How to Care for Leather so it Lasts a Lifetime 

A Complete Guide – Tips and Product Recommendations

August 23, 2021

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Leather is an incredibly durable material and the comfort of your feet is unmatched, but it does require some maintenance to keep it in top condition. This guide will teach you how to clean, condition, polish and protect your leather footwear, garments, and accessories so they will stay looking great and last a lifetime. 

In This Guide

1. Why invest in real leather?
2. Basic 4 Steps to Leather Maintenance:

  • Step 1: Clean
  • Step 2: Condition
  • Step 3: Polish
  • Step 4: Protect

3. Other Maintenance Tips & Storage

1. Why Invest in Real Leather?

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Comfort: If you've ever worn a pair of real leather shoes, you'll know how comfortable they are. overtime, the material softens and forms your foot to provide a comfortable fit. Synthetic materials feel hard against your foot, whereas leather can adapt to your foot shape. 

Breathable: Leather is naturally breathable, so your feet feel cool and comfortable all day long. This also helps to reduce unpleasant odours that occur from perspiration by allowing ait flow throughout the shoe.

Durability: Leather is durable and will outlive shoes made from synthetic materials. High-quality leather can withstand demanding environments, making it great for workwear and other high-use articles.

Environmentally Friendly: Shoes and garments made from synthetic materials are damaging to the environment. Not only do they contribute to adding waste to the planet (they damage/break quickly and require replacement more often), but harmful chemicals are also used during the production process. Genuine leather is long-lasting and will not need to be replaced as often. Vegetable-tanned leather is a natural and common production method where manufacturing does not have a great environmental impact. 

Genuine leather does come at a higher price tag, but since you won't have to replace them as often, the cost of one great pair can often be less than two synthetic pairs. We're here to help you learn how to best care for it so you can invest in quality pieces that will last a long time.

2. Basic 4 Steps to Leather Maintenance

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The essential steps to care for your leather can be broken down into four easy categories (in this order)

  • Step 1: Clean
  • Step 2: Condition
  • Step 3: Polish
  • Step 4: Protect

If you periodically follow these steps, your leather will remain looking great and you'll extend its life greatly, getting the most out of your investment. 

Step 1: Clean

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Revitalize the look of your leather by giving it a cleaning! Try not to let dirt and stains sit for too long. Leather is naturally porous, so the rising of any dirt or oils regularly will ensure your leather looks great for years to come. 

a) Gather everything you'll need to set up your station. Lay newspaper down to protect your surface. We recommend the following products: 

b) Remove shoelaces (if applicable) and wash them with a cleaning solution. Massage the laces, rinse, and then dry with a soft cloth.

c) Remove any surface dirt using a Horsehair Brush, Polishing Cloth or Shoe Wipes

Boot and Shoe Cleaner sprays a fine cleansing foam that penetrates the leather deep to eliminate dirt build-up. It is quick and easy to use with a built-in scrub brush and no-rinse formulation. This product is environmentally safe and contains soil guard to keep footwear clean longer and help protect against permanent stains.

How-to-Use

Test on a small inconspicuous area and shake well. Then remove the brush cap to reveal the nozzle, hold 6cm away and spray onto the shoe. Replace the brush cap and work in the shampoo in a circular motion to help lift ground-in-dirt. This is a non-rinse formulation, so let the solution sit for a few minutes and then simply wipe off loose dirt and excess product with a clean, soft cloth. 

Saddle Soap is a classic cleaner that penetrates the pores of leather to remove trapped-in dirt and oils. It also helps to moisturize and preserve the suppleness of leather as it cleans. 

How-to-Use

Apply a small amount to the surface using the sponge that is included. A little bit goes a long way. Work into the leather in a circular motion and be sure to cover the entire surface area. Wipes off any excess and let dry overnight. 

Step 2: Condition

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As leather is exposed to outdoor elements (air, sun, rain) it starts to dry out and can look ashy, wrinkled, or dry. Similar to our own skin, leather contains natural oils that keeps it feeling soft, supple and gives it strength. As moisture is lost over time, we must condition it to restore hydration. Conditioning your leather will drastically improve the look and durability.

