Leather Shoe Care [Guide – Tips and Tricks]

Leather Shoe Care

A nice pair of leather shoes can last for a good ten years easily. You may need to replace the soles, but if the leather is conditioned regularly, they’ll just keep going and going.  

Leather shoes are a good investment for shoes you plan to wear for a long time. The key to caring for them is keeping a regular schedule of care and maintenance. Conditioning, polishing, replacing soles, and shoelaces if needed, and repeating are the steps for good shoe care.  

It can be very simple to maintain your shoes. Just keeping to a schedule that might trip up most people. When I wear my dress shoes, I use conditioner and polish about every two months. The repetition is the key. It saturates the leather with oils and waxes so that your shoes are sure to last a very long time.

So, what should you do first?

What to Do First for Leather Shoes

Do This First Leather Shoe Care

Before you start wearing your leather shoes regularly, you should protect them. Do this as soon as possible. First, get into the habit of taking care of your shoes, and second, stop stains and premature wear that can occur when first using your shoes by conditioning them or using a protectant spray.

These conditioners can help protect your shoes from water and other particles from penetrating the leather. 

Using protectants and conditioners is the first step to getting your shoes to last longer and stay looking nice. Some may darken leather, so look at the product description and decide if that’s okay. 

If you don’t want to use a conditioner, you could opt for a protectant spray. These cover your shoes in a layer of clear waterproof material that will stop your shoes from getting stains and prevent dirt particles from penetrating the leather.

  • Dress shoes – Use a conditioner, a colored or neutral polish, or a  protectant spray.
  • Regular leather shoes – Use a conditioner or a  protectant spray.
  • Nubucks – Use a conditioner or a  protectant spray.
  • Suede – Use a conditioner or a  protectant spray.
  • Sheepskin – Use a conditioner or a  protectant spray. 
  • Patent Leather – Use castor oil, mineral oil, olive oil, petroleum jelly, or a conditioner.

Whether you use a conditioner, polish, or a protectant spray, they will only last for a couple of weeks to months, depending on how much you use your shoes.   

I prefer conditioners overall because they usually soak into the leather, and over several applications, your shoes start to get saturated with the conditioners and that creates a soft, pliable leather that doesn’t crack, looks nice, and holds up well over time.

Tip – Some conditioners or protectants can cause the color of your leather shoes to rub off. You can first test on a small unseen section of leather to test colorfastness. Adding too much conditioner may cause more color to come off. It all depends on the product you use and the quality of your shoe leather.

Which Product for Leather Conditioning? 

which product Leather Shoe Care

When you get new shoes, you might not need to condition them, but doing so can help them last longer and resist stains better. Your shoes may already be somewhat protected when you first buy them, but not always.

You’ll need to decide which leather conditioner is best for your shoes. I find that reading reviews give me a good idea about how effective a conditioner is and how well it works for specific leathers. 

I use a product called Leather Rescue (Amazon.com Link). It works well so far. It takes a while to soak in but then your shoes stay protected well. A lot of people on Amazon.com use a product called Honey Leather (Amazon.com Link) and most have good results too. 

You should get a product that works best for your type of leather. Soft leather, nubuck, suede, sheepskin, and patent leather can various products that claim they are used for conditioning.  

If I were getting a product today, I might consider one of the following to use for various types of leather shoes. 


Soft Leather


Nubuck and Suede




Patent Leather

You may not need to condition nubuck, suede, sheepskin, or patent leather much because they often resist stains and cracking fairly well with regular cleaning. Although, it’s a good idea to do so if you use them regularly and start to see wear, drying, and cracking. 

Tip – Regularly worn leather shoes and shoes that you’ll use in rain or other harsh conditions will do better with conditioning or a protectant. Patent leather is usually waterproof and protectant may damage them.  

Caring for the 5 Main Types of Leather Shoes 

The most common types of leather you will usually see at the shoe store are soft leather, nubuck, suede, sheepskin, and patent leather. Each is a bit different, although nubuck, suede, and sheepskin usually require the same type of care.

When caring for your leather shoes, you’ll need to clean them, remove stains, condition them, and protect them. We’ll cover how you can do that for each type of leather shoe on this list.    

1. Soft Leather Shoes

soft Leather Shoe Care

These are leather shoes such as boots, dress shoes, and tennis shoes. Soft leather is porous, so it can soak up conditions, but it can also get clogged with water and dirt. 


It is OK to use a bit of warm water and gentle soap on your leather shoes to clean them.

