How To Clean Leather Shoes: A Step By Step Guide

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If you're wondering how to clean leather shoes, you've come to the right place.

We've put together a guide to lead you through the process, including some of the dos and don'ts of cleaning we'd recommend if you're trying to keep your leather sneakers stain-free.

So, whether you're wanting to keep your best pair of Jordan 1's looking fresh, or you're simply getting your best golf shoes ready for your next round, we've got you covered right here.

Table of Contents

Let's begin...

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How To Clean Leather Shoes

The following method is what we believe to be the most effective way of cleaning a regular pair of leather sneakers.

We've also highlighted a few top tips along the way, including advice for cleaning your white trainers which are, arguably, the hardest to keep looking clean.

What You'll Need:

  • Soft-bristled Brush
  • Microfibre Cloth
  • Neutral Soap
  • Shoe Cleaner
  • Leather Polish
  • Shoe Protector
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Step 1: Before you begin cleaning, remove the laces and leave them to soak in a mixture of warm water and soap while you get on with the rest of the cleaning.

Air Jordan 1 High OG "Stealth" product image of an unlaced Jordan 1.
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Credit: @mr_unloved1s

Top Tip: You can add a touch of baking powder if your shoes come with white laces to remove stubborn stains.

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Step 2: Use a soft-bristled brush to remove any built-up mud and dirt. We'd recommend doing this after most wears to stop the dirt from causing the leather to crack.

Step 3: Combine a small amount of shoe cleaner into a bowl of warm water.

Top Tip: You can purchase dedicated shoe cleaners such as Angelus Easy Cleaner, but a neutral cleaning agent can also work. Use as per the manufacturer's instructions.

Angelus Easy Cleaner product image of a clear bottle with a green label.
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Credit: Angelus

Step 4: Dip your microfibre cloth into the mixture, remove any excess water, and begin to rub the exterior of your shoes in circular motions to get rid of any stains.

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Step 5: Wipe off the excess foam and leave your shoes to dry. Once completely dry, you can apply a clear or similar coloured shoe polish. This is optional though depending on your shoes. Once soaked in, buff out with a brush.

Step 6: If you're looking to minimise how often you need to clean your leather sneakers, you can also buy a shoe protector spray. Again, this is an optional step depending on what you have available.

Top Tip: There are many shoe protectors on the market, including the highly popular Crep Protect. Once more, use as per the instructions.

Step 7: Remove your laces from the soak and leave to dry with your shoes naturally, away from direct sunlight. Once dry, re-lace your sneakers and you should be good to go.

What About Different Kinds Of Leather?

You may find that different types of leather are used for different kinds of shoes, some of which require slightly different cleaning methods.

Here are some of our top tips for when you encounter an alternative leather to what you're used to.

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Patent Leather

Patent leather is a type of coated material that has a high-gloss finish.

You'll most likely find patent leather on a pair of Jordan's, like these "Concord Bred" 11's featured in our list of the best Jordan 11 colourways around.

Air Jordan 11 Low "Concord Bred" product image of a pair of white sneakers with patent black leather overlays and a red sole.
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Credit: Nike

To clean, simply wipe the surface with a damp cloth before buffing the surface with a soft, dry mircofibre cloth.

When cleaning patent leather though, particularly if you're looking to restore the shine, we'd recommend sticking to products designed for the material in order to avoid causing any irremovable marks.

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Nubuck Leather

Although technically leather, nubuck more closely resembles suede and, therefore, should almost be treated as such when cleaning.

For example, these Salomon Quest 4 Element GTX's, as featured in our list of the best hiking boots, are made from nubuck leather which is then coated in the ultimate water-resistant material GORE-TEX.

Salomon Quest 4 Element GTX product image of a single black and khaki boot.
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Credit: Salomon

To clean, you can use a suede brush to remove excess dirt, while a suede eraser can be used to remove tougher stains.

For more information and top tips, check out our step-by-step guide to cleaning suede shoes right here.

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Things To Avoid When Cleaning Leather Shoes

There are several dos and don'ts to keep in mind when cleaning leather sneakers, so it's important to know what you shouldn't do to avoid irreversible damage.

Firstly, avoid using rough sponges or wired brushes. Both of these can create permanent small scratches in the leather which can ruin the material.

Moreover, avoid using soap or detergent containing lots of chemicals. Not only is dish soap a degreaser that could end up removing the oil from the leather, but some cleaning products contain bleach which can cause serious long-term damage.

On top of that, we wouldn't recommend ever putting your leather sneakers into the washing machine or dryer. The entire process can cause your shoes to wrap, can crack the leather, and can sometimes cause the colours to run.

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