Polishing one’s shoes is a noble task that should provide equal amounts of personal satisfaction and therapeutic relaxation. When done properly, a shoe shine is enjoyable and rewarding and not meant to be accomplished by sitting in a chair at the airport and having someone else do it. Here are a few suggested steps to ensure a thorough and lustrous shine, every time. The basic steps are: make a cup of tea, set up your workspace, clean, condition, apply polish, wait, remove polish, final polish and cleanup.
1. Lay down an old terry towel, mat, or preferably yesterday’s business section of the Wall Street Journal on top of a desk, table, or counter. I often sit on the living room floor and set up my shine shop on the coffee table; whatever works for you. You want to cover your work surface because shoe polish is not easily removed from one’s skin, clothing, carpets, or tablecloths.
2. Lay out your accoutrements and polishing tools and implements. These should include leather conditioner/cleaner, an on brush, an off brush, a dauber, a microfiber polish cloth, an applicator cloth (old t-shirt), crème and wax polish, and a tooth brush not currently in service for cleaning one’s actual teeth. Remove shoe laces.
3. Take a clean, sturdy brush and thoroughly dust the shoes to be shined. You may also clean them with a soft cloth or microfiber cloth. Just don’t contaminate your final polishing utensils with dirt and old bits of grass. If you have the aforementioned grimey bits of old road and grass and dirt; you should feel empowered to remove said offenders with a firm brush or toothbrush for tight areas such as stitching and sole edges.
4. Now that your shoes are free from standing debris you need to clean and condition the leather. Take the corner of an old t-shirt and apply some leather conditioner such as Leather Lotion” and gently but firmly spread it throughout the shoe’s upper, turning the cloth if it appears dirty. You may also want to treat the leather soles of your dress shoes from time to time as they can get dry and slippery. Allow the leather conditioner to sit for 10 or 15 minutes. This should be done every three months or so.
5. You will now apply polish in the form of crème or wax. I alternate between the two because crème keeps your shoes softer but has less ingredients for protection, whereas wax polish protects very well, but can dry out the leather if it’s allowed to build up and “seal” in the leather. Pick a color that most closely resembles the color of the leather you are polishing. Darker polishes will darken the leather, which is not always a bad thing. I use it for accenting or warming up the color of tan and burgundy shoes. When in doubt, use a neutral polish. Apply polish to the entire shoe; that includes the tongue, sole (not areas of contact with the ground), and sole edge and heal.
6. When applying crème polish, use a dauber and gently spread a small amount of polish over the entire shoe, adding more if necessary. I use straight lines instead of circle for no particular reason. When applying wax polish, wad up a corner of the aforementioned t-shirt or tightly wrap a corner of the shirting around your index finger and dampen it slightly with warm water. With your wadded up cloth or finger, gently stroke the top layer of wax polish in the tin three times. This is enough wax to polish half of your shoe. Another swipe or two will get you the rest of the way there. Too much wax polish will actually crack and look unsightly when you begin to walk and crease your shoes. A wax buildup will also prevent nourishment from getting at the leather and can cause your shoes to dry out prematurely. Wax polish is good for protecting the seams, stitching, and welting of the shoes from water and staining. Go make a cup of tea or otherwise occupy yourself for 15 minutes.
7. Set your tea down near your shoes, pick up your off brush (black hair for black polish, neutral hair for everything else) in your dominant hand and your shoe in the other hand and begin to stroke the shoe with the brush in a back-and-forth motion. Brush the entire shoe at least twice to remove the polish. I brush twice and sometimes three times and then finish the final polishing with a soft microfiber towel. I keep all of my cloths separate with one for black and one for all other colors. Black polish on brown is noticeable, but various shades of brown and red are easily blended without fuss.
8. Make no wild gesticulations with your brush or cloth, but simple, purposeful strokes and swipes will serve you best. When I finish the polishing procedure, I make sure to go over the toe twice with a microfiber cloth to remove any streaking or smudges. You may elect to apply polish with more than one coat, which is fine. If you polish regularly, it’s not really necessary.
9. Reinstall the laces and replace your shoe trees. At this point I also return my shoes to their flannel shoe bags so they remain clean and dust-free until the next wearing.
10. While your polishing is through, you still have work to do. Wash the dauber in warm water to remove any residual polish from the hairs. Also, rinse your t-shirt every so often to remove the areas of conditioner that will get stiff after it dries. Eventually you will have to throw away the t-shirt and replace it with another. You can wash your microfiber cloths in the sink with warm water and laundry soap, no fabric softener…ever. If you machine wash, do so alone, with no comingling with cotton towels or other clothes. The lint will never come off your microfiber cloths until you wish to polish your shoes. All that’s left now is to wash your teacup, put away your supplies, and enjoy your shoes. I like to do whole batches of shoes all at once, that way by the time I’m done applying polish on the last pair, the first pair is ready to buff. But, it’s entirely up to you.
That’s all there is to it.