Two Finger Technique

I have tried a number of different polishing techniques to put a mirror shine on the toe of a shoe and as has been stated before, shoe polishing is more of an art than a science. It is actually more about feel and technique than anything else.

There are a few basics however: 1) Only use a little water at a time, 2) Only use a little polish at a time, and 3) Get a feel for the smoothness of the wax as you polish.

To that end, when using a cotton cloth, I use what I refer to as the Two Finger Technique (I’m probably not the first, or the only person, to use this technique however):

1) I wrap a cotton cloth (old t-shirt) around my first two fingers.

2) I get the tips of both fingers wet through the cloth (I use a spray bottle on mist, but tapping in a tin of water would also work).

3) I lightly rub the middle finger in the polish I am going to use, just enough to cover the tip of the finger.

4) I begin to rub the polish onto the toe of the shoe with just the middle finger (index finger slightly raised and pressed against the middle finger for support).

5) If I need to add a little more water to really smooth out the coat before the next one, I simply lower the index finger and rub the polish with that finger for a few seconds. If polish is transferred from the shoe back to the cloth covering the index finger then you used it too soon.

6) As I need more polish, I simply rub the middle finger lightly in the tin of polish again.

7) As the cloth dries out I spray (or tap) a little water onto the cloth covering the fingers.

This technique allows me more control over the amount of water and polish I use, as well as giving me a good feel for the smoothness of the wax.

I normally only use neutral paste polish (over a good color cream coat) when creating a mirror shine. I used color in the picture so that the amount of polish could be seen.

Two Finger Technique

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Tassel Hassle

Every once in a while I get asked how to fix the tassels that splay out on tasseled loafers.

First it is important to understand why the leather strips that make up the tassel tend to curl in the first place.

A tassel is typically made of a single piece of leather with the top twenty percent or so remaining a solid piece of leather while the remainder is cut into strips (and sometimes tapered at the end).

These are made from very thin leather, but they are still leather which means that they have a grain side and a flesh side. The grain side of your shoe upper is on the outside and the flesh side is on the inside.

Because the grain side of the leather is exposed to the world, when a shoe is made a finish is applied to protect the leather to some degree. The same thing is done to the pieces of leather used for tassels. Then the tassel pieces are rolled around and attached to a leather strand that is attached to the shoe.

Since the leather of the tassel is so thin it dries out (loses its oils) much sooner than the leather of the shoe upper. The curling is caused by two factors related to the drying out of the leather:

First, leather is denser at the flesh side than the grain side, so when the leather dries the grain side compresses faster that the flesh side. Second, the finish on the grain side remains constant so it cannot shrink, it has to curl.
Tassel1

So now the question becomes, how do I fix the tassels once that has happened?

In the past I have recommended applying some leather conditioner (like Lexol) to the tassels and putting a rubber band around the ends. This will add the oils back into the leather, and the rubber bands helped straighten out the curl. It wasn’t a perfect solution but it worked for the most part.

However, I recently came across a product that seems to be the perfect solution for this problem. It is called Tassel Mate. It comes with a leather conditioner and multiple wraps that cover the entire tassel.
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After:
Tassel2

I think it is a great idea for people with tasseled shoes that want to take good care of them.

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Evaporation and Polishing

Evaporation plays a greater role in polishing a shoe than most people realize.

Both the polish solvent, and the water used to press against the wax, vaporize. Not only does this remove the liquid solvent and the water from the surface, it also cools the surface of the wax slightly (like sweat evaporating off of the skin of a jogger).
perspiration

Another interesting aspect is that the solvent and the water evaporate at different rates. The solvent (if it is Naphtha or Turpentine) evaporates about ten times faster than water. Isopropyl Alcohol (rubbing alcohol) evaporates about twice as fast as water, and four times slower that turpentine.

The faster the moisture evaporates the cooler the surface it was on becomes (it has to do with heat energy). Countering that action when polishing the shoe is the friction heat caused by the rubbing. So the less pressure rubbing required and the faster the evaporation, the easier it is to create a smooth coat of wax.

