Caring for Your Dress Shoes the Right Way

How to greatly extend the life
of your favorite shoes

Written by Clifford Chen

For accessories that
constantly beat up and stepped on (literally), shoes sure are underappreciated.
A pair of good shoes can make the difference between an outfit that gets you
the job, and an outfit that makes people wonder if skateboards are your sole
means of transportation. However, even the most expensive pair of shoes in the
world won’t do anything for you in the long run if it is neglected. We’ve all
been there. You buy a new pair of shoes, and at first, you’re excited, and you
clean off the little smudge you got on day one when you bumped into a table.
But over time, as the newness wears off, you forget to clean off all the
smudges, and they add up. You end up not caring about them, and your “new”
shoes are ruined, causing you to buy another pair much sooner than you really
needed to. It’s a vicious cycle. But when you treat your shoes like an
investment and spend some time caring for them, storing them properly, and
cleaning them when necessary, you’ll protect your purchase for years to come.
Caring for your shoes isn’t as daunting as you might think. Here’s what you
need to know.
Some Footwear Rules

Before you try to clean and
repair your dirty shoes, you should first understand the rules that will help
you get the best use and longest life out of your footwear from day 1.
Prevention and good practices will ensure that all of your wingtips, chukkas,
and boots are wearable for the long haul.

  1. Wear the right shoe for the
    right occasion. Running shoes, boots, and oxfords are not the same shoes and
    should not be worn as such. Additionally, leather, suede, and canvas are not
    all fair game when the weather is in flux. Dress appropriately for all
    situations to ensure that your shoes won’t be ruined prematurely.
  2. Invest in quality. While the
    initial costs may be high, you may end up saving money throughout the lifespan
    of the shoe. Cheaper shoes are made with less durable materials and may end up
    costing you more in the long run, because of the need for constant replacement.
  3. When you buy a new pair of
    shoes, make sure to prepare them appropriately before their first wear.
    Waterproofing, conditioning, and polishing are all vital for a shoe’s
  4. Avoid wearing the same pair of
    shoes every day. Constant rotation gives them time to rest and allows the
    insides to air out.
  5. If your shoes do get damaged,
    consider repairing first instead of replacing. You may only need to replace a
    sole instead of the whole shoe.

Caring for Your Dress Shoes

As great as water is, it can
damage and destroy your shoes if you don’t take precautions. Whenever it rains,
salt can penetrate leather and stains will stay permanently. The leather is
also susceptible to drying out and cracking if it is exposed to excessive
moisture. Leather and suede shoes should always be waterproofed in order to
properly protect them, especially if you live in a rainy climate. Once a month
should be sufficient if you live in a place that doesn’t get much rain.
However, if it rains daily, you may want to consider waterproofing every week
just to be safe. And, if you notice that water stops beading up on the surface,
that means it’s time for a new coat. Waterproofing compounds come in wax-based
polishes, specialty water protectants, and spray-on solutions. We prefer spray-on
waterproofing compounds because they are quick, easy, and effective. All three
compounds are viable options though, so pick one that works best for you.
Shoe Polish

A regular polish will extend
the lifespan of your shoes and ensure that they always look new. Only leather
shoes require polish and applying it about once a month should be enough to
achieve that mirror-like shine.
Horsehair Brush

A horsehair brush can be used
to gently brush debris and dirt off of the surface of your shoe. Feel free to
use a horsehair brush on all kinds of shoe materials. The sturdy and dense
hairs can help you apply cleaner and polish to your shoes too, making this
brush a pretty useful tool for your entire shoe collection.
Shoe Horn

New shoes, and dress shoes, in
general, are great. They’re also stiff, which is where a shoehorn comes in
handy. A shoehorn can prevent you from doing that wiggle dance every time that
you need to put on your shoes and protects your shoe’s heels in the process by
helping you slip into them more easily. This will help prevent the back of your
shoes from wearing down and getting bent out of shape.
Shoe Trees

shoe tree
Shoe trees are objects that
are placed inside of a shoe to help preserve its shape and lengthen the
lifespan of the shoe. When it comes to the shoe tree, wood is king. It has a
huge advantage over plastic since it can help you dry out the lining of your
shoe by absorbing built-up moisture.


leather shoes
Leather shoes can last a lifetime
if they are properly taken care of. Since shoes are subject to so much wear and
tear every day, it is important to use a horsehair brush regularly to remove
any dust or debris. Start off by giving your shoes a wipe down with a warm
sponge in order to make the leather more porous. Next, apply the waterproofing
compound of your choice. About once a month, be sure to condition your shoes to
help soften and moisten the leather in order to prevent any cracks. However, if
your shoe starts cracking, there is nothing that can be done to save it. The
next step is to apply polish with mild pressure in circular motions throughout
the shoe. Once your shoe starts achieving a mirror-like shine, you’re pretty
much done!

canvas shoes
Your first instinct may be to
throw your canvas shoes into the washing machine and then hope for the best.
However, the blades and heavy spin cycles may end up destroying your whole
shoe. A better method is to apply a small amount of detergent and water to each
spot that needs to be cleaned. A toothbrush can be used to expertly spot clean
any stains, while also preserving the integrity of the shoe.

suede shoes
It is recommended to use a
suede protector; in order to better protect your suede shoes from stains. They
should also be sprayed monthly with a waterproofing solution because when suede
gets wet, it’s damaging. Suede stains extremely easily, so any suede shoes that
you own should be cleaned immediately as soon as they start getting dirty. A
suede brush uses nylon bristles for lighter, gentler cleaning off any dirt and
oil stains. For marks that have already set in, a solution made up of two parts
water and one part vinegar can be applied to the stains to try and combat the

rubber shoes
While purely rubber shoes may
be uncommon, rubber soles are often found on the bottom of many sneakers. It
can be annoying to see that white strip of rubber turn into an unsightly mess,
covered with dirt and tar. The combination of a toothbrush and toothpaste can
actually clean stubborn stains away. Another alternative is to use a Mr. Clean
Magic Eraser with water to wipe away dirt from the bottom of your shoe. The
Erasers are made of melamine foam, which is really effective at removing tough
set-in stains.


mesh shoes
Most athletic shoes are made,
for the most part, out of mesh. You’ll want to soak your mesh shoes in a warm
bath (your sink should suffice) with liquid dish soap. After they’ve been
soaking for a while, use a soft cloth or brush to scrub away any dirty areas.
Once you’re done, allow your mesh shoes to air dry in a place that doesn’t get
direct sunlight (like your porch or a safe place indoors).
Just like any of your other
clothing items, your shoes should be cleaned and maintained regularly. By
taking care of your shoes on a regular basis, you’ll protect all of your
purchases so that they last as long as possible. Keep them clean, and you’ll
ensure that you’re always putting your best foot forward.
For more on how to remove
stains from your favorite ties and shoes, check out our Ultimate Guide to
Caring for Your Ties and Shoes.
Clifford Chen

Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.