Coatings are applied to leathers to increase their stain and wear resistance.
According to accessory retailer Mimco, “the principle of good leather care is to maintain these coatings for as long as possible. When allowed to build up, grime, dust, body oils and food stains can break down the coatings, which may change the condition and appearance of your leather item.”
Caring for leather goods, such as shoes, bags and jackets, is a multi-step process – protection, cleaning, conditioning, and adequate storage.
Before applying any leather protection products, it is important to understand there are several different types of leather, with differing properties and needs. Some are treated to make them water-repellent, while others, such as suede, absorb water. These absorbent leathers should be treated with a protective product to improve water and stain resistance, though in some cases this can darken the leather. To find out what type of leather your shoes are made from, check with the sales assistant or log on to All About Leather.
Water-resistant leathers can be cleaned by wiping their surface with a damp cloth or very diluted soapy water solution. Coloured shoe polishes can cover a multitude of sins, such as scuffs. Suede can be cleaned by brushing dirt and grime with a suede brush, or by a professional shoe repairer.
Leather of all types should be stored in breathable material rather than in plastic. If a leather item has become wet, hang it to dry naturally, away from direct heat.
Sometimes, a leather product will need to be professionally cleaned. In this case, the UK-based BLC Leather Technology Centre recommends seeking the help of a drycleaner with specialist skills in leather.
“Dry-cleaning is a complicated process where important oils are removed from leather during dry-cleaning. Normally these oils will lubricate the leather fibres, keeping them soft, but their partial removal can leave garments feeling firmer and lighter in appearance after dry-cleaning. The drycleaner therefore needs to put oil back into the garment after cleaning to soften the garment and bring it back (as near as possible) to its original feel and colour.”
You get what you pay for when you’re buying shoes, according to leather shoe specialist Gido Theilig. “Longevity of shoes is related to the materials used to construct it. Cheaper shoes will use cheaper components that won’t naturally be able to withstand strenuous conditions. Good leather conditioning products can help to ensure longevity, but this is closely related to the price point of the shoes to a degree.”
As with all leather, the process of caring for shoes starts even before you first wear them, according to Theilig. You should apply a protecting balm onto your shoes, but first identify the specific type of leather used (see above).
“It is important to identify the type of leather that makes up the shoe,” says Theilig. “Products such as water and stain repellents are ideal for nubuck shoes, whereas most other shoes should ideally be treated using a conditioner that has particular characteristics. Applying the correct product prior to wearing shoes will set the stage for the weeks and months to come.”
Clean your leather shoes regularly with a brush for absorbent leathers, such as suede, or a damp cloth for water-resistant leathers. After brushing or washing, apply a suitable conditioner to ensure the leather stays soft, has water-resistant properties and maintains a good finish.
On the nose
Sweaty, smelly shoes can be unpleasant, to say the least. And according to Theilig, products promising an end to smelly feet are not the answer. “In my experience, products on the market that supposedly 'freshen up' shoes wear off rapidly.”
The key to preventing the olfactory assault lies in purchasing quality products and regularly alternating shoes. “Cheaper shoes will be made with synthetic components that don’t absorb perspiration readily, preventing uptake and distribution of the perspiration,” says Theilig. “So feet literally swim in their own perspiration, especially in the warmer months.”