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The Complete Guide to Shoe Care

Complete guide to shoe care

We won’t deny it; we love new shoes. Nothing beats cracking open the box of a new pair and immediately planning all the different ways you’ll be able to wear them and the different outfits you’ll be able to put together.

However, we also have our old favourites. The shoes that have seen us through thick and thin, the ones which have been broken in and now fit perfectly, the ones that we still love even if they’re beginning to look a little rough around the edges.

That’s why we’ve put together this guide to help ensure that even your most well-worn shoes look their best, as well as helping you keep new shoes in pristine condition. If you know what products you need, you can go straight to our shoe care products by clicking here.




Of course, there’s no “one size fits all” solution to keeping shoes in good nick; there’s so many combinations of materials and sizes that every individual case needs to be judged on its merits. That said, there are some general, basic things you can make part of your daily routine to help care for shoes and make them last considerably longer.

Rotation


Rotate your shoes on a daily basis

Where possible, avoid wearing the same pair of shoes repeatedly, day in, day out. By allowing even just one day between wears, it gives the shoe time to recover its structure (this is particularly true in shoes made from naturally occurring materials such as leather). Wearing shoes in this manner, even if it just means wearing them 50% of the time you normally would, can more than double their lifespan. And speaking of rotation...

Pick appropriate shoes


Pick appropriate shoes

We know this sounds like common sense, but by combining appropriateness with rotation, you can extend the life of your shoe collection as a whole exponentially. Particularly important is opting for shoes that are at least water-resistant when you know you’ll be outside in wet weather. While most shoes will dry off, repeatedly getting porous materials (such as canvas or suede) wet can lead to them deteriorating more rapidly over time.

Shoe trees or paper


Shoe tree

Another action related to rotation is using shoe trees or even just scrunched up paper (avoid newspaper where possible, as the ink can stain certain materials such as suede) when shoes aren’t being worn. Well-fitted wooden shoe trees are considered the ultimate option, as they both preserve the structure and shape of a pair of shoes and help absorb moisture and keep them smelling great.

A budget alternative for shoe trees is simply screwed up paper. This can be particularly effective for boots, which can easily take on a slouchy look quickly if they’re not supported internally.

Act quickly


Quickly clean your shoes after wearing them

While it’s always tempting to simply throw your shoes off after a long, muddy walk, taking just a few seconds to remove as much dirt and mud from them as you can after each wear can add up to the equivalent of dozens of extra wears in the long run.

The best way to do this - whether with a vigorous scrub or a light dabbing - will depend on the material, but it’s always a good idea to deal with dirt before it stains or gets irreparably caked on.

Be proactive in stopping odour


Be proactive in stopping odour

Even if you keep your shoes looking pristine on the outside, there’s also the unavoidable matter of odour. Particularly in shoes or sandals designed to be worn without socks, over time they can develop an unwanted smell.

Alternating shoes and using wooden (particularly cedar) shoe trees will both help reduce the smell, but you can take further preventative measures to help keep your feet fresh:

  1. Try adding a small amount of baking soda to shoes overnight and then removing it in the morning.
  2. Insert dryer sheets into the shoes overnight.
  3. Use odour control insoles (you can buy these here).
  4. Wear socks where possible - if you don’t want your socks to show, try ankle socks.

If your shoes have already developed a bit of a pong, click here to read the section of this guide about how best to freshen them up again.



Cleaning shoes

This section of the guide will breakdown how to clean various different types of material and parts of the shoe. While there is considerable variation across fabrics and textures, there is one rule of cleaning shoes that applies to just about every case; when leaving shoes to dry, keep them away from direct sources of heat, including sunlight. This can cause stains in suede from uneven drying, cracks in leather dried too quickly, and bleaching on coloured canvas.

Canvas

Canvas is a massively popular choice on shoes including Converse and Vans. It’s light, breathable, and presents the possibility of personalisation. However, it is extremely easily marked.