Of course the dissolving aspect of the solvent plays a role in this process as well, partially breaking down the wax of the previous coat, and allowing the current polish to spread. The quicker the solvent evaporates in this case the better.

One of the reasons I use orange oil as the solvent in the GlenKaren polish is that it evaporates about three times faster than turpentine when exposed to air.

One of the main factors in determining evaporation speed is Vapor Pressure, which is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). The smaller the mmHg the more volatile (faster evaporating) the liquid is. Measuring the vapor pressure of the following liquids at a temperature of 68F/20C we see the following:

Orange Oil = 1.43 mmHg
Turpentine and Naphtha = 4 mmHg
Water = 17.5.8 mmHg
Isopropyl Alcohol = 33 mmHg

This would make it seem like water evaporates faster than Isopropyl Alcohol, which is not true. One of the other factors that can effect evaporation speed is Hydrogen Bonding within the molecular structure. Water (H2O) has very strong hydrogen bonds, which slows down its evaporation. Water has 4 times as many hydrogen bonds as Isopropyl Alcohol. Basically what it comes down to is that water evaporates about twice as slowly as Isopropyl Alcohol.
evaporation

Orange oil and Turpentine are very similar in a lot of aspects:

  • Both orange oil and turpentine are solvents and considered volatile oils (evaporate quickly). With orange oil evaporating about 3 times faster.
  • Both come from natural sources; pine trees for turpentine, and oranges for orange oil. Both are biodegradable.
  • Turpentine has a flash point of 90F, whereas orange oil has a flash point of 113F. (both closed cup). A higher flash point is a little safer.
  • Solvent ability is measured in KB (Kauri-Butanol) Value. The higher the number the better the solvent ability. Turpentine has a KB value of 56, and orange oil has a KB value of 67. Making orange oil a better solvent by a small factor of about 1.2x.
  • Orange oil cost about twice as much as turpentine.
  • Orange oil smells like oranges, turpentine does not.

pinetree
oranges

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Fabric Plugs

When a material, different than the upper, is used as the vamp on a moc-toe style shoe the inserted material is referred to as a “Plug”.

When the upper is made of leather, and the plug is made of fabric (canvas, linen, etc…), that just becomes a pain to polish.

Trying to keep the polish color off of the fabric, while brushing the shoe, after a good coat of polish has been applied is almost impossible.

Some people try to cover the fabric with tape. Some rub the polish on with a cloth and never brush. Some only use neutral polish. I have a different approach altogether.

I simply polish the shoe like I would any other, without applying polish directly on the fabric of course. As I brush the shoe some slight amount of polish will end up on the fabric, but I don’t care.

Once I have polished the upper to the level of shine that I desire. I get a small ramekin of warm water and mix in about a quarter of a teaspoon of Oxiclean (which you can pick up almost anywhere you find cloths soap). I take a medium to soft toothbrush and move it quickly back and forth in the mixture to create a slight foam.

I then take the toothbrush and lightly scrub the entire fabric plug (so as not to leave any water lines). Some of the cleaner will get on the leather, but I just wipe it off with a damp cloth or cotton round.

Once the plug dries it will look like new, and go great with the new shine you just put on the rest of the shoe.
single-shoe

If you end up with any white residue on the fabric, just scrub the plug again with clean water to remove the excess cleaner (remember to do the entire plug).

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How to Clean your Shoes

Sadly most shoes never get properly cleaned. Shoes are never cleaned, or in some cases they are cleaned too vigorously.

The average person may rub on, and brush off, some paste wax on a pair of business/dress shoes from time to time, but they never take the time to actually clean them.

Shoes spend their entire lifetime either on a shelf gathering dust, or traveling at ground level through public streets and buildings. Shoes are constantly exposed to all kinds of dirt.

To compound the issue, the wax in the shoe polish used to protect and shine the shoes, also attracts dirt due to the sticky nature of wax (even very shiny wax). In fact, most dirt on shoes isn’t in the shoe leather, it is trapped by the wax layers of the shoe polish.

