes take a beating and quickly start to show it unless you do something.

But what? Get new shoes every few months? While a new pair may be warranted and is always nice, you can also dance with the ones that brung ya. A good pair of shoes can and should look good after 10 wears or 10 years if we just take a few minutes to keep them in decent shape. In short, we need a reboot, gentlemen. It’s time we revived the ancient craft of shining our own shoes!

Here’s how to get that just-walked-out-of-the-shoe-store look to last without spending your whole weekend polishing your shoes. Of course, there are people who will do this for you and we highly recommend a full-service polishing from a good shoe shine stand or cobbler every so often, but in the meantime, just like shaving and cooking, its good to learn this basic life skill for yourself.

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SPACER

Not pictured:
Rag – Think thick, otherwise you’ll be cleaning shoe polish off of your fingernails for a week.

Yesterday’s Newspaper – Lay some pages from the paper down to protect your home from wet polish.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE

1. Leather Conditioner/Lotion – leather needs nutrients (it is a skin, after all) so feed it some and clean away dirt and grime at the same time with this healing conditioner. (available in stores and online from Kiwi and Meltonian)

2. Polish – Polish revives color and protects your leather. One tin of wax polish will get you through years of at-home shoe shines. (available in a variety of colors in stores and online from Kiwi and Lincoln).

3. Edge Dressing– This secret weapon adds the finishing touch to a good shine by restoring the color to the sole edges and heels (available in stores and online from Kiwi and Fiebing’s).

4. Horsehair Shine Brush – Much of shining is brushing. Keep a soft brush for bringing out the shine when you’ve applied polish (available in stores and online from Kiwi and Otter Wax).

5. Horsehair Cleaning Brush> – To remove dust and dirt, sweep your shoes with a separate brush for cleaning your shoes(available in stores and online from Kiwi and Otter Wax).

6. Welt Brush (optional) – This brush is not a necessity for getting a good shine but it’s a nice option for spreading and applying polish without a rag. (available in stores and online from Kiwi and Four Seasons).


So without further ado, see how you can whip a pair of wingtips into shape in five quick and easy steps.


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Step 1. Clean

Using a horsehair brush, sweep across your shoes to remove dirt and grime that may have gathered on your shoes.

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Step 2. Condition

To restore nutrients and moisture to leather, rub a dab of leather conditioner into the shoes in a circular motion with a rag. Repeat until you’ve covered the entire shoe.

Step3. Add Polish

Smear a little polish on your rag and rub it into the shoes in a circular motion. Spread it evenly over the leather. Add a drop of water every other wipe, it will help the shine come out in the next step.t in the next step.

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Step 4. Brush

Now the magic happens. Using a soft clean shoe shine brush, swipe back and forth across the entire shoe and the shine will start to come out. Brush the entire shoe paying special attention to the toes and heels. Add a bit more polish and dab of water to bring out more color and add more sheen.

Step 5. Edge

For the finishing touch, restore the scuffs along the edges of your soles and heel with an edge dressing tool that rubs on wet and dries quickly.

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And You’re Done!

Get your shine on gents.
Got some shoe shining questions? Leave a comment below!


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57 thoughts on “How To Shine Shoes”

  1. What wax would you recommend for a cognac shoes? I had a great pair that I used brown polish on and totally screwed up and ended tossing a year ago. I just bought a new pair and don’t want to make the same mistake.

    Also what are your thoughts on catching the polish on fire on the tin and applying the more liquid polish to the shoes? It’s what the old vets on my ship used to swear by.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      We recommend looking for a wax polish that is as close in color as you can tell by looking at it, then getting one shade lighter. A good starting point might be Kiwi’s Tan Wax Polish. But don’t apply it to the whole shoe. Start with the lightest polish. Test it by just applying the tiniest amount to the inside heel of the shoe. If it’s too light, you can always cover it with a darker polish, but if it’s just right then you can apply it to the rest of the shoe.

      The above method should keep you out of harm’s way, but just so you know, there are ways to remove wax polish from shoes, so you don’t have to toss them. The tactics are hotly debated, with some claiming that nail polish remover will do the trick, while others warn that these methods are too harsh. If you’re nervous about doing this yourself, a good cobbler should be able to clean the leather, removing the polish and conditioning the leather.

