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Our Ultimate Guide: How to Clean Leather Shoes

a pair of black leather shoes


It's happened to the best of us. You're out on a date or at an important business meeting, and you look down to see that your shoes are scuffed, dirty, or not well polished. Or maybe they're clean, but you just spilled something on them. Whatever the case, it's important to know how to clean leather shoes so that you can always look your best. 

Considering that leather shoes are a staple in most men's wardrobes, it's important to learn how to clean your leather shoes without damaging them. This guide will teach you how to do it correctly, so they always look shiny and new.

What You'll Need 

Before we get started on how to take care of leather shoes, you'll need to gather a few supplies to make the process as smooth as possible. Here's a list of what you'll need:

  • A soft cloth 
  • A toothbrush (optional) 
  • Water 
  • Mild soap 
  • A bowl 
  • A clean, dry cloth 
  • Shoe polish (optional) 
  • A shoe brush (optional) 

Now that we have all of our supplies, let's get started on the steps of how to clean leather shoes.

Step 1: Remove Any Excess Dirt or Debris 

The first step is to remove any excess dirt or debris from your shoes. Depending on where you live, your shoes may come into contact with a lot of dirt and grime. For example, if you live in a city, you may want to brush the soles of your shoes with a toothbrush to remove any built-up dirt. If you live outside the city, you may be able to get away with simply wiping your shoes with a soft cloth.

Dust can also accumulate on the surface of your shoes, so be sure to give them a good once-over with a cloth. Remember that leather shoes are delicate, so you'll want to be gentle. In most cases, when it comes to learning how to clean leather shoes, a soft cloth should do the trick. You can try using a toothbrush if there's any stubborn dirt or debris that won't come off with a cloth. Just be sure to use gentle, circular motions.

Step 2: Mix Water and Mild Soap Together in a Bowl  

To create a cleaning solution, mix water and mild soap together in a bowl. Mild soap is recommended because it's gentle and won't damage the leather. You'll want to use a ratio of about one part soap to four parts water. Stir until the soap has dissolved completely. This cleaning solution should be used sparingly, as too much soap can damage the leather.

You can also get a specialized leather cleaner from a shoe store. A simple search online of how to clean leather shoes will yield a variety of different leather cleaners that you can use.

These cleaners usually come in a spray bottle, which makes them easy to use. Just be sure to follow the directions on the bottle carefully. Note that these cleaners are only ideal for shoes made of smooth leather.

Step 3: Dip Your Soft Cloth Into the Cleaning Solution  & Gently Rub Your Shoes' Surface

Now that you have your cleaning solution ready as you learn how to clean leather shoes, dip your soft cloth into it and then gently rub it onto your shoes' surface. Be sure to cover every shoe area, including hard-to-reach spots under the laces. If there are any stubborn stains, you can use a toothbrush dipped in the cleaning solution to scrub them lightly.

Just be careful not to scrub too hard, or you could damage the leather. While cleaning every part of your leather shoes, take this opportunity to check for any signs of wear and tear. This is a critical part of how to take care of leather shoes. If you notice any cracks, holes, or other damage, you may want to take your shoes to a professional for repair.

Step 4: Rinse Your Shoes With Clean Water & Allow Them To Air Dry

Once you've removed all of the dirt and grime from your shoes' surface, rinse them with clean water and then allow them to air dry completely before moving on to the next step. Leather is prone to shrinking when it gets wet, so you'll want to ensure your shoes are completely dry before proceeding with our next tip.

Now, you've cleaned the surface of your shoes, but what about the inside? The next step on how to take care of leather shoes will show you how to clean leather shoes from the inside out.

Step Five: Clean the Inside of Your Leather Shoes

If your shoes are wet inside, stuff them with newspaper and then allow them to dry overnight. This will help absorb any moisture that's inside your shoes. The inside sole of your shoes can be removed and washed with soap and water. Just be sure to let it air dry completely before putting it back in your shoe. For shoes with fixed insoles, you can use a small vacuum cleaner attachment to remove any dirt or debris accumulated over time.

As a precautionary step on how to clean leather shoes on the inside, don't soak your shoes in water, as this can cause the leather to shrink and warp. If you need to remove a tough stain from the inside of your shoe, you can use a cotton ball dipped in rubbing alcohol. Just be sure to test it on a small area of the shoe first to make sure it won't damage the leather.

brown leather shoes on wooden surface

If you notice any unpleasant smells coming from your shoes after cleaning them, you can sprinkle some baking soda inside them and then allow them to sit overnight. The next day, just vacuum up the baking soda. After learning how to clean leather shoes, of course, you'll also want to complete your work by polishing them.


This will not only make your shoes look shiny and new but will also help protect them from future dirt and grime. You can buy a shoe polish that matches the color of your shoes, or you can go for a clear polish if you're unsure. To polish your shoes:


  • Start by applying a small amount of polish to your soft cloth
  • Then, rub it into your shoes in a circular motion until the entire surface is covered
  • Once you're done, allow your shoes to dry completely before wearing them
  • For an extra polished look, brush your shoes with a shoe brush after applying polish
  • This will help evenly distribute the polish and give your shoes an even shine
  • And that's it - now you know how to take care of leather shoes so they'll last for years

Add to Your Collection

Learning how to clean leather shoes isn't difficult, but it's important to know the right techniques to avoid damaging your shoes. With a little care and attention, your leather shoes will look great for years to come. At Just Men's Shoes, we not only bring you a huge style variety and size range of American-designed men's shoes but also share tips on how to take care of them so you can keep wearing your favorites for years. Add to your collection today.


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