There is also some confusion around cleaning a shoe, and stripping a shoe. The difference between stripping a shoe and cleaning a shoe is the amount of wax that is removed.

Since most shoes (unless they are brand new) have a build-up of wax, a leather cleaner is only going to remove a few surface layers of wax. This is effective for cleaning because that is where most of the dirt is trapped anyway. Scrubbing harder with a cleaner will remove more wax, but you also run the risk of damaging the leather surface with being too aggressive with your scrubbing.

For stripping shoes I always recommend Saphir RenoMat. Although RenoMat states that it is a “cleaner-stain remover” on the bottle, it is actually a wax stripper. RenoMat will easily dissolve the wax for removal with a cloth, but it will also remove some of the oils from the leather, so you will want to condition your shoes (with leather conditioner) after you use it.
saphir-renomat

For cleaning a shoe there are a number of products available, which can be broken down into two types:
1. Leather Cleaner
2. Leather Cleaner/Conditioner

The common leather cleaners used for shoes are: Any brand of Saddle Soap, or Lexol Leather Cleaner. Saddle soap usually comes in a paste, while the Lexol Leather Cleaner comes in a liquid. I prefer the Lexol Leather Cleaner for ease of use.
Saddle SoapLexol Leather Cleaner

The down side to using just leather cleaner is that you should almost always use a conditioner on your shoes after they have been cleaned, making cleaning and conditioning a two-step process. Leather conditioner is just oil (or a mix of oils) used to keep the leather soft and supple, so it doesn’t dry out and crack.

Neetsfoot oil can be used as a conditioner, as can mink oil. Lexol also makes a leather conditioner.

Rather than make it a two-step process, I usually use a Cleaner/Conditioner when cleaning shoes. Saphir makes a cleaner/conditioner named Renovateur that is very popular, and very good quality. I used Renovateur for some time, until I created my own GlenKaren cleaner/conditioner, and of course that is what I use now.
Saphir-Renovateur-1M-CC-500

Cleaning with leather cleaner alone works a little differently than cleaning with a cleaner/conditioner combination. This is mainly due to the difference in cleaning agent used. Leather cleaners, like saddle soap, are glycerin (soap) based, while the cleaner/conditioners are solvent based.

The basis of the cleaning agent determines how the cleaner should be used. When using glycerin based cleaners you want to rub the cleaner into the wax with warm water to help dissolve the wax, so that the cleaner and the wax can then be “washed” off along with the dirt trapped in the wax layers that are removed.

With glycerin based cleaners you do not want any of the glycerin left on or in the shoe leather as it will continue to dry out the leather over time. For this reason, when using a glycerin based cleaner you want to rub the cleaner into the shoe gently with a sea sponge, but hard enough to raise a slight foam, then wipe the foam off with a clean sponge (rinse out the sponge in clean warm water). I would suggest wiping the shoe off a couple of times to make sure the glycerin is gone.
wool sponge-small

Never scrub a shoe, as that can open the pores of the leather and cause damage. Always rub firmly, but gently. A soft cotton cloth can be used in place of a sea sponge, but you will find that a sea sponge makes the job a lot easier.

A cleaner/conditioner combination will not foam as it uses a solvent to dissolve the wax. In the case of the GlenKaren cleaner/conditioner I use orange oil as the solvent, but most cleaner/conditioners do not list what they use as a solvent.

Because a cleaner/conditioner does not include glycerin, but does include oils, you don’t want to wash it off. You simply want to wipe off the dissolved wax (and trapped dirt), while leaving the conditioner on the shoe. For this reason it is actually better to use a cotton cloth than a sponge.
cotton-cloth - Copy

After you have cleaned your shoes be sure to let them dry before adding any shoe polish.

You should only have to clean your shoes after every 6 to 10 times you wear them, or if you have gotten them obviously dirty.