      Finally, while creams are less popular in the shoe shining game, if you’re a color enthusiast, cream polishes are your best bet since they get deep into the pores (remember, leather is skin). Cream is more like a liquid giving you the effect your shipmates swear by without you running the risk of…you know…burning your eyebrows off or setting your home on fire.

  2. Hi, guys I like you’re article. I haven’t worn dress shoes before because really I’m a girl but I really like to dress formally like a guy. And I have a question about the polish, the only colored polish my father has is a brown kiwi polish would that be okay for some good pair of donated black dress shoes? Because I’ve read in the comment if I wanted to lighten my shoes I can always go for a lighter color, but I want it to stay the same as possible. Any ideas? Thank you

    1. Black Lapel says:

      If the shoes are black, only use black polish. Never use brown polish on black shoes. This can ruin the shoes and it will make it extremely difficult (and costly) to restore them.

      In general the color of a shoe is the color of a shoe. A black shoe can’t be made brown and a brown shoe can’t be made black. You can affect the shade of a shoe’s color, but that only works in one direction. You’ll only make a brown shoe darker, not lighter.

      Playing around with polishes, you can strategically darken up a pair of shoes, but don’t experiment with this kind of thing until you’ve got a full grasp of the basics. Get yourself some black polish for those donated black shoes and follow the steps above regularly.

      1. The rule of thumb for shade shifting (lightening or darkening a shoe) is one shade at a time. You’ll never brown a black shoe, you might lighten it a bit, but you’ll probably end up with a sloppy mess. with Brown shoes you can get a little more play with gradually shifting the color, by playing with your polishes… I tend to use two polishes every time I shine my shoes, I use a cream first (for color), then I finish with a wax polish (to shine)… I have a pair of shoes that were labelled as cognac when I bought them, but we’re darker/redder than what you would traditionally call cognac. By using a lighter cream polish, and finishing with a light brown wax polish, over a couple of months (shining my shoes once a week-ish), I was able to lighten the shoes to the color I was seeking with them.
        But I definitely agree the only polish that should touch black shoes is black polish.
        And if they are second hand shoes, the best thing you can do for the first shine is to get them done professionally by a reputable shop. That should help recondition the leather a bit more than most amateurs can do on their own. After that, it’s fairly easy to maintain at home with minimal investment (both financial and time)…

        1. Black Lapel says:

          Couldn’t have said it better ourselves! The cream, then wax method, when done properly, yields a great looking shoe. The trick to all of it is knowing what you’re doing. The more skilled the polisher, the more adventurous you can be. Sounds like you’ve got the skills to pay the bills, Adam.

  3. I was wondering what, if anything, you do to keep the brushes clean. I am most interested in the one used to buff up a shine and how to keep it from building up wax

    Thanks

    1. Black Lapel says:

      We know this problem from experience. Our solution, separate brushes for different colors. One brush for blacks and another for browns. You don’t have to go overboard if you have a few different shades of brown. Different shades of brown can mix without them bleeding over from one shoe shining to the next.

      Insider Tip: If you want to play around with a more advanced technique. Use your brush that you have designated for black shining on the toes of lighter brown shoes. The resulting hint of black that comes from the residual wax polish will give you that burnished look that makes brown shoes with dark shoes look fly.

  4. I really like the method and it’s pretty similar to my shine process (most on-line guides leave out the conditioning step, which is one of the most important for shoes to last, and some go as far as saying that the way conditions the leather…). Typically I use both a cream and a wax polish. After cleaning and conditioning my shoes, I start with a layer of cream polish applied by brush, and then once that dries than use a rag and start with the wax polish, followed by a bit more wax polish with a drop or two of water. Then I finish it with some solid brushing and a quick buff with a chamois…

    I find the whole routine pretty zen, and tend to do my brogues twice a week at the end of the day before leaving the office (when it’s quieter and I’m less likely to offend people in neighbouring offices with the smell). It’s a great way to book end the days (Start the day with a wet shave and end the day with a shoe shine). The one tool I need to add to the tool kit is a shoeshine valet (I’ve looked a few on-line and am half thinking of building one myself one weekend if I’ve got the time).

