How to Clean Leather Shoes? 5 Easy Steps

Leather is a very strong, versatile, and durable material for shoes. However, if you don’t clean leather shoes regularly, they can develop an odor and start to look dingy. So, what is the proper way to clean leather shoes so they will always look fresh and clean?

How to clean leather shoes? To clean leather shoes, follow these five steps:

  1. Get a soft shoe brush and use it to remove dirt and debris.
  2. Remove the shoelaces (if there are any).
  3. Wipe the shoes using a damp cloth with some liquid soap.
  4. Use baby wipes to spot clean the shoes.
  5. Use water and vinegar mixture to remove salt stains.

The above steps are a simple and effective way to clean leather shoes. Read on to learn more about each step for cleaning leather shoes. I give important tips for black and brown leather shoes, white leather shoes, suede leather shoes, and patent leather shoes.

Also, take a look at three convenient tools on Amazon that make cleaning leather shoes even easier:

Otter Wax Leather Care Kit
The King’s Shoes Electric Shoe Polisher Kit
Saphir Luxury Shoe Care Kit
An 4-Step high-quality leather care kit that includes: The Saddle Soap to clean, the leather salve to moisturize, the leather oil to revive, and the wax to protect.Easy-to-use kit with easy to replace brush and high-power motor. Cleans and polishes in only a minute!Saphir is considered by many enthusiasts to be the prince of shoe polish. This kit includes the Saphir wax, polish, and leather cleaner.

How to Clean Leather Shoes?

There are different ways of cleaning leather shoes. Before cleaning, you need to consider the type of leather that your shoes are made of. Some leather shoes are made of cowhide, while others are made of suede. For shoes that are made of ordinary cowhide, you can clean them by following the five steps below:

  1. Remove dirt and debris by using a soft brush.
  2. Take the laces off the shoes (if there are any).
  3. Use a damp cloth with liquid soap to wipe the surface of the shoes.
  4. Spot clean the leather surface by using baby wipes.
  5. If there are salt stains, remove them by using a mixture of vinegar and water.

The type of leather mostly used in shoes is often seen in formal wear. Their usual colors are black and brown in different shades. There is another kind of leather shoes used in sports activities, and they are called leather sneakers. Their colors run the entire color spectrum.

How to Clean a Pair of Black or Brown Leather Shoes?

how to clean shoes made of leather

Cleaning black or brown leather shoes is pretty straightforward. Here are the steps explained in more detail:

1. Use a Soft Shoe Brush to Get Rid of Dirt and Other Debris

Rub the brush gently on the surface of the leather. Just apply enough pressure to get the dirt and debris out. Don’t put too much pressure, or you might destroy the leather surface. Brush the shoes along the seams and the soles.

2. Take off the Shoelaces

If your leather shoes have shoelaces, gently pull them out to prevent them from getting stained by the shoe polish. If they are dirty, you can just wash them by hand or run them inside a washing machine.

3. Use a Damp Cloth to Clean

Wet a cloth using water and soap. Wring out excess liquid from the cloth. Gently rub the cloth on the leather surface along the grain of the leather shoe.

Remove excess liquid on the shoes with a damp cloth, and allow the shoes to dry. Don’t place the shoes near a heater to avoid discoloration and cracking of the leather surface.

4. Use Baby Wipes to Spot Clean the Shoes

Remove dirt from your shoes (while you are out walking or while you’re on the road) by using baby wipes. They can be used as gentle cleaners and won’t harm the surface of the leather. Baby wipes will also help condition your shoes since they have moisturizing features.

5. Use a Mixture of Vinegar and Water

If your shoes have salt stains, mix equal parts of water and vinegar in a bowl. Next, dip a clean cloth into the mixture. Rub the cloth with the mixture on the surface of the leather. Get another clean cloth to wipe off and dry the leather surface.

