Don’t Polish With Too Much Water



Polishing leather shoes up to a brilliant shine is an extremely enjoyable pastime.

Nathan Brown over at Lodger always says that one of the problems with being an entrepreneur is that he never gets the time to sit down and polish his shoes any more. George Glasgow at Cleverley has complained to me of the same thing. Lodger’s store manager Clement has the opposite problem: he spends all his time polishing shoes but never his own, just the ones on Lodger’s shelves.

Personally I like to spend a good half an hour over a pair while the wife is watching something atrocious on the telly. It is meditative, engaging and rewarding.

I think it’s rewarding for two reasons. First, with no other piece of clothing does maintenance actually improve the item. It just puts brakes on a natural decline. Brushing your suit only returns it to the state it was that morning. The same with ironing a shirt or repairing a button. The best you can do is get back to zero.

Polishing your shoes is more akin to wearing a canvassed suit and feeling it mould to your body, or indeed wearing in the upper of a shoe. Except that, with polishing, greater effort is rewarded with greater results. Not only is it a positive activity, it is one you can control.

The second reason is the wonderful aesthetic experience. After you’ve applied the first layer of polish, and then returned with more polish and a touch of water, you can see each circle of your finger produce a swirl of brightness, getting more intense and reflective with each repetition. It is as if your fingers are coaxing out pure light.

But don’t apply too much water. Just a dab of it the first time and only occasional top-ups later on. The cloth remains damp for a while, and too much water can soak into the leather and make it hard to carry on polishing. This is particularly true on thinner or more flexible sections, such as the bridge and instep. The toe and heel, being more rigid and reinforced by internal pieces of leather, can take a lot more.

For each layer on the toe and heel (don’t do more than one layer elsewhere), carry on working in the polish until the surface is super-smooth, like glass. Until your little swirls make no perceptible difference to the surface. Then take a tiny bit more polish, and repeat. Don’t stop until you can tell the time on your watch in it.

‘Relocation relocation’ is on TV. I’m off to fetch my Cleverleys.


Simon Crompton is a journalist and a style enthusiast living in London, who blogs at He has too many suits.


  1. I would appreciate a video walking me through polishing my shoes in this manner.

  2. So would I. More tutorials on the basics are always welcome, and videos would help guys like me who still aren’t quite sure what they’re doing! 🙂

  3. I read this earlier and went home and started polishing some wingtips and touching up anything else that needed it. My 11 year old sat down to watch and went to get his “church shoes” (loafers) and started to touch them up. after being reminded to work on newspaper, not the table, he did a pretty good job.

    As far as a video, this is pretty close…

    On wikihow:

  4. Simon Crompton says:

    I will endeavour to make a video at some point.

    Not sure I agree with the wikihow entry, as there seems to be little difference expressed between toe/heel and the body of the shoe, despite them taking radically different types of wear.

    I also recommend, if you are going to use a spray, to do that onto the cloth not the shoe. Easier to control.


  5. Hassan Rai says:

    Hello Simon… your invaluable insight has kick-started a new passion in my life! I look forward to your new posts… however, like some others, i’d love to see a video on how this is done. I’m completely unaware of polishing techniques, therefore, even a detailed written tutorial (like a polishing 101) would be very appreciated. I’m surprised that one can use water in polishing leather…

  6. Náuticos Blancos says:

    Good morning everybody.
    I’ve just found this interesting web page. You can see how to polish your shoes. Unfortunately, I don’t understand everything he says, I’m not an english speaker, but images speak themselves. You can find others great tips about hats, handkerchiefs… etc.

  7. Náuticos Blancos says:

    I’m sorry the link is below.

  8. warren mcleod says:

    That was a great article , i remember growing up in Karachi Pakistan and walking with my father and the shoe shine boys hands covered in black polish, bringing the shoe to life . Well i started shining my own shoes and then the families to make some extra money. Well that continued to working part time at a high end mens barber shop in Toronto Canada, at age 13/14 i was getting $5.00 and $ 10.00 tips on a shampoo and shine unheard of in the 70’s. Then i joined the military and guess what my little knack for making shoes shine and being able to starch a shirt paid of , i purchased a new corvette after being in the army less than a year value $ 12000.00 ( 1973 ) not bad on a privates wage of $275 dollars a month less deductions . Long story sorry , just saw a couple of well dressed guys with expensive suits( that statement is wrong ) they had on cheap shoes and were not polished . Boys take a lesson clean shoes , nice haircut, and a solid wrist watch has accessed me into some very nice places .The end ( imagine i learned how to polish from kids who did not have proper place to live ,wore threads for clothes but the love for the shine was there.