    1. Ahhhh, you’ve taken it to the next level, Adam. We are big fans of the cream + wax polish method that you use. Since the drying time can make it a bit more of a commitment than most guys want to make, we didn’t put the cream polish step into this story, but it really is the best way to get your shoes to both gleam with shine and bring out their color.

      As for the meditative aspects of shining a pair of shoes, we couldn’t agree more. Many a story you see on this website began as a kernel of an idea during a particularly good shoe shining session.

  5. Great article, especially with the heel and sole, it is a must. So if I have a shoe that already has polish on it, but I want to get down to the leather to apply the conditioner how would I do that? I learned how to polish when joining the service and didn’t cross over to the darkside and buy patent leather oxfords cause I like the natural leather polished look. I never considered conditioner until reading this article.

    Personally, I recommend shining every night prior to wearing them. Brushing to polish a scuff or two out and adding heel and toe for a quick run does the job if you are the every day kind of fanatic like the military had me do. I agree that it is soothing, especially after a long day of work.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      We love to hear about another guy out there who appreciates some serious shoe bling, Jeremy. Polishing everyday is not fanatical, just dapper!

      For most shoes you’ll be fine applying the conditioner to a brushed shoe. If you’ve got a lot of polish built up on the shoes and it’s caking you’ll have to remove the old polish to get a great shine. To do that you can get a shoe cleaning / re-conditioning service from a cobbler like The Leather Spa or you can do it yourself with some nail polish remover on a rag (though just be careful not to rub it in too hard or you could damage the leather). Either way, starting a conditioner regimen is a great way to extend the life of your shoes.

  6. so did you use a darker polish than the original color of the leather? I know some like to do this. I have all allen edmonds and just get the matching polish from them that applies mess free.. except black i like kiwi to use on my blacks.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      You’re right, we did darken up these shoes a bit. You’re taking the smart route, getting your polish from the same people who made the shoes. To keep light shoes light, some guys even go with a polish that’s a shade lighter than the shoes just to be on the safe side.

      It can be tough to find a lot of choices of colors in wax polish. If you can’t find the shade you want in a wax, Meltonian makes cream polishes in a wide range of colors.

  7. Absolutely the most informative, especially the edge dressing. Good job Black Lapel (again)! Just a couple words though, the guide should probably remind us to take off the shoelaces first… Also apply hand lotion (to hands) before putting on the polish. Much easier to clean the hands afterwards.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Good points! And speaking of protecting your hands, if you use your fingers and a cloth to apply polish the polish will get on your hands and under your fingernails (not a good look). A trick to avoiding that is to wrap your shining fingers (usually the index and second finger on your dominant hand) in Saran Wrap before applying the polish. That little barrier saves you a lot of time you would spend scrubbing your hands after a shine.

  8. Knew I could count on you!

    And should I be using a conditioner?

    1. Yes, all leather needs conditioning every so often. Do you need it weekly? Probably not, but a good dollop every month or so will keep the skin nourished.

      Shine on, Wesley!

  9. Hi Black Lapel,

    Just bought my first pair of brown brogues and I get what you mean when you say “You’ll instantly feel manlier when you step into them…”!

    Question – they are of a distressed leather; how do I take care of them? They are quite soft and I am sure polishing them the standard way will ruin them.

    Here is a reference for pics:

    http://www.westfield.com.au/products/trenery/distressed-brogue/168159

    1. We’ve got two words for you: neutral polish.

      If you want to keep the distressed look but still want to keep them in good shape, use the same technique you would apply to your other shoes. Be sure to apply only a small amount of neutral polish and brush the shoes just enough to work the polish in to the leather. This will help you keep the distressed shading and yield a low gloss shine that’s appropriate for the aged look of the shoe.

  10. Thanks for the tips! I’ll keep working at it. *sits to brush each shoe for 30 minutes straight*

    1. Black Lapel says:

      That’s the attitude, Thayne! Hope it helps.

      Also, if you want to send some pics to concierge@blacklapel.com we can help you diagnose the situation more thoroughly.

