Q & A with our Shoe Care Expert Steven Gaffin

One of the most frequent questions we get at the shop is how to properly polish, shine and care for your new shoes.  (Or even breathe a bit of life back into your old ones!)

Often perceived as daunting, difficult, time-consuming or complicated, it seems that the art of shoe shining is becoming more and more a thing of the past.

So, we asked our in-house shoe shine care expert, Steven Gaffin, to sit down with us and to share some of his top tips for proper shoe shining and polishing.

Q: Why should you polish your shoes regularly?

A: Hands down, regular shoe polishing and maintenance increases the life of your shoes. Furthermore, it preserves the leather from the elements of wear and tear and maintains the natural color. And well, there’s no better way to complete a look than with a great pair of polished shoes!

Q: How often should you shine your shoes?

A: It’s hard to give an exact time frame on how often to shine a shoe. It really depends on how the shoes have been worn and how they are stored in between wears. If you are out and about during a rainy day or walking the uneven streets of downtown, then I would suggest spending some time at night to clean and condition your shoes. If your shoes are still shining at the end of the day and you store them in shoe bags with shoe trees, then you can go a few weeks before touching them up. A good inspection before each wear looking for any scuffs or dullness will tell you if you need to add some protection before stepping out.

Q: What’s the best way to remove scuffs from leather?

A: Inspect the shoe and determine whether the leather itself was damaged or gouged or if it was just the finish. The finish can be cleaned, conditioned and polished to bring back the shine.

For minor scuffs or scratches that has directly damaged the leather, I recommend using the Saphir Renovating Repair Cream. I’ve used this for a while and recommended Roosevelt & Co. bring it into our product offering for shoe care.

Deep gouges or scuffs can be cleaned up, but it will depend on the type of damage. I employ quite a few tactics to combat this including shaving down loose fibers, stripping and sanding the shoe, heat, and moisture. The goal is not to remove the damage completely but to reduce its visibility.

What should you do when your shoes suffer a soaking?

You will certainly want to dry out your shoes completely as soon as possible. One way I recommend soaking up access moisture is to stuff your shoes with newspaper. Once the access moisture is soaked up, be sure to use your shoe trees to help with any remaining moisture which will help your shoe return to their proper shape.

What are your best tips for polishing?

  1. Start by cleaning the shoe with some mild skin soap or saddle soap. You don’t need to bathe your shoe. I use a larger 2” dauber brush that I spray with water and then lather up some saddle soap like lathering shaving cream. I apply it liberally to the shoe and wipe it off with a clean cotton cloth.
  2. Apply a high-grade conditioner like Saphir Renovateur Cream or Bick #4. Wait 3-5 minutes and brush the shoe quickly with a horsehair brush.
  3. Next, apply a cream polish to the shoe with a cotton chamois and allow a 3-5 minute dry time. Finish off with a vigorous brushing with the horse hair brush for a satin finish.
  4. For a shinier finish, use a clean cotton cloth strip, 2” wide and at least 8” long and wrap it around two fingers and the palm of your hand. Dab two fingers into your polish, just enough to apply to the cloth, and use small circular motions on the toe box and heel.
  5. If you are feeling the cloth drag on the shoe as you shine, apply water, spit, or (my favorite) a 1:1 mix of water and whiskey to the area of the shoe to reduce the friction between the cloth and the shoe.
  6. Shining is more efficient and effective when working with small amounts. Small amounts of polish and small amounts of water will shine much faster than adding a bunch on at first.

For those looking to invest in a few key products to polish their own shoes, what would you recommend?

Saddle soap, leather conditioner, a cream polish, a wax polish, and a large horsehair brush. Choose a neutral and a black polish at first.

Roosevelt & Co. sells all the products you need to maintain your shoes, and they are the exact products I use for shoes coming in for shoe polishing services.

My shoes look darker than when I first bought them; how do I keep my shoes the original color?

Use a polish that doesn’t use a lot of dye. Saphir isn’t impregnated with a lot of dye, so it is much harder to dramatically change the color of shoes. Another trick is to select a Saphir color that is lighter than the shoe, which will allow the darker leather color to come through. If neither works, stick with using a neutral polish that doesn’t have any dye.

If you have a pair that are dark and you want them lighter, then you can always bring them into the store where I will strip them and restore the original color.

What’s the difference between a cream polish and a wax polish and what do you recommend using?

Polishes are usually the same ingredients but at varying ratios. Cream polish has a high amount of solvent, decent amount of dye, and low levels of wax. A wax polish will have a high amount of wax, less dye (if it is Saphir) and less solvent.

If you just want a satin finish to your shoes, then a cream polish is all you need. However, I always use both on shoes that come in to the store because a cream polish will help with color while the wax polish will provide a high level of protection.

How do you suggest caring for suede shoes?

Suede is leather with a napped finish, which makes it a sponge for dirt and moisture. Suede should be cleaned with a suede shampoo. I always recommend using a spray protector, but be sure to remove all dirt and debris from the shoe before applying.

Another good trick of the trade is to brush your suede on a regular basis.  This is one of the easiest ways to bring life back to your suede shoes.

Use a nylon brush for shampooing applications and a suede brass hair brush for dry brushing.

How do you know when to get your Goodyear welted shoes repaired?

Goodyear soles are designed to be repaired. As soon as the stitching of the sole is starting to make contact with the ground, the sole is going soft or you notice a hole in the sole, get them repaired as soon as possible before further damage occurs.


For more shoe care tips, check out our previous article Teddy's Tips for Extending the Life of Your Shoes!

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