We recommend either of the two conditioning options below:

Leather Lotion contains a cream formula that nourishes all smooth leathers including footwear, handbags, garments, and accessories. It restores moisture back into the leather by absorbing it into its pores. Helps prevent cracking, fading, and drying. Helps slow down premature ageing of the leather and contains a pleasant cherry-almond scent.

How-to-Use

Apply onto the leather with a soft, clean cloth. Work into the material in a circular motion and be sure to cover the entire surface area. Let dry.

Mink Oil conditions and protects soft leathers from the damaging effects of water, stains, and salt. It restores leather’s natural oils to preserve, nourish and moisturize, keeping it soft and supple. Prevents drying, cracking and premature ageing. Use on leather footwear, sports equipment, workwear and accessories. Mink oil will darken the colour of lighter leathers as it rehydrates but it will lighten again over time. Includes sponge applicator.

How-to-Use

Apply a small amount to the surface using the sponge that is included. A little bit goes a long way. Work into the leather in a circular motion and be sure to cover the entire surface area. Wipe off any excess and let dry overnight.

Step 3: Polish

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Now that your leather is cleaned and conditioned, you now have the option to apply a polish to give your leather some shine! There are many types of polish you can use, based on whether you prefer a quick shine or a deep, long-lasting, mirror shine.

Here are our top polish choices:

Professional Shoe Polish is a high-quality, tin of waxed polish. It is the classic way to achieve a “mirror shine”. The results are unmatched, glossy, and long-lasting, though it does require some time and elbow grease.

How-to-Use

Read a complete step-by-step guide here: How to Achieve the Perfect Mirror Shine

Shoe Cream is an ultra-smooth formulation that combines natural oils, waxes, lanolin and pigment to restore moisture to leather while also providing a soft and natural shine after a light buff. It also renews the colour and helps to cover light scratches.

How-to-Use

Choose the correct colour for your leather. M&B offers over 30 colours and a neutral which is colourless and suitable for any shade. Apply a small amount of shoe cream in a circular motion onto the leather’s surface using a polishing cloth. Cover the entire surface area in an even coat and let dry. Holding the cloth in both hands, buff the toe area by gliding the cloth back and forth over the surface. This will reveal a soft shine.

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Instant Shine Kit can be used if you’re not confident in buffing your footwear to reveal a shine or prefer to save time, Instant Shine Kits provide an instant shine to leather in seconds without buffing. It nourishes, renews colour and adds a gloss in one step. Includes a sponge applicator for convenience.

How-to-Use

Remove the sponge applicator from the lid and dip it in the instant cream. Apply to shoes in an even coat and let dry.

Shine Sponge is a great product to add a gloss to leather in seconds without any of the work. These portable sponges are pre-soaked in a shine solution that restores colour, moisture and shine instantly.

How-to-Use

Open the plastic case to reveal the sponge. Glide sponge across leather’s surface to spread the polish. Let dry. Replace the plastic case to keep the sponge moist during storage.  

Step 4: Protect

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Protecting your leather from the elements is one of the most important things you can do to extend their life. We recommend protecting brand new shoes right out of the box, to shield them before any damage is caused.

Now that you’ve gone through the steps to clean, condition and polish your leather footwear, the next step is to add a protective shield to keep them looking great once you’ve stepped outside.

Pro-tex NANO Water & Stain Protector is a high-efficiency repellent that helps guard leather against harsh elements including rain, dirt, stains, snow and salt stains. 

Features & Benefits

  • High-tech protection based on NANOTECHNOLOGY
  • Elements bead up and roll of the surface of the material
  • Longer lasting and better protection
  • Does not contain silicone
  • Large spray can 300g/10oz
  • Made in Canada

How-to-Use

Always test on a small inconspicuous area before using any product you’ve never used on your shoes before. Ensure the shoes are clean and dry before spraying the protector. Hold can upright 20-30 cm (8” – 12”) away from the surface. Shake can well and apply an even spray making sure to include all seams and leather soles, do not soak the area. For best results, let dry for one hour and spray again. Wear the shoes only after completely dry. Re-apply every 2 weeks. Watch Video

3. Other Maintenance Tips & Storage

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  • Creases and Wrinkles
  • Unpleasant Odours
  • Protect the Shoe's Lining
  • Heel and Sole Replacement
  • Testing Treatments
  • Storage

Creases and Wrinkles: You may notice that your favourite leather shoes have developed some creases where your foot naturally bends. This can be minimized by inserting a cedar shoe tree in-between wears.

