Shoe Care + Tips

Minimalist shoes can be expensive, and when you invest money in your wardrobe, you want to make it last. A little bit of care can go a long way in preserving your investments, and (bonus!) keeps trash out of the landfill.

If you’ve followed me for a while you know I’m type A about my shoes and it’s really paid off, because well-cared for shoes not only last, but they also maintain their value for resale (something I do a lot of).

Below are some practical tips for keeping your shoe collection looking stellar for years to come.

Cleaning

This section applies to ALL shoes, whether they’re leather, vegan, fabric, rubber, whatever. Shoes get dirty (and stinky). We gotta clean ’em.

Leather shoes

Leather can change color, shape and texture when it gets wet, so you want to clean them correctly. Your first line of defense will be a leather cleaner such as Chamberlain’s or saddle soap. There are a number of options on Amazon, just be sure to go with something that is all natural. Don’t want to purchase anything? Lemon and vinegar can also clean leather (check out this video by Zuzii showing how to clean your leather shoes with a lemon).

I primarily use Chamberlain’s for my leather care.
Before cleaning and conditioning with Chamberlain’s
After

If they are extra dirty you can wipe them down with a damp rag, but then you’ll want to finish it off with leather cleaner and conditioner to keep the leather soft.

If your leather is completely filthy and it’s either toss them or douse them, just throw them in the wash on gentle cycle. I’ve done this a few times without causing damage to my shoes (I always use a mesh bag and soap nuts instead of detergent!).

Suede is the most susceptible to changing when wet so be extra cautious, but all the above methods can be used.

Fabric Shoes

Spot clean those suckers! Fabric is not as sturdy as other materials, so I normally take a wet rag with a little bit of soap and get individual marks out, or soak them in Oxiclean (or another cleaner of your choice, but from my experience nothing compares to powdered Oxiclean) then rinse. I also will put them in the washing machine if I feel they can handle it.

Mesh bag and soap nuts, ready for the wash!

Synthetic shoes

These should hold up to wear better and you can clean them in all the above ways. Some other techniques I use are to put them on the floor in the shower with me, and/or scrub them with a toothbrush (I do this with my Earth Runners since they don’t seem to get clean without it).

Protecting

Leather and other delicate shoes are susceptible to staining/damage from the elements. I use this Kiwi spray on my suede, untreated leather and fabric shoes. Then when they do get dirty I’m usually able to brush it off fairly easily. I have a suede brush/eraser for those occasions, but a dry rag also works.

With treated (smooth) leather you can apply products directly to the shoe. Leather conditioner and natural wax will moisturize, revitalize, and protect your leather goods and IMO are a must have for maintaining good quality leather. I use both Chamberlain’s and wax with good results (wax is thicker and more protective but can darken).

For serious protection you can use a water protectant, but this can really change the appearance of your leather. I use Chamberlain’s and Sno Seal, but only on my snow/mud boots or black shoes. I’ve seriously darkened some of my other shoes with water proofer, much to my dismay.

A good rule of thumb before applying anything to leather (or really any shoe) is test it out in an inconspicuous area first to see if it alters the appearance. And you want to clean leather before applying any product so that you don’t trap dirt and germs against it.

When leather goods are not in use I like to cover them from dust. I store my shoes in this exact shoe rack most of the time. My riding boots I cover with a purse dust cover since they don’t fit in the rack.

A couple other notes about protecting shoes: sunlight and big temperature changes can degrade leather over time, so bringing shoes inside is worthwhile. With off-season shoes you might consider shoe shapers to preserve their structure, and keep them in a rigid box that won’t squish down.

Adjusting Fit

If you’re purchasing high quality shoes, the odds are good you will be able to get them to fit your unique foot. This is the biggest reason I am willing to spend more on shoes than anything else in my closet. When buying shoes I look for unlined leather or fabric (hemp is great!) and a leather insole. These will be the most accommodating. Shoes with a synthetic lining are not likely to do a lot of conforming.

Stretching

I have crazy toes that go every which way, so most shoes are too tight when I first receive them. My favorite technique for opening up a toe box is to stuff them with a sock. If I have a little bit of time, I’ll wave a hairdryer over them and then let them cool with the socks still inside. I often will leave the socks stuffed in there for days!

Another trick I regularly use is to stuff in a battery or chapstick to get a specific area stretched (often by the pinkie toe)

There’s also the wet paper towel method. Shape it into lumps the way you want, then stuff in your shoes and let dry. I’ve also heard (but never tried) that you can carve a potato into the shape you want and then stuff it into the shoe!

Adjusting Ankle Strap length

If your ankle strap doesn’t have enough holes in it (in either direction) you can easily add in another hole with a hammer and nail. I usually make a mark where I want the hole to be and then carefully hammer a thin nail through the strap (over a wood block). I usually have to go from both directions and then push the nail back and forth to stretch the hole big enough for the buckle. I’ve done this loads of times!

Shrinking leather

Did you know you can shrink up shoes that have stretched too much? Fabric and leather shoes shrink when wet, sometimes a lot!

Suede is the easiest to shrink. You can wet the inside of your suede shoe with a spray bottle or wash cloth and allow it to dry. The wetter it gets the more it will shrink. You can also spray the outside, but you’ll want to test a small area first in case it causes discoloration. The same technique applies to smooth leather and fabric, but you might need more water to get the results you’re after. Immerse them in water as a last resort, and be sure to let them fully dry before wearing them or they’ll stretch right back out again!

Just be careful here because, as mentioned above, water can alter leather in a number of ways.

Filling in Extra Space

If your have low volume or narrow feet you might have some extra space in your shoes. This can really affect the fit, but also can be easily fixed (sometimes). My most used technique for filling in shoes that are too deep is with these sticky felt pads. You can get different shapes and thicknesses, but I always put them on the top of the shoe right over my arch. This has opened up a lot of options for me that otherwise didn’t fit well. There are also heel grips (though I often find that with the sticky felt I don’t need them).

If I have enough depth, I will add in my NorthSole insoles. But only if it doesn’t compromise my toe space.

Modifying Color

Shoe Polish

I am really particular about color. I like everything in my wardrobe to be mix and match-able and that means getting a consistent color palette. So I need just the right shade in my shoes, and when I can’t find the exact one I’m looking for I find a way to make it happen.

Shoe Polish

The easiest way to change shoe color is with shoe polish. This won’t be a dramatic color change, but will nudge them in the direction you’re looking for. The more coats you apply, the more the color will take. Just don’t apply too much at one time, since the leather can only absorb so much and you don’t want to be staining stuff with shoe polish.

Polish will also moisturize the leather and help keep it looking vibrant. If you don’t want to change the color, but just want to preserve it, get a polish that matches your shoe exactly. I have only ever used Tarrago shoe polish and have no complaints. It’s revived many a shoe of mine.

Leather Paint

You can also straight up paint leather. Angelus is the leading leather paint and the only one I’ve used (ok, one time I spray painted a pair of shoes, but I don’t recommend it). Angelu’s has a lot of color options and you can also mix colors to get exactly what you’re looking for. For a few bucks you can get a whole new shoe!

First they were gold…
Then they were pewter!

Some leathers will take the paint better if they’re deglazed first, so you might want to consider that (just google how to deglaze leather shoe). You can also just go right ahead and paint over your shoe (at least wipe it down first though!).

If your shoes are made of natural leather you can darken them by adding an oil or wax (the linked products above will do the trick).

That’s all I got! Any other valuable shoe tricks you’re aware of?

3 thoughts on “Shoe Care + Tips

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