Be sure to check the manufacturer’s advice before washing, but as canvas is largely similar to the material used in clothing, generally the best course of action is to remove the laces, put them in a mesh bag, and run them on a cold wash cycle in a machine.

We’ve got a more comprehensive guide on our page about how to clean white Converse.

Cork outsole

A popular material for outsoles, cork is generally found on sandals. If you need to clean cork, you can follow these steps:

  1. Mix lukewarm water with some soap (either laundry or regular) - only use soap that doesn’t contain artificial dyes or scents.
  2. First wipe the mixture onto the cork with a cloth - avoid getting them too wet.
  3. Take a brush, dip it in the mixture and scrub any particularly marked areas gently.
  4. For really stubborn marks, wait until the cork is completely dry and then lightly sand the area in question. This will remove a layer of cork and leave it mark free.

GORE-TEX and other mesh materials

Many modern trainers feature an upper constructed partially or completely using mesh-like materials and breathable membranes such as GORE-TEX, thanks to the weight-reducing properties they possess compared to leather.

However, one of the downsides of these meshes is that, in allowing moisture to escape from the shoe, they can pick up odour quite quickly. As such, it’s good to give them a clean regularly, particularly as they’re normally used on shoes that are worn specifically for exercise.

  1. Mesh can be quite fragile, so avoid using harsh brushes or corrosive liquids when washing.
  2. Mix lukewarm water with some non-scented soap and lightly apply it to the mesh with a sponge or cloth.
  3. Leave the shoes to air dry naturally.
  4. If this doesn’t achieve the desired effect, many trainers can be machine washed, but check the manufacturer’s guidelines before doing so.

Leather

With so many different grains and variations of leather, there’s no steadfast approach to take with all. The first thing to do when you’re planning on cleaning leather shoes is check the label or box to see whether the leather is treated or untreated.

With grains that are tougher or have been treated - such as patent or top-grain, both of which tend to have a plastic coating - you can afford to be slightly rougher when brushing off dirt and wiping the shoes with water or soap.

Untreated leather, particularly premium full-grain, is better washed with saddle soap or special leather cleaner. It can then have its luster restored with a leather conditioner, and if treated with a protective spray can offer more resistance to water. However, bear in mind that it’s always a good idea to see what the manufacturer advises.

Leather outsole

Leather soles are largely restricted to use on formal shoes for men and women. Perhaps the the best care advice we can offer for leather soles is to follow the suggestions found in the general care and and daily routines; rotate regularly, give the leather a chance to recover between wears and only wear leather-soled shoes when weather permits.

It’s also a good idea to give leather soles a wipe after every wear. As with a shoe’s upper, keeping the sole clean and free from clumps of mud can increase the lifespan significantly. If stones or gravel become lodged in the leather than can cause tears, so removing these before they become embedded is a good idea.

If you envision a particular pair of leather-soled shoes seeing a lot of action, you can invest in heel and toe taps. These small metal covers fit on the tip of the toe and around the heel and help relieve stress on two of the most easily worn areas.

Lug patterns

As with the general upkeep of a shoe, it’s a good idea to keep the lug pattern found on the bottom of a rubber-soled shoe as clean as possible.

After each wear, try to remove as much of the dirt and other detritus that gets stuck in the rubber as possible. Small stones in particular can become wedged in the gap between the lugs and can damage them, causing them to wear away more quickly. You can use a blunt kitchen knife to help prise these stones from the sole and keep it sturdy for longer.

Nubuck

Technically a leather, nubuck is animal hide which has been created using the same processes used in the manufacture of suede. As such, it tends to sit between leather and suede in terms of ruggedness when it comes to caring. It’s still a good idea to brush in the direction of the nap, but you can afford to be slightly more vigorous.

You can see our guide to caring for leather above, and read about suede care here.

Nylon

Nylon is a popular choice on the exterior of snow boots as it’s both lightweight and highly insulatory. However, as nylon boots tend to be worn during winter, they easily pick up marks and stains.

Lukewarm water combined with soap is generally the best way to keep nylon boots clean - however, if you find that the boots don’t respond enough to this method, we’ve put together a full guide about how to spot clean them here.

