When it comes to most shoes, shining is something we don’t do often enough, if at all. It doesn’t matter whether you wear normal leather boots as casual clothing or military boots for front-line combat. Even a small amount of polish can make a difference, and removing dirt from your leather shoes before it can take hold might even prevent some long-term wear and tear. The only problem is knowing how to polish them effectively, especially when your boots are made with materials that might not be able to handle particular compounds of polishing methods.

Why Should I Shine Boots?

While it is true that making your shoes or military boots shine can seem like a waste of time, it is also one of the best ways to make use of any free time you might have. Shoes that shine aren’t just going to look different, but they can also be more protected from general wear and tear, especially when you are dealing with a lot of dirt and mud. A polished shine adds a small extra layer and can stop certain types of debris from sticking to the leather, making it easier to brush off.

Of course, polishing shoes like this usually only applies when leather is involved. While you can do it to materials other than leather, leather shoes are still the easiest to brush and shine compared to other options.

Preparing your Boots

You should never jump straight into polishing your leather boots without any kind of preparation work, no matter how small it might be. Make sure that you brush off as much of the existing dirt, dust, and mud as possible, even if you have to use a damp cloth to do it. This might seem odd at first since many people expect polish to be a way of cleaning boots, but that isn’t always the case: if you polish thick dirt, you will end up with polished dirt, and that can sometimes even make it slightly harder to remove.

Instead, get a brush or soft cloth and start wiping off whatever you can. You don’t have to use any specific method to do this, and there isn’t an optimal way to deal with all kinds of dirt: you just need to be sure that your boots end up relatively clean and dry before you start to apply any polish, even if that means leaving them by a window to dry off.

Get Your Supplies

To shine leather boots properly, you are going to need a few things. You very likely already own at least one or two of them, but remember that nothing lasts forever: old polish and a worn-out cloth won’t be as effective, no matter how hard you try.

The Cloth

A cloth is your most versatile cleaning tool, and it doesn’t even have to be a special cotton cloth or even a cloth at all. You can use anything from a specially-made microfiber cloth design to an old t-shirt or the arm of a spare coat. It just needs to be something that can rub away at the dirt and help clean the boot properly. If you can get 100%-cotton cloths, you might have a better level of success using them, but they are also not required to properly polish a shoe.

This polishing cloth is the main tool you will use for applying each layer of polish to your boots, and as such, it should be safe to use in that way. Rougher cloths can cause wear over time or struggle to give you the mirror shine that you are looking for, and could even cause marks on weaker or less sturdy shoes.

Brushes and Other Tools

Alongside your cloth is your brush, usually a shine brush. These are used to help clear away the debris, but can also act as a tool to buff the shoe once the polish has been applied. It isn’t as important as the other two, but using one also never hurts.

It may help to add some extra items to your list if you want to get more in-depth with your polish application. Things like cotton balls, cotton-tipped applicators, rubbing alcohol, and something to help hold the shoe in place (or protect the floor from getting polish on it accidentally) can all be useful, and you won’t have to look that far to find something worth using.

Shining Your Boots

There are two main ‘layers’ of shoe polish that you will need to apply when you are trying to shine shoes properly. The first is the base shine, which you will want to do first to prepare the shoes for the proper polishing. Using a shiner for shoes can emulate this as well if you do it right, but it doesn’t take much time to apply the first coat of polish, and you only have to use small circular motions without much force.

The second is the larger part of the polish, which goes on top of the base coat and generally provides the majority of the mirror shine that you are looking for. This takes a bit longer, but you can still use the same small circular method if that is what you are comfortable with.

The Base Coat

Now that you have everything within arm’s reach and your boots are cleared of initial debris, you can begin to actually polish them. First of all, make sure that both of the shoes are more or less equally clean: even if you aren’t doing them at the same time, one shoe being dirtier than the other shoe can throw off the mirror shine that you are aiming for. Be sure to search every side just in case you missed any obvious patches of dirt.

Once they are clear, apply the first layer of polish. Use slow, small circular motions with a soft clean cloth, and try to cover as much of the shoe surface as possible, especially with leather. This coat will have to dry for about fifteen minutes, although this can vary depending on the polish you are using, so be sure to give it some time before you do anything else.

