How to Polish Shoes

Three Parts:Gathering the Right MaterialsApplying the PolishShining the Shoes

A good shoe polishing technique will not only make your shoes look great, it will also extend their life. Learning how to polish your own shoes will give you a great sense of satisfaction and save you a lot of money over the years. Shoe polishing is very easy to do, once you have the right materials and a little patience.

Part 1
Gathering the Right Materials

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    Choose your polish. Shoe polishes are available in wax, cream and liquid forms. Waxes and creams are heavier and will feed the leather and protect the shoes from water damage. Liquid polishes are good for a quick and easy shine. Shoe polishes are available in a variety of colors -- 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 colors.
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    Decide whether to use a polishing brush or an old t-shirt. You have a couple of options when it comes to applying your polish. Most people just use an old cotton t-shirt or other soft rag, however it is also possible to get specific polishing brushes with stiff, short bristles. These brushes are included in most shoe polishing kits, which you may choose to invest in. You will also need an old toothbrush or some q-tips to works the polish into hard-to-reach areas.
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    Get your hands on a horsehair brush. A good horsehair shoe shining brush is the one essential tool you need to properly polish your shoes. It has longer, softer bristles than the polishing brush described above. It is used to brush excess polish from the shoes and to really work the remaining polish into the leather.
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    Find a soft, lint-free cloth. If you want to add a shiny finish to your polished shoes, you will need to get your hands on a chamois, which is a type of soft leather cloth. Alternatively, you can use any soft, lint-free cloth, such as an old cotton t-shirt.
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    Cover your work space with newspaper. Polishing shoes is a messy job, so protect your floor and furniture by laying down some old newspaper on your work area. You could also use brown paper bags.[1]

Part 2
Applying the Polish

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    Clean the shoes. Before you begin polishing, it is important that you first clean your shoes to remove any built up dirt, salt or dust. Otherwise the dirt could get trapped beneath the polish or scratch the surface of the shoes. Brush the shoe vigorously with your horsehair brush to remove any debris.[2]
    • Alternatively, use a dampened cloth to wipe all around the surface of the shoe. Just leave the shoes to dry completely before moving on to the next step.
    • At this point, you may also want 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.
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    Apply the polish using small circular motions. Dip the old t-shirt or polishing brush into your chosen polish and work it into the surface of the shoe, using small circular motions. Apply a medium pressure and make sure to coat the surface evenly, paying special attention to the toe and heel which get the most wear.
    • The easiest way to use an old t-shirt is to wrap the material tightly around your index and middle fingers and use them to work the polish into the shoes.
    • Use a toothbrush or q-tip to work the polish into the hard-to-reach places, such as the edge of the upper and the cracks in the tongue.
    • You may also want to apply polish to the sole of each shoe, in the space between the toe and heel which doesn't touch the ground.[3]
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    Allow the polish to dry and add additional layers, if necessary. Once you have applied polish to the first shoe, set it aside on the newspaper and begin working on the second shoe. Each shoe will require about 15 to 20 minutes drying time.
    • If you feel like your shoes require another layer of polish, apply this second layer using the same technique as above.
    • Remember to use the minimum amount of polish necessary to cover the shoe. It is better to build-up multiple light layers than apply a single thick layer.
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    Brush off the excess polish. Once any additional layers of polish have dried, grab your horsehair brush and remove the excess polish using short, quick strokes. Don't be afraid to put some elbow grease into it -- the heat generated from the vigorous brush strokes helps the polish to sink into the leather.
    • Most of the movement involved in these strokes should come from your wrist. Keep the rest of your arm stationary while your wrist quickly flicks the brush back and forth.
    • Make sure to evenly brush the surface of both shoes. When you are done, the shoes should have an even finish with a slight shine. If super shiny shoes are not your thing, you can stop here.