Rubber

While rubber is associated with being tough and tricking to mark or stain than many materials, it can happen, particularly with rubber wellies worn all the way through winter.

Cleaning rubber is similar to several other materials - remove as much dirt as possible, then scrub with a mixture of soap and water. You may also find that rubber gradually loses its shine - this can be restored through an application of rubber buffer, which you can buy as part of the Hunter Rubber Care Kit. This process will also help alleviate the appearance of white marks on darker rubber, known as blooming.

You can read our longer guide about caring for Hunter boots specifically by clicking here.

Rubber outsole

Rubber is by far the most popular material used in the construction of outsoles, favoured for its durability. However, on white soles in particular (the colour of choice for Vans and Converse, among others), it’s extremely easy to mark, particularly as the outsole is intended to serve as an impact-absorbing buffer when walking.

Depending on the severity of the mark, you can use soapy water, nail polish remover or, for really tough scuffs, rubbing alcohol - but be aware that this can damage the rubber.

You can read a step-by-step guide to cleaning rubber outsoles at the bottom of this guide.

Suede

Suede is a delicate material that relies on a layer of short hairs - known as the nap - for its luxuriously smooth look. Being too vigorous when cleaning suede can result in permanently damaging it.

We recommend using only specialised suede brushes (you can buy one here) and brushing lightly. The best substance to clean suede with is water, but be sure to avoid using too much and get a nice even spread, otherwise it can result in water stains. It’s also best to brush only in the natural direction of the nap - going against the grain can cause irreparable damage, and is only advisable when tackling stains that absolutely must be removed.

You can read our in depth guide to cleaning and caring for suede here.



We’ve already covered several steps you can take on a regular basis to keep shoes smelling great, but if you’re already passed that stage and need to know how to combat a smell that’s already there, here’s what you can do:

  1. First, simply try airing the shoes out. Remove the insole (frequently the cause of the most smells, as it is most often in contact with the base of the foot), unlace the shoes if necessary, and pull the tongue out to make the opening as big as possible, and then just let them breathe for a while.
  2. Once dried, see if there’s still a significant smell and identify where it’s coming from. Insoles are often the culprit, and these can be machine washed on a cold cycle in a bag to help freshen them up (or replaced with special anti-microbial insoles). If it appears to be a general theme with the entire shoe, however, don’t despair.
  3. One method you can try is putting your shoes (with the insoles) into a freezer bag overnight and freezing them. This should only be tried with canvas shoes.
  4. Odour blocking cleaner products can also be used.
  5. Putting baking soda into shoes and leaving them overnight can help absorb the bacteria that results in smells.
  6. For shoes that can’t be machine washed, rubbing alcohol carefully applied with a cloth can achieve a similar effect, neutralising the bacteria.


polishing shoes

Although most often associated with men’s dress shoes, basically any leather shoes can be polished. Polishing helps restore life to a tired-looking pair of shoes, as well as disguising scuffs and revitalising leather’s natural water-resistance. Follow these steps to have your shoes gleaming!

  1. Spread newspaper out liberally beneath your shoes. It’s also a good idea to wear clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty, particularly if this is your first time shining shoes. Polish has a remarkable habit of going everywhere!
  2. Clean the shoes as best as possible with a brush - polishing over dirt will leave an uneven, flaky finish. If need be, use a wet cloth to remove mud and grime and then wait until the shoes are completely dry.
  3. Take a cloth or a polish brush and evenly apply the polish to the entirety of the shoe’s upper. Leave to dry.
  4. Once dry (usually around half an hour), take a horsehair brush and brush all over - this will remove any extra polish while retaining a solid layer across the whole shoe.
  5. Optionally, you can then take a piece of cotton wool, dip it in some water and then the polish and apply it using small circular motions to the toe and any other parts of the shoe that you’d like to be particularly shiny.


Images courtesy of Dandy Shoe Care, B+C+C+F, Margie, Steven Depolo, and Brian Ledgard.


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