Shoe Care 101

Shoe Care 101

Are you curious about the secrets to keeping your shoes looking sharp and well-cared-for? Whether you're new to shoe care or seeking to refine your techniques, this article delves into the essentials you'll need and the steps to achieve a polished finish. From horsehair brushes to premium shoe polish, discover how to elevate your shoe care routine and why investing in quality products like those from Saphir can make all the difference.

What You Need to Get Started

There are a few essential items you need to purchase before starting on your shoe care journey:

• Horsehair Shoe Brushes - The purpose of these are twofold. Firstly, brushing removes any surface-level dirt and debris in order to prepare your shoes for treatment. Secondly, these handy brushes are essential for buffing out conditioners, waxes, and polishes after they’ve dried. The final result is a dress shoe with a smooth and beautiful shine.

Most people own a pair of light shoes and a pair of dark shoes. After each use, your brush accumulates small amounts of polish in the fibers. For this reason, you want two brushes: one for dark shades and one for light shades, so that you don’t get dark polish on your light shoes when you go to buff them.

• Shoe Conditioner - Just as conditioning your leather couch prevents it from drying out and cracking, so too, does conditioning your shoes prevent them from taking on a worn appearance. Your shoes should be conditioned at least every two months, but the frequency depends on how often you wear them. A good shoe conditioner will hydrate your leather upper, making it soft, supple, and looking brand new.


• Shoe Cream / Polish
- Every man should have some shoe polish in his drawer, and depending on the color of his shoes, he should make sure the pigment is a close enough match. A shoe cream’s function is not only to nourish your shoes with natural oils and waxes, but also to recolor a scuffed or faded shoe.


• Shoe Wax
- Though shoe creams can give you a nice polished look, wax goes a step beyond. If you’re looking for something with a glossy shine, apply a coat of wax to your leather upper.


• Horsehair Dauber Brushes (optional)
- These are small applicator brushes used with creams and waxes. Just like the buffing brushes, keep these separate to avoid mixing dark shades with light shades. Alternatively, you could wrap a soft cloth around your index and middle fingers and use a clean end to dab and apply your polish.


• Chamois Cloth
- A soft cotton cloth used to apply waxes, conditioners, and polishes. It also works as a buffing tool to give your shoes that finishing touch.

How to Shine a Shoe

Shining a shoe is not difficult. In fact, it can be fun, and a nice relief from your busy routine. All it requires is some basic knowledge. I’ve outlined a step-by-step guide below with some additional tips that will help your shoes stand out from the pack:

  1. Clean Your Shoe: Prep the shoe by brushing it with a horsehair brush. You can also use a damp cloth to clean off any additional dirt stuck on the leather’s surface. If it’s really dirty, however, wash it with a gentle leather cleaning soap designed specifically for dress shoes. For rugged boots, you might need something a bit stronger like a saddle soap.


  2. Choose Your Shoe Polish: Before applying shoe cream, make sure you test it in an inconspicuous area first, like the shoe tongue, to make sure the pigment blends in well with the shade of your shoe. Don’t worry so much about finding an exact match. Even if the pigment used is a completely different color (e.g., a black pigment used on a brown shoe), the worst it will do is slightly darken your shoe’s original shade. If you made a mistake and want to restore your shoe to its original lighter shade, there are products on the market like Saphir’s Reno’Mat that can remove wax and shoe polish with very little effort.

    After you’ve confirmed that this is the shade you want, take your cream and apply some to a horsehair dauber or chamois cloth. If you have no scuff marks to remove, neutral cream works on all shoe colors and does not alter the color of your shoe; it simply nourishes and shines.


  3. Apply Shoe Polish: Massage the cream into the shoe. Re-apply a small amount to dauber or cloth as needed until the shoe is fully covered and its color is restored (1-2 thin coats will do in most cases). You can use small circular motions across the vamp (top of shoe) and transition to short left-right strokes where the leather begins to narrow around the back and the sides.

    Tip: You can hold the shoe in place by gripping the heel of the shoe while using the other hand to apply the polish. To make it as easy as possible, insert a shoe tree inside the shoe for much easier application.


  4. Buff Your Shoe: Once the cream is dry, it’s time to shine it! After about 5 minutes, take a shoe brush and buff from side to side, all the while rotating the shoe to hit every inch of the leather. This will smooth out any excess residue left over from the shoe polish, but more importantly, create the friction necessary to give it a nice finishing glow.


  5. Apply Wax: If you want a more reflective shine, you can apply a concentrated wax product to your leather upper. Wax builds up a hard finish on the shoe’s surface, protecting the leather from dirt, moisture, and stains. Avoid applying too much to the vamp, which is the part of the shoe that bends when you walk, because the hard wax can crack, leaving behind a white residue. Instead, concentrate your effort on the toe box and other areas. Since wax can be quite thick, you can add a spritz of water to your cloth to help it along. Finally, after waiting a few minutes for it to dry, take a horsehair brush and lightly buff your shoe to really bring out that final shine.

Why Saphir is Worth the Money

Saphir makes, without a doubt, the highest quality shoe care products on the market. Since 1925, this French company has strived to create the finest formulations to clean and shine your shoes, and it succeeded in doing so. But why? What really makes Saphir worth the premium price? What makes it so much different from cheaper shoe polish brands like Kiwi?

There are a few features that make Saphir stand apart from its competition. The most obvious is its premium pigments, waxes, and oils—derived from natural ingredients and ethically sourced. A cheaper brand, however, uses synthetic, low-grade pigments that make your shoes look dull and unappealing. And rather than using natural waxes like carnauba or oils like jojoba, they use embedded resins and silicone instead. These materials do not penetrate leather quite like natural ingredients do, and can even be harmful to your shoes, drying out and damaging them in the long run.

Moreover, Saphir polish boasts remarkable colorfastness, maintaining its vibrant hues for extended periods between shines. In contrast, less expensive alternatives often suffer from rapid fading, necessitating more frequent re-application. Additionally, the rich and beautiful colors of Saphir polish further distinguish its quality. With Saphir products, not only does the leather receive nourishment and protection, but a captivating patina gradually develops over time, enhancing its natural luster and charm.

Our Shoe Care Products

In March, Anatoly & Sons will be releasing shoe care products from Saphir’s premium Médaille d'Or line. These will include: leather conditioners, polishes in a range of colors, horsehair brushes, cloths, and waxes. Stay tuned. 


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