  11. So I just followed these steps and my shoes didn’t come out as expected. They were used only once and after polishing they came out duller than the original shine :S. The black tint they had is gone too, I still have an unpolished shoe to compare to and noticed these differences. Should I be using black shoe polish to maintain the black tint? Did I not use enough shoe polish? For the drop of water I just dipped my finger in a bowl of water and let a droplet drip on before applying the polish. Maybe I wasn’t brushing hard enough… I don’t know but it feels like a downgrade.

    1. Getting it right does take a little practice, Thayne. Some pointers:

      You don’t need a ton of polish. Too much can come out dull if you don’t brush them enough.
      In general, the brushing is crucial. You can’t really over-brush after you’ve applied a bit of polish.
      Your water technique sounds good. Much like the polish, a little bit of water goes a long way.
      To get more shine after brushing you can buff the shoe by rubbing a very slightly moistened rag back and forth across the toe and top of the shoe pulling down in a sawing motion.

      As for the black tint, do you mean burnishing on the toe and heel or are the shoes black. If the shoes are all black, yes, use black polish. If they’ve just got a hint of black in the toe and heel you can use a neutral polish and then just a bit of black to the toe and heel.

      Hope this helps, keep working at it, Thayne.

  12. Hi guys

    I have a pretty bad scuff mark on the toe of a pair of brown Aldo shoes that I have. I scratched them against the sand grip on a stair so badly that it actually peeled the top layer of the shoe off. How would you recommend restoring it so that it at least blends into the rest of the shoe?

    Thanks

    1. We always try to remember that leather is skin so we treat it similarly to our own. Minor scrapes can be taken care of at home, but if your leather has a deeper abrasion, it could be more serious and it’s time to see a doctor. We’d suggest taking them to a cobbler who can help you restore that spot, or at least mask it.

      For the future our first bit of, rather obvious, advice is “watch your step” but our second bit of advice is to remember that shoes are most vulnerable to scuffs when they’re brand new and have never been polished, so the first thing you should do when you get a new pair of shoes is to polish them.

      Hope this helps, Geoffrey!

  13. I recently purchased a pair of Grenson black Oxfords. Used this guide as the basis for my first ever proper at home shine. They look stunning. Thank you.

    1. It’s hard for Grenson’s NOT to look stunning but we’re happy to have played a part. Keep them in good condition and they’ll last you a lifetime, Chris.

  14. What shoes are those? They’re sharp. And what do you think of saddle soap?

    1. Black Lapel says:

      The shoes are Bostonian Collier, a decent budget-conscious dress shoe and, yes, they look good (especially when you keep them polished!).

      As for saddle soap, it really is a soap so it’s for cleaning a really dirty shoe. Still, it’s definitely not a part of a regular shining routine and it’s not going to give your shoes the same moisturizing nutrients that a leather conditioner will. Is it good to have some around? Sure, but it’s not a necessity.

      1. Black Lapel says:

        Note: We have updated this story with new photos. The ones Chris was asking about were the Bostonians but the shoes we shined in the current photos are a pair of Allen-Edmonds Strands and they’re spectacular.

  15. I’ve read guides elsewhere that said using shoe wax is the work of the devil, and that one should use shoe cream instead. What’s your take on this subject? I do still have a tin of Kiwi but have since stopped using it and got a cream a while back. It does give me a shine much quicker than the wax.

    Also, you guys wouldn’t happen to have an article about oxford-sexy boots, would you? I’m in the market for a pair right now. Cheers

    1. Black Lapel says:

      There are definitely wax haters out there. Cream is a great way to really bring the color back to your shoes and we use cream polish (followed by wax polish) for shining our shoes every so often. Cream polish can be a little harder to find, while wax polish is available at almost every corner drug store, but if you’ve got some cream around, we say go for it. Shine on, Alex.

      As for oxford boots, we don’t have a post about them, but we know that Allen Edmonds makes a good variety of boots worth checking out.

  16. Hello, I couldn’t help but notice as a shoemaker that the shoe color changed drastically from Cognac to London Tan. Could you explain why you did this?

