Shoe Care – Cleaning, Stain Removal & Essential Accessories

Shoe Care

I like it when I can keep my shoes looking good and in new condition. Shoes tend to get dirty and scuffed up fairly easily. Most of the time my go-to is a rag and water or a rag and leather conditioner. This works fine, but some issues require additional help.

Your shoes will look great and last longer with regular shoe care. If you choose, you can even repair your shoes. You may need to invest a bit of time and money to keep your shoes looking their best. But if you love your shoes your investment will be worth it.

There are many simple ways to take care of your shoes and keep them performing their best. We’ll discuss ways to get that will help you get the job done.

Shoe Care

Shoe Cleaning

When cleaning your shoes, a routine is key. Decide on a routine of once a week, once a month, or whatever seems best for you.

If your shoes are leather or suede they will need to be conditioned first. This helps the leather shoes resist a lot of conditions that cause staining and dirt accumulation. So, in order to maintain clean shoes and prevent any water damage that might occur from occasional wiping down with a wet rag, condition your leather shoes.

It’s a good idea to have a container of cleaning materials available near your shoes for convenient cleaning. Hold all of your supplies in one place to make it easier for you to maintain your shoe’s cleanliness. (Amazon Link)

I use a shoebox to hold all of the supplies I’ve accumulated over the years. Some of the essentials that have been important for me over the years have been a shoe brush, cleaning rags, shoe conditioners, and water-proofing supplies.

For most shoes, a bit of water and a soft clean rag or cloth will work to clean the surface of the shoe.

If you have new leather shoes, for the first couple of times cleaning them I would recommend using a conditioner. This will help your shoes get ample moisture resistance if you decide to wipe them down with water and a rag.

Basic Cleaning for Different Shoes

Every shoe can require special cleaning methods, although some cleaning will work for every shoe type. A moist clean rag will work for almost any shoe. Add some soap for extra cleaning or saddle soap for leather products.

For stains, some of the household products you use and have available can work to clean stains that won’t come off with normal cleaning.

Alternatively, you can take your shoes to a professional cleaning service or put them in the washer if you don’t want to do it yourself for any reason. (For Washing Shoes Click Here)

Some of the best ways to take care of shoes are preventive.

Waterproofing your shoes or adding a protective spray will prevent staining and water damage from occurring. It will also prevent dirt (article) from penetrating the fibers of your shoe, so anything spilled on them will clean up easily.

Many products are available, and possibly the easiest way would be to use a monthly protective spray that coats your shoe and prevents dirt and stains from sticking, so they can be clean up with a damp cloth easily.

1. Leather Care

It is ok to use water and soap to clean leather shoes, up to a point. You’ll want to use saddle soap because it contains conditioners to help preserve moisture in the leather.

Leather shoes are resistant to damage by water to a certain extent. Leather shoes can stain from water and dry out if exposed to water without some type of oil or conditioner applied.

Keep a schedule of moisturizing your leather shoes to help them stay clean, water-resistant, and prevent any cracking caused by dryness.

To start cleaning you’ll want to have your shoe brush (Amazon Link), cleaner and rag or scrub brush, and conditioner with a clean rag.

Brush off excess dirt with your shoe brush. Apply saddle soap
(Amazon Link) if you have some. 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 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 cleaning without saddle soap, use a mild soap and a clean damp rag and lather up your shoes as much as necessary. If you need a scrub brush, gently agitate the soap onto the leather until the dirt is lifted.

Try using small amounts of soap and water. Long exposure to water isn’t healthy for your leather shoes.

Use a clean dry rag to wipe off the soap suds and dirt. A moist rag can be used to remove any excess soap suds.

Wait until your shoes dry and immediately apply a moisturizer if the saddle soap doesn’t come with conditioner. There are a number of quality leather conditioners available. Deciding what works for you.

Deep cleaning with saddle soap or a leather cleaner is important once in a while. It gets rid of excess layers of polish or dirt that may have accumulated over time.

When your shoes are thoroughly cleaned they’ll accept the moisturizer much easier and help maintain shoes that polish better.

Notice if there are any stains after cleaning. You’ll need to address these stains before applying your moisturizer or polish.

2. Patent Leather

Patent leather is leather that has a special finish applied, so it becomes very shiny. This leather tends to be very durable and has an almost waterproof coating.

In order to care for this leather you can use petroleum jelly or mineral oil to remove scuff marks, and using a little glass cleaner is helpful to create a nice shine on the surface.

Just rub the mineral oil or petroleum jelly on the shoe with a rag until the mark is removed.

No other special care is needed for these kinds of shoes.

3. Nubuck, Sheepskin Boots, and Suede Care

Suede and nubuck are leathers that are somewhat velvety in texture. Nubuck is somewhat more durable.

To help clean it you’ll need a suede or nubuck eraser (Amazon Link), and a brush. Use the eraser for scuffs and scratches by rubbing over them with light to medium pressure. If you have a white eraser, this will work as well.

Then use a suede or nubuck brush to remove the eraser particles and dirt or stains. You may also use a nail brush. Then shoe texture will nap to that velvet texture again.