  • Use a clean cloth, put it in warm water, and squeeze the cloth until the excess water is removed.
  • Put a drop of mild soap on the cloth and rub it into the cloth.
  • Use the cloth to wipe off any dirt or stains as best you can. 
  • You can also use saddle soap (Amazon Link) for deep cleaning. You’ll need a damp cloth while applying. After rubbing the soap and lathering up your shoe, use a clean, dry cloth to remove the excess lather and you’re done. This is a great soap because it cleans leather well and will condition your shoes in one step. The downside is that the soap can cause your shoes to darken.
  • For Stains on leather shoes, you can use half water and half vinegar. With a soft rag, rub the solution onto the shoe to help remove stains. 
  • For scuffs, you can use baking soda on a damp cloth. Rub it onto the scuff until it goes away. Last, clean your shoes and condition them if needed.

Leather shoes can be resistant to water damage if not left in water too long. So wetting to the surface with a wet rag to clean off your leather shoes is fine.

Once they are dry, check again for any stains, and if you see any, try again using warm water, a bit of soap, and a bit of effort to get the stain out. 


Once they’re fairly clean and dry, you can condition them. This means you’ll be applying a product that usually has some oils in it to protect your leather. 

  • Apply the conditioner and wait up to an hour if needed to let the conditioner soak in.
  • Wipe off any excess conditioner with a clean cloth.
  • If your shoes soaked up the conditioner and look somewhat dry, they may need another application.

Use a clean rag or the same condition rag each time you apply the conditioner. Keep to a once-a-month schedule to make sure your shoes don’t get dried out and remain soft and look good.

If the conditioner stops soaking into the leather, that’s a sign you may not need to condition as often.

Trick – A conditioner can act as a cleaner and conditioner most of the time. If you wipe off excess dirt and condition, you’ll notice a lot more dirt can come off as well. 

Tip – If you just spilled something on your shoe, you’ll be able to clean it off with a cloth and water. Then just let it dry and the leather should be fine. Just don’t over-saturate the leather with too much water.   

2. Nubuck Shoes

Nubuck Leather Shoe Care

These are shoes that are made from the outside layer of cowhide or animal skin. It tends to be thicker and more durable. It looks and feels like suede, although the texture tends to be softer. 


Normally you don’t need to use water to clean off nubuck. You can use a soft brush and white eraser to clean the surface of the shoe.  Be sure to rub gently so you don’t ruin the nap from rubbing or scrubbing too hard. 

  • A soft brush similar to a nail brush can be used gently on the surface of the leather to clean the surface and restore the nap of the nubuck.
  • A soft white eraser, sometimes called a suede eraser, can be used for stains that don’t want to come out. Rub gently with the eraser. 
  • If you still see stains on the shoe after rubbing with the eraser, then you can use a soft brush dipped in water and a bit of soap solution, and lightly scrub the entire shoe so it looks even. Let it dry. Then use the eraser again and the stains should come out better. Leave a shoetree in the shoe to maintain the shoe shape.  
  • If you want to spot clean, you can use vinegar on a cloth and rub gently.  
  • Use a soft brush again to restore the nap. 


You don’t usually need to condition your nubuck shoes. They usually stay in good condition for long periods with careful cleaning.

If your shoes have a lot of wear, it might be a good idea to use a conditioner. If you do use condition, check that it works for nubuck or suede. Conditioners can help repel water and protect from shoe drying out over time. 

Some people prefer clear spray protectants, which don’t usually condition but protect from water and stains.

  • If your nubuck is old and looks worn, you can restore it with a leather conditioner. Leather Honey’s website claims their product can be used on nubuck, although it doesn’t give specific instructions on how to use it.
    • My guess is that you:
      • Condition the entire shoe with a thin layer.
      • Wait for the conditioner to soak in.
      • Dab off the excess with a clean cloth.
      • Then brush the shoe with a soft brush to restore the nap.  

Tip – A nubuck/suede brush helps resort to the look of your shoe, but if you don’t have one, use a soft dry toothbrush. 

3. Suede Shoes

suede Leather Shoe Care

These are shoes that are made from the inside layer of cowhide or animal skin. It tends to be thinner and less durable than Nubuck. It looks and feels like nubuck, although the texture tends to be a bit rougher. Care for these shoes is similar to nubuck leather.


Follow the same procedures as cleaning nubuck (see cleaning nubuck)


 Follow the same procedures as conditioning nubuck (see cleaning nubuck)

Trick – Use cornstarch on an oil stain on your shoes. Let it sit for 30 minutes, and brush off. 

4. Sheepskin Shoes

sheepskin Leather Shoe Care

These shoes are made from sheepskin that is usually tanned on the outside and has soft fleece on the inside.

Care for these shoes is similar to nubuck and suede shoes. 


Follow the same procedures as cleaning nubuck (see cleaning nubuck)


 Follow the same procedures as conditioning nubuck (see cleaning nubuck)

Tip  You can clean the inside of your sheepskin boots using mild soap and water. You can deodorize the inside of your boots with baking soda.  

