Not all shoes are created equal. You can’t treat a canvas sneaker the same way you would a leather brogue. But each type equally needs proper care and maintenance.
Buying a nice pair is just the beginning, says Michael Petry, the creative director at footwear brand The Frye Company. “The biggest mistake guys can make is to neglect caring for their shoes after they bring them home.”
Put some time and effort into the fabric and the soles, and they’ll stand up to whatever punishment your feet inflict. Here’s how to keep your shoes looking their best.
1. Polish leather often
You’ve invested money — and probably time — in your new shoes. Show them off, and make sure they look good. So as soon as you take them out of the box, polish them. Petry suggests polishing each time you put them on so they always look their best. But if you don’t have the time, at least remember give them a good rub down before you go out in bad weather.
2. Protect and brush suede
If you’re investing in suede kicks, treat them with a protective suede spray that resists water, salt and mud so they won’t be damaged by the elements. Petry recommends testing the spray before using it, as it could change the color of your shoes. You should also commit to a good suede eraser and brush for maintenance. First, use your eraser to target stains. Then, follow up with the brush to bring the nap of the suede back to its original state, says Petry.
3. Save the Sunday paper
If you find yourself caught in a sudden downpour, save your shoes from permanent damage by drying them as soon as you get home. Stuff your shoes with newspaper to soak up the moisture, says Kevin Tuohy, co-founder of A Shine & Co., and place them in a well ventilated area as you wait for them to dry. Whatever you do, don’t pick up the hair dryer or place them near a heater, which will damage and make the leather cracked and brittle.
4. Drop the sponge
Tuohy advises against using sponges on your shoes because it’s hard to tell what’s in them. Often a sponge tip applicator attached to your favorite shoe polish can contain silicone, a material for your shoes. Instead, keep a shoe-care kit with essentials like polish and a natural hair brush
5. Add a layer of rubber
Before you wear them, ask a cobbler to place a rubber sole on your new dress shoes. Not only will the rubber protect the leather soles from damage, but they’ll also give you extra traction, says Tuohy. Plus, worn rubber soles are easily — and more affordably — replaced than leather. For the roughly $20 investment, you’ll prolong the life of your favorite shoes.
6. Roughen up your boots
Don’t put your boots through the ringer just to get that rugged, worn-in look. You can still get the same effect after protecting the leather. Use a leather balm and neutral cream, Tuohy says, but avoid buffing them to a shine. Just watch the soles. Are the heels uneven or worn down on one side? See your cobbler to resole them so you can wear the hell out of them for years.
7. Add age, instantly
When you’re in a pinch — or if you want to experiment with a burnished style — you can use black shoe polish on brown shoes. The black polish won’t do any damage to your boots; it’ll only make the leather a bit darker and more rustic looking.
8. Embrace the elements
Polishing your boat shoes isn’t a necessity, Petry says. He suggests letting them live through the elements because they’re meant to be salt-washed and faded. While there are differing opinions, we agree with his advice: Boat shoes look really cool when you can tell they’ve be out on the waves or to the beach a few times.
9. Invest in quality polish
Ignore your urge to take the bargain route. Yes, you need shoe polish and not the sneaker scuff cleaner from the local drugstore? Kevin Tuohy, co-founder of A Shine and Co., recommends staying away from those brands. Although they may save you several bucks, they don’t actually remove scuffs. Instead, they layer on a white paste that appears chalky when dry. So stick to white shoe polish.
10. Hand wash your canvas
The best way to clean your canvas sneakers is by hand with fabric shampoo and water, Tuohy says — not in the washing machine. Even on a gentle cycle, your shoes the sole of your shoes can break down and in turn will look more worn out.