If you’re looking for a guide on how to repair and maintain your shoes, you’ve come to the right place! Read on to learn more.
Quality footwear can last years, or even decades. That’s if they are properly cared for and maintained. This guide will help you extend the life of your shoes and boots.
Have you invested in an expensive pair of boots or dress shoes just to have them look ready for the dumpster just a few months later? With a little knowledge and elbow grease you can greatly extend the life of your quality footwear.
This guide details things that every shoe owner can do himself to keep his footwear in good shape and outlines what jobs are best left to a cobbler.
Buy Quality Shoes
Trust me, it’s worth it.
You can’t maintain or repair what isn’t there to begin with.
I know it can hurt to have to part with more of your hard earned cash than you are used to on shoes.
Cheaply made shoes with cemented construction seem like a bargain up front, but the cost per wear (CPW) of buying quality, repairable shoes that you like is much lower than buying shoes that quickly fall apart.
In other words, although they often cost more up front, quality, repairable shoes give you more value per dollar in the long term.
How can you tell if a pair of shoes is repairable?
While cemented and Blake-stitched shoes can sometimes be repaired, Goodyear-welted shoes are often the best option for long-lasting, repairable footwear. If you don’t know the difference between Goodyear-welted and Blake-stitched shoes, check out the following video.
Buying Second Hand Shoes
While buying quality can be expensive, you don’t always have to pay a lot up front. If you are patient and you know what you are looking for, you can find quality, lightly used shoes second hand.
Yes, there is a certain “ick factor” but if you can get over it (lysol spray does wonders) you can save fists full of cash by following this guide to clean, repair, and maintain used footwear.
For example, when I needed a pair of black oxfords I bought a pair of Allen Edmond Park Avenues for 10 bucks at a local thrift store. I cleaned, conditioned, and shined the shoes myself and had a cobbler put on new heels ($30).
I spent almost 90% less than I would have if I’d bought them new. With minimal upkeep, three years later they’re still going strong.
Once you have a quality pair of shoes, how do you maintain them?
There are repairs and maintenance that are best left for a professional cobbler, however we’ll start by discussing things that you can do yourself to keep your shoes in great shape.
What You Can Easily Do Yourself
While many shoe repairs are best left to professional cobblers, there is a lot that you can do at home to care for your shoes.
Simply replacing old, worn out laces is one of the easiest things you can do to keep your shoes looking sharp. Just take off the old laces and thread a new pair through your shoes’ eyelets. (Check out this lacing guide…)
If your laces are grimey but not quite needing to be replaced, you can wash them in warm, soapy water. Let them dry and you’re good to go.
You should brush your shoes regularly. It only takes a few seconds and can make a world of difference in extending the life of your shoes (not only that, but you’ll likely also find that you don’t need to polish your shoes quite as frequently).
Make sure to brush hardened dirt off of your shoes’ welt. Clean stitching will last longer than dirty stitching.
You’ll want to have a separate brush dedicated for polishing your shoes. Brushing dirt off your shoes with a polish brush can rub old polish onto your shoes, which can change the color of lighter footwear.
Cleaning (Saddle Soap)
If brushing alone doesn’t cut it, you’ll want to clean your shoes with saddle soap. Saddle soap is a compound that is specially formulated for cleaning leather. Work up a lather in the tin using a small brush (you could even use a toothbrush) and then apply the suds to your shoes.
Wipe off excess soap with a cloth or paper towel and let it dry for “x” minutes. Repeat if necessary.
After polishing your shoes, add conditioner. There are many different leather conditioners on the market. Look for something that has positive reviews. Be aware that many conditioners will darken the leather of your shoes.
Apply the conditioner and let it work its magic. After your shoes have dried if the leather still looks dry, apply conditioner 1 to 2 more times.
The first step to achieving a great shine is to choose the right polish for the job. For black shoes, almost any polish will work just fine. For brown shoes to stay the same color, your best bet is to buy the polish that the shoe manufacturer recommends for your particular shoe color.
If that’s not an option, you can test brown polish in hard-to-see places, like under the tongue of your shoe to find a match.
If you don’t want to monkey around with testing polish, buy neutral polish. Neutral polish provides a layer of protection and shine on top of the existing coat of polish. This is an especially good option for less common shoe colors like gray or navy.
For some, shoe polishing is an artform that requires hours of practice and specialized techniques. For the average guy, just a little knowledge is all you need to achieve a decent shine.
Here’s a basic guide to how to shine your shoes:
- Put a dab of the right color polish onto a rag.
- Apply the polish to the shoe, spreading to all over the shoe’s upper.
- With a clean brush, brush the shoe. (You can brush vigorously as the heat that builds up helps the polish to shine).
- Repeat steps 1-3.
- Apply a few drops of water (or spit I suppose…) onto a stocking or an old polyester sock.
- Rub the shoe with the sock.
Following this process will help you achieve a good basic shoe shine.
Tip: Use shampoo to wash a brush with old, build up polish. After washing, let the brush dry and you can switch polish colors without having to worry about tiny bits of dark polish darkening light colored shoes.