Always try to give your shoes a quick brush, whenever you take them off or put them on, to minimize the collection of surface dirt.

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Non-Toxic Shoe Polish

I love shoes, and I love to take good care of my shoes. I also have a lot of shoes to take care of, because I love shoes. This means that I do a lot of shoe polishing in my spare time.

My wife, however, is not nearly the shoe lover that I am, and she gets bothered by the chemical smell of the solvents in the shoe polish I use. I have tried all different brands to find a better smelling polish, and to see which brands polish best. I also want polish that will keep my shoe leather healthy and last a long time.

In my research I determined that Kiwi Parade polish was the worst and Saphir cream polish was the best. Kiwi Parade polish does create a good shine, but it contains silicone to help create that shine, and as I have mentioned in my other articles, silicone will shorten the life of leather.

Saphir cream polish probably smelled the best and worked the best partly due to using turpentine as the solvent, whereas other polishes typically used petroleum by-products. Still my wife did not care for the smell of turpentine.

When I’ve talked to the average person about shoe polish over the years, they are always surprised when I tell them that the main ingredient in shoe polish is solvent, and one of the most common solvents is Stoddard Solution. This is what dry cleaners use to get body oils out of clothing.

Shoe leather, on the other hand, needs oils to keep the leather from drying out. So it seems odd to have a solvent in shoe polish, but the solvent is there to keep the wax soft in the tin or jar. The majority of it evaporates during the shoe polishing process.

If you have ever opened an old can of polish and found hard, cracked, polish that is because some or most of the solvent has evaporated. The polish still has wax and oil, and can still be used.

During my research I was also looking for a paste polish that would allow me to produce the best mirror shine possible on the toe and heel counter of my shoes. I didn’t find any that I really liked.

Finally, I decided to make my own polish that was good for shoe leather, produced a great shine, and (most importantly to my wife) smelled nice.

First I discovered that coconut oil was used as a skin conditioner in a large number of skin care products, and further discovered that coconut oil has a lower rancidity rate than any other oil (animal or vegetable) by far. So I had my leather conditioner.
coconut

The solvent was my main concern for two reasons: I didn’t like the negative aspects of putting a toxic solvent on shoe leather, and I had to find something that didn’t smell like a chemical, but still be a solvent. Orange oil was the solution to my problems.
oranges

The only thing left to add was wax and color. The wax was easy. I could just use the same beeswax and carnauba wax typically used in shoe polish. Both were all natural, non-toxic, biodegradable and a great substance for providing shine to the leather.
Beeswax3Palm Leaf

I was also able to create a High Shine paste for producing the mirror shine on the toes and heel counters of my shoes. By using a high ratio of Carnauba wax I was able to produce a hard paste that created a great mirror shine with only a few coats.
EG-HS-Toe-Closeup-small

On the other end of the spectrum, I was able to also make a very soft cream leather cleaner/conditioner that does a very good job of cleaning the shoe (and a few layers of wax) while adding a light conditioning to the shoe.

Since the ingredients I had selected to this point were all natural, non-toxic, and biodegradable, I decided to keep the polish that way. Now I just had to find a natural, non-toxic way to add color to the cream polish.

I couldn’t use vegetable based coloring because it tends to fade over time with exposure to sunlight, and most other dyes and pigments are chemical based; except for pigment made from earth and ocher.
cyprus_umber_warm_i

Now I had everything I needed to create the shoe polish I wanted. I already knew the standard ratios of solvent, wax, oil, and pigment used in most shoe polish, but making a non-toxic version was a bit challenging.

Two things had to come together: The mixture had to have a texture and consistency similar to the typical toxic shoe polish on the market (in this case a cream polish), and it had to have the proper ratios of solvent, wax and oil so as not to add too much oil or too much wax to the leather when polishing the shoe.

It is actually easier to match the denser paste polish with non-toxic ingredients, than it is to match a cream polish, but since I use mostly cream polish when I polish my shoes I decided to start with that. The results were not exactly the same texture as cream polish that use toxic solvents, but it was similar.

