How To Prolong the Life of Leather Shoes

by Jennifer Grindl
DIY Landscaping for Less photo
High-quality leather shoes don’t come cheap. However, the investment can save you quite a bit on shoe replacement costs if you care for them properly.

Many people spend hours upon hours shopping for a good price on quality leather shoes that are comfortable, supportive and look nice, but very few people take the time to care for their leather shoes properly.

From my experience, it is possible to get many years of almost constant wear out of leather shoes, provided that you take the time to maintain them. There is no reason, financial or otherwise, to walk around in scuffed-up, dirty shoes.

Below, I have outlined the basics for cleaning and polishing leather, as well as my experiences with heel and sole replacements so you, too, will know how to prolong the life of leather shoes.

Leather Shoe Heel and Sole Replacement

If your shoes have seen better days, before assuming you need a new pair, shop around and compare the cost of replacing shoe heels and soles at the various cobblers in your area. Don’t forget to check out dry cleaners, as some offer shoe repair services. You can also send your shoes in for repair.

Depending on where you live, you may not have many cobbler options, if any. Try a site such as that allows you to mail your shoes in for repair.

Much of the cost of shoe repair depends on the type of shoe/boot, the material it is made out of and geographical location.

Before you balk at the idea of spending additional money on a pair of shoes you already paid good money for, allow me to point out that replacing heels and soles is still cheaper than buying new shoes. I have also found that the material used by cobblers for heel replacements lasts much longer than that used in the original manufacture of the shoes.

Sign Up for Savings

Subscribe to get money-saving content by email that can help you stretch your dollars further.

Twice each week, you'll receive articles and tips that can help you free up and keep more of your hard-earned money, even on the tightest of budgets.

We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at any time.

How To Clean, Polish and Prolong the Life of Leather Shoes

So, you ask, now I know that I can replace the heels and soles, when necessary, but what about cleaning them? What about those nasty scuff marks?

Here I have outlined the basic materials and steps to cleaning and polishing all your leather. Note that the cleaning methods also work well for leather bags and jackets, but you will want to leave out the polish.


  • Rags (for buffing): Old cotton t-shirts or flannel shirts cut into useable sized pieces are perfect for this.
  • Cleaner: I use saddle soap, which is very affordable.
  • Water-proofer: Sno-Seal and Huberd’s both work very well and a single can can last for several years.
  • Wax polish: You can get black, brown, neutral and other colors, as needed
  • Horsehair shoe brushes: You need one brush for each color of polish that you own, and one brush for neutral. (All of my shoes are brown and black, so I only have two.)
  • Spray bottle with water
  • Mink oil
  • Edge dressing: A little goes a very long way with this stuff!

Putting a Basic Shine on a Black Boot

1. Cleaning: Apply moistened saddle soap with hands or a rag, following directions on the can. Generally, you want to moisten your hands or a rag, rub on the saddle soap and wipe it off with a clean dry rag. It is better to use a little less and do two applications, than it is to get the leather too wet.

For very soiled boots (those with dried mud and loose dirt on them), you want to take a stiff scrub brush and scrub off as much of the loose, dry dirt as possible before starting the cleaning process.

2. Edge Dressing: Apply edge dressing according to the directions, to the heel of the boot and the soles (not the bottom part, but the edge that shows when the boots are being worn).

3. Scuffs: Dye any scuffed areas with leather dye, which can be found at most shoe cobblers and on the web.

4. Apply Polish: There are two ways to do this:

  • Ignite the polish (in the can) with a match and allow it to melt. (I recommend doing this out on the porch, or someplace else where you won’t start a house fire.) Put out the flame by smothering it with the top of the can and then apply wax polish in warm liquid form to the boot with your hands (I wear latex gloves). When you apply it to your shoes, pay special attention to seams, cracks and crevices and make sure that you get all areas thoroughly.
  • Apply wax polish (not melted, but straight out of the can) with a dauber or applicator, once again, paying special attention to seams, cracks, and crevices.

5. Brushing and Buffing: Buff the boot all over where you applied the polish with a horsehair brush until it gains a moderate shine. Spritz a small amount of water all over it and continue to buff until it starts to shine even more.

Complete the shine by buffing with a clean, soft, cotton rag until glossy. Some people prefer less shine. To achieve this finish, stop after buffing the boots once and bypass the water spritz and second buffing.

For Oil-Tanned Leathers

Boots made of oil-tanned leather do not take a shine and in fact wax polish will damage that type of leather. Clean boots with saddle soap and apply a leather conditioner such as mink oil.

Unless you have an exact color match, or when a boot/shoe has decorative stitching in a contrasting color, it is best to polish with neutral wax, using a separate brush and buffing rag and following the same steps as for black boots.

Waterproofing Leather Shoes

Treating boots with water-proofing is the only time that you should ever apply heat to your leather. Warm your boots using a hair dryer or by setting them in the sun or briefly in the oven. Rub in as much Sno-Seal or other water-proofer as the leather will absorb and wipe away excess with a clean rag. Allow boots to sit overnight before polishing.

Reviewed September 2023

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This