Cedar Shoe Trees are made with 100% North American aromatic red cedar and work to prevent cave-in and wrinkling of shoes in the heel, toe and vamp areas. It re-shapes the shoe when it’s not being worn, and naturally absorbs moisture to prevent odour and bacteria growth. Shoe Trees prolong the life of your favourite footwear and are a must-have item for all dress shoes to keep them looking great longer.  

Unpleasant Odours: Your foot naturally perspires during wear, causing dampness and unpleasant odours can develop. Though the leather naturally wicks away moisture and is breathable, there are a couple of other precautions you can take to ensure your shoes feel and smell fresh.

Spray your shoes periodically with Odour Stop™ Boot and Shoe Freshener. It contains a hygienic formula that neutralizes odour and keeps footwear fresh. The upside-down spray applicator gives boots and shoes full coverage from heel to toe. The fresh athletic scent lasts up to 48 hours. We recommend respraying periodically, so feet always smell and feel fresh! Watch Video

Insert an Odour Away insole into your shoe. This thin and lightweight insole provides a latex foam lining in your shoe that contains natural charcoal to effectively absorb foot odour and combat moisture. Infused with Sanitized® anti-bacterial and anti-fungal agent and perforated for breathability. 

Protect the Shoe's Lining: Over time, friction and body weight can cause the inside of the shoe (where your foot rests) to wear away. You can protect your shoe’s inner lining by inserting a protective barrier that can be easily and inexpensively replaced.

Leather Insoles are made of high-grade vegetable-tanned leather and provide a barrier between your foot and the shoe’s insole. This thin, lightweight insole contains a latex foam and gel base which cushions the foot and enhances comfort to prevent tired feet. It is naturally breathable and is infused with Sanitized® anti-bacterial and anti-fungal agents. Simply place these in your shoes to extend their life and replace them as necessary.

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Heel and Sole Replacement: Check the sole (underneath) of your shoes periodically for signs of extreme wear. You may notice that your rubber heels are wearing away, often unevenly. This can cause misalignment of your spine and can lead to back, knee and joint pain. You may also notice the sole of your shoe is thinning from wear. Eventually, a hole can develop.

We have great news for you! Cobblers are experts in shoe repair and leather maintenance. They are skilled tradespeople, with talent in rebuilding your shoes to extend their life. Visit your nearest cobbler to have the heels and soles replaced on your leather shoes and they will look and feel new again! If you’re located in Canada, click to view a list of our Moneysworth & Best Shoe Repair locations.

Testing Treatment: When using any product on your leather, whether it be a cleaner, polish, conditioner or protector, always test first in a small inconspicuous area. Has the leather been pretreated during the manufacturing process? How was the leather died? Will this product cause the colour to change? Before applying any treatment to an entire piece of leather, test first and let it dry. Evaluate the results, and if the leather looks great then you may continue.

Storage: Always store your leather footwear and accessories away from direct sunlight or any heat source. Leather dries out and fades over time, and sunlight speeds up that process. Heat will also foster premature cracking. Store your leather in a dark place where there is airflow. Ventilation is important, so do not store your leather in plastic bags or bins. Use a breathable fabric to prevent rot, mildew growth, and so the leather can breathe.

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Now that you're an expert in the 4 steps: Clean, Condition, Polish, and Protect, you now have a great routine for caring for all of your leather goods.

These steps can be used on your dress shoes, leather work boots, leather jackets, leather gloves, leather luggage, handbags, briefcases, wallets, and more. Investing in a quality piece of leather means that it can stay looking great and last a lifetime with these simple maintenance tips.