While it might be easy to find out how to clean white shoes if they are made from cloth, or how to clean white on shoes if it is just small areas, learning how to clean shoes made from leather or suede shoes can be much more difficult. Leather and suede are more sensitive materials, so you can’t just throw your leather shoes into the washing machine and hope, as you will ruin the leather while you get rid of the stains. So if you want to know how to clean leather shoe surfaces or clean suede shoes, you will need to know a few techniques.

If you want to get your leather shoes cleaner, you will need a guide, and that is where we come in. Here at Shoe Advisor, we have put together a simple and easy to follow guide to some of our different favorite methods for the cleaning of shoes, ranging from pencil erasers to white vinegar methods. No matter what color of leather shoe you are trying to get clean or polish, you can simply read on below to learn everything you might need to know about cleaning shoes made from leather or suede!

How to Clean Leather Shoes

There are a number of different techniques you can try for cleaning leather shoes, but no matter how you try to clean your shoes, there are a few starter steps that are the same for every shoe and every stain. First, you will need to get rid of any loose dirt or debris stuck on the surface of your leather shoes. Using a soft shoe brush, gently rub the shoes with a circular motion. You will also want to use your brush to remove dirt from the seam and the sole of your shoes.

Then, if your leather shoes use shoelaces for fastening, remove them from your shoes and set them aside. You can use the washing machine to clean your laces if you think they need it, or simply hand wash them and leave them to air dry. Either way, you will need to remove them from your shoes before you use any cleaning products, as they can cause staining and damage, as well as making it harder to reach certain areas of your shoes.

How to use Soap to Clean Shoes

Soap is very easy to use to remove stains on leather shoes. Wet a clean, soft cloth with clean water and then wring it out, so you have a damp cloth. Add a few small drops of a mild liquid soap or leather cleaning product to the cloth and gently rub it all over the surface of your leather shoe. Rub along the grain of the leather to work the soap into all of the creases in order to affect even the deep-seated stains on your shoes.

Then, using a clean damp cloth, wipe away any excess soap and water from the surface of your leather or suede shoes. Allow your shoes to dry in a cool, dry room, and do not try to wear them or polish them until the leather is completely dry. Make sure you leave them in a cool room to dry and do not get tempted to speed up the process by leaning them on a heater, as heat can discolor leather, causing more stains, or even crack the surface of the leather shoes.

How to use Baby Wipes to Clean Shoes

Leather shoes with small, localized stains can be easily cleaned with baby wipes, a product that many people already have in their homes or their bags. Simply rub a baby wipe on the leather shoes; use a gentle pressure and circular motions, focusing on the spots with the worst stains. Baby wipes are naturally moist, which makes them ideal for conditioning leather shoes as you polish.

Using White Vinegar to Clean Shoes

If your leather shoes have salt stains on them, then you can use white vinegar to clear away those stains. Mix together equal parts, clean water, and vinegar and dip a soft cloth in the liquid. Gently rub your damp vinegar cloth against the surface of your shoe to break down the salt markings on your shoe. Then, wipe your shoes clean with a damp, clean, soft cloth, and leave your shoes to air dry. Note that you should not use this method on suede shoes, as the vinegar could damage the suede material!

Cleaning Leather Shoes with Talcum Powder

If your shoes are marked with oil and grease stains, then a simple brush and polish or water based cleaning method won’t help. However, you can dry out an oil stain with an absorbent powder such as talcum powder! Cover the mark with talcum powder and leave it for a few hours to fully absorb the grease. After a few hours, you can remove the powder with a soft brush or cloth. Corn starch also works for this but will need to be left for around 8 hours in order to fully absorb the stain.

Then, as the leather may be a bit too dry as a result, you will want to rub some polish into the surface of your shoe. Dab a small amount of shoe polish onto a cloth and rub it into the surface of your shoe. Once you have worked it in properly, buff it by rubbing it with a brush or a cloth. Make sure everything is dry, including the brush and cloth – do not use water when polishing!

How do you Clean Patent Leather Shoes?

Patent leather is a vegan alternative used for vegan leather shoes. It is easy to clean but does not behave in quite the same way as genuine leather shoes, so it is important that you know whether your shoes are made from authentic or patent leather before you start cleaning them!

Once you are sure that your shoes are made from patent leather, you can start by removing your shoelaces. You can wash these in a washing machine or by hand using warm water and soap, but they should always be removed from the shoe itself before you start any cleaning. Then mix mild soap with water, and dip a soft cloth into it. Squeeze out any excess water, and, using the damp soapy cloth, gently clean the surface of your shoe. Wipe the water off with another clean cloth.

If there are scuff marks on the surface of your patent leather, then you can clean that off using hand sanitizer. Dip a cotton swab into the hand sanitizer, and rub it carefully into the scuff marks on your shoes. Wipe away any excess with a clean cloth or soft brush.

If your patent leather shoes need a bit of a polish, then mineral oil is the best option. Do not try standard leather polish for this! Just pour 4 to 5 drops of mineral oil onto a clean cloth and gently rub it into the surface of your shoes. Then, using a second cloth or a soft shoe brush, buff the surface of your shoes to a shine. Brush away any excess mineral oil as you do this, and, using your brush, work it into the corners and seams of your shoes.

How to Clean tan Leather Shoes

If your shoes are made from a light-colored, tan leather, they might be a little harder to keep clean than black or dark brown colored leather shoes. Lighter colors get dirty easily, and so even minor marks show up much more clearly.

The best option for cleaning tan leather shoes is a gentle leather cleaner made with a formulation that includes surfactants. You will want one with no alcohol in the ingredients, as this can damage the leather of your shoes. If you are not sure, start by testing out the cleaner on a small, inconspicuous area of your shoes. If you spot any discoloration, as a result, try a different cleaner with different ingredients!

Then, using a clean cloth, wipe away any noticeable dirt from the surface of your shoes. You don’t need to worry about thorough cleaning here, as your leather cleaner will do most of the work, but if there are any lumps of dirt, then you should try to brush them off.

Using a soft brush, apply a small amount of leather cleaner to the surface of your shoe. Using a gentle circular motion, coat the entire surface of both shoes with cleaner, paying special attention to any noticeably stained or dirty areas. Then, using a dry rag, wipe off any excess cleaner, and leave your footwear to dry.


Cleaning leather-based footwear does not have to be difficult and intimidating. As long as you know what you are doing, it is easy to keep the material safe and well maintained. The important thing to remember is that you can not clean these with the same methods as you might try for canvas sneakers, as the heat will ruin the materials used to make the uppers! Make sure you have got appropriate cloths and brushes, and that the soaps you apply are not made with abrasive, harsh chemicals.

Leathers need to be treated carefully and gently in order to prevent them from cracking and discoloring, but as long as you remember that, you should be able to restore your footwear to cleanliness and respectability quickly and easily! Take your time, prepare all of your tools before you start, and soon enough you will be able to clean footwear without having to think about it.

About the Author

Hey, I'm Lilly Harvey. If there's two things I'm passionate about in life, it's shoes and writing!

Combining both my passions with my Fashion Design degree, I've helped create Shoe Adviser to help readers choose the best shoes for them, enjoy!

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