Part 3
Shining the Shoes

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    Buff the shoes with a soft cloth. The easiest way to add shine to your shoes is to use a soft cloth -- such as a chamois or an old cotton t-shirt -- to buff the shoes. Place one hand on either end of the cloth and work it across the shoe in a brisk side-to side motion.
    • Some people like to breath on the shoe (as if fogging a mirror) before buffing to increase shine.
    • If you like, you can place the first shoe on a shoe butler (or on your foot) to make this process easier.
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    Use the spit-shine method. Spit shining is a method used in the military to achieve a hard shine. After you have applied the first layer of polish, spray a little water onto the shoes and work it into the surface of the shoe. Then dip the cloth in warm water and use it to apply a second layer of polish.[4]
    • Keep repeating this process until you achieve the desired level of shine. Just make sure that you let each layer of polish dry fully before applying the next.
    • Spit shining can be done using a soft cloth or a number of cotton balls.
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    Try fire shining. Fire shining is a fun, if slightly dangerous, method of shining shoes. It involves lighting the shoe polish on fire for a couple of seconds, until it becomes melted and gooey. This melted polish is then applied to the shoes using the same technique as spit shining.
    • Once you have applied several layers of the melted polish, you can take the fire play once step further by using your lighter to evenly heat the polish on the surface of the shoe, until it melts and achieves a wet look.
    • Do not let the flame actually touch the shoe and move the lighter constantly, as if spray painting. Once the polish has evenly melted, allow it to dry.
    • Apply one final layer of polish, then buff the shoes with a soft cloth to achieve a high-glass shine.[5]


  • Always polish new shoes as soon as you get them; even though they may be new; it helps break the shoe in, while treating and protecting it against future use.
  • After the shoes have partly dried, try using fine women's stockings to even the polish. This will gives them additional shine.
  • If you get a scratch on your shoes, you can try melting polish in it. Heat the polish until it runs and pour a little to the scratch. Polish, let dry, repeat. It is hard to get it to hold, but if somebody has a tip on how to accomplish that, let others know. However, it is easily better than a scratch.
  • Unless you have patent-leather shoes, don't expect to be able to bring even the finest shoe to a true mirror finish without many hours of work. That being said, after that groundwork is carefully done, and if you use shoe trees to prevent wrinkles on your leather, maintenance of the shine on your shoes is relatively effortless.
  • The key is not to put too much polish on the shoe, but build the polish/shine up in thin layers; this is called the "fat-on-lean” process.
  • If you decide to use cloth, it’s a good idea to use a stiff toothbrush to clean the welt, waist, quarter and heel of the shoe (including the sole).
  • You can buy shoe shine kits at big-box stores consisting of a can of black polish, a can of brown polish, a cloth, a buffing brush, and a circle applicator brush.
  • Store your polished shoes in a cold room or even the shed to dry. Protect them by placing them in a shoe box with a lid.
  • Buy only shoes that have an excellent shine in the store. This will let you know that they’re capable of.
  • Don't use cracked polish – it’s too dry. You can check this in the shop by shaking the tin; if everything stays still in the tin, it is perfect.
  • For a smooth grain, don't buy pig skin shoes; pig skin looks thinner and tends have a spotty, scaly appearance, especially away from the polished toe of the shoe. Calf leather is more expensive, but it has an even, deep-looking appearance and lasts longer.
  • Another way to shine up the welt and heel is with a good vinyl preservative like Armor-all or Turtle Wax F21. Use a soft cloth to apply the preservative to the welt and heel. Do not apply the preservative to the leather or the traction area of the sole.
  • In an emergency, consider giving each shoe a once-over with a silicone cloth. This will supercharge your shine before you rush to that interview, but it doesn’t last the way several applications of polish do. What’s worse, it will scratch the shoe leather at a microscopic level (synthetic cloth against a natural product); use at your own discretion.


  • Be very careful with the lighter or matches; don't burn the shoe as it will be non-repairable.

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Categories: Care of Shoes