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Not all shoes are created equal. You can’t treat a canvas sneaker the same way you would a leather brogue. But each type needs the same proper care and maintenance.
Buying a nice pair is just the beginning, says Michael Petry, the creative director at footwear brand The Frye Company.
“The biggest mistake guys can make is to neglect caring for their shoes after they bring them home.”
Put some time and effort into the fabric and the soles, and they’ll stand up to whatever punishment your feet inflict. Here’s how to keep your shoes looking their best.
1. POLISH LEATHER OFTEN
As soon as you take your new shoes out of the box, give them a good polish, Petry says.
Polish your shoes each time you put them on, or at least rub them down before you venture out into bad weather.
2. PROTECT AND BRUSH SUEDE
If you’re investing in suede shoes, treat them with a protective suede spray that resists water, salt, and mud so they won’t be damaged by the elements. Petry recommends testing the spray before using it, as it could change the color of your shoes.
You should also commit to a good suede eraser and brush for maintenance.
First, use your eraser to target stains. Then, follow up with the brush to bring the nap of the suede back to its original state, says Petry.
3. SAVE THE SUNDAY PAPER
If you find yourself caught in a sudden downpour, save your shoes from permanent damage by drying them as soon as you get home.
Stuff your shoes with newspaper to soak up the moisture and place them in a well-ventilated area as you wait for them to dry, says Kevin Tuohy, cofounder of A Shine & Co.
Whatever you do, don’t pick up the hair dryer or place them near a heater, which will damage and make the leather cracked and brittle.
4. DROP THE SPONGE
Tuohy advises against using sponges on your shoes because it’s hard to tell what’s in them. Sometimes, the sponge tip applicator attached to your favorite shoe polish can contain ingredients that are harmful to your shoes.
Instead, look for a shoe-care kit that contains essentials like polish and a natural hair brush.
5. ADD A LAYER OF RUBBER
Before you wear your new dress shoes, ask a cobbler to place a rubber sole on the bottom. Not only will the rubber protect the leather soles from damage, but it will also give you extra traction, says Tuohy.
Plus, it’s easier—and more affordable—to replace worn rubber soles than leather. For the roughly $20 investment, you’ll prolong the life of your favorite shoes.
6. ROUGHEN UP YOUR BOOTS
Don’t put your boots through the ringer just to get that rugged, worn-in look. You can still get the same effect after protecting the leather.
Use a leather balm and neutral cream, but avoid buffing them to a shine, Tuohy says,
Just watch the soles. Are the heels uneven or worn down on one side? See your cobbler to resole them so you can wear the hell out of them for years.
7. ADD AGE, INSTANTLY
When you’re in a pinch—or if you want to experiment with a burnished style—you can use black shoe polish on brown shoes. The black polish won’t do any damage to your boots; it’ll only make the leather a bit darker and more rustic-looking.
8. EMBRACE THE ELEMENTS
You don’t always have to polish your boat shoes, says Petry. They’re meant to be salt-washed and faded, so let them live through the elements, he says.
9. INVEST IN QUALITY POLISH
Ignore your urge to take the bargain route. You need actual shoe polish—not the sneaker scuff cleaner from the local drugstore, says Tuohy.
These cheap cleaners may save you several bucks, but they don’t actually remove scuffs. Instead, they layer on a white paste that appears chalky when dry.
10. HAND WASH YOUR CANVAS
The best way to clean your canvas sneakers is by hand with fabric shampoo and water—not in the washing machine, Tuohy says.
Even on a gentle cycle, the soles of your shoes can break down and look more worn-out.