Polish type for shoe type

There are a great number of shoe/boot care products to choose from. Knowing what products to use on which type of shoe or boot can be useful. But, to do this, we have to have some understanding about the leather to which we are applying the products.

First there are different types of cow leather, but for the sake of care there are really only a few differences to consider, but these differences are based on a number of factors; these factors include methods of how the leather was stuffed in the tanning process (fat liquored, hot stuffed, wet stuffed).

There is also the direction of the leather (grain out versus flesh out), and the finish on the leather such as full aniline, semi-aniline, and corrected grain, as well as the amount and ratio of oils and waxes stuffed into the leather.

When I mention corrected grain I am referring to bookbinder type leather where there is a substantial acrylic finish (this includes patent leather).

There are also the differences in the material type to consider. Calf is typically going to be thinner and have a tighter grain than other leather. Shell cordovan is really not grained leather like cow, but rather a subdermal sheath from the butt of a horse, and is treated like hot stuffed flesh out leather.

Pull up leather is grain out hot stuffed with a higher concentration of oils and waxes than that used in the fat liquoring for calf and other leathers. The extra waxes and oils are what give the leather its pull up effect and casual look.

Exotic skins do not have a grain so to speak, but rather plates or scales and don’t really have much of a corium (where the majority of conditioning oils reside in leather), and as such does not benefit much from conditioning.

And finally, there is the general difference in leather thickness used for various applications, as in thicker leather for work boots and thinner leather for dress/business shoes.

In regard to shoe care products, there is an assortment of types with different purposes:

The most common and most widely known is paste polish, also known as wax polish. Then there is cream polish, which is softer and serves a slightly different purpose. The liquid polish found in the plastic bottles with a sponge applicator should never be used.

After basic shoe polish comes cleaners like saddle soap and pH balanced leather cleaner.

Then there are leather conditioners that are mostly oils. 3LexolConditionerandDubbin

There are also combination cleaner/conditioners.

Suede has its own type of cleaners, conditioners and protectors.

Leather strippers like acetone should not be confused with leather cleaners. Leather strippers are designed to not only remove wax from shoes, but the leather finish as well.

Next is the various types of weather proofing, from heavy wax to heavy oils. This can also include silicone sprays for both grained leather and suede. I believe silicone should be avoided whenever possible.

And, finally, there are the specialty sprays for reptile skins and patent leather.

With these considerations in mind, I believe the following is applicable for leather care:

In general I would suggest a quality cream shoe polish (like GlenKaren Cream Polish) for most leathers, even exotics.

In specific I would not recommend shoe care products high in wax (as in paste/wax polish) on oiled leathers like Chromexcel/Pull up. This type of shoe/boot does well with leather conditioners.

Products like SnoSeal which are mostly beeswax (and very thick) are good for helping weatherproof thicker boot leather (to include pull up boot Leather), but would tend to smother thinner shoe leather.

I would not recommend shoe care products high in oils (dubbin, Obenauf’s, etc…) on calf skin, thinner leather, exotic leathers, cordovan shell, or corrected grain. Pastes and creams work best on these types of shoes. The thicker leather of work boots can accommodate the higher levels of oil, which also helps in moisture protection.

I would not recommend shoe care products high is solvents (cleaner/conditioners) on corrected grain leather, shell cordovan, or exotic leathers.

7 thoughts on “Polish type for shoe type

  1. Hallo,
    I thank you for this site, it is great to get information like this in high quality.
    A question I wanted to ask for a long time is this: I have bought a pair of Johnston & Murphy shoes second hand, cheap, not noticing that it has a “bookbinder” or “corrected grain”. I do not like this surface. I learnt from your site, that it is an acrylic surface. Is there any chance to remove some of this surface, for example with acetone? a, is it possible to make the surface less glossy and more dump, more blunt? This is not, because I wan to have it more dump itself, but that I hope it to get a more living, more reacting surface to different polishing, to get a chance to have some kind of patina after some years. Or b, is it possible to remove the bookbinder surface completely and ad some kind of new finish? Anyway, I would love to get some life into these dead, plastic-surface shoes. They give me the creeps.
    Thank you very much.
    Giorgio form Berlin, Germany

    • There is really not a way to remove a corrected grain finish without damaging the shoe. Either wear them as beaters or toss them, and consider it a lesson learned.

  2. Hi Glen,

    This site is fantastic! I mainly use the shoe care section for my husband’s shoes. Though, I noticed it focuses mostly on leather shoes. Will there be any posts for suede shoe care besides the little tidbits like in this one? I think my husband’s suede shoes may need some sort of restoration since the nap looks quite worn in some areas and the color has faded. Do you have any recommendations or tips for fixing those kinds of problems?


    • I plan to write a few articles about suede specifically. My recommendation to your question would be to wash the shoes with a conditioning shampoo (preferably one that uses coconut oil as the conditioner), then use a medium stiff nylon bristle brush to raise the nap. If you still have flat spots with no nap you can use fine sandpaper on dry suede to produce a slight nap on the surface.

  3. Hi Glen,

    Thanks for the excellent website! I have recently started wearing higher-quality leather dress shoes and it’s great to come across someone who really seems to know his stuff. I’ve learned a lot from you.

    I recently bought some black calfskin dress shoes. Since day one, I have been dealing with a fairly annoying issue and I’m wondering if you might be able to provide some guidance. Note that I haven’t treated the shoes in any way yet – no cleaner, no conditioner, no polish – nothing.

    Whenever a small drop of water gets on the shoes, the area turns a sort of purple colour. If I try to lightly rub it out with a dry cloth, sometimes I’m successful but most often not. If I then switch to a damp cloth, a VERY thick black dye appears on the cloth! Then as soon as the area is dry, no more dye comes off. This has happened 2 or 3 times now, and each time the area seems a little bit lighter in colour.

    Is this normal for brand-new calfskin shoes? Nothing like this has ever happened to my brown pair (although I did apply a light wax polish to them after the first couple of wears). Maybe I’m doing something wrong? Or maybe the black dye wasn’t properly “set” during the tanning process?

    I wonder if I can prevent this by running my standard routine (dry brush clean, apply Saphir Renovateur, let dry, then apply cream polish), but I don’t really know. Your thoughts would be much appreciated!

    • Hi Jason,
      the dyes used at the end of the tanning process are typically covered with a finish coat, but even when it is not the dyes tend to be rather permanent when applied during the tanning process. However, a number of shoe makers add their own finish on the leather they receive from the tannery. This is probably the color that is coming off.

      I would suggest stripping the shoes with something like Saphir RenoMat, or if you want to be a little less aggressive you can try the GlenKaren Cleaner/Conditioner. once the coloring from the shoe manufacturer has been removed you will be left with the finish from the tannery.

      • Hi Glen,

        Thanks for your advice – it seems to have worked, mostly. In case you’re wondering, I used Reno’Mat to strip the shoes. I actually did it twice (waiting 30 min in-between for it to dry). Strangely, even at the end, black stuff was STILL coming off wherever water came in contact! Anyway, it was a lot less – so I figured it was good enough.

        I followed up with a coat of Renovateur and then a coat of black cream polish. Now the shoes look truly great. While water still causes some colour leeching, it’s easier to gently rub out any blemishes.

        I must say I find it puzzling that there would be such a massive amount of finish on my brand-new shoes (some of which is obviously still there), but at least it’s not getting all over everything anymore.

        Once again, thanks very much for your help!

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