If the eyes are the windows to our soul, the feet are the foundation of our body; that is why these should be treated to good footwear.
It’s not practical (or smart at all) to buy a new pair every single time your boots get unbelievably dirty. At times, it may look so hopeless, it’s should be thrown into the trash bin. But what you could do is polish them.
With the right tools and a good amount of time in your hands, you can accomplish this task the way experts do.
Polishing boots properly is all about patience because it can be a long, meticulous, and somewhat tiring process that involves a whole lot of brisk brushing, buffing, wiping, and waiting in between.
At times, you even need to do the whole process twice or thrice. But once you’re done, you will see the awesome fruit of your labor: brand new-looking boots!
1. Prep Your Boots
What you need: your pair of shoes, scrap paper or newspapers
First, remove the laces if your pair is the type that gets laced up.
After that, crumple the pieces of paper and fill the inside from the toe up to the ankle or knee, depending on how high the footwear goes. Doing this is important so that these don’t get bent or folded while you’re working on them.
You can use shoetrees if you’ve got them. However, many agree that crumpled papers work better. If you don’t have paper, use old rags instead.
2. Get Rid of the Visible Debris on the Shoe
Must-have materials: shoe brush, old clean toothbrush, damp rag
If the shoes are slightly muddy, wipe that off with a damp rag until it looks relatively unsoiled then let it air dry in a warm place.
If it isn’t, start scrubbing the surface with a shoe brush. It’s best to do this from the top of the boot down to the sole so you’re not merely ‘redistributing’ the dirt to different spots.
Because it has smaller bristles, the toothbrush can do a better job in the lace’s eyelets. You could also turn the flap to the side so you can scrub the other side. Use the type with softer bristles so that you don’t unnecessarily scratch the leather.
Even if your pair does not look that dirty, this step is a must. Microscopic (or small) particles like dust or grains of soil may get embedded deeper into the pores of the hide while you’re doing this task, ruining the material in the long run.
3. If Needed, Do a Quick Wash with Saddle Soap
What you need: saddle soap or baby shampoo, wet cloth, and dry cloth
Experts agree that saddle soap should be used on any leather product every three months or so to keep it in optimal quality and, in the process, make it last longer.
This product contains conditioning ingredients like lanolin and beeswax which prevent any animal hide from drying out, becoming brittle, or worse, the irreparable damage that is cracking.
Most saddle soaps are used by rubbing a wet cloth over the product until it makes a lather. This is then applied tothe boot’s surface, rubbing it gently in a circular motion. If the cloth gets too dry, spray with or dip it in a bit of water then lather a bit more of the soap in.
Once you’ve covered the whole surface, take the dry cloth and wipe the lather off. Never let the soap stay on the animal hide for a long time because the moisture could damage it.
If you think the first go isn’t enough, wash your wet cloth, wring it until damp, and then re-do this step.
Let this dry for 10 minutes or more before moving on…
4. Prep Your Work Area for the Next Step
Must-have materials: old towels, newspapers, plastic tarps, etc.
This is very important because you don’t want to mess up any part of your home – even if that’s merely the drab concrete floor on your garage – with a material that easily stains anything it touches: shoe polish.
Use any of the materials mentioned above so that you can keep your work surface free from possible permanent staining.
5. Apply the Polish
What you need: cream, wax, or oil polish that matches the color of your boots, lint-free cloth, old toothbrush
Any oil, cream, or wax for leather will work because these will ‘nourish’ the leather and act as protection against liquid spills and accidental scratches.
With a lint-free cloth (a must so that the fibers won’t get left behind) that is wrapped around your middle and forefinger, dab a bit of the cream or wax, and wipe it over the surface using circular motions. Re-saturate the cloth as you see fit.
Make sure that you’ve covered the whole surface with an equal amount of cream or wax.
Don’t forget to work on the welts and the heel, even if that is made of rubber. An old toothbrush is best suited for this task. Simply dip the toothbrush into the container of the polish and do the same circular motion to burnish those hard-to-reach parts.
Kiwi is a go-to brand, known to many all over the world. Also, this comes in different basic colors: black, brown, and clear for white or light-colored footwear. But there are other products which are just as reliable and readily available nowadays thanks to online shopping.
6. Let The Polish Dry
Must-have materials: just your boots and patience.
It’s best to check the instruction of the brand you got regarding this wait time but usually, this will take at least 10 minutes.
7. Do a Vigorous Brush
What you need: shoe brush
This, essentially, is your first buffing. With a quick yet gentle side-to-side scrubbing motion, brush the entire surface until it becomes glossy. Doing this step will show you if there are blemishes on the leather which you need to work on again or if there are parts you missed during polishing.
Ideally, a shoe brush made with natural bristles should be used for this task since these aren’t too stiff or tough to ruin the surface of your boots. But there are cheaper options with artificial bristles that work just as well.
8. Wipe with a Clean Rag
Must-have materials: a clean, lint-free cloth
With the same scrubbing motion as above, wipe the whole boot from top to sole. This is to add that gleam to the leather and also make sure there aren’t any bristles left hanging in places.
If you’ve got several, it would be great if you use various rags for the different steps in the process. But if you have just one, merely using sections of it, make sure that you use the cleanest part for this step.
9. Let It Dry
Whether you’re done and don’t have plans to move on to the next step or if you found other imperfections that may have to be polished again, you need to leave it to dry completely for another 10 minutes.
10. Final Buffing and Shining
What you need: shoe cream, wax, or oil, another clean rag, a bowl of warm water
It’s alright if you want to end with step 9. But if you’re the meticulous type or if you have a special occasion or meeting to attend the next day, doing this can help give your pair that brand new gleam.
- The Spits-Shine Method
Commonly used in the military by soldiers, this involves spraying a bit of warm water on the leather before applying the final layer of oil or wax and buffing it with a piece of cloth or cotton balls.
- The Fire Shine Method
This involves lighting the wax on fire or melting the wax over the fire before it is applied onto the leather and buffed.
Some people take it to the next level, taking a lighter near the shoe and re-heating the polish. This spreads the wax more evenly on the surface and allows it to be absorbed better.
This is quite dangerous since wax is flammable. Take extra precautions when trying out this method.
Take note also that you can use this pair at least 24 hours after working on it to ensure that the polish is well absorbed by the leather.
If you wear this immediately after, it could stain your clothes or anything it touches. And, as aforementioned, the pigment transfer could be difficult to remove.
Steve Oddvar Vicantas is a professional electrician and building inspector who loves writing about work boots, work safety, and everything in between. He is also a part-time blogger when he has spare time.