Once your leather shoes have dried for about a quarter of an hour, you should start brushing or scrubbing them. You don’t have to be as gentle here, since you are trying to remove excess polish. However, you also won’t see a mirror shine yet, but that is fine – make sure that you get a large excess amount of polish off before it dries too much. After this, leave it again for about five minutes so that the remaining polish is able to dry properly.

The Polish

Now you can apply the bulk of the shoe polish. The best way to do this is to wrap the cloth around your index finger and start with the same slow motions, applying the polish as necessary. If you are doing both boots at once, you can switch back and forward to handle them at the same time, letting one of the boots dry while the other is being worked on.

When that is done, get another soft cloth and dampen it in water, then wring the water out. You can wrap it around your index and middle finger again, then use it to gently rub at the boots again. This is technically a spit shine, but a spit shine doesn’t actually need to be a spit shine. Spit shine is just the term used for whenever you shine shoe surfaces using water.

After this, do the same again, but instead of dipping the soft cloth into the water, start picking up polish each time so that you can rub it in. If you are using the right motions, this can become an easy pattern to follow, and won’t take very much time. You will want to use enough to cover the entire boot. There is no need to spit-shine it anymore – or, at least, there shouldn’t be – so don’t worry about using the water too.

If you are doing multiple boots, make sure that you are alternating properly, since this step requires that you do multiple coats one after the other. For a proper shine, it is best to do around six or seven coats if possible – be sure to use a consistent amount of polish, and don’t hesitate to use your cloth to dampen the boots again if you need to. Eventually, you should see the shoes shine as the polish starts working properly, but continue to brush or rub them until you are sure that the boots are as shiny as they need to be.

After the polish is dry – which can take a while, depending on how much polish the shine took – use another dry cloth to buff the boots. This will remove some of the shine but improve the overall look of your boots, which is often the best option. After a while of buffing, your boots or shoes should hopefully have that shine for a long time.

Other Tips

Shining leather can be as easy or as hard as you make it, and that means that it might take a while for certain techniques to work. Here are a few extra tips that can help you deal with specific problems that you might face while shining and polishing, regardless of the type of shoe you are trying to deal with.

  • It will always be harder to shine new shoes than it will be to shine ones that you have owned for years. Even if you are an expert in knowing how to shine boots, the fact that they haven’t been broken in yet means that the leather doesn’t have exposed pores yet. As you wear shoes more and more, the leather will become more receptive to polishing.
  • Old wax can also struggle to stick to leather correctly. You can sometimes get around this by putting the tin in the freezer for a night, hardening it up and making it slightly more likely to stick in place.
  • New rags, on the other hand, can struggle to help with most polishes. An older rag may feel harder, but traces of old polishes on the fabric can make it more likely to stick to the leather instead. This means that using the same cloth over and over again can sometimes be more effective than washing it off completely or swapping to a new one.
  • Keep in mind that older rags can also make it harder, though. Sometimes they will scratch the surface of each shoe and remove some of the coating, or even leave a mark that has to be fixed in other ways. Try to find a balance if you can, but use a newer cloth over an older one if neither of them is proving very effective since this avoids the scratching and surface damage.
  • Ideally, you should shine your shoes with something inside them, whether it is a shoe tree, a solid object, or your own foot. This prevents the shoe from folding inwards as you try to clean it, making it far easier to shine properly and prevents any of the wax from getting into a crevice where it is hard to remove. This can even give you more control over how you hold the boots, so you aren’t having to hold on to wet, waxy leather just to turn it around or flip it over.
  • You can use a blow dryer to help get rid of crinkles and creases in the leather, as long as you don’t move it close enough to cause burning. This is only temporary, but it can be useful if you want to get the best possible results for short-term events.
  • You don’t need a perfect mirror shine on every last part of your boot or shoe. Many people prefer to avoid polishing areas that either get dirty easily or don’t get dirty at all, focusing on places like the toe caps. These are also sometimes areas where the leather doesn’t bend – bending leather can occasionally crack the coating and make the entire polishing process less effective, although this doesn’t always happen.

Now you know how to shine boots properly and the best ways to get it done quickly and efficiently. Remember that there is not a single perfect way to do every shoe – some are going to work better with one method than another, so try different techniques until you find one that you like.

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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