Below are three bonus cleaning steps to really make your leather shoes shine:

6. Use Talcum Powder for Hard and Stubborn Grease Stains

For hard and stubborn grease stains that won’t easily go away, cover them with talcum powder. The powder will absorb the grease from the leather surface. Let the powder stay on the surface for about 2-3 hours. Gently remove the powder using a soft brush.

7. Apply Shoe Polish

For the final touch, pour some drops of appropriate shoe polish on a clean cloth. Use black shoe polish for black leather and brown shoe polish for brown leather. Rub the cloth gently to the leather surface using small, circular movements. Wipe off excess shoe polish with a separate clean cloth. Don’t apply shoe polish on non-leather parts of your shoes.

8. Additional Cleaning and Leather Preserving Tip: Use Moisturizer

If you want your leather shoes to always look fresh and not dull, apply moisturizer. A face or body moisturizer will brighten and polish dull leather. Use just the right amount of moisturizer in a clean cloth and rub it gently on the surface of the leather. Allow the moisturizer to air dry for a few seconds. Then, wipe off the leather surface and allow it to air dry completely.

How to Clean White Leather Shoes?

Cleaning white leather shoes requires a different process than cleaning black or brown leather shoes. The process can be difficult because dirt and stains in white color tend to stick longer. Examples of white leather shoes are sneakers. There are also white-colored formal shoes. Below is a method of cleaning white leather sneakers using toothpaste.

1. Wipe off Dirt and Debris on the Leather Surface

Get a soft cloth or brush and clean the dirt on the surface of the leather. Scrape off caked mud if there are any.

2. Remove the Shoelaces

Mix warm water with some laundry soap in a bowl. Remove the shoelaces and soak them in the bowl. Keep the laces in the bowl as you clean your white sneakers.

3. Wet the Outside Surface of the Sneakers

Get a rag and wet it with water. Rub the entire leather surface of your sneakers with this wet rag. This step will get rid of all the surface dirt that you weren’t able to remove in step 1. Don’t oversoak the rag because excess water may saturate the leather surface of your sneakers and damage it.

4. Apply a Streak of Toothpaste on the Stains and Scratches

Use non-gel whitening toothpaste without artificial coloring dyes. Rub a tiny amount of toothpaste onto the stains and scratches on the surface of your white leather sneakers. Use your fingers to rub the toothpaste onto the leather surface.

5. Use a Toothbrush to Scrub the Stains

Get an old, unused toothbrush and use it to apply toothpaste onto the scratches and stains. Work in small circles and continue scrubbing until your shoes are free from stains and scratches.

6. Wipe off the Toothpaste

Get a clean rag or face towel and remove all the excess toothpaste from the leather surface. If the toothpaste has already been caked, dampen the towel with warm water and wipe off the caked toothpaste.

7. Dry Your Leather Sneakers

After removing all the toothpaste, get a microfiber cloth and wipe the entire surface of the sneakers. Continue wiping the surface until it is entirely dry. Don’t store your sneakers if there is still moisture on them.

How to Clean Suede Leather Shoes?

how to clean a leather shoe

Suede leather has a different texture than ordinary leather. Cleaning suede leather shoes is also different from cleaning ordinary leather shoes. Here is one way to clean suede shoes:

1. Brush the Surface of the Suede Shoes

Don’t just use any brush. Get a special brush designed for cleaning suede shoes. Brush off the stains and scuffs on the entire surface of the shoes. Gently brush the surface with a back and forth motion.

2. Use an Eraser to Remove Stubborn Smudges and Stains

Get a rubber eraser and rub it on the stains and smudges on the surface of your suede shoes. Use the same back and forth motion in step 1. Wipe off any remaining residue with the brush you used in step 1.

3. Use Cornstarch to Remove Grease Spots

Get a small amount of cornstarch and apply it to the grease spots on the surface of your suede shoes. Apply a sufficient amount of the powder to sink into the suede surface. Allow the cornstarch to stay there for 2-3 hours. Then, brush the powder to remove the stubborn grease stains.

