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Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Do you clean and/or polish your shoes?

I remember watching my father polish his work shoes when I was a girl. He had a cardboard box with all of the supplies kept inside. I would watch him rub the polish into the leather then buff the dried polish till the shoes shone. My mother took care of our shoes, removing scuffs from patent leather with rubbing alcohol, covering marks on other leather shoes with a liquid polish, or washing our sneakers in the washing machine periodically. There always seemed to be a pair of drying sneakers sitting in front of the refrigerator where warm air came out and dried the shoes. This was normal care-taking of shoes. 

If a shoe developed a problem, there was a shoe repair shop nearby that could fix them. My dad would boast that he'd had the same pair of dress shoes for over a decade, taking care of them himself in the evenings and by getting them resoled at the repair place when needed. My dad wore an odd shoe size which was difficult to source, so making shoes last longer was imperative. But my parents were also just normal thrifty people, like most folks I knew as a girl.

I wore leather dress shoes to my job pre-kids, and I used the skills I learned to keep my shoes looking nice for as long as possible, too. But sometime in the last 35 years, the art of shoe care and repair just got lost in our society. Shoes got cheaper, were often not made from good materials like real leather, and replacing worn-looking shoes seemed more feasible than doing the work to make them look nice again. There's a big exception to this, though. Good quality sneakers/athletic shoes are expensive.

I can't wear cheap sneakers. I spend the extra money to get sneakers that work for my persnickety feet. For most of the last 10 years, I've bought black sneakers, because black doesn't show dirt as readily as lighter colors. I hose my black sneakers off from time to time when coming back in from the garden, then let them dry in the sun. This summer I decided that I wanted some light-colored sneakers. I chose this pale green pair. They go well with capri-length pants and my khaki skort -- my summer uniforms for casual days. I feel that now I don't look as dorky as I did with black sneakers and a skort. But I still wear my black sneakers for really dirty work.

One issue with the light-colored sneakers, they show dirt very quickly. I've been reminded that I need to clean these more frequently than I do my black shoes. One of the things that's changed over the years, though, modern sneakers and athletic shoes are often made of synthetic materials that seems to clean easily. With this pair, I hold a shoe over the kitchen sink and use a little dish soap on a rag to clean the dirt off the toes, where I seem to get my shoes the dirtiest. Then rinse under water and set in the sun to dry. I seem to need to do this a couple of times a month. This last time I was thinking to myself that you don't hear much about people polishing or cleaning shoes any more. A couple of years ago I went to buy actual shoe polish for my husband's dress shoes and had to go to a couple of stores to find what I needed.

So now I'm wondering, does anyone else regularly clean or polish their shoes? Is this a chore you routinely do? Have you found ways to make the job easier or gentler on your shoes?


  1. We have a shoe polish kit purchased by my husband at some point. Years ago, he had to regularly polish his Army-issued boots. Some years ago now, they went to a suede-finish boot that requires less frequent care and no polishing, and of course, he's now been out for 10 years. But until the past year or so, his nice shoes for work were leather and required occasional care. Due to foot issues for both of us, we've gone to comfort over beauty for the most part. He now wears an orthopedic nicer-looking leather shoe issued by the VA that allows room for his orthotic and works with Docker-type pants and a button-down shirt for his job. I mostly live in Keen sandals or trail/road running shoes, both of which I throw in the wash machine when washing "dog towels" (our older, ratty towels now used for spills, cleaning, etc...) and then set outside to dry. My black leather dressy pumps need infrequent care due to infrequent wear these days. My "nicer" everyday shoes that get worn the most are navy merino ballet-style flats and grey merino casual shoes, both of which could also be washed on delicate and allowed to dry.

    1. Hi Cat,
      I've heard a lot of great things about Keens, for a combination of attractiveness and comfort for lots of walking. It's good to know they can go in the washing machine.

      I suppose that was a move for the best with the military changing the boot material to something that wouldn't require as much care.