I also did some research on the effects of orange oil as a solvent in regard to use on leather, and found examples of orange oil mixtures being used as leather cleaners for close to 100 years.

Once I created my polish, I liked it so much I decided to share it with the world. I created a company named GlenKaren Care Products (I included my wife’s name because she was the main motivator in getting me to stop using toxic polish… and a whole bunch of other reasons).

GK-Logo-600-T-Grey-Bars

If you would like to learn more about the GlenKaren shoe polish please visit GlenKarenCare.com

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My Shoes Can’t Breathe!

I once heard a person say that they do not keep their shoes in a shoe box because they need to breathe.

While storing your shoes in a shoe box is a personal preference (or not), it has nothing to do with your shoes being able to breathe (unless it was air tight).

So, do shoes actually breathe, and if so how does that work?

When a shoe gets hot and sweaty its tongue doesn’t hang out like a dog’s does, but there are a lot of similarities between the two.

iStock_000013722532XSmall-e1286384420969-200x300

When dogs are hot they pant and let their tongue hang out to allow the moisture to evaporate and cool them down. Shoes breathe by allowing moisture to pass through the leather cellular structure to the outside exposed surface where it can evaporate.

When moisture cannot pass through the leather to evaporate it remains trapped in the cellular structure where it begins to slowly rot the protein bonds in the leather, and eventually destroys the shoe.

Since it is inherent in the structure of leather to pass moisture out to be evaporated it is important to know what can impede this process, and therefore damage your shoe.

There are two and a half culprits involved in suffocating shoes:

  • Too much oil
  • Silicone
  • Too much wax [not as impactful as the other two]

The protein bonds in leather need oil to keep lubricated and flexible. However, too much oil can clog the cellular structure, allowing little to no water to pass through. In the past heavy applications of Mink oil was used as a type of weatherproofing. Heavy and frequent conditioning with oils can and will damage a shoe or boot over time, if they are not cleaned with a leather cleaner (like saddle soap or other leather cleaners) periodically.

It is also beneficial to get a shoe slightly moist with water before applying conditioning oils. This gives some “breathing” room to the cellular structure once the water evaporates out of the oil/water mix in the shoe as it dries. Of course oils can be washed out of leather (like stepping in a puddle, or standing in the rain), which is why a shoe should be conditioned after anytime it has been wet.

Silicone is probably the worst culprit, because it is included in so many leather protection products (mostly weatherproofing). Silicone makes a very good water barrier which is why it is used to protect leather from water damage (from the outside in, NOT the inside out). Because of this moisture introduced into the leather from an unprotected source (perspiration from your foot on the inside of the shoe) cannot escape to the exposed outer surface of the shoe (covered in silicone).

Due to the molecular makeup of wax it will actually allow moisture to pass through it to some degree, unless it is simply too thick (20 coats of wax is not good for your shoe, and you can actually get a better shine with 10 coats, or even less). Wax also does not go into the cellular structure of leather the way that oil and silicone can.

So, please allow your shoes to breathe, but if they start panting, take a picture and send it to me.

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Fat Liquor

If you were to look at leather under a microscope you would see that the tangle of connective tissue fibers leather is made up of resembles the structure of a scouring pad (on a much smaller scale). These fibers are held together with collagen protein bonds.

leather-fiber

To create leather, hides are soaked in chemicals in the tanning process, to prevent the fibers and their bonds from decomposing. And then, through a process called fatliquoring, oils are soaked into the hides to keep their collagen protein bonds from drying out.