4. Weatherproof Your Suede Shoes with Silicone Spray

Buy a silicone-based spray and use it to weatherproof your suede shoes. It is best to spray silicone on your newly purchased suede shoes before you use them. This technique will protect your shoes from moisture, dirt, and other elements that can damage the leather surface. Also, make it a practice to spray silicone on your suede shoes each time you clean them.

Olive Oil and Vinegar for Suede Leather Shoes

Another way of cleaning suede leather shoes is by using olive oil and vinegar. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Mix ½ cup of olive oil with ¼ cup of vinegar in a spray bottle. Shake the mixture thoroughly as these substances tend to separate. 
  2. Spray the mixture on your suede shoes. Spray the mixture over the entirety of your suede shoes. Make sure that every surface is evenly covered. Spray more on dirty and discolored spots.
  3. Allow five minutes for the solution to be absorbed by the leather. Let the mixture soak into the suede surface. The soaking process will induce the embedded dirt and stains to rise to the surface.
  4. Wipe off the dirt with a clean dry cloth. Use a clean and soft microfiber cloth or cotton cloth and gently wipe off dirt and stains. The debris should easily come off with the cloth. Continue wiping the suede surface until the solution has worked into the suede leather, and the shoes are completely dry.

How to Clean Patent Leather Shoes?

Patent leather is another type of leather surface that has a high-gloss finish. If you have patent leather shoes, here’s how you can clean them:

1. Use Water with Some Mild Soap

Take off the shoelaces (if there are any) and soak them in a mixture of warm water and mild soap. Soak them for several minutes and wash the laces thoroughly. Once the dirt and stains are removed, rinse the shoelaces and hang them on a clothesline to dry.

Make another mixture of warm water and mild soap. Get a soft, clean cloth and dip it into the mixture until it is damp. Gently rub this damp cloth on the entire surface of your patent leather shoes. Get another dry and soft clean cloth and wipe off the excess moisture on the shoes until the whole surface is dry.

2. Use Hand Sanitizer and Cotton Swab to Remove Scuff Marks

Dip a cotton swab into a hand sanitizer. Rub the cotton swab onto the scuffs and stains on the surface of the patent shoes. Wipe off any excess cleaner using a dry, clean cloth.

3. Use Mineral Oil to Polish the Patent Leather Surface

The primary ingredient of all patent shoe commercial cleaners is mineral oil. So, you can use it to clean your patent leather shoes. Get a clean cotton cloth and pour 4-5 drops of mineral oil into it. Rub the cloth with oil over the surface of your shoes.

Get another soft, clean cotton cloth and buff the entire surface of the shoe to make it shine. You can also use petroleum jelly to polish your patent leather shoes.

How to Remove Stains from Leather?

Here are additional ways you can remove stains on your leather shoes.

1. Cream of Tartar and Lemon Juice for Common Stains

Combine equal parts of cream of tartar and lemon juice until you achieve a paste-like consistency. Apply the paste to the stained area. Leave the paste on the shoe surface for 30 minutes. Get a damp cloth and gently remove the paste. This mixture can lightly bleach the surface, so use this method only on light-colored leather.

2. Rubbing Alcohol or Nail Polish for Ink

First, dip a cotton swab or cotton ball in rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover. Apply the cotton swab lightly (don’t rub) onto the ink stain. Repeat until the ink stain is gone. Wipe the surface by using a damp cloth, and dry the surface with a face towel.

Conclusion – How to Clean Leather Shoes?

So, to revisit our initial question: How to clean leather shoes? You can clean leather shoes by following these five simple steps:

  1. Remove dirt and debris by using a soft shoe brush.
  2. Remove the shoelaces (if there are any).
  3. Pour some liquid soap to a clean cloth and use it to wipe your leather shoes.
  4. Use baby wipes to spot clean the shoes.
  5. Mix water and vinegar and use it to remove salt stains.

If you have white leather shoes, suede leather shoes, or patent leather shoes, follow the steps I described earlier in the article. By following these cleaning steps on a regular basis, your leather shoes will look great for many years.