5. Patent Leather Shoes

patent Leather Shoe Care

These are shoes are made from leather that has a polyurethane/acrylic coating on top. This makes the leather mostly waterproof. They last a long time and you can use oils to help maintain the outside layer. 


Patent leather is fairly easy to clean. But there are some ways to help them last longer.

  • Using a moist rag can help you remove dust, dirt, and some scuffs. 
  • To remove scuff marks use a cloth and rub on petroleum jelly or other oils mentioned below. (If you have cracks or open seams in your shoe, be careful with oils because they may create a mark between the leather and plastic layer.)
  • If you have a watermark, rubbing alcohol can be used to buff out marks on your shoes.
  • For stains, you can try a magic eraser to rub out the stain. Be careful not to use anything that will scratch the surface of the leather.
  • For more information on cleaning and maintaining patent leather, see this Cosmopolitan article.


 Using castor oil, mineral oil, olive oil, petroleum jelly, or glycerin can help keep your shoes skinny and softer.

  • Apply the conditioner and wait 15 minutes and then wipe off. (If you have cracks or open seams in your shoe be careful with oils because they may create a mark between the leather and plastic layer.) 

Trick – Did you know you might be able to iron out your patent leather creases or wrinkles? Using very low heat and a paper bag on top of your shoes, pass the iron over the creased area fairly quickly as to not damage the coating and help get the wrinkles out. For more information, see (oureverydaylife.com)

Maintenance for All Leather Shoes

The leather on your shoes will last a long time if conditioned when needed. You will eventually need to take care of the soles and the shoelaces once they are worn out. 

  • Replace the shoelaces when needed. You can opt for leather laces or waxed laces if you want them to last a bit longer. See my shoelace tip replacement article if you want to save your laces.
  • Replace the sole when worn down. You’ll likely need to go to a cobbler for a stitched-on sole. If you notice your shoe is only worn down on one side of your heel, you can use a heel plate (Amazon.com link) to level out the heel.
  • Glue the sole back on if it starts to come loose. In this article, I show how I use Shoe Goo to glue the sole of my dress shoes. 
  • Use a Shoetree to maintain the shape of your shoes over the years. These can help your shoes reduce moisture levels and stay wrinkle-free longer. 
  • Use protectant Spray when you expect your shoes to get dirty frequently or when you are in rain and snow often. (Don’t use on patent leather.)

If you love your shoes and they are comfortable to wear, it makes sense to maintain them and repair them.  

Make Conditioning a Routine

Once a week it’s a good idea to take a look at your shoes and clean them. This keeps stains from setting and helps you know when you need to condition them and when maintenance is required.

Routine is key to long-lasting shoes. Once your soft leather shoes are conditioned regularly, they will absorb enough oils to stay in good condition for long periods.

It’s when your shoes are stripped of their oils by washing them too much or not applying conditioner often enough, that they may start to get dry and crack. Leaving them out in the sun and exposed to the weather can also prematurely dry them so they are stiffer and start to look old.

After a bit of cracking and drying, you can still condition them and make them look very new again, but too much cracking will make them less functional and not look so good.

How Often Should You Condition Leather Shoes?

It depends. Leather shoes should be fairly soft and flexible. If your shoes start to look dry, it may be time to condition them. You could even do two coats of conditioner for extra absorbent leather. Remember, colored leather may lose some pigment during conditioning, so test a small area first.

Try conditioning your shoes on a regular schedule. Once the leather stops absorbing the conditioner, it doesn’t need anymore. The rule of thumb is to see how well the conditioner is absorbing into the leather and adjust accordingly. At most, wait an hour for the conditioner to absorb. 

  • You could try conditioning about once a month if you use your shoes daily.
    • This may also depend on your conditioner. If it’s a light spray, you may want to use it more often, but an oily liquid might only be needed once a month or less.
  • If you rarely use your shoes, you might opt for every six months.
  • If you’re out in the sun with your shoes for long periods each week, you might want to try conditioning every two weeks.      

Regardless of how often you condition, you should set a routine to check on your regularly worn shoes once a week to see if they need cleaning or conditioning. 

Final Thoughts

You can enjoy your leather shoes for a long time with regular care. Make sure to buy quality shoes so they will be comfortable and last a long time. Once you invest your time and energy into maintaining your shoes, you’ll have pride of ownership and recognize better, the quality of the shoes you have. 

A regular schedule of cleaning, especially when stains are new, and conditioning will ensure you have shoes that outlast most other fabric or faux shoes you may have. 

Thanks for visiting Helpshoe.com 








I enjoy many types of outdoor activities including running, hiking, and walking. I was a former elementary school teacher for 17 years and now enjoy writing and sharing my love of the outdoors.

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