The Five Minute Shoeshine

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There are an awful lot of “how to polish your shoes” videos floating about the ether these days, and all of them seem to recommend a different routine. Some recommend conditioning before polishing, others suggest using nothing but cream, and you might even find videos that recommend using rendered down bits of mustelidae to waterproof leather soles.

Being inherently lazy I will, unless there’s a damned good reason for it, opt for the easiest possible method. In the case of polishing shoes, I make do with the following kit:

Cleaning brush x1

I use this for quickly cleaning off dried-on muck on the uppers and welt. I’ll also give leather soles a quick brushing down if they need it.

Old rag x3
These are usually old t shirts. I keep one for applying cream and conditioner, one for wet wiping and one for dry wiping.

Shoe cream x2
I usually only use two types of cream: black for black shoes and natural for all the others. I keep a number of shades of brown cream in reserve, just in case I need to touch over any scratches. Saphir is my brand of choice. Their creams contain a smidgeon of beeswax to help waterproof the uppers.

Leather conditioner x1

A bottle of leather conditioner goes a long way towards keeping shoes supple. They can be pricier than creams or polishes, but one bottle tends to last for quite a long time.

Polishing brush x1
Some people like to have separate brushes for brown and black shoes, but I stick with using just the one. I’ve not found that the brown wax residue transfers on to my black shoes, or vice versa.

The polishing method

Use conditioner one week and cream – or wax, if you prefer – the next. Either way, the polishing procedure is the same:

1. Clean

polishing-1-clean

Ensure that your shoes are dry, then brush them down do remove any hardened on muck, dust and whatnot. Make sure you get those bristles into stubborn bits like the welt. If your shoes are particularly hacky, wipe them down with a wet rag, wipe the excess water off with a dry rag, and then brush them down again. Soles can be quickly scrubbed down with a brush if necessary, as well.

2. Apply

polishing-2-apply

Rather than a brush I recommend using rag-wrapped fingers to apply cream or conditioner. This enables you to actually feel which parts of the shoe are the most dried out and apply accordingly. Wrap a rag firmly around your index and middle fingers and lightly dip it into the cream, then rub it into the leather using circular motions. Use a corner of the rag to get deep into the crack between the welt and upper. The whole applying process shouldn’t take more than a few minutes per shoe.

3. Leave to dry

polishing-3-leave-to-dry

Or, to be more precise, clean and then apply cream to your other shoe: by the time you’re done the first shoe should be dry. If it isn’t, then you’ve probably splurged on more cream than is necessary.

4. Polish

polishing-4-polish

Grab your polishing brush and give it some welly. Work from the wrist, rather than the elbow, to get your shoes polished off with speed (now there’s an instruction that could be easily be misconstrued). I usually find that a brush provides enough shine, but if you really want a mirror-like finish give your shoes a final going over with a taut rag.

How often should I apply leather conditioner?
Applying conditioner and cream each week is unnecessary unless your shoes have undergone a traumatic event of some kind, such as being soaked through and dried out more than once over a five-day period. Use conditioner one week and cream – or wax, if you prefer – the next. Either way, the polishing procedure is the same.


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Andrew Watson is the editor of men's style blog www.makethman.com. He lives in Tokyo, Japan.

Comments

  1. Michael Poplawski says:

    Being retired from the US Army and having spent many years spit-shining I have also come up with a much faster technique. It is almost the same as the article, except I put more emphasis on the rag buffing. Once brushed I buff my shoes first with one of those flannel/fleece type buffing cloths and then a second buffing with an old nylon sock (with a fine weave). Put it on your hand like a puppet and give a really good buffing. The shine will really come up with this last step. I shine my shoes after each wearing and usually put at least 10 coats on new shoes before they are worn. The real secret of a great shine is the polish build up (especially black shoes). So give the technique time work its magic.

    I also don’t use conditioners since the boot cream I use is taking care of that too. I have 15 year old shoes that were beginning to crack on the sides, and since doing using this techniques for the last 6 years the damage was halted. I now prefer creams because I feel that the paste type waxes, though waterproofing the shoe, prevents the leather from breathing thus causing the cracking.

    Anyone have any comments, or other techniques?