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How to Keep Your Leather Looking Gorgeous: a Reddit User Shares Top Tips

Posted on 27 September 2016

Source: Reddit 

A week ago, I asked on here about care for leather shoes and handbags, and I became curious to learn more about general care. I compiled the following information by searching for the best cobblers in several major cities and asking them for information. Many of them provided additional information on their websites, which I have cited below, and the remaining sources are the result of Google searches. I am not an expert, so I cannot comment on what I believe to be the best leather care routine or products, but I wanted to share what I've learned.


There is a very easy way to tell the difference between finished and unfinished leather: unfinished leather will darken in contact with water. [25]

Finished leather is colored using a topical pigment on the leather's surface, which protects it from staining and fading but which also creates a stiffer leather with muted colors. Unfinished leather is soaked in aniline dye, which allows for a range of vibrant colors and leaves the leather soft and supple but also prone to water, sun, and stains. [2]


It is important to choose a leather cleaner that will not strip oils from the leather. Saddle soap, which is popular for horse tack, cleans and protects from moisture but is not recommended for the leather used in shoes or handbags. This is debatable as some sources recommend using it for unfinished leather, but the pH of saddle soap is much higher than that of leather. [259] If your cleaner leaves a greasy residue, it is also likely causing damaging to the stitching. Remove the cleaner with a slightly damp cloth. [2] Due to a similar pH level, some sources recommend using a teaspoon of vinegar in a cup of water for spot-cleaning. [29]

Leather conditioner should be used every 6 to 12 months to maintain the natural feel of the leather. Petroleum and mineral oil will damage the leather over time. [2]

In the case of suede or nubuck, use a soft brush to remove dirt, [2, 3] and a suede eraser for small blemishes. [3] Scuffs and dirt can be removed from patent leather using a damp rag or, in some cases, glass cleaner; however, any blemish that breaks the surface of the leather should be repaired professionally. [6]


Cedar or birch (unfinished wood) shoe trees are ideal because these will absorb moisture from the lining. Shoes should always be allowed to dry naturally, away from a heat source. Shoe trees should be inserted immediately after wear to retain the shoe's shape after any moisture exposure. [1] The first couple hours after wear are most important to remove sweat and incidental moisture, so it is not necessary to own a pair of shoe trees for each pair of shoes. [3]


Silicone-based sprays will cause the leather to darken and thus should be avoided. Polish your shoes after waterproofing, and waterproof the shoes every 4-8 shines. This will prevent salt stains and water damage. [1] Waterproofing will make cleaning and polishing less effective in protecting the leather, but the protection offered by waterproofing is often worth it. [2]

Waterproofing is also recommended for handbags. [78]


Sole guards are optional. These are about the thickness of a penny, so they should not be noticeable and will protect the factory sole. Sole guards should only be applied to new or firm soles. To identify whether a sole needs to be replaced, press a thumb into the center of the sole; if it is spongy, this is a sign that the sole should be replaced. On high heels, resole when the rear outside border of the sole is about the width of a dime. [1]

On high quality shoes, the sole will probably need to be replaced every two years. [4]


The basic care principles that all sources agreed upon are to use shoe trees and to waterproof your shoes. Most sources agreed that handbags and shoes should be cleaned and conditioned periodically. While the sources agreed that wiping the surface with a damp cloth is a good method to remove dirt, there are mixed messages regarding further care. For many FFA users, this will suffice; however, leather cleaner, conditioner, and polish can all be supplemented depending on the use and product.


[1] B. Nelson Shoes, "Maintenance"

[2] Angelo's Shoe & Leather Specialists, "Learning Center"

[3] Esquire, "How to Take Care of Your Shoes"

[4] Brooks Brother, "A Quick Guide to Basic Shoe Care Etiquette"

[5] Lovin' My Handbags, "Tips & Tricks"

[6] purseforum, "How Do You Clean Your Patent Leather?"

[7] Leatherkraft, "Three Tips To Care For Leather Bags"

[8] Luxury Insider, "How to Care for Leather Bags"

[9] purseforum, "Leather Help: Tips from the Experts"


To guarantee you are using the best cleaner or conditioner for your product, please check with the manufacturer or a trusted cobbler before use. These products are a general recommendation. Many companies offer cleaners and conditioners recommended specifically for their products; it's likely that there are many identical generic formulas, but as I'm not an expert, I can't guarantee these are the best for your beloved leather item. This post on MFA also has some additional recommendations.

Shoe Trees:

Rochester Shoe Tree Company make the cedar shoe trees sold by Neiman Marcus. They are cheaper direct, and they offer personalization. There is a variety of cedar trees for men and women.

Leather Cleaners + Conditioners:

The blog Alterations Needed has a pretty solid argument for Cadillac Boot & Shoe Care.

Oak Street Boot Makers and Rancourt both recommend Venetian Shoe Cream. The cream is made by C.A. Zoe's in Chicago, and several sources can be found by searching "Zoe's Venetian Shoe Cream".

Saphir Renovateur is highly recommended by Esquire. Esquire also recommended Kirby Allison's Hanger Project for a comprehensive source of products, and the site is very extensive and informative.

Collonil is recommended by Mulberry, and their site offers care solutions for all different types of leather.


Penguin Water & Stain Repellant is one brand that does not use silicone in its waterproofing spray. Tarrago Nano is a well-regarded waterproofing spray that does not include silicones.

CadillacCollonil, and Saphir all offer waterproofing sprays as well.

Apple Garde (and other Apple care products) are often recommended in purseforum and similar community forums. This very pink guide has more information about when/how to use Apple care products.

(Edit) Bickmore, as recommended by /u/dawn14, sells a no-silicone waterproofing spray as well.

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