The fatliquoring agents are roughly classified in an emulsion type and a non-emulsion type. The emulsion type fatliquoring agents include anionic type ones such as sulfated oil, sulfited oil, sulfonated oil, soap, phosphated oil and aliphatic acid condensate base oil; cationic ones such as aliphatic acid amine base oil; amphoteric ones such as aminocarboxylic acid base oil and betaine compounds; and nonionic ones such as polyethylene oxide derivatives. The non-emulsion type fatliquoring agents include natural oils such as fish oil, beef tallow oil, vegetable oil (olive oil), animal oil (beef tallow, lard and mutton tallow), wool grease, mineral oil, wax, paraffin wax and the like.

tannery-400

Keeping oil around those collagen protein bonds is necessary to protect them and give longer life to the leather. If those collagen protein bonds dry out entirely they will shrink, become stiff and break. The broken bonds weaken the leather permanently and damage the shoe in general. Introducing oil back into the leather at this point is useless, as the damage is already done, and irreversible.

When water gets into leather from perspiration or external weather it bonds with the oils to some degree and floats some of the oil to the surface as the water evaporates. Adding oil to the leather introduces it back into the fibers where it can replace the lost oils and continue to protect the collagen protein bonds.

Putting oils back into shoe leather is sometimes referred to as “nourishing” the leather, but that is a misnomer since the leather is truly dead. The proper term is “conditioning” the leather, because you are trying to keep the leather in supple condition by lubricating the protein bonds in the leather, nothing more.

One of the main concerns with shoe leather is keeping it conditioned with oils, and not damaging the leather with oil that has become rancid within the shoe over time. To address this we have to look at what causes rancidity:

Only three types of rancidity exist:

Hydrolytic Rancidity

Hydrolytic rancidity occurs when water splits fatty acid chains away from the glycerol backbone in triglycerides (fats). The chemical term is ester hydrolysis. Usually this hydrolysis process goes unnoticed, since most fatty acids are odorless. When, however, the triglyceride is derived from short chain fatty acids, the released carboxylic acid can confer strong odors. This happens when leather gets too wet repeatedly, or is wet for long periods of time.

Oxidative Rancidity

Oxidative rancidity (how oils normally go rancid) is associated with the degradation by oxygen in the air. Via a free radical process, the carbon double bonds of an unsaturated fatty acid can undergo cleavage, releasing volatile aldehydes and ketones, and creating hydroperoxides. This process can be suppressed by the addition of antioxidants (orange oil is an antioxidant). Oxidation primarily occurs with unsaturated fats, but can and will happen in all oils as the double carbon bonds are broken down.

Iodine Value (IV) measures the reactive carbon double bonds present in oil (the weaker molecular bonds in oil – common in unsaturated fats). The lower the IV number the better the oxidative stability. Coconut oil has an IV value of 10, the lowest of any plant/animal oil. Lanolin has an IV of about 20, Neatsfoot oil (bovine tallow) has an IV between 50 to 70, Olive oil has an IV of 80, Castor oil has an IV of 85, and Mink oil has an IV between 80 to 95.

Microbial Rancidity

Microbial rancidity refers to a process in which microorganisms, such as bacteria, use their enzymes such as lipases to break down fat. Using oil with anti-bacterial properties is beneficial in this case.

Cleaning and conditioning your leather shoes on a regular basis will give you shoes you can enjoy for longer. Leather shoes should be cleaned (with leather cleaner or saddle soap) every six months to a year on average. Leather shoes should be lightly conditioned every three to six months, and conditioned after each time they are exposed to rain or external water in general.

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Wet Shoes are Bad

It’s that time of year again when most of us have to run, walk, or stand in the rain at one point or another (Fall in the northern hemisphere and Spring in the southern hemisphere).

As a child, jumping in and running through puddles had a certain allure. But do you remember what your mom did with your shoes when you got home? Neither do I, because I simply didn’t care: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”.

As a man, not only do you understand how to appreciate nice things, you should know how to care for them as well.

In reality there is no way to truly waterproof your shoes without ruining the leather, or wearing goulashes. However you can protect the leather from incidental exposure to water by adding a protective coating to your shoes (this is commonly referred to as waterproofing).

There are only three types of protection you can apply to shoe leather:
1. Oils
2. Wax
3. Silicone

Most spray protectors contain silicone, which is believed to dry out the protein bonds in leather, so I would avoid using waterproofing that come in a spray can.

