How to polish shoes

Introduction

Perhaps you're wondering why this node is here. Surely technology has progressed sufficiently to a point that we now have "all in one" polish sponges. The ones which when you wipe your shoes down with you get a nice glossy shine. If you're lazy go ahead and walk away from this node. You'll end up paying for more shoes at the end of the day though, since ultimately these new fangled solutions do not condition the shoe.

What I am offering you is a way to deliver a polish that will stun and amaze everyone who will have had the pleasure of glancing down at your shoes. Okay perhaps not, but you'll get a kick ass polish!

I've made the following assumptions which I refuse to deviate from them. Firstly, your shoes are leather (Suede and friends may now leave the room). Secondly, that they're black, I say black because I have never polished shoes of other colours. To merely assume that the procedure is the same (perhaps it is so with brown -- but I'm not going to speculate) is to venture into unknown territory.

Incase you're wondering how I came to learn this art. I watched my Father-in-law and Brother-in-law (who are both in the military) polish their boots this way

Oh one last thing, this is for the grammarians and spelling police: please /msg me before you downvote. I can't abide "downvote driveby's".

You will need:

An optional extra is a pair of old (and unwanted) tights or a buffing cloth (lint free?).

Preparation

  • Lay the newspaper out across the floor.
  • Open the tin of shoe polish take the lid and fill it with a little warm water. A sizable puddle will do.
  • Use the 1st shoe polish brush to brush away any debris that maybe on the shoes.
  • Rub down the shoes with the damp sponge.

The warm up event

  • Take your rag and cover your index finger with it. If it's a thin rag I recommend you cover it twice, as this will reduce how black your finger becomes.
  • Touch the water in the with your clothed finger.
  • Rub your finger tip (the clothed one) over the polish, don't try to pick out chunks of polish you just want to have a coat of it on your finger tip.
  • Apply the soiled clothed finger against one of the shoes. I would recommend you apply in a circular motion on the larger surface areas. CRUDE JOKE ALERT!! As your shoe polishing-fu improves your girlfriend should notice1 the difference. The ultimate goal here is to let the shoe absorb a thin coat of polish.
  • Place the shoe to one side and repeat the entire process with the other shoe.
Update: Use brown shoe polish for every 5th polish this will prevent excessive build up of black shoe polish (which seems more ready to cake up than brown)!

The main event

This is what you came here for. This is your time to shine (need I say the pun is fully intended?)! Go out there and a champ!!

Take the first shoe and begin to brush with your shoe polishing brush!

Tips for success:
  • Be as vigorous as possible, but at the same time try to avoid clipping the shoe with the non-bristled areas of the brush.
  • I would recommend you polish diagonally on the front area and horizontally on the blade and arch areas of the shoe.
  • Work on one side of the shoe at a time, don't be tempted to polish the other half of the front of the shoe.

Conclusion

What you should now have is a pair of shoes that could double as mirrors. You may wish to buff with that soft cloth to enhance the appearance of the shoes, but this is optional.

"But what about the tights?" (reader)

Ah well I was told by a good friend who was a former Sailor that using them (tights) to buff the shoes will bring even further shine. When I mean buff I mean hold the tights lengthwise and oscillating from left to right across the shoes. I personally have not been able to try this on the account that my Sister no longer lives in the house and my Mom would burst into tears if I started asking for tights.

<sermon>So in conclusion what we have learnt that to get anyway we have to work hard. Working hard is good because it delivers results. Shoes are a vital part of a person's appearance, you may look slick and tight in your suit but if your shoes look like dirty well you're at a loss. Never forget the shoes my friend, as they betray you like scruffy hair, badly or even un-ironed items of clothing in a formal appointment.</sermon>

Updates

August 13, 2003: Typo fix. Thanks wertperch!
May 5, 2002: Amended updates to reflect the removal ShadowNode's contribution to this node.
May 24, 2001: Added "brown shoe polish" tip discovered whilst trading shoe polishing tips with a bunch of ex-military folks on my graduate programme.
June 27, 2000: ShadowNode did have a point. One problem, you don't get many shoe shiners in London. :)
1 Male Heterosexual or Bi/Homosexual Female reader permitting.
To get really, REALLY shining shoes, you'll need this: If your shoes are of a high quality, finely textured leather, skip part 1.
  1. If your shoes have a rough surface, use the sanding paper to grind the leather down to a smooth, even surface. You'll only need to do this once.
  2. Wash off dust and particles with the cloth under running, cool water.
  3. Take a bit of cotton and form it into a ball about 2cm in diameter. Dip it in water. Using the hot air blower, melt shoe polish and work it into the shoe with the wet cotton ball. Ideally, you should repeat this step until the leather is saturated with shoe polish. This prevents the leather from breathing, and makes the shoe a bit uncomfortable to wear.
  4. After you've worked a fair bit of shoe polish into the shoe, take a new, wet cotton ball, apply a small amount of Parade Gloss to the cotton, and polish the shoe with circular motions. Repeat, using alternately navy shoe polish and black parade gloss. This will give the shoe a deeper shine2.
  5. Once in a while, you'll want to use the hot air blower and melt in a small amount of shoe polish and repeat the last step for some time.
These steps should work on non-black leather too. For brown shoes, you'd obviously use brown shoe polish, but mixing in a layer of, say neutral colored or ox blood colored polish gives the leather that extra sparkle. Same tips apply for other colors: use a shoe polish that closely matches the color of the leather, and optionally mix in a different color for a deeper shine.

Naturally, this takes a lot of time, but you can get everything from army boots1 to fine Italian shoes to shine.

1: Yes, I've done it on my Norwegian M77 Field boots.
2: Sounds like a shampoo commercial, doesn't it?

One last lil' tip for those of you looking for easy application of solid (cake in a tin) shoe polish:

Fire.

That's right. The most important technological advance of our time can help you prettify your clogs. Here's how.

  • Procure a tin of shoe polish
    I use Kiwi, so YMMV with other brands.
  • Procure some fire-making device
    I use matches or a lighter, but I suppose a small stick-and-bow contraption or even a magnifying glass-and-sunlight combo would work.
  • Remove the lid of the tin of polish
    Keep it close to hand...you'll need it in a minute.
  • Apply fire to the polish
    I rest the match against the polish, moving it gently from side to side.
  • Once the polish catches fire, move the heat source away from the tin and wait for the flames to cover the entire surface of the polish
    You're not trying to burn down the house here...just get the top of the polish melty.
  • Cover the tin of polish with the lid to extinguish the flames
    Just set the lid on the top, and wait for the poof of smoke that indicates the flames are out.
  • Lift one edge of the lid to make sure the fire is extinguished.
    If the flames flare back up when you do this, set the lid back on top (make sure it's not hanging off-center on the top of the tin) and wait another few seconds before checking again.
  • Once the flames are extinguished, remove the lid and use your now-liquid polish normally.
    The polish should be warm, but not too hot to work with.

Some notes:
I find that latex gloves and a newspapered work area are helpful to keeping the mess under control.
Best results are achieved by smearing the polish on all surfaces to be shined, letting the polish cool to a matte finish, then rubbing with a clean cloth until surface is shiny.
Avoid working on the carpet if at all possible. Carpet + waxy polish = stains that will not come out...
Unless you use Shout Gel (with the cute little scrubber cap) and blot up the stain. That stuff is amazing.

An important tip is to consider what you are wearing during the vigorous brushing.

Sometimes the solid shoe polish tends to make a fine powder that gets thrown all over the place, and onto any expensive white shirt you may be wearing. Which you probably will be whilst doing any last-minute polishing before going to church or a function.

This mostly happens only when you get chunks of polish on the rag.

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