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The Perfect Polish

Achieve the Perfect Polish

The shoeshine is one of our regular rituals, a reoccurring item on the monthly to-do list. Whether you prefer the bustling lobby of a downtown skyscraper or the serenity of your own home, the twenty odd minutes set aside for shoe beautification and preservation will save you from both expensive repairs and lackluster duds. In order to put your best foot forward, regular maintenance is needed - a pit stop of sorts, that will keep your shoes (and therefore you) looking sharp for years to come.

However, it is important to understand the shoeshine process for what it truly is, the primary means of lengthening the life of your fine leather shoes (short of shoe abstinence). If we assume that a shoeshine is only about the "shine", we might as well throw our money away on instant polishes that will ultimately stain the shoes and destroy the integrity of the leather.

So for all those interested in achieving the perfect polish, for those who'd like a good return on their "shoo-in" investments and for those who are simply curious as to what's going on down there by their ankles, the following shoeshine guide should help put a spring in your step.


The first and least enjoyable step in the DIY process is cleaning your leather shoes. To remove unwanted dirt, stains and residue, you will need to use leather cleaner or shoe cleaner. There are a plethora of shoe cleaners out there (gels, sprays, foams, creams, etc.) and the only rule of thumb is never use one that contains acids or detergents. With a soft shoe brush, damp cloth or with the agent's built in applicator, apply the shoe cleaner and lightly brush away any dust or debris from the surface of the shoe. This is not a rigorous process, but you will want to focus on the cracks and crevices as well as any spots where old polish might have built up. A meticulously clean shoe surface will ensure a better condition, a better polish and an overall better result.

Insert cedar shoetrees and let your shoes rest a moment in a clean dry place at room temperature. Ten minutes should do the trick.


Much like hair products, you can find cheaper 2-in-1 products that will act as poor substitutes for specific cleaner and conditioner offerings. But why cut corners when dealing with leather (known for its predisposition to dry out and crack in changing weather conditions or exposure to water and heat)? Take it from us, nothing takes the place of a product whose sole purpose is to condition. To keep your shoes soft and supple, you will need a natural conditioner that will not work against the leather's natural oils; therefore, it is wise to avoid synthetic conditioners that have a tendency to resist absorption.

With a soft cotton cloth, rub small amounts of conditioner onto the surface of the shoe. Apply evenly over its entirety. This step should not be neglected for it will greatly extend the life of your favorite footwear. At this time, take two minutes to see how far they've come – from wandering in dust to wanderlust. Leather is porous, and by thoroughly cleaning then conditioning your shoes, the leather will absorb conditioner up to a point. After the short break, wipe away any of the excess conditioner.

Beyond the Spit Polish

Actually applying the shoe polish is probably the most enjoyable, and yet, somehow the most baffling aspect of this entire process. The up-side is that once completed, you will own an almost brand new pair. Of course the daunting task is finding the correct shade of polish to apply without discoloring your beloved pair of driving shoes. Many manufacturers suggest specific polishes for their more exotic leathers, and any retailer worth their salt will not lead you astray. So please ask if you are unsure, for it is very important to find a high-end shoe polish that will match the color of your favorite kicks. To press the point, shoe polish is not paint and it is very difficult to cover-up one's mishaps. As a general rule, it is better to use a color that is a lighter register than the shoes themselves.

In a well ventilated area, use a soft cotton or cotton flannel shoeshine rag to slowly rub the polish into the shoe. Shoe polishes are usually creams or pastes, but there are some quality liquid polishes to be found as well. Take enough time to thoroughly apply an even coat. Once finished, take a few minutes to allow the polish time to dry. After your brief hiatus, use a shoeshine brush or a horsehair brush to quickly buff your shoes to the desired shine. To buff effectively, make rapid sweeping motions that glide across the surface of your shoes.

Good as New

To keep shoes looking so fresh and so clean, you'll need to wax poetic. Beeswax or carnauba wax products can act as sealants or protectants to work against the adverse effects of weather and wear. Some of these products are actual shoe polishes in their own right, but many are applied after the shoes have been buffed. These protectants are found in the form of creams and sprays and will not be absorbed into the leather. Instead, they form a protective surface that provides a substantial barrier against water and damaging grime. Although they are not mandatory (and if found as the base to a polish, not wholly necessary), they are commonly used to keep shoes looking new. Occasionally, protectants can alter the appearance of a shoe, as with polish, it is important to ask questions if you are having trouble deciding.

Last Minute Tips

  • Remove laces prior to cleaning; You can always wash the laces on there own.
  • Newspaper is your friend; Lay down newspaper to protect a table or counter from spilled polish.
  • Protect your manicure; Latex gloves are a small investment to protect your hands from shoe polish.
  • All hope is not lost; If you have a watermark or ugly scuff, take your shoes to a professional.
  • First things first; Clean, condition, polish and protect new shoes once before wearing.