USU Extension: Shoe Repair 101

Caring for our shoes is not just about making them look “new” again, but about extending the life of the shoe—and with the cost of good shoes these days, that is reason enough in my book. Wouldn’t it be nice to find out that, thanks to appropriate care, your shoes look as if they were brand new after two, three, or four, years?


No matter what type of shoe we are talking about, there are small and simple things we can do to extend the life and improve the look of our shoes. They are:

– Clean your shoes regularly. Never leave mud on them for a long time.

– Condition your footwear. Almost any material used in shoemaking requires conditioning.

– Polishing is necessary. If you have velvet shoes or some other that do not allow polishing, use special tools to make them glow.

– Preserve the shoe in the manner that is best for the material of the shoe. By “preserving” we mean weatherproofing and waterproofing—with effective products for your different shoes, as well as deodorizing and shaping.

While it is possible to take your shoes to a shoe repair shop to be cleaned and polished-it is possible to do many things at home. Here are some ideas:

Cleaning and Polishing Shoes

Only a few items are necessary:

• Natural bristle brush

• Old toothbrush or q-tip

• Shoe Cleaners

• Wax or cream polish

• Soft cotton cloth or rag

• Newspaper or an old sheet

Shoe cleaners come in gels, foams, sprays, liquids and creams. Many leather cleaners come with an applicator top, or you can use a soft shoe brush to aid in removing dirt from the surface of the shoe. This will also help to remove dirt from any cracks in the shoes. One of the most common leather cleaners is saddle soap.

Leather Shoes

First, remove the laces—if applicable. Next, use a brush or damp cloth to clean dust or dirt from the shoe, heel and sole. Select a polish that matches your shoe color. Polishes that contain dyes, pigments, wax and conditioning agents keep footwear looking fresh, add shine and cover scuffs. They are available as liquid, paste(used for the sturdier/heavy leather shoes) and cream(used for the very soft kid skin leather shoes). Although liquid polishes, with their foam applicator tops, are easiest to work with, shoe repair experts recommend the protection and conditioning offered by creams and pastes — liquid polishes can dry out shoe leather and cause cracking.

With a soft cloth, apply a small amount of polish in a circular pattern. An old toothbrush or q-tip is useful for getting polish into small or tight areas. Place the polished shoes on newspaper or an old sheet to dry. When the shoe is dry, usually after about 15 minutes, brush with a natural bristle brush, then buff to a shine with a clean rag. If you are polishing several pairs of shoes, be sure to use a different brush and rags for each color of polish.

Cleaning Suede and Nubuck Shoes

Shoes with a nap, such as suede or nubuck, can’t be polished. According to the Shoe Service Institute of America, preventive maintenance is the key to keeping these types of shoes in top shape. After purchasing a pair of suede or nubuck shoes, you’ll first want to apply a protectant to repel water and stains. However, repellant only lasts for a while, so you’ll need to reapply it periodically. Gently brush suede and nubuck footwear to remove loose dirt and restore nap on a regular basis. If you own a pair of oiled nubuck shoes, you may also want to apply conditioner to preserve them. Stains should be treated immediately with a solvent-based suede cleaner. If they prove hard to remove, take the shoe to a shoe repair professional.

Caring for Athletic Shoes and Sneakers

Athletic shoes with fabric or suede uppers and trim can be cleaned the same way you clean your suede or nubuck shoes. Special sneaker shampoos, used with brush applicators, do a good job of cleaning stains and dirt from leather sneakers. Cover scuff marks with matching polish. Sneakers made from canvas, such as Converse All Stars, can be washed by hand using a toothbrush, mild soap and water.

Two Cautions: If you decide to look after your shoes yourself, make sure you take all the necessary precautions before you start. First, the area you are working in should be properly ventilated. Secondly, use gloves to protect skin. Many shoe care products consist of toxic ingredients to improve efficiency and thus may be somewhat harmful.

Read the instructions given on the product’s package carefully. Before you apply it on your favorite pair of shoes, make sure it was designed for the type of the material your shoes are made of. If you use a product for the leather shoe care on a suede shoe, the consequences may be disastrous.

Here are a few more shoe care tips for additional materials:


– Velvet should be cleaned with dry cloth ONLY, as water will ruin the material. To remove dirt, rub the shoes gently avoiding round moves.
Mesh materials:

– Use damp sponge to clean the upper material.

– Use waterproof products to protect the fabrics from water.
Miscellaneous Fabrics:

– Use damp sponge or dry cloth to clean the upper material.
– In case you are uncertain, use dry cloth to remove dirt, rubbing the material gently.

– Use invisible colorless products to protect your shoes from water and dirt.

Other Preserving Tips:

1. Organize your shoe storage—boxes, racks, or stands. It is not a good idea to have them all piled on top of each other in the bottom of the closet—this does not allow them to breath or to maintain proper shape.

2. Also make sure there are no direct sunrays hitting your footwear—this will dry out, crack, fade, and weaken the fibers of your shoes.

3. Some heel repair can be done at home—Crazy Glue, Super Glue, and Shoe Goo are all options for helping to mend and repair heels—depending on the problem and the heel. Take shoes to a repair shop for re-soling and heel repair.

4. Heel tips and heel caps can extend the life of your shoe.

5. Often, it is possible to repair squeaky shoes at home too.

6. Use a shoe deodorizer to help preserve/extend the life of the shoe.

Remember that if you take care of your shoes the way needed, they will serve you for many years to come, and every time you put them on will be a pleasant and comfortable experience.

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