Ultimate Shoe Care and Shine Guide

This is a comprehensive guide of everything that I do when it comes to looking after smooth leather shoes. This doesn’t include Cordovan. That stuff is an entirely different beast worthy of its own topic. You’ll notice that I like to use my fingers in the polishing step. Most Japanese shoe shiners adopt this method and I have chosen to do the same.

Equipment

EquipmentSaphirBoot Black
Leather CleanerReno’MatLeather Lotion
ConditionerRenovateur and/or
Mink Oil Lotion
Two Face Lotion Plus and/or
Mink Oil
Shoe Cream PolishPommadierShoe Cream
Silver or Black label is okay
Soft Wax PolishPate De LuxeWax Polish
Hard Wax Polish (Optional)Mirror GlossHigh Shine Base and
High Shine Coat
Horse hair brushNatural Horsehair Brush
Need one per colour. IMPORTANT!
Premium Horsehair Brush
ClothAny will doAny will do
Microfibre Cloth or Cotton High Weaving cloth (Super 180)I use Brift H’s high shine cloth. Bought in HK but…Boot Black’s high shine cloths work great!
Water SpritzerMuji’s PET spray bottle

I must also mention the importance of using shoe trees to retain the shape and wick moisture from inside the shoe. You can grab some quality shoe trees from www.trimly.com.au. While polishing, it is important to have a shoe tree in!

Method

Cleaning and Conditioning

  1. Any dirt and grime or residual old polish needs to be cleaned off at the start. Apply a coin sized amount of the leather cleaner on a cloth and wipe the shoe all over. Repeat this step as many times as it takes to make sure all the dirt and old polish is off.
    Be very careful though! If you do this excessively, you run the risk of stripping off the shoe’s finish.
  2. The cleaner will be very harsh on the leather and you’ll need to feed it nutrients so it doesn’t dry out. After the shoe is dry, brush it with a horsehair brush and then apply conditioner all over the shoe with a cloth. Leave this on for as long as possible – 24 hours is best.
  3. Brush the shoe.

Cream Polish

  1. Dab your finger in cream polish and rub it in all over the leather of the shoe. With a finger, you can feel the leather accepting the polish as you rub it in. Cream polish will hide any small scuff marks by colouring the scratches with pigment and it also has some wax content to give a soft shine after brushing.
  2. Wait at least 15 minutes before brushing the shoe for a soft dull shine.

Soft Wax Polish

  1. Wax polish will provide a little bit of waterproofing against the elements and is the foundation of getting that lustrous mirror shine.
  2. With the index finger, rub the wax polish in the tin to get the polish onto your finger.
  3. Then in circular motions, apply the polish all over the shoe. You will need to keep getting polish onto your fingers when you feel like it stops spreading. I start at the toe box and work my way around to the heel. Make sure there is a maximum of ONE layer on the areas of the shoe that bend. Excessive polish in the soft areas that bend and crease will cause the polish to crack when it is dry. Not a good look.
  4. Apply a generous amount, repetitively, of the wax polish to the toe box and heels to create the base. I do about 10 minutes worth per shoe. Too much polish will cause what looks like wax lumps to appear and you don’t want that to happen. The polish will look cloudy as you do this – this is a good thing. A good trick here is to mix in Neutral polish with the coloured polish for extra effect.
  5. Let the polish dry. Generally wait about 30 minutes to an hour for maximum effect. The turpentine in the polish needs to evaporate before the shoe fully accepts the polish. If it is not dry, the next steps run the risk of creating water spots on the shoe. They look bad.
  6. With a damp, but not wet, microfibre cloth or cotton cloth (make sure there are no loose threads) wrapped tightly around your index finger, gently but quickly buff off the polish cloud all over the shoe to a desired shine. Use circular motions.
    To dampen the cloth, use the water spritzer on the cloth and clap your fingers to temper the wetness of the cloth. Some people like to use a drop of water for this step instead of a water spritzer.

Mirror Shine – With Soft Wax

For this mirror shining technique, it carries on from the previous steps by continuing to use the soft wax instead of switching to the hard wax. While requiring more time and effort, some people say that the soft wax produces are better quality shine than the hard wax technique.

By Step 6 of the previous part, you will now have 1 layer of polish shined on the toe box and heels. From here on, repeat the following steps a maximum of 4 times. Too many repetitions will result in excessive polish that will crack.

  1. Using fingers, rub a layer of wax polish onto the toe box and heels, covering those parts with a polish cloud. This time it is considerably less than the first layer. Don’t apply polish over the cloud more than once.
  2. Let dry for 20-60 minutes.
  3. Buff the cloud off quickly and gently in circular motions with the waist of your finger wrapped in a damp microfibre/high-weave cloth.
  4. Occasionally while doing step 3, dab a tiny amount of soft wax on the tip of the finger in the cloth and rub it gently around the toe cap/heel. The solvents in the tiny amount of wax will react with the existing dry layer and dampness of the cloth to bring out a higher shine.
  5. I personally sometimes combine the use my bare fingers and areas of my hand to gently rub the polish. This generates more heat which is essential to the buffing process.
  6. Repeat steps 3-5 until you are certain it cannot get shinier. Don’t worry if it is not a mirror shine at this stage yet. Make sure the cloth is always damp but never wet.
  7. Repeat these steps from Step 1 again at most three more times.

In step 1 and 4, you can choose different coloured wax to the colour of the shoe sometimes. For example, after 2 layers of black on a black shoe, a navy layer adds a bit of dimension, and a neutral layer can add extra pop to the shine. It is best to experiment and come up with your own preferences and nuances.

Mirror Shine – With Hard Wax

This technique is very fast compared to the soft wax technique and requires the purchase of the hard wax. As stated before, some people say that it doesn’t provide as much a high shine as the previous technique.

  1. Apply the hard wax layer to the toe cap/heel. It generally dries very fast. With Mirror Gloss, it dries in about 30 seconds and the Boot Black high shine base in about 2 minutes.
    This step can also replace the toe box/heel steps of the base layer step in the Soft Wax Polish section. DO NOT apply hard wax to the areas that the shoe can bend/crease!
  2. Dab a bit of the soft wax polish on the tip of your finger wrapped in a damp microfibre/high-weave cloth. In the case of the Boot Black high shine product, replace the soft wax polish with the high shine coat product.
  3. Apply the soft wax polish to the hard wax cloud and quickly buff it right off in circular motions with the waist of your finger. Keep doing this until a desired shine is achieved.
  4. Repeat steps 1 to 3 at most three more times.

Video Example

Samples

For any Sydney dwellers, hit me up for a chat about getting a shine!

4 thoughts on “Ultimate Shoe Care and Shine Guide

  1. Nice article. You don’t talk much about the use of the conditioner. Do the shoe crabs if applied regularly provide enough conditioning? If not how often should we be conditioning and does this involve stripping wax prior?

      1. Hahaha! Confused me for a second. Shoe Creams have generally been advertised as a form of adequate conditioning but you should be wary of such claims. I imagine overusing the shoe cream will result in too much wax buildup that will then require a strip back. What it generally does is redistribute the wax if you put it on top of wax polish (which is a good thing).

        Proper conditioning, not with cream, should be done once every few months when you see and feel that the leather is getting dry. I would usually strip back the polish when doing this proper conditioning.

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