If you think you need to clean your shoe better, use a light mixture of soap and water with a scrub brush and rub over the entire shoe. Let it dry and use an eraser and suede or nubuck brush to get the shoe looking new.

A final step to use is to spray a stain-blocking coat on the shoe to prevent future stains.

No conditioner is usually needed with these types of shoes.

4. Canvas Shoe Care

Start with a shoe brush and a clean moist rag to help clean off your shoes. For simple cleaning, brush your shoes and then wipe them down with a damp clean rag.

You can also hand wash your shoes with a soap and water solution using a scrub brush to agitate the fibers until they are clean. Rinse off the shoes with some warm water and let them dry.

If you want to wash your shoes in the washer machine be careful and follow the directions as shown in this article.

5. Tennis Shoes

If you have leather tennis shoes follow the directions for cleaning leather shoes from number 1 above. You can condition your shoes and add cream polish to help maintain proper protection and color for your shoe.

For synthetic leather, use a mix of warm water and mild soap. Use a damp cloth and add a drop of mild soap to it, and rub the shoe until it is clean. You’ll want to use water lightly as well as how much you scrub the shoe, otherwise, the finish will come off.

Alternatively use a scrub brush and gently rub the shoe until it’s clean. Wipe off the water and suds with a clean cloth.

To protect synthetic leather baby oil can be used.

6. Non-Leather Sports Shoes

If you’ve looked at and touched your sports shoes you’ll probably have noticed they are made of mesh-like fabrics, plastic, and rubber on various parts of the upper.

To clean these materials you’ll need your shoe brush to brush off the dirt and dust, a cloth to wipe down dirty areas, and a scrub brush or toothbrush for scrubbing those pesky sticky stains.

Usually, all you’ll need if your shoe has gotten fairly dirty is to hand wash them with a mix of dish soap or laundry detergent and water. Softly scrub the mesh areas and scrub normally areas of plastic, rubber, and foam with soapy water.

If you’re careful not to use too much water you’ll not need to rinse your shoes. Just use a dry cloth and dab over and wipe the shoe down until it is dry.

Your shoes will likely be dry in less than an hour if you let them sit at room temperature.

Stains Removal for Different Shoe Types

After you clean your shoes, you may notice stains that haven’t come out yet. Try some of the following solutions to help remove stains.

1. Leather

On leather shoes, if you’d like to remove stains you can use half water and half vinegar. Apply the mixture to a soft rag and rub it into the leather to help remove stains.

You can also remove shoe scuffs by using baking soda on a damp cloth. Rub the damp cloth with the baking soda on the scuff until it goes away. Then clean off your shoes, and apply any polish if necessary.

2. Patent Leather

For patent leather, you can use petroleum jelly or mineral oil to remove scuffs. You can also try olive oil by dipping a rag in some oil and rubbing it onto the scuff.

If you spill something on these shoes try wiping it off with a damp cloth. If this doesn’t work try applying scotch tape to the stain if the stain is fresh. Peel off the tape and see if that removes the stain.

If the stain remains you can also try a magic eraser and rub out the stain. Be careful not to use anything that will scratch the surface of the leather.

3. Nubuck, Sheepskin Boots, and Suede

For stain removal on these shoes try using a clean rag a white vinegar or rubbing alcohol. Rub gently until the stain lifts. Wipe off excess moisture and let dry. When dry use a suede brush to nap the leather where needed.

Alternatively, you can use a white eraser to rub gently on stains to lift them away or try a nailbrush if you don’t have a suede brush. These will help rub and sweep away the stain on the leather.

If the stain remains you could also try using a mixture of half water, half distilled vinegar. Dip a clean rag in the solution and gently rub the stain until it goes away, using more solution as needed. Dab away any moisture from the shoe after cleaning and let dry.

4. Canvas Shoes

For canvas, you’ll want to clean them like your clothes. Use soap and water and scrub until the stains are removed.

You can clean rubber soles using a mixture of half water and half baking soda. Scrub the shoes with a scrub brush dipped in the solution to help remove stains.

5. Tennis Shoes

You will find that your shoes are made of leather or synthetic materials. If stains are present on these shoes try a damp cloth and gentle soap first.

If the stain persists you can use a clean cloth or cotton ball and try nail polish remover or vinegar to help remove the stain.

Dab the cloth in the cleaner and wipe off the stain. Continue until your shoe is white again.

Another option for white shoes is to use a solution of 5 parts water to 1 part bleach and apply it to your shoe with a toothbrush. Scrub softly and when the stains are gone rinse with some warm water.

You can also use white toothpaste and a toothbrush to clean the dirt and stains off your white shoes. Scrub the shoe and wait at least 10 minutes. Then wipe off the residue with a damp clean cloth.

If your shoes are leather don’t forget to condition your shoes after they dry.

5. Non-Leather Sports Shoes

Start by removing any dirt and wiping off them clean with a damp rag. When cleaning the mesh and rubber areas you can use a cup of water and a teaspoon of dish soap or laundry detergent. Use a cloth or toothbrush as necessary to remove stains.

