Self-Sufficiency Skill: Basic Shoe Care

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This post is by Bernie Carr,

One of my earliest memories was of my grandfather showing me how to shine our “church shoes.”  He was very particular about his appearance, but was very frugal so he kept his shoes looking new for years.   In my free spending days, I never bothered to shine my shoes as I got rid of them as soon as they showed signs of wear.  I was not alone in this, as our throwaway society encourages us to replace things as soon as possible.  When I realized the folly old ways, I started taking better care of my footwear and began to utilize the services of a cobbler.   Alas, the lack of customers drove many of the shoe repair stores out of business.   There are still a few around town, but they are a distance away.   As times get tougher, it is worth our time to learn some basic shoe care.  I also believe footwear is important enough to warrant some attention, in case you every have to walk out of the city in an emergency, so you might as well take care of them.

Preventive Care

  • When you buy a new pair of shoes, spray them with waterproofing spray.  We sprayed all our hiking boots with this and they have held up pretty well so far.
  • Alternate shoes between wearings.  Shoes that are worn daily will be susceptible to moisture and odors as they do not get a chance to dry out.  Wearing socks and hose also prevent moisture from seeping into the shoes.
  • To avoid odor problems, swipe the insides with rubbing alcohol and let dry (avoid getting this on the leather) OR dust lightly with baking soda between wearings.
  • Clean the exterior of your shoes as soon as they get dirty.  Even kids’ athletic shoes will benefit from regular cleanings.
  • Polish leather shoes periodically to keep them from getting cracked.

Caring for Hiking Boots

  • Breaking in your boots prior to wearing on a long hike.
  • Clean boots after every hike.  Use a brush to remove grit and dirt.
  • Remove the insoles and allow the inside to dry as well.
  • If the boots get wet, place boots upside down to let them dry.  Let dry in normal temperature, but if you are in a hurry, you can place them in front of an electric fan.
  • Do not place boots next to a heater, stove or fire, as this may weaken the construction or warp the boots.
  • Store them in a clean, dry area, in normal temperature.  If they get moldy, wipe them down with a mixture of vinegar (20%) and water (80%)

How to Polish Leather Shoes

Shoe care kit
Shoe care kit

The steps are pretty much the same as what my grandpa had taught me.  A basic shoe care kit includes:  shoe polish closely matching the color of your shoes, horsehair brush,  rags, old toothbrush.  Here are the basic steps:

1.  Line your work area with newspapers.

2.  Clean the surface area of the shoes so they are free of dust.  Use the old toothbrush to clean the edges between the upper and the sole of the shoe.

3.  Lightly apply the shoe polish to the leather in a circular motion.  You will want to get the wax into any cracks as this will condition the leather.  Let it dry for a couple of minutes.

4.  Buff the shoes with the brush using a light back of forth motion, following the grain of the shoes.  You will notice the shoes getting shinier as you keeping brushing.

5. Optional:  Lightly spritz the shoes with plain water and buff with a soft cloth such as an old t-shirt, using a back and forth motion.  This will give the shoes an additional “spit shine.”

5.  Carefully pick up the newspapers as they will have greasy black specs on them from the cleaning process.

Quick Repairs

Complex repairs such as replacing a sole or a broken heel are best done by a cobbler.  Some quick repairs can be done successfully at home with a strong adhesive such as Shoe Goo.  I’ve had some success repairing athletic shoes with Shoe Goo so it is worth keeping the stuff at home.

© Apartment Prepper 2016

Updated from a previous post that was originally published on 12/14/2011


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  1. Shoe goo is the best. I’ve repaired an entire toe of my father in-law’s work boots with it.
    It’s more of an improvised fix, but if the inside stitching of a shoe or boot is giving way, put moleskin over it and it’ll hold it together. Used this trick on a pair Rocky boots, after wearing them for 6 years the internal stitching had started to come apart. Wife used the trick on a cheaper pair of leather boots where the leather was squeaking on the tongue.

  2. Don’t forget to mention SHOE TAPS on the heels of your shoes! Every time I buy a new pair of shoes (not sneakers or hiking boots, but pretty much all other types of shoes), I have a pair of black, crescent-shaped shoe taps put on the heels, for just a couple of bucks. The uneven wear that shoe heels will face without these taps is incredible–my shoes last YEARS longer this way. If the taps wear out, replace them–it’s certainly preferable to replacing the shoes!

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