How to Clean Leather Shoes

Cleaning your leather shoes will keep them looking great and increase their life! Besides regular cleanings, you should clean them immediately when they get soiled to prevent caked on dirt and stains. If your shoes are made of suede, be sure to read the special instructions at the end of this article – they require special care!

What You’ll Need:

  • Soft cloth
  • Shoe brush
  • Saddle soap or commercial shoe cleaner
  • White vinegar
  • Shoe polish
  • Newspaper
  • Leather conditioner
  • Art gum eraser (for suede only)

Cleaning Leather Shoes

  1. Brush off dirt and debris with a soft cloth or brush. Consider doing this every time after wearing your shoes. This will make it easier to buff and polish them later.
  2. Remove the laces from your shoes to prevent getting water or polish on them. If they need to be cleaned, pop them into the washing machine with a load of laundry.
  3. Rub away scuffs with some water and saddle salt on a soft cloth. Careful not to get the leather too wet. It is better to do two applications with less water and soap. You can also use a commercial leather shoe cleaner (available in most shoe retailers). Suitable products may also be found where leather purses and handbags are sold.
    • WARNING: Never place leather shoes in the sun to dry—this can cause discoloration.
    • Remove salt stains from leather shoes by mixing a solution of equal parts water and white vinegar. Blot the solution all over the shoes with a clean, soft cloth and repeat as many times as necessary until all the salt is gone.
  4. Polish your shoes at least once a month or whenever needed (cream polish is best for maintaining leather). Before you begin, lay newspaper over your workspace for easy cleanup. First, test the polish on an inconspicuous area to make sure it does not cause discoloration. Then use a clean, soft cloth to apply the polish in a circular motion across the entire shoe. Be careful around stitching that may be a different color. When you’re finished, take another clean soft cloth and remove the polish in a circular motion.
    • For a quick, no-hassle shine, try wiping your shoes with a Swiffer sheet!
  5. Buff your shoes after they’ve dried by, again, using a soft, cloth in circular motions. If you want them to shine, put a few drops of water on the cloth before you buff.
  6. Use a leather conditioner or leather lotion at least twice a year to keep your shoes soft and supple. Without this treatment, leather shoes can dry out and cracks may appear.
  7. Take special care with suede or nubuck shoes. Do not use products designed for regular leather as this may ruin suede. For spots, try using an art gum eraser. If this doesn’t work, try some undiluted white vinegar on a soft cloth. Never rub suede—always blot! Once the spot is removed, brush the shoe and let dry.

Comments

  1. Kelly says:

    I have a lot of sap on my leather boots and was wondering if you guys have any suggestions on how to remove this stuff without damaging or discoloring the leather. I read about the peanut butter helping; do you think this would damage the boots in anyway?

    Thanks guys, love the site.

    Kelly

  2. Paka says:

    To remove tree sap, rubbing alcohol does the trick.

  3. Lataine says:

    I really need to clean my suede shoes. The are Rockport sandals- the best, most comfortable shoes I have ever worn! Can you help? Thank you!

  4. Lina says:

    I have nice leather boots in light brown (cognac color) and some shampoo spilled on them. How do I clean them and not damage them more?

  5. Alvin says:

    Hi,
    I recently bought leather boots and wore them in snowy Switzerland. I realized that my boots had some discolor or frozen marks, so I tried to clean them with a wet cloth and applied leather wax on it, but the stain remains. Please help.

  6. Melanie says:

    Alvin,
    You can try rubbing the marks with a 1:1 white vinegar and water solution or a little baking soda and water.

    Source: Good Housekeeping

  7. Christine says:

    How do I remove excess shoe polish from leather shoes?

  8. Melanie says:

    Christine,
    If rubbing off the excess polish with a soft cloth or old sock is not enough, clean the shoes again with a shoe cleaner or mild soap and wet rag. Non-acetone nail polish remover has been cautioned against use for stains on leather because it can remove the polish, which in your case would be the desired result, so that is another option. However, if you use too much, it could dry out the leather, so you might want to apply a little olive oil afterwards to moisturize the leather. (Also note that acetone could remove the leather dye, so be sure to use non-acetone if you try nail polish remover.)
    Good luck!