  2. Hi, Lili -- Yup, we clean/polish shoes around here, and shoe polish IS much harder to find, these days, than even a couple of years ago (since covid "dressing down"/Zoom dressing?) We've also used shoe repair services a lot (especially for DH's everyday cowboy boots), over the years, but that's another service that's harder to find, as well. It's definitely a throw-away society, now, and some of the poor quality merchandise on offer is only fit for the trash bin awfully quickly. But we do try to buy better quality (getting better sneakers/hiking boots a couple of years ago was a miracle in my foot problems!), care for them as best we can, and also reserve some shoes for "presentable"/town wear, and not have to worry as much about the appearance of the others. Also -- My whole life, I and our whole family have also had "work/play" clothes, and "town/business/school/social event" clothes... and worn, stained clothes in the latter category, end up in the former. My husband and kids were unusual in their peer groups because of this. You should have seen the look on a co-worker's face the first time he saw DH in patched cut-off jean work shorts when he stopped by the house. LOL Sara

    1. Hi Sara,
      We do the same with our around d the house vs going out clothing. I buy a new-to-me t-shirt (from Value Village) every summer, and that first summer it's for going places or when my son and daughter-in-law are over. By the second year it's starting to look limp and gets relegated to the everyday stack. By the fifth year, it's thin and beginning to get holes that can't be fixed. At that point I either recycle the fabric into a project or it becomes a painting or furniture refinishing shirt. My husband's around the house pants are too-worn-for-the-office docker-style pants. Growing up we always changed into play clothes after school or church. It was the norm for that time period, I think.

  3. I well remember polishing shoes and getting them resoled, as well as being able to throw tennis shoes into the washer. My mother was a nurse and it was important for her shoes to look pristine, so one of my jobs was polishing my mother's nurse's shoes for work. I occasionally polish shoes sometimes now when they look worn, but I just do spot cleaning on my sneakers. I too have persnickety feet and need to buy very expensive everyday shoes. When one pair starts to wear, I get a new one and the old one becomes my yard shoes. My mother had a terrible time with her feet and I am hoping to avoid some of her problems by wearing shoes that are good for my feet. But unfortunately, that lets out most of what I consider cute.

    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      I agree -- good shoes are essential, both to stave off problems later on, but for comfort right now. I, too, wish I could wear some styles, but don't.

      There are a couple of websites that offer some better-looking orthopedic or therapeutic shoes for women. Some of the shoes still look a bit clunky, but there are also a few styles that look nicer. I hope you can prevent painful foot problems later in life.

  4. Still polish dress shoes! 40 miles yo the nearest shoe repair shop though. Spot clean fabric or athletic shoes. If washable, when very grubby they go into a wash cycle then air dry.

    1. Hi Linda,
      Sounds like you have some good methods for keeping your shoes looking nice. But 40 miles to a shoe repair place does sound like quite a drive.

  5. Like L&L, my main pair of shoes are an expensive shoe for my (also persnickety) feet, and my previous "good" shoes become my "hiking on the damp sandy/dirty trails shoes". I keep my cuter shoes for times when I am mostly seated indoors--they aren't as supportive for my feet so I don't want to spend a lot of time walking in them, and this also keeps them in better shape for longer. I spot-clean my shoes (and because I work in a hospital, I frequently use the generic equivalent of Lysol wipes to wipe down my shoes and hopefully get rid of some of the germs. In the summer I wear my Chaco sandals (which were gifted to me)--they are cute, supportive, and I think they may be indestructible. :)

  6. Hi Kris,
    I haven't heard of Chaco sandals before. I'll check those out. Indestructible plus cute is a good combo. I do the same with my nicest dress shoes, wear them only when I'll be mostly seated. I don't know how I used to wear the shoes I did pre-kids.

    Funny how we all have issues with our feet!

    1. This is probably the closest to the style that I have:

      I like the pattern (a subtle blue) better than any of the ones they show here. By cute, I mean that they are cute with shorts/capris/maybe a casual skirt. If you are interested in them, you will want to do your research first, as they may not work for your particular foot issues.


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