The beginning of the work week is a great time to get some maintenance done. For the first installment of Maintenance Monday, I’ve decided to go over my shoe polishing procedure. From now on, I’ll be posting every Monday with a brief maintenance how-to, so you can keep your machines (and other items) looking good for a long time.
Periodic shoe polishing can beautify an old pair of shoes and is necessary to preserve the leather. The shoes in need of attention today are a set of Double-H cowboy boots, worn daily for nearly four years. They’ve trekked across 12 U.S. States and two countries, soaking up snow from the Rockies and salt water from 3 different oceans.
These boots have seen plenty of miles. If one expects a pair of leather shoes to last as long as these (or longer), regular cleaning and polishing are essential. As you can see, these boots went through a period when they were NOT adequately maintained, and dry mountain air took its toll. Luckily, it’s never too late to start taking care of your stuff; a new set of heels and weekly polishing breathed new life into the old boots. And now, here are my instructions on how to do the same.
Here’s a quick list of the basic materials you’ll need for the job. This list covers the basics; I’ll get into my optional shining method at the end of the post (and what you’ll need for that).
- Disinfectant wipes (and/or) damp rag
- Shoe polish
- Polish applicator
- Horse hair brush
- Shoe shine rag (cotton T-Shirt strip will do
(The polish, brush, and applicator I use in this tutorial came from a Kiwi Shoe Polishing Kit, available at Walmart for about $12 USD)
Step 1: Prepare Your Work Space
For this step, I chose my desk. Any clean surface should do, but be sure to cover it with cloth or newspaper, as this process can get pretty dirty.
All the necessary materials for a quick job are already set up on my desk. Now grab your boots or shoes, and get ready to start. But before we get to polishing, it’s important not to bypass the next step if you want to do a good job.
Step 2: Clean Your Shoes
Now that we’ve got our work space set up, it’s time to lean the shoes. Shoes are constantly exposed to the nastiest grime, and any residual dirt can damage the leather when you’re scrubbing it later.
I prefer to start on the soles with a disinfectant wipe, just for peace of mind when handling. I’m not afraid of disease; but you never know what sort of nastiness you’ve stepped in. In my case, I just came from the airport, so a good disinfecting is a must. Also, don’t forget to scrub off any mud, grime, or (if unlucky) chewing gum that might be stuck to your shoes. Nobody wants to track that stuff into the house.
After disinfecting, it’s time to clean the leather. Some choose to accomplish this task using wipes, though I prefer a damp cloth instead. I’ve tried using wipes, but I feel better about using warm water and a cloth. Less garbage, and less chance of damaging the leather with chemicals. Any sort of cloth should do for this step, though be sure not to use too much water on the rag. The leather has to be completely dry when you apply the polish, and this step is simply to remove surface gunk. Be sure to clean all leather surfaces you intend to polish. Let them dry for a few minutes, and you’re ready to get started on the next step.
Step 3: Apply Polish
Grab your foam polish applicator (or whatever you use to apply polish, a clean rag will do) and cover it in polish from the tin. Take the applicator and apply an even coat of polish to the leather surfaces of your shoe. The polishing area, seen above, shows the area I choose to regularly polish on my boots.
Usually, you’ll have to re-apply polish to the applicator to cover the entire surface. Don’t use too much; just enough to create a thin, matte layer on the surface of the leather. I prefer to apply polish in sections, ensuring an even coat.
As you can see in the annotated photo, an even application of polish should be free of excess clumps, and give the leather a somewhat brown-matte appearance.
Step 4: LET IT DRY!
This step is absolutely essential. In order for the polish to work properly, you must let it dry. Recommendations vary, but anywhere between 10 and 15 minutes should be sufficient. I personally notice no visual difference when the polish dries, so it’s mostly a matter of set a timer and wait.
The amount of time required for the polish to dry will depend on your specific climate. The air is pretty dry where I live in Wyoming, so I chose to wait 15 minutes. This isn’t rocket science, but it’s still important to give the polish sufficient time to dry. Once again, 10 to 20 minutes is almost always enough for a quick job.
Step 4: Scrub
Now that the polish is dry, go ahead and grab your horse hair brush. Thoroughly scrub the shoe everywhere you find polish. Don’t go too crazy with the pressure, but not too light either. Continue to scrub until the matte surface begins to shine, and there’s no visible dark polish left on the leather. I generally go 3-5 minutes per boot, but some will disagree. My method has always yielded good results.
Once you’re done with this step, inspect the shoe and make sure there’s no residual polish left on the leather. If so, scrub it or wipe it off with a rag.
Step 5: Shine Away!
This step can be accomplished with or without the use of a stand. Additionally, for my special method, I used a long cotton strip from a white T-Shirt. Most polishing kits come with a cotton rag, and virtually any will be sufficient. Just make sure it’s not too dirty.
I don’t own a polishing stand, so instead I use a 20-pound dumbbell. To do the same, simply place your shoe on top of the dumbell, and wrap a long cotton rag around the handle as shown:
I’ve found it helps to put your foot in the boot during this part of the process. If you an enlist the help of a friend, simply put their foot on your knee and polish away. Now, put the toe of your shoe through the loop in the top of the rag. Grab the two ends, and work them back and forth until the desired shine is achieved.
Finally, remove your shoe from the dumbbell, and use the cloth to shine the rest of the leather. If the shoes are really dull, you may have to repeat this process twice. If not, enjoy your shiny new shoes!
Check out the next installment of Maintenance Monday!