How To Clean Your (P)leather Shoes

I am a self-proclaimed shoe destroyer. I try to take care of my precious belongings (the few I have left), however, unsurprisingly, when you live out of a suitcase and your stuff is already from the discount aisle, this is no easy task. As a result, I have often been the victim of shoes breaking at church, in airports, on vacation, and many more extremely inconvenient locations, and the things that I do still possess usually look like they have been through a war, which is starting to become embarrassing.

If you’re as much fun as I am, then there’s a good chance your leather boots and heels look like this too. Now, there isn’t a ton I can do for you if all of your shoes are bought from Pay Less, but even if they are (because like I said….) here are some clever little tips to keep your (p)leather looking not so shabby that you’re embarrassed to wear it. That’s a start, right?


What You’ll Need: 

  • Toothbrush
  • Babywipes or gentle soap and water
  • Various dry cloths/towels
  • Leather polish such as Dr Martens Wonder Balsam
  • Q-Tips
  • Destroyed stuff
  • Vinegar (optional for salt stains)
  • Cornstarch (optional for grease stains)
  • Olive Oil (optional for scratches)

1. Brush off the dirt before doing anything else. This can be done pretty easily by taking an old toothbrush (no, don’t use your roommate’s) and gently scrubbing in small circles any gunk and dirt that is loose enough to break off with these sturdy little brushes. Try not to let the dirt sit on the leather for a long time… it will slowly destroy it. It’s a good idea to clean all of your own leather every few months/once a year.

2. Babywipe off excess dirt. You can also use a cloth and some gentle moisturizing soap and water, but you might as well use baby wipes – they are a good combination of dry/wet that can get off that excess dirt that you loosened while scrubbing with your (roommate’s) toothbrush. Leave this on for a few minutes.

3. Towel off moisture. Do not leave soapy substances on your boots (forever) because it will damage them. Instead, grab a dry towel and gently wipe off the combination of soap and water until the boots are dry.

4. To remove salt stains, use vinegar. Mix vinegar and water together and then use another cloth to dab at the salt stains until they disappear. After, use another cloth dampened with water to remove the vinegar/water and then use a dry cloth to dry completely.

5. To remove grease stains, use cornstarch. After gently removing the excess grease, cover the stain with cornstarch and allow it to sit overnight. Then, brush off the cornstarch and clean it off with soapy water and allow it to dry after drying it slightly yourself with a dry cloth.

6. To remove scratches, use olive oil. Dip a q-tip in olive oil and rub in a circular motion around the scratch until it becomes less visible. Then, as always, remove the olive oil with a damp cloth before allowing it to dry.

7. Polish your boots. I like using polish because it brings about a healthy shine and it can also restore leather to one solid color after your boots have been through war. Recently, I purchased Dr. Martens Wonder Balsam (between $9 and $14 on Amazon, and you don’t need a lot) which received rave reviews (and I may just be kind of dumb) but worked okay, but not great. Put a little bit of balsam on the attached sponge (pearl-sized amount) and make circular motions on your boots to polish and really work into the seams. Let the balsam sit and absorb for about five minutes before wiping off with a damp cloth and then using a dry cloth to gently dry.

8. Stop jumping in mud puddles and messing up all your nice stuff. 


Steps courtesy of WikiHow and a boring Sunday I spent cleaning all the leather I own. 

*Note: Before and After boot pictures do not depict same boots. “Before” boots are lying in a dumpster in a German airport and “After” boots are in the closet of someone who makes a lot more money than I do.*


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