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How To - Cleaning shoes | 4 methods

With all the different products available to clean your shoes, you must be wondering which you should pick for your situation. Below we discuss the 3 main methods we personally use the most you can apply at home to clean your smooth leather shoes. Of course we also help you with the products you need as well for each method. We also have guides per leather type available if you are looking for a specific guide on suede for example.

Some general tips:

1. Always test a cleaner on a small part of the shoe before cleaning the entire shoe with the product to check if the product does what you have in mind. (Especially applies to chemical cleaners).

2. For suede, Patent, Cordovan and exotic leather types other cleaning methods apply which are not discussed in this article.

3. The more you work the shoes with any of the products you mention below, the more shoe polish will come off your shoes. With a chemical cleaner, if you keep working the shoe too long it might take off some of the original finish

4. Be careful with hand dyed shoes. Sometimes, the methods/dye used to create the patina is very delicate, so using an aggressive cleaner might affect the finish.

5. Using a cleaner on a pair of good quality shoes none of these cleaners should have any negative effect. Only poorly constructed shoes and shoes that are dyed using uncommon practices might be affected.

1. Cleaning using a conditioner

When? Every shoe shine
Suitable for: Almost all leather types except suede and nubuck

Most conditioners (at least the ones from Saphir) serve a double purpose. The main purpose of a conditioner is of course conditioning the leather, but also to gently cleans it. The oils and solvents in these products will clean and freshen up the top layer of shoe polish. This allows you to apply fresh Pommadier cream and/or Pate de Luxe afterwards. Conditioners suitable for this job are: Saphir Médaille d'Or Lotion, Saphir Médaille d'Or Renovateur.


2. Cleaning using a leather soap.

When? Every year or so or depending on the state of your shoes
Suitable for: Calfskin, calfskin with structure, Oiled leather, Cordovan

A leather soap falls in between cleaning with a conditioner and cleaning using a chemical cleaner such as Renomat. A leather soap is often not as aggressive as a chemical cleaner giving you a bit more control over how much shoe polish you remove. This is because a soap is usually mostly glycerine and a chemical cleaner contains actual solvents to melt waxes and remove oils. It is also harder to strip the original factory finish using a soap than it is with a chemical cleaner. So if you are worried about that we recommend going with a leather soap. Using a sponge or a brush you simply apply the soap on your shoes using minimal water. This way you get  a nice foam (try avoiding soaking the shoes in water). We prefer using Saphir Saddle Soap or Saphir Leather Soap for this job on most types of calfskin leather, but it really shines when used on scotch grain and leather with a coarse structure because you can really get in between that using the brush and soap. It is also better suited for use on oiled leather types so if you have a pair of Red Wing or Wolverine boots a leather soap is the way to go. If you are dealing with more sensitive leather you can also use Saphir Omninettoyant suede cleaner which is a bit more gentle on the leather. After cleaning, be sure to let the shoes dry. We like to make sure they are fully dry before we continue with our treatment so we let them sit for at least 12 hours or overnight.


3. Cleaning using a chemical cleaner

When? Every year or so or depending on the state of your shoes
What? On most calfskin leather shoes

If you want to take off all the old shoe polish from your shoes, be it good quality shoe polish or cheap synthetic shoe polish a chemical cleaner is probably what you are looking for. Saphir Renomat is one of these cleaners we use on a daily basis here at our workshop for our renovations. A great thing about using a cleaner such as Renomat is that you do not need water and so you do not need to let your shoes dry before you continue with your shoe shine. With enough elbow grease it is possible to strip down your shoes down to their factory finish so you can apply new and fresh shoe cream and wax afterwards. Check our royal shoe shine guide to find out how to do so. That being said, you can also simply wipe your shoes with Renomat like you would for example your kitchen counter. That way you just clean off the top layer of shoe cream and wax freshening up the looks of your shoes. It really all depends on how thorough you are. In all cases we recommend testing a cleaner first on a small part of your shoes (often the heel works best) to see if the cleaner does what you want it to do. There are multiple chemical cleaners available to clean your shoes. Most commonly we use Saphir Renomat, but there is a 100% natural counterpart to Renomat: Saphir Médaille d’Or Natural cleaner which is a slightly more gentle on the leather and is therefore more suitable to be used more frequently. Both can be best applied on a cloth and afterwards you simply rub it onto the leather.


4. Taking off the factory finish / prepping for dyeing

When? Only if you want to re-dye your shoes using leather dye
What? On all smooth leather types

For all you hobbyists and people interested in stripping your shoes from their original finish and colour there is one other method using Saphir Décapant. Before we go there we recommend taking off any old shoe polish using Renomat first. When the leather turns matte you know you have gotten rid of any waxes on the leather and you can switch to Saphir Décapant. Get a pair of gloves and a cloth and start rubbing away! Some shoes require minimal effort to get the factory finish off while others can take hours. Simply keep going until all colour is removed or the colour starts to get pale. It is best to let the Dècapant evaporate for an hour or so so you can judge the colour of the shoes. Be sure to get all colour in between the sole and upper of the leather as well using a Q tip. Afterwards, you are ready to recolour your shoes using Saphir Teinture Francaise leather dye.

For a project where we re-dyed a pair of Crockett & Jones shoes we recommend checking our How To - Crockett & Jones full renovation guide. in a well ventilated space or outside since the fumes of this product are not healthy to breathe in. Afterwards, let the shoes dry in a well ventilated space as well because it will smell up the room.

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