The two most common oils used for waterproofing are neatsfoot oil and mink oil. Mink oil is used more commonly than neatsfoot oil.

When using oil as a protector keep in mind that oils like mink and neatsfoot can darken the leather to some degree. Also note that some mink oil mixtures made for waterproofing contain silicone and should be avoided.

The most common wax used as a protector is beeswax. Products like SNO-SEAL use beeswax (they also have a silicone product, that I would suggest avoiding for shoes).

Since most paste shoe polish contains a high ratio of wax to oil (usually beeswax), I tend to just add a couple extra layers of paste polish this time of year. On shoes I know I will be wearing in the rain and/or snow (not my best dress shoes), I will add some mink oil when conditioning the shoes.

While applying a protector to your shoes is a prophylactic procedure, you also need to know what to do once a shoe has gotten wet.

First and foremost, do not try to force dry a wet shoe, that will do more damage than anything else you could do short of throwing them into a wood chipper. This means don’t set your shoes next to the heater vent, or dry them with a blow dryer. Setting them on a sunny stoop is ok. Mostly just let them air out in normal room temperature.

Some people suggest stuffing the shoes with newspaper while they dry. This helps absorb the water and gives the shoe leather some support as it dries. If the shoes are not too wet you can just use the shoe trees you normally have in the shoes (you do have shoe trees right?).

Once the shoes are dry again they should be conditioned with leather conditioner/oil and, if desired, waterproofed again as well.

If shoes are left damp for a length of time (a couple weeks, or even a couple of days if the conditions are right) they can develop mold spores which are almost impossible to get out of the shoe leather.

While some suggest using vinegar to remove mold, it simply does not work on shoe leather. Because Leather is acidic to begin with any mold that thrives on an acidic substrate will not be affected to any great degree by the acetic acid in vinegar. A chlorine solution is about the only way to kill mold spores in leather, and I wouldn’t suggest doing that to your shoes unless you are an expert with chlorine.

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Use a Shoehorn

Almost all leather dress/business shoes have two support pieces built into the shoe upper. These pieces are typically made of plastic or cardboard. To create the rigid structure of the toe and allow room for your toes to move around a little bit , a support piece named a “Toe Puff” is used.

The toe puff is glued to the inside of the leather upper at the toe area and is typically covered on the inside by the shoe lining.

This is also done at the back of a shoe, where you slip in the heel of your foot, and is called a “Heel Counter”. There are actually two things on a shoe that are referred to as a heel counter:

  1. The internal support piece I just mentioned.
  2. A decorative piece of leather wrapped around the outside of the back of the shoe, as a “counter” to the toe cap on a shoe of that style.


This article is about the internal support piece, and how to minimize damage to it.

Since the back edge of the heel of your foot protrudes farther back than the achilles tendon that attaches it to your calf, the back of a shoe has to accommodate that same curvature. This means that every time you put on your shoes your foot pushes on the back of the shoe, more so at the top (as you are pushing your foot into the shoe, than at the bottom where your foot comes to rest in the heel cup.

Using a shoehorn to help slide the heel of your foot into the shoe minimizes the damage you can cause by pushing your heel down on the top of the counter to make it flex out, and it also distributes the pressure against the heel counter better as you slide your heel down.

Not using a shoe horn when putting your shoes on will eventually break down the heel support the heel counter was designed to give, and will contribute to the shoe not fitting as well over time.

This is not a big deal on a pair of inexpensive shoes you don’t plan to keep very long, but for a nice pair of shoes you should include the routine of using a shoehorn whenever possible.

Shoe horns come in all sizes and materials, so grab a small plastic one for your suitcase and a nice metal or horn one for your closet.

This is a nice black metal shoehorn I bought a Nordstrom for a few dollars (It works great):

My favorite is a shoehorn mand of horn (I love the irony):

I have a few small, plastic, shoehorns that I keep in luggage and in the trunk of my car (just in case). I picked these up for free at Bass:

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