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Good eye, Jordan. We did darken them up a little bit. The truth is, this was a working photo shoot (you’ll see those shoes on models in future photo shoots) and we wanted to give them more of the cognac look.

      We started with the basics of shining for this post but maybe we’ll follow up this one with a post on adjusting hues with polish.

  17. If you’re lucky enough (or un-lucky depending on your point of view) to do some travel, take 15 minutes at the airport and have a shoe shine. You can find some very skilled “shoe techs” who clean, polish, detail for around $8. JFK, DFW, DEN, and IAD are all excellent in my opinion. DEN probably takes the cake – if you have the time, they will strip the old polish and fireshine (yes with a TSA approved butane torch) your black shoes. I’ve gotten in the habit of rotating my suit selection, just so I can wear a pair of shoes that could use a facelift. The guys who run the stands are usually pretty fun to talk to and have some good conversation about their local pro teams as well. It’s the best 15 minutes of my travel day.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      So true! The airport is a great place to get a full-service polishing. Those who don’t frequently fly can still keep their shoes looking fly by visiting the local train station. Many city Amtrak stations have great shoe shine stands and you don’t have to have a ticket (or go through Security) to get to them. Our fave for this kind of service is Union Station Shoe Shine in Washington DC, a must for any gent whether he’s a DC local or just stopping by to testify before Congress on how to dress better (we’re looking at you, Paul, “Dad Pants” Ryan).

  18. From a very young age my mother made us get on our hands and knees every night pull out the polishing kit and a newspaper and clean our shoes for school the next morning. We were approximately 6 years old when she taught us. She was a fanatic about shoes being cleaned and shining. Even the neighbors commented on our shoes that no matter how scuffed they were in the evening, they shone again the following morning. One rule was new suit, new shoes. I’ve seen some very sharp dressed guys until your gaze dropped to the shoes then yuk, terrible. I can never leave the house any morning in my suit without shining my shoes. Many have commented that not only am I the best dressed male at work but my shoes are like mirrors. I love the article. Great!!!!!

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Shining can be a bit of a chore but, as you learned early on, it can also be a bit of a soothing ritual. And the result? Always worth the effort. Shine on, Michael

  19. a little spit and on black shoes use brown polish and a little spit for depth (old soldier)

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Spit’s a nice “old school” touch, Bob. On mixing the brown and black, yes, you can definitely get some added patina by putting a dab of black on brown and vice versa. That is an advanced move, but once a guy gets the basics down, he can definitely experiment with color.

  20. very useful. but where would one get a newspaper?

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Touché, Nikita. It’s sad but true. If you live in a town where the daily newspaper has gone the way of the dodo bird, try ripping open a paper bag and laying that down as a mat for shining your shoes. You just won’t get the added chance to ponder the crossword while you shine.

  21. Can you link part 1-3? I had trouble finding them.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Ask and you shall receive, Joshua. We thought this might happen, there are now links to each of the tools of the trade.

      1. LOL, what? At the top of the article says “The Compass Shoe Series – Part 4.” I need the links to Part 1 through 3.

        1. Black Lapel says:

          Got it, Joshua. There are links to the other posts from the Shoe Series at the end of this post.

  22. Thanks so much for this. I see someone read my request, or at least that’s what I choose to believe.

    1. Also, how often should someone do these steps?

      1. Black Lapel says:

        Yes, John, this guide has been in demand, for sure. As for how often you should shine, it depends on how often you wear your dress shoes. If you’re TCB’ing in two pairs of shoes Monday through Friday, a weekly at-home shining is a great way to keep the leather fresh and looking good. Wearing your shoes less often, or rotating through them, every two weeks is good. If you wear them regularly try not to let a month go by without getting some polish on those puppies.

        1. Thanks. Now I know how to look my best from the feet up.

  23. Lile Cremeans says:

    How often should you shine your shoes? weekly? Bi-weekly? Monthly? Daily?

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Lile, it really depends on wear, but if you’re getting regular use out of your dress shoes, weekly or bi-weekly is good. Daily would put you in the shoe shining hall of fame!

  24. Such an awesome guide, thanks :)

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Glad you liked it Justin. No excuses, now. Stay shiny!

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