How to Clean Leather Shoes and Boots: The Only Guide You Need

How to Clean Leather Shoes and Boots: The Only Guide You Need

Unlike canvas or running shoes, leather shoes and boots require a more strategic and thoughtful approach when it comes to cleaning. Leather is a material that can easily scuff, and using the wrong cleaner can potentially cause irreparable damage.

That's why using a specialized leather cleaner is crucial to show care for your footwear. If you're eager to learn how to clean your leather shoes the right way, then you've landed on the perfect guide.

Our aim is to teach you how to keep your leather shoes or boots looking as good as new for years to come.

Discover the best ways to clean, preserve, and maintain the longevity of your beloved leather footwear.

Keep reading, and step forward confidently into the world of leather care!

Things You Need to Get Started


Leather Shoe Shine & Care Kit

There are a few essential items you'll need to gather before you get started. These include:

shoe shine kit for leather

We have a gorgeous Leather Shoe Polish and Care Kit, check it out!

**Note: Make sure to read the manufacturer's instructions before using any products on your leather shoes or boots.

Cleaning Leather Shoes & Boots: Step by Step Guide

Now, let's dive into the step-by-step process of cleaning your leather shoes and boots.

Step 1: Remove Dirt and Debris

The first thing you want to do is remove the laces from your shoes or boots. This makes it easier to access and clean all parts of your footwear. Using a soft-bristled brush, gently wipe away the loose dirt and debris from the surface. Pay special attention to remove stains from leather shoes. Persistent stains might require a mild soap or specialized leather cleaner. For scuff marks, a toothbrush can be effective. Lightly scrub at the mark using a circular motion until it fades.

Step 2: Use Saddle Soap or Mild Soap

You might be wondering why saddle soap or mild soap is needed in cleaning leather shoes. Well, unlike suede shoes, which require specific cleaning methods, these soaps work wonderfully on the tougher surface of the leather.

To utilize it, dampen a clean cloth with water and work up a lather on the soap. Gently rub the cloth on your shoes, ensuring every area is covered. For stubborn dirt or to remove water stains, you may use a bit of dish soap.

Apply the soap solution on the stain and let it sit for a few minutes before wiping it off. Remember, after the cleaning process, it's essential to let your shoes dry naturally. Avoid placing them near a heater as it can crack the leather.

Allow them to dry for about 8 to 24 hours. This will keep your shoes in optimal condition and ready for the next step: conditioning.

Step 3: Apply Leather Conditioner

stone and clark leather conditioner

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This is an optional but highly recommended step. Leather conditioner or oil helps preserve the natural oils in the leather and prevent it from drying out. This is especially important in shoe care as a well-maintained pair of leather shoes can last longer.

When choosing a conditioner, ensure it's suitable for commercial leather or genuine leather, depending on the material of your footwear. To apply, take a clean dry cloth, dab some conditioner on it, and gently wipe your shoes. Cover all areas, and make sure to focus on sections that seem drier or have more creases.

Once done, let the conditioner soak in for a while. You can also use shoe trees to maintain the shape of your shoes during this process. This will hydrate your footwear and prepare it for the final step: waterproofing.

Remember, by giving your footwear regular attention and care, you can dramatically enhance their lifespan and keep them looking their best.

Step 4: Apply Pigmented Leather Cream (Optional)

stone and clark leather cream

This applies to leather shoes that have lost some of their color or are made of patent leather like white leather boots. Over time, white leather can show signs of discoloration, and pigmented leather cream can help restore its original look. This step is optional but recommended if you want to keep your shoes looking vibrant and new.

Take a small amount of pigmented leather cream on a soft cloth and gently rub it over the surface of your shoes. Cover all areas, focusing on the spots that show the most wear-and-tear. Let the cream sit for about 5 to 10 minutes before brushing it off using a clean, dry cloth.

The brushing process, also known as buffing, helps to work the cream into the surface and removes the excess. This will give your leather boots a fresh shine and polish. For best results, use a circular motion with light pressure when buffing.

Remember, the color of the cream should match the color of your shoes. If you are polishing white leather boots, use a white cream. If the cream is not an exact match, test it on a small, hidden area first to ensure it doesn't discolor your shoes.

mink oil

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Step 5: Finish Off With Waterproof Spray or Layer of Wax

The final step in cleaning your leather shoes is to apply a waterproof spray or a layer of wax. This step not only adds a protective layer to your shoes but also gives them a polished, new-like look. For a waterproof spray, hold the can about 12 inches away from your shoes and spray evenly. Let it dry naturally for a few hours before wearing your shoes again.

If you prefer using a wax polish, apply it with a clean, soft cloth using circular motions. Then, using a shoe brush or another cloth, buff the shoes to a shine. This process helps to not only waterproof your shoes but also to seal in the conditioner and pigmented cream, keeping your shoes looking their best for longer.

Remember, the frequency at which you clean your shoes will depend on how often you use them.

Additional Tips to Keep Your Leather Shoes & Boots Looking Great

shoe care tips

  1. Absorb Oil Stains: If your leather shoes have oil stains, one way to absorb the oil is by applying a small amount of baking soda on the affected area. Allow it to sit overnight - the baking soda will draw out the oil and can then be brushed off.
  2. Deodorize Your Shoes: To remove unpleasant odors from your leather shoes, sprinkle baking soda inside them and let it sit overnight. The baking soda will absorb any bad odors, leaving your shoes smelling fresh.
  3. Clean Suede Shoes: It's best to use a suede cleaner for suede shoes. Apply as per the manufacturer's instructions, then use a damp cloth or sponge to gently rub the cleaner into the shoe. Once dry, use a brush or cloth to rub off any excess cleaner.
  4. Remove Scuffs with White Vinegar: For tough scuffs, you can use white vinegar. Dampen a cloth with the vinegar, and gently rub the mark until it fades.
  5. Polish Your Shoes: Shoe polish can help to restore the original shine and color of your leather shoes. Remember to match the polish color with the color of your shoes to avoid discoloration.
  6. Remove Dirt with a Brush: Use a soft-bristled brush on your shoe to remove loose dirt and debris. Gently brush the surface without applying too much pressure to avoid scratching the leather.
  7. Prepare Leather for Polishing: Before applying shoe polish, it's a good idea to prepare the leather. You can do this by wiping the shoes with a damp cloth to remove dirt and dust. Let them dry naturally before applying the polish.
  8. Condition with Linseed Oil: For an optional step after cleaning, consider conditioning your shoes with linseed oil. This can help to restore the natural oils in the leather. Use one part linseed oil to two parts water, apply with a cloth, and let it soak in.
  9. Waterproof Your Shoes: After cleaning and conditioning, you might want to waterproof your shoes. This can be done using a waterproof spray or a layer of wax. Apply evenly and let it dry naturally.


Proper care and maintenance of your leather shoes can significantly extend their lifespan and keep them looking clean, polished, and new. Remember to regularly clean, condition, and waterproof your shoes for the best results. With these tips in mind, you can confidently wear your favorite pair of leather shoes for years to come.

Save Yourself the Hassle of Preparing DIY Cleaning Solutions

While homemade cleaning solutions may sound cost-effective, they can also be time-consuming to make and often come with risks of damaging your shoes. To save yourself the hassle, consider investing in a high-quality leather cleaner specifically designed for footwear.

12PC Leather Shoe Shine & Care Kit for Men & Women

3.5 oz Mink Oil Leather Care Kit with Applicator

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