How to Clean Leather Shoes – Full Restoration Guide

How to Clean Leather Shoes – Full Restoration Guide

Leather shoes are usually expensive, which is why it really hurts when they get dirty. But let us also tell you that you can completely ruin them if you are not careful with the cleaning process.

Well, worry not! You can still turn your leather shoes new by doing simple things.


You can clean your leather shoes by gently brushing off any dirt first and then scrubbing them with saddle soap. After this, wipe off any soapy residue and let them air dry.

Simple, right? 

But wait. We’re now explaining each step in detail. Later, we’re also discussing some extra bonus methods that we’ve tried and tested. 

Let’s begin!

How to Clean Leather Shoes? (Step-by-Step For Beginners)

How to Clean Leather Shoes – Full Restoration Guide

To clean leather shoes, the first thing you should do is to get rid of any visible dirt or debris. Then, we recommend using leather-specific cleaners. 

Here are the details:

Step 1: Gently Brush Off the Dirt

The first step in cleaning your leather shoes is to observe them carefully and see which parts have dirt or debris. After this, get a brush. 

We suggest you get any of these:

  • A soft-bristle brush.
  • Horse hair shoe brush.
  • Brush specific for leather shoes.

Remember to wipe away the dirt gently. Note that if you try to scrub forcefully, you will leave scratch marks on your leather shoes.

Step 2: Apply Leather Cleaner

After you've removed the surface dirt, the next step is to apply a leather cleaner. The reason we recommend leather cleaners is that they are specifically designed to clean and nourish leather without causing any harm. 

We suggest choosing a high-quality leather cleaner that matches the color of your shoes. You can also get a saddle soap if you’re looking for a cheaper alternative.

Here’s what to do in this step:

  • Take a soft cloth/sponge and apply a small amount of the leather cleaner or saddle solution to it. 
  • Then, slowly rub the cleaner onto the leather in a circular motion.
  • Keep doing this until you cover the entire shoe surface. 

Step 3: Wipe Off the Cleaner

Next, we suggest you leave your leather shoes for about 5 minutes. This will allow the cleaner to penetrate and lift away any remaining dirt, grime, or stains.

After the wait, take a dry cloth and gently wipe off the cleaner from the shoes. Make sure to remove all traces or else, you might see some new stains.

Step 4: Let Them Dry

Many people skip this cleaning step and end up damaging their leather shoes. So, you should take it seriously and allow your shoes to air dry naturally. 

Simply leave them in a well-ventilated area for about 15 minutes.

It’s also better if you stuff your leather shoes with newspaper or shoe trees in this step. It will help them stay in their shape as they dry. 

Important Note: Never use direct heat sources like hairdryers to remove the moisture. Keep in mind that the excessive heat can cause the leather to crack or become brittle.

Step 5: Recover the “Crispiness”

After drying the leather shoes, your job isn’t over. In most cases, the shoes still look dull. To recover their shine, the next thing we suggest is “Ironing.” We have done this countless times with leather shoes and it has worked every single time. 

Here’s what to do:

  • Take a towel and wet it slightly.
  • Put the wet towel on your leather shoes.
  • Take an Iron and let it heat.
  • Place the iron on the wet towel and let the shoes “soak in” this indirect heat.
  • Do this on the whole surface and ensure the towel stays somewhat wet the whole time.

Your shoes will start looking new when you’re done.

Step 6: Condition the Leather

Conditioning is optional but we always recommend it to our readers. It can improve the shoes’ crisp appearance. Furthermore, it can also keep the leather supple and prevent cracks. 

You can get any leather conditioner that has positive online reviews. 

Remember that after the conditioning, take a clean cloth and buff your shoes to a shine. You can also use the Wax for more shine.

That’s all!

If you don’t have a leather cleaner, saddle soap, iron, or any material we have discussed above, then don’t get sad. There are many other methods to clean your leather shoes, which we are now explaining.

7 Other Methods to Clean Leather Shoes

How to Clean Leather Shoes – Full Restoration Guide

Here are seven more ways to clean leather shoes, which have worked for us almost every time.

Method #01: Vinegar and Water Solution

This method is suitable for everyone because vinegar is a common household item. Simply mix equal parts of white vinegar and water in a bowl first. Then, dip a sponge/soft cloth in this solution and start wiping the dirt.

In our experience, Vinegar-water solution is a great option to remove light stains and dirt from leather without damaging it. However, it doesn’t work if the stains are stubborn.

Method #02: Baking Soda for Tough Stains

Baking soda is an excellent cleaner for tougher stains. If you’ve noticed oil or grease patches on your shoes, sprinkle a bit of baking soda directly on them. Let the soda sit for a few hours or overnight. It will absorb oil and lift the stain from the leather. 

Lastly, brush off the baking soda with a brush.

Method #03: Condition with Natural Oils

If you don’t want to use traditional leather conditioners, we recommend trying natural oils like coconut or olive oil. Simply apply a small amount of oil to a clean cloth and gently rub it into the leather. It will help restore the natural shine of your leather shoes.

Method #04: Toothpaste

In case of small cuffs or stains, you don’t have to spend money on buying leather cleaners or natural oils. You can use any Non-Gel Toothpaste. 

Follow these steps:

  • Take a toothbrush and apply a small amount of toothpaste to it.
  • Gently scrub the shoe leather to remove small scuffs or stains.
  • Use a moist cloth to wipe off the toothpaste residue.

Method #05: Rubbing Alcohol or Hand Sanitizer

If you are dealing with ink stains or mild, then try Alcohol or Sanitizers. Do these steps:

  • Get rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer and apply a small amount on a cotton ball.
  • Gently dab this on ink stains or mildew.
  • Allow the shoe leather to air dry.

If you’ve also accidentally applied glue to your shoes, don’t get worried. In a new guide, we’ve explained how you can get rid of glue stains from your shoes easily.

Method #06: Baby Wipes

You can also use baby wipes to gently clean the surface of the leather. The reason is that they are gentle and have a balanced moisture content.

Method #07: Cornstarch or Talcum Powder

We’ve found cornstarch and talcum powder effective against grease stains. Here’s what to do:

  • Sprinkle some cornstarch or talcum powder on oil or grease stains.
  • Let it sit. 
  • Gently brush off the powder and apply the conditioner.

That’s all about how to clean leather shoes!

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Pete Oliveri

CEO / AUTHOR of Freaky Shoes®

Meet Pete Oliveri, the creative force and driving visionary behind Freaky Shoes. A New Jersey native, Pete is an accomplished American artist dedicated over 20 years to the consumer products industry, leaving an indelible mark in various domains such as graphic and packaging design, illustration, and product development. His extraordinary talent has earned him accolades, including the prestigious Bio Comics Award for his exceptional comic book content development work. However, Pete's ultimate achievement lies in his role as the Founder, CEO and creative genius of Freaky Shoes.

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