Polishing Shoes, Bags or Other Personal Leather Products

Most helpers will have some rudimentary knowledge about polishing leather shoes. It is unlikely that she will understand that there are different types of leather and finishes nor should she be expected to be able to know what type of leather your shoe, bag or other personal leather products are made of.

Even after you have shown and explained the differences, don’t expect the same level of knowledge as yourself unless she is an experienced housekeeper. Explain to her that care for smooth leather products (for example dress and work shoes) is very different than care for patent, suede, exotic skins and nubuck. Here is a very short description of other common types of leather:-

  • Patent Leather- when cowhide is treated with protective finishes such as acrylic paints or waterproofing to produce an extremely shiny finish.
  • Naked or Nude Leather- is a leather that is tanned and dyed but has little or no protective finish.
  • Suede Leather- when leather is finished by buffing with an emery wheel to produce a napped surface.

You have already spent a tidy sum for that leather article so proper care of them stretches your hours of enjoyment. Familiarize your helper with the different leather care products already in home and explain their function. I have included photos of those which are in my shoe cabinet to give you an idea of the variety out there. Visit some websites too.

Top- Horse hair brush; Right- brush with another type of natural bristle; Left – Suede cleaning block

shoe creams and shoe polish

shoe creams

saddle soap and mink oil

shoe protector

First rule of thumb – check with your manufacturer for care instructions and follow them. If your leather product is very costly, if is preferable that you clean it personally or send it out to be professionally cleaned.

Cleaning Suede and Nubuck products. Suede or nubuck leather products cannot be polished. Hence, prevention is key. Immediately apply a protectant to repel water and stains before you use your article. Regular application of the protective repellent is necessary. Maintenance involves regular gentle brushing with a special suede brush (most common example of this brush has brass bristles) to remove loose dirt and restore nap. Stains may be removed with a suede eraser or it may also require treatment as early as possible with a solvent-based suede cleaner. If these stains cannot be removed after these steps, you will have to send the article for professional cleaning.

Cleaning Patent Leather. These are two of several methods:-

  • Use a soft cloth, dip it into some commercially purchased patent leather cleaner (solvent based). Then clean the leather product by wiping it.
  • Use undiluted household vinegar on a soft cloth, rub the leather product and buff with another piece of soft cloth till leather product is dry.

Once it is dry, follow that with a spray of Pledge furniture care spray and lightly buff.

Smooth leather products. Since smooth leather products are most common and the easiest to clean and polish at home, I am concentrating on their care for this post.

Different types of leather polish.  These come in wax, cream and liquid forms. Waxes and creams will feed the leather and to some extent protect that article from water damage. However, they will require more effort to apply and polish whilst liquid polishes give a quick and easy shine. I would not use liquid polishes for an expensive pair of shoes or bag. Shoe repair experts recommend the protection and conditioning offered by creams and waxes — liquid polishes can dry out shoe leather and cause cracking and tend to come in a limited colour range. Shoe polishes are available in a variety of colours — you can buy specific shades to match the shoes you wish to polish, or you can buy a neutral polish which will work on a variety of shoe colours. However, if your leather product has been scratched or scuffed, you will need the correct colour cream polish to do the trick.

Use horsehair brushes.  A good horsehair brush is essential to giving your leather products a scratch-free polish. It has long and soft bristles to brush excess polish from the shoes and to really work the remaining polish into the leather. These brushes are easily available.  There are other types of  brushes made of natural bristles. As far as I know, man-made bristles tend to scratch.

Gather all your materials. Mine are all found in a designated drawer in my shoe cabinet. You can keep yours in a designated box. Sport shoes boxes are ideal as they are rather large.

HINT: we all possess shoes, bags and other leather products of several colours. Mark your brushes with words like “Black”, “Dark Brown”, “Light Brown”, “Neutral”  etc. so that the correct brush is used.

Protect your workspace before starting your job. Polishing leather products is a messy job. Protect your work area by laying down some old bed sheet, newspaper or plastic sheet or bag and perhaps taping with some masking tape to stop it from flying away.

Remove laces. It is best to remove the laces from your shoes. This will give you easier access to the tongue of the shoe and will prevent any polish from getting on the laces.

Clean the leather product. Before you begin polishing, clean to remove any mud, built up dirt, salt or dust. The state of your leather product will determine if you first need to use a stiff brush to scrape off the mud or just a vigorous brush with your horsehair brush is sufficient. You may even require cleaning with saddle soap to wash off the salt or dirt. Sometimes a simple wipe with a slightly dampened lint-free cloth (an old T-shirt ) all around the surface of the leather product is good enough. It will have to dry completely before you can move onto the next step.

Apply the wax or cream polish. I like to use old T shirts or some other piece of lint free cloth. Polishing brushes have not appealed to me as they tend to catch too much polish. Some Q-tips will work the polish into hard-to-reach areas. Work the polish into the surface of the leather product, using small circular motions. Ensure the whole surface is coated evenly. If you are polishing shoes, pay special attention to the toe and heel which get the most wear. Allow about 20 minutes for the polish to dry. Another layer of polish may be required.

polishing shoes

Brush off the excess polish. Use a horsehair brush to remove the excess polish using short, quick and even strokes. Some elbow grease from your wrist works best as the heat generated from the vigorous brush strokes helps the polish to sink into the leather.

Protect from rain, salt or water. Spray with a leather protector to ensure that shoes stay in a good condition for longer. This layer of protection will need to be renewed. Hence, re- spray your shoes with the leather protector once in a while for further protection.


One response to “Polishing Shoes, Bags or Other Personal Leather Products

  1. Pingback: Essential Skills to Teach Your Helper | hints for the home·

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