    Source: eHow – How To Remove Show Polish From Leather
    Source: Ask Andy About Clothes – The Perfect Shoe Shine
    Source: Mahalo – How to Clean Leather

  9. Jefrin says:

    I want to clean my shoes from the inside to remove the black stains. What should I do for that?

  10. Melanie says:

    Jefrin,
    Try to determine the cause of the stain; sweat stains, mold or mildew, dye transfer from socks, etc. Once you determine the cause of the stain, treat the stain accordingly. For example, use rubbing alcohol to remove mildew or use ammonia and detergent or vinegar for sweat stains.

    If your shoes are causing black stains on your socks or feet, that is a different problem. For that, you would need to use a mild dish soap and water to clean off the excess dye and apply a leather waterproofing sealant.

    Source: eHow – How to Remove Sweat Stains From the Inside of Leather Shoes
    Source: essortment – Clean And Polish Leather Shoes
    Source: eHow – How to Keep Shoes from Leaving Black Marks on My Feet

  11. Sheikh says:

    I have leather shoes that are a beige color (pale creamy brown color). I took them to a man who does polishing in our place, and he seems to have polished them in the wrong color than it was before. What do I do?

  12. Bipul says:

    Hi, I have spilled mustard oil on my brown leather shoe. How do I get it cleaned?
    Thanks.

  13. Melanie says:

    Bipul,
    This article might help: How to Remove Grease Stains from Leather. The article How to Clean an Oil Spill from Leather Upholstery might also help.

  14. Marie says:

    My daughter has suede boots and went to a friend’s house, and their pup pooped on them. How do I clean that?

  15. Melanie says:

    Marie,
    This is the article that you need: How to Clean Suede.

  16. Lloyd G says:

    I had synthetic motor oil spill on my new boot. It removed the shine, some of the color and left the leather feeling rough. I have not been able to get the shine back having used saddle soap and having polished the boot numerous times. Any suggestions?

  17. Parker says:

    I have the same issue as Lloyd G. Long story short, my right boot was covered in motor oil so now I can get my left boot to a nice polish but the right boot stays rough-feeling and will not take a shine. I’m in the Navy, so if I cannot figure out how to get the oil off my boot and get a shine back, I will be forced to buy a new pair of boots. Please help me.

  18. Melanie says:

    Parker and Lloyd,

    For an oil spill on leather, you need to use a leather degreaser. A regular leather cleaner won’t be enough to pull the oil out of the leather once it has absorbed. It may take several applications of the leather degreaser to remove all the oil. Follow the instructions in our guide, How to Clean an Oil Spill from Leather Upholstery.
    If needed, you can take the boots to a cobbler or professional leatherworker for repair. There are many products that they will have available to fix the leather, including sandpaper to smooth out the rough leather if needed. Good luck!
    Source: The Leather Repair Company – Basics Behind Repairing Leather
    Source: Furniture Clinic – How to Restore Leather

  19. Gabriel says:

    Hello,
    I recently discovered my favorite pair of mustard coloured leather shoes had been stored next to something with laundry detergent all over it. I have tried using soap and water to no avail. What do you suggest?

  20. Maggie says:

    I used the treatment on my Madden Girl boots and it made them turn white. Is there a way to fix this?

  21. Lee says:

    Hi. My son has white salt stains on the outside of his black school shoes. How can I remove it and stop it from coming back?

  22. Sonia says:

    When I buy non-leather shoes, with wear, the black finish overlay wears off, revealing gray spots underneath. Does this happen to leather shoes with wear, or is there not an overlay of color? I’m thinking of investing in a pair of leather shoes because I keep going through shoes that look worn out and crappy when the finish wears off.

  23. Melanie says:

    Sonia,
    Real leather shoes usually don’t have a painted layer on top. When real leather is dyed, the dye soaks into the leather itself. However, you will need to care for the leather, or it can loose it’s shine or texture over time and need repair. Cobblers can restore leather shoes, and often can also repair other types of shoes as well.

  24. Chanel says:

    Hi,
    I recently scuffed brown leather boots with something black and am having a hard time removing the black gunk; any suggestions? I tried using some Vaseline and that didn’t work. =/

    Ideas?

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