For the foam soles of the shoe, you can try a one-part baking soda and one-part laundry detergent mix and scrub it on with a toothbrush. Wipe off the soap when finished with a damp cloth.

Shoe Accessories for Shoe Care

1. Shoe Tree

To keep your shoe shape looking good and prevent creasing (article), use a shoe tree.

It works well with almost any shoe type, and helps remove moisture, and therefore smells, from shoes if the shoe trees are made of wood.

2. Shoe Brush

There are many types of shoe brushes. You’ll want to at least get one dry shoe brush to brush off dirt and excess wax from polish.

Some shoe brushes are made of finer hair, meaning that polishing will need fewer brush strokes.

Shoe brushes for applying creams and waxes are also helpful in spreading the polish evenly and getting in the crevices. Rags and clothes may have difficulty with the finer details.

3. Rags and Cleaning Cloth

Essential for helping your shoes stay clean and buffing moisturizers, and polishes.

Use them for wiping clean, washing your shoe, spreading polish, buffing, and wiping polish off. You’ll need to organize them so no cross-contamination occurs.

Get an old t-shirt and cut it into squares about 10″x 10″, or any size that works well for your shoes. Have a stack ready to use and when you’re finished using them, store them with the same product that you used them with.

I use a hairband, that comes in a 30 pack from the dollar store, to attach my rag to the container I used them with.

If your rags get too dirty, cut up another old shirt or use your old shocks like I do and replace those old rags.

4. Shoe Conditioner

Getting a good conditioner is essential for healthy leather shoes. Your shoes will be able to resist the sun and rain much better when moisturized with a conditioner.

If you wait too long you’ll start to see small cracks in your leather after you’ve worn them without conditioner for a while. If you touch your shoes and they feel dry, they probably are.

Conditioner is best to use after your shoes have been cleaned well.

5. Shoe Polish

After your shoes have been moisturized, a great way to protect your shoes is to apply shoe polish. Your shoe polish will have the waxes and oils needed to prevent the effects of weathering in a similar manner as the conditioner.

Shoe polishes come in cream polish for color restoring and wax polish for creating a shin for your shoes. You’ll likely want to apply the cream polish before the wax polish. I usually just use wax polish because I am happy with the way my shoes look after the polish.

Your polishes will help your shoes maintain the color you want and make them look new and shiny. That’s why I like leather shoes, you can help them look like they are new after months or years of use.

After cleaning and moisturizing your shoes, apply shoe polish. (This can be done with multiple stages of creams and waxes, but I prefer to make it simple and just go with a tin of shoe polish that is the same color as my shoes.)

Apply polish to cover the entire shoe. You may use a rag to apply polish or if you have a polish brush use that to help you reach all the crevices of the shoe.

Let the polish dry for about 10-20 minutes. Use a shoe brush or rag to remove excess polish.

Don’t forget to add extra shine if you want to. You can get a slightly damp rag and dip it in the wax polish and work it into the areas you want extra shine, such as the toe and heel section. This may take some time.

Let your shoe polish dry for as long as needed and either use a shoe brush or a dry rag to clean any excess. Repeat using a damp rag and wax polish if you want to shinier finish.

The more you buff your shoes and apply the polishes, the shinier it will look. So decide if you want to put in the effort and get that glass-like shine effect. You’ll need more time or money, but your shoes will look great.

Brushes for applying polishes are usually best. But if you use rags for applying any type of product, like waxes, creams, or polishes, then I would suggest getting a thicker type of microfiber cloth. These are best for helping get into the nooks and crannies of shoes.

6. Shoe Waterproofing

This accessory can be a fabric spray, an all-purpose spray, an oil, or wax. Check your shoe materials.

If it’s a regular leather shoe, not suede or patent leather, you can waterproof it in a more permanent way with mink oil or a beeswax product.

If your shoes are not regular leather, use a spray to protect the fabric or leather, which will also usually have some waterproofing properties. It’s likely you’ll need to apply the spray on a monthly basis depending on how often you use your shoes.

7. Shoe Horn

When you have boots or dress shoes, you likely want to get a shoehorn (article). It can be used to help your foot slide in and out effectively without causing damage to the heel or sole of your shoe.

Constant application of pressure on the sole from using your foot or shoe to pull off your shoes, causes the glue or the stitching to come loose.

Crushing the heel section of the shoe occurs at times when trying to get the shoe on, creating a crease and a floppy heel section of the shoe.

Using a shoe horn will help you avoid these issues. If you have shoelaces on your shoe, it is good practice to unloosen them well when putting on and taking off your shoes. You’ll avoid some problems that might occur otherwise.

Thanks for visiting

Addition Questions

When should I take my shoes to a cobbler?

It’s a good idea to take your shoes to a cobbler when you have high-priced shoes that need repair, and or when you’re not confident you can repair your shoes by yourself. A cobbler will be able to give you information about your shoes that you might not have known and save you money.

Should I get a shoe cleaning product?

Get a shoe cleaning product if you want to have a convenient way to clean your shoes. It may be less of a hassle and more effective than DIY cleaning. Make sure you buy a product that is specifically designed for your shoe type.


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.

Recent Posts