This page is part of a series on shoe care and maintenance and deals with how to quickly and effectively shine leather shoes.

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How To Shine Shoes

Nothing smacks of a lack of attention to detail than unpolished shoes; indeed, little else will undermine the look of a perfectly tailored suit quite like a dull pair of leather shoes. On the other hand, there’s nothing that will elevate a man’s presentation quite like a well-polished pair of shoes.

While we have instructional videos forthcoming for a complete shoe shine that will take you about 45 minutes, here’s a 5-step guide to decently shined leather shoes in fifteen minutes. You will need the following:

  • Newspaper or an old towel
  • A horsehair shoe brush
  • A dry, cotton cloth
  • Leather conditioner/cleaner
  • Shoe cream and /or wax polish

With a bit of practice, you’ll be able to run through these 5 steps from memory and with increasing skill and confidence.

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Shining Your Shoes In 5 Easy Steps

Step 1. Gather Your Tools & Set The Stage

shoe cream spray and brush

Polishing shoes is kind of like painting insofar as the goods get everywhere. There’s no way to avoid it, so the only thing to do is lean into it and prep yourself as best as possible.

Laying out some newspaper works well for this, as would an old towel you no longer care about. The towel is preferable, as it’s reusable and thus greener.

We find that it’s best practice to remove laces where applicable and to keep your shoe trees in.

Step 2. Brush

horsehair shoe brushBefore applying any actual polish, you’ll want to brush your shoes. This removes surface dirt and other schmutz, and it’s particularly important to get into the welt of the shoe, right where the upper meets the sole. Stuff gets caught in there like you wouldn’t believe, and there’s no better time than now to remove it.

It’s very simple, just apply light pressure against the shoe and use a back-and-forth motion.

The best shoe brushes have horsehair bristles. While they may be a touch more expensive than brushes with synthetic bristles, the quality difference is notable and will more than pay for itself over time.

Step 3. Condition

Lots of footwear resources will tell you to apply polish at this point. We prefer to apply a leather cleaner/conditioner first. There’s no sense trapping old surface dirt underneath a layer of polish. All you have to do is dab a small amount all around the shoe, but be sure to test the product in an inconspicuous area such as the top of the heel counter to make sure that discoloration won’t be an issue.

Even if your shoes aren’t terribly dirty, we still advise using a leather conditioner at this point. For all intents and purposes, your shoes are made of animal skin and as such always benefit from the nourishment that a high-quality leather conditioner will provide.

Step 4. Polish

allen edmonds black shoe polish box

*Editor’s Note: There is a difference between shoe cream and wax polish. We’ll address that difference in the next section of this article, but for efficiency’s sake, we will use the term “polish” in this section.

Now is the time to apply shoe polish. You can use a small applicator brush with horsehair bristles, but any dry, soft cloth will work perfectly well. In fact, our preference is for the soft cotton cloth because you have more control over the amount of product you use.

You don’t want to over-apply shoe polish. Start with a nickel-sized dab and begin rubbing it into the shoe’s upper. The application will be uneven and have a matte finish when you’re done. Don’t worry, this will be addressed in step five.

Be sure to use a cream color that closely resembles the color of your shoes. If your shoes are an unorthodox color, opt for a neutral shoe cream.

Should you decide to use a horsehair brush, you may want to keep more than one on hand for black polish, dark brown, tan, and whatever other colors you may need.

After applying polish, you can let the shoes dry for as long as you like. The idea is to let the polish really get into the leather and nourish it, and the longer you let it sit, the more opportunity it will have to do this.

Step 5. Buff

After the cream has dried, take either a large horsehair brush or a dry, soft cloth and buff the shoes. Apply gentle pressure and use the same motion that you did in step two.

They should start shining pretty much immediately. After buffing, we highly recommend applying a sole edge dressing to finish the job and make your shoes look nearly brand new.

What’s The Difference Between Shoe Polish & Shoe Cream?

There are lots of shoe care products on the market, and most men lump everything under the “shoe polish” umbrella. There are two main types of product that add color and cover scuffs to shoes: shoe cream and shoe wax, also known as carnauba wax.

Man Polishing Leather Shoes

Shoe cream, our preferred product, shines and adds color to your shoes while also conditioning them and adding moisture. The importance of adding moisture to shoes can’t be understated. Leather is nothing but treated skin, and it dries out over time. Can you imagine having dry hands but never applying any moisturizer? They’d crack, and the skin would turn brittle. The same thing happens to shoes, and shoe cream is effective at combating this.

Shoe wax, on the other hand, offers a superior shine and scuff protection. It also seals and protects leather, but here’s the rub: it builds up over time and dries out. This is why, when applying wax, you’ll want to focus your efforts on the toe box and the heel counter and only give the vamp a light coating. Neither the toe box nor the heel counter crease, but the vamp obviously does, and this can cause a white film to show up after the wax has dried.

You can use both cream and wax when polishing shoes. Start with the cream and buff it, then apply wax to the toe and heel of the shoe, buffing again once dry.

Best Brands & Where To Buy

Shoe-Shining-KitNot all shoe polish is created equal. Here are some brands you should be familiar with.

Please note that the links are for shoe polishes and creams, but each of these brands sells a full range of shoe care products.

  • Saphir: Saphir is known amongst shoe enthusiasts as the be all, end all of shoe care products. Using the highest grade natural ingredients, Saphir cream is to shoes what Bentley is to cars.
  • Kiwi: Kiwi can be found in any drugstore and is a perfectly acceptable budget option. Their shoe shine kit we’ve linked to will get beginners off to a great start.
  • Meltonian: Meltonian is another popular name in shoe polish that’s great for guys on a budget. If you’re looking for shoe creams in various colors, this is an excellent brand as they start at only $2.99 per jar.
  • Allen Edmonds: We’re big fans of Allen Edmonds in general, and their shoe polish is another great product. A bit more expensive than Kiwi or Meltonian, it comes in a convenient squeeze bottle that helps to minimize mess.

“Should I Buy A Shoe Shine Kit?”

If you are new to shining your shoes, we suggest getting yourself a shoe shine kit. They tend to have everything you’d need from a starter pack (black and brown polish, conditioner, and horsehair brushes encased in a nice wooden box) and are not terribly expensive. In fact, you can often save money by buying a kit as opposed to acquiring each item individually.

On the other hand, if you’re a seasoned shoe shiner, you probably have quite a few products already, and it makes more sense for you to get new ones à la carte.

Parting Thoughts On Shoe Polishing

kiwi express polishThe method outlined above is a great way to get your shoes looking great quickly. Generally, though, we are fans of taking our time polishing shoes.

The world moves very quickly nowadays. Taking even just fifteen minutes for yourself to do something productive yet repetitive is a great way for a man of style to clear his mind and get into a good head space for whatever occasion or event he’s headed to.

Shining shoes isn’t just a way to make yourself look better. It’s an opportunity to have a few precious moments to yourself.

What Next?

To learn more about caring for your shoes visit one of our comprehensive guides on men’s shoe care below:

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