Many men don’t think about dressing the edges of their shoes or boots. This is a “secret weapon” that you can use to make your shoes look new.
While you can use regular old shoe polish to touch up the edges of your shoes, edge dressing does a much better job.
Edge dressing commonly comes in a liquid form. One bottle lasts forever. It comes with an applicator attached to its cap.
Simply wipe the leather or rubber edges of your shoes with the wet applicator, being careful not to touch the shoes’ uppers. Be sure to have newspaper or paper towels handy, because it can get messy. Let your shoes dry overnight.
While polish provides some protection against the elements, if you live in a particularly wet part of the world, you’ll want to waterproof your shoes.
From mink oil, to beeswax, to silicon sprays, there are many products commercially available for waterproofing your shoes. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
A note about mink oil: Mink oil is a classic way to waterproof work boots and other “hard working” leather products. Do your research and make sure what you are buying is real mink oil.
Many manufacturers add a relatively small amount of mink oil to silicone and then market it as mink oil. This mink oil silicone blend will likely not achieve the same result as pure mink oil.
What Can a Cobbler Do?
Having a reliable cobbler is essential for any well-dressed man. They can work miracles making old, worn out shoes look new. They can also help you keep your shoes in good shape by performing services that require specialized knowledge and/or tools.
Here are some of the services a cobbler can provide.
Install Heel and Toe Guards
Heel and toe guards do just what you’d think they’d do– they add another layer of protection between the heels and toes of your shoes and the ground. For just a couple bucks, a cobbler can install hard rubber protective guards.
For even more protection (and for more money), you can have your cobbler install metal guards.
Sole protectors (also called “toppys”) are another category of shoe add-ons. Rubber sole protectors protect leather-bottomed shoes from water damage and provide the wearer with extra traction.
They have the added bonus of greatly extending the amount of time between when you’ll need to get your shoes resoled.
Before getting toppys installed, make sure the shoe sole doesn’t feel “spongy.” In other words, sole protectors are not an alternative to getting shoes resoled when they’re already worn out.
You’ll need to get the heels on dress shoes replaced before you reach the upper portion of the heel stack. While it can be done, repairing the heel stack is more costly than simply replacing the bottom rubber layer.
For shoes and boots with a solid rubber heel, replace the heel well before wear reaches the outsole. Make sure to tell the cobbler that you’d like the replacement heel to be the same thickness as the original.
A heel much shorter or taller than what was intended by the manufacturer will change the posture of the shoe or boot and a change in the posture of your footwear can be uncomfortable.
Many, if not most, well-made shoes can be resoled. Again, here’s where Goodyear-welted shoes can be a great investment.
Resoling Blake-stitched shoes is a more difficult process requiring specialized equipment and not all cobblers will be able to do it.
Cemented shoes cannot be resoled.
How do you know when soles need to be replaced?
Test to see if your leather soles need replacing by picking up your shoe and pushing on the sole under where the ball of your foot would be if you were wearing them. Does the leather feel spongy or flexible?
If so, they should be resoled soon. Waiting until there is a hole in the leather to take them to a cobbler can be a costly mistake.
Replace rubber soles when you lose traction or when the soles feel thin. There are different types of rubber half soles to choose from. Danite or vibram are common choices.
Found a pair of shoes at the thrift store that are slightly too small? Finding that as you pack on the pounds your feet are wider than they used to be? A cobbler can help stretch your shoes to make them a little bit wider.
While there are several methods out there that you could try yourself at home, there’s always a risk of damaging (or overstretching) your shoes.
For most men, shoe stretching isn’t going to be something that you’ll need to do often (if ever). If you need your shoes stretched the safe bet is to see a professional.
If you love your shoes but don’t love their color, a cobbler might be able to dye them another color.
I say that they might be able to because, depending on the original color of the shoe and the new color you want, some color changes aren’t possible (or will be very difficult to achieve).
Again, it’s not going to be everyday that you want to redye your shoes. Also, if you make a mistake, you often can’t bring back the original color. For best results, send your shoes to a cobbler that specializes in dye jobs.
Many cobblers are able to repair zippers. While you might have a pair of boots with a zipper, you probably have a jacket with a zipper. Don’t throw it out if the zipper breaks, get it repaired and enjoy it for years to come.
Good to know: Many cobblers will punch you a new belt hole for free.
How to Know When to Retire Your Shoes?
You’ve lovingly shined, polished, and conditioned your shoes and have taken them to a cobbler for regular maintenance and repairs. Even with the best shoe care routine there will come a point when it’s time to retire your shoes.
At what point is it time to get rid of old shoes? Barring any major issues (like your cobbler not being able to resole your shoes again without replacing the welt, or ripped, unsalvageable uppers) it’s up to you.
Ultimately, your cobbler will tell you when your shoes are beyond repair.
Properly maintaining your shoes doesn’t have to be complicated. By doing a few simple things at home and taking them to a cobbler when necessary, your quality shoes or boots can last.
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