How to Clean Leather Dress Shoes to Make Them Last

"This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links."

Once you've found the perfect pair of dress shoes, you need to keep your shoes them looking their best. It’s a challenge to do this without the right shoe polishing tools or proper shoe care knowledge.

Learning how to clean leather dress shoes is the best way to keep your footwear looking and feeling its best for an extended period, allowing you to get more life out of your formal shoes.

Cleaning Leather Dress Shoes

It's important to clean your shoes regularly with a soft horsehair shoe brush. You can find a variety of shoe cleaning products that are designed specifically for cleaning leather shoes. You can also use other everyday items, including corn starch, j-cloths, baby wipes, old t-shirts, and pencil erasers.

Leather Shoe Cleaning Tips

1. Remove Debris and Dirt

The first shoe care step for cleaning leather dress shoes is to remove debris and dirt from the shoe using a soft brush. Make sure that you’re rubbing gently and ensure that you brush over every surface of the shoe in a slightly circular pattern.

Don’t rub too hard because it could damage the leather; make sure the brush is soft enough that you can run it over your hand without it feeling scratchy. Also, don’t forget to run the brush on the sole and seam of the shoes, as well as the laces.

2. Remove the Laces

If your shoes have shoelaces, it's essential that you pull them out carefully and set them to the side. This helps to prevent the cleaning products from staining the lace, as it isn’t made of leather.

If the laces are dirty, you can wash them in your washing machine. Put them in a mesh bag to keep them together and prevent them from getting lost. Alternatively, you can hand wash them.

3. Rub with Damp Cloth and Soap

The next step is to take a clean cloth and wet it, wringing it out so that it doesn’t drip, and it's damp.

Add some mild liquid soap to the cloth and rub the cloth together on itself to distribute the soap evenly. Alternatively, you can use a special leather cleaner for this step. Gently rub the cloth all over the surface of your entire shoe, going with the grain.

4. Wipe Gently and Air Dry

Taking another clean cloth, dampen it, and wipe your shoes again. This helps to remove any excess soap from the shoes. Keep your shoes in a cool spot to air dry until they're completely dry. Do not put your shoes near a heat source, such as a furnace vent or the stove since this could cause the shoes to crack or become discolored.

5. Condition with Baby Wipes

Baby wipes are one of the gentlest cleaning products on the market because they're designed for the sensitive skin of babies. Choose a wipe that's moisturizing to help condition the leather.

While you don’t need to wipe them with baby wipes each time you clean them, it's handy to have them on hand to spot clean your shoes. This works well if you are traveling or at work, and your shoes get dirty or scuffed.

6. Salt Stain Removal

Learning how to clean leather dress shoes correctly means removing those built-up salt stains. Your shoes see a lot of use in all types of weather. You’ll notice the dirt and grime, as well as a white film that never seems to leave.

You can remove salt stains from leather shoes using a water-vinegar mixture. Mix equal parts of water with white vinegar. Then, dip a clean, dry cloth into the liquid and rub the shoe surface gently. When you’ve removed all the stains, you should get another clean cloth, dampen it with water, and wipe them again to remove the vinegar solution.

7. Oil and Grease Removal

Whether you spilled your lunch on your new shoes or you work in an area that's oily or greasy, you need to remove those grease stains from your shoes to keep them looking their best. You can do this easily with an absorbent powder. You don’t have to spend a lot of money; you can use talcum or baby powder.

Sprinkle the powder sparingly over the oil or grease stains and let it sit for about two or three hours. The powder will absorb all the oil during this time. Then, you can use a soft brush (like the one you used initially) to remove the excess powder.

If you don’t have baby or talcum powder and don’t want to purchase it, you can also use corn starch. Corn starch is not quite as absorbent as powder, though, so you’ll need to leave the corn starch on the shoes for up to eight hours to remove the oil or grease stain entirely.

8. Shoe Polish

Once your leather shoes look clean and brand new again, it’s time to get them shining like the first day you bought them. Take a clean cloth and pour a few drops of your shoe polish onto it.

If your polish is colored, make sure it perfectly matches your shoes. You can test an inconspicuous spot, such as the space between the tongue and the outer part of the shoe.

Rub the polish all over your shoe’s surface using circular, small motions. Wipe away any excess polish with another clean, dry cloth. An old, clean undershirt or t-shirt will work fine for this. You mustn't put shoe polish on any non-leather parts of the shoe.

Polishing your shoes is essential to provide the leather with the moisture it needs to keep it supple and prevent cracking. It's recommended to shine or polish the shoes every couple of weeks if you wear them more than three times a week.

As a final leather shoe cleaning tip, you may want to use a waterproofing spray as well as shoe trees to help preserve the appearance of your footwear.


Learning how to clean and polish leather dress shoes is essential. Dress shoes are an investment, and many times, they can cost hundreds of dollars.

You aren’t going to want to shell out that amount of money every couple of months, so it's imperative that they're cleaned to avoid scuffing, as well as polished to remove the scuffs.

While it can be a challenge to find the time to clean your shoes, it's best to do a deep clean at least once every two weeks and a spot clean (with baby wipes) as often as necessary. That way, your shoes will last longer and also help you to create the right impression. 

Last Updated on December 19, 2021 by admin_comfortabledressshoes