You Can’t Look Neat If Your Shoes Look Beat: Shoe Care and Repair
By Lindsay Tenenbaum, EMS Marketing
Have you ever wondered why your favorite pair of shoes didn’t last as long as you expected? Did you consider whether they were cared for properly? Shoe care can often be overlooked or forgotten because let’s face it, shoe care is likely not at the top of everyone’s list of priorities. There are, however, some easy ways to implement shoe maintenance practices in your everyday life.
Caring for your shoes should start from the first day you purchase them. If the shoes are of a non-waterproof material and will be encountering moisture in usage, they should be waterproofed. There are various ways to waterproof footwear. The most common method is to use a spray. Look for a waterproofing product designed specifically for the shoe material in question, leather or suede, for instance. For the most effective result, follow all product instructions including using a test patch, allowing the necessary drying time, and re-applying frequently as per the manufacturer’s instructions. For fabric shoes, such as tennis sneakers, a colorless candle can be rubbed onto the fabric, followed by the use of a hairdryer to melt the wax into the fabric and give it a water-resistant finish.
When water stops beading on your shoes, it is time to re-weatherproof your shoes. This maintenance should be done prior to the first wear as many waterproofing solutions will also work well in terms of repelling stains, helping the shoes to look like new for as long as possible. Once your shoes have been prepped for inclement weather they can be worn every day, regardless of the season. Winterizing and waterproofing shoes are very important, especially in regions like New England where there are varied seasons.
A great way to help preserve the shape of your shoes, especially the heel supports, is to use a shoe horn when putting them on. At the end of the day it’s important to properly store your shoes, even if it’s only a short period of time before they are worn again. Shoe trees can be used to help preserve the shape of shoes when not in use, and boot forms can be purchased or made from household items such as empty wine bottles. Rolled newspaper should be avoided because the paper’s ink can bleed into the shoe and cause damage.
If you tend to wear your favorite shoes several days in a row, try giving them a day or two off to dry thoroughly. If your shoes become damp, never place them in a box or enclosure as it creates the perfect environment for bacteria and mold (and therefore odor) to grow. Instead, consider using cedar shoe trees – they’re highly effective at absorbing moisture and preventing odor.
For long-term storage of seasonal or special occasion shoes, always choose a temperature-controlled, relatively dark area such as a closet. Refrain from placing footwear too close to a heater, as heat can negatively affect materials such as leather, resulting in wrinkling and shrinkage. Similarly, avoid placing the shoes in direct sunlight, which can cause discoloration. Footwear should not be stored in non-temperature controlled areas such as an unfinished attic or basement as those areas are likely to have large fluctuations in temperature and moisture, both of which have an adverse effect on shoes.
In terms of the use of material to help store your footwear, shoes should be stored with ample space or a barrier in between each shoe to prevent the bleeding of colors from one shoe to the other. A non-breathable material such as plastic is not ideal for storage, especially for leather shoes that require the circulation of air. Instead, use a cotton bag that will provide protection from dust and discoloring while still allowing for the shoes to breathe.
After owning and wearing a pair of shoes for a period of time, it is very likely that they will have some degree of staining or dulling in appearance and require cleaning. Pay particular attention to the material of the shoe. Cleaning methods that work for one type of material are not ideal (or could be damaging) to other types of materials.
Leather: A lightly damp cloth can be used to wipe off any dirt or stain. Unfinished leather should be cleaned with saddle soap (try not to get the leather too wet, it’s okay to do more than one application). Leather shoe cleaners can also be purchased to help remove more significant stains. After cleaning, condition your shoes every few weeks to keep the leather from cracking. Mink oil may be used as a conditioner; it also provides water resistance (per The Shoe Smith). Even if your shoes are not dirty, it is important to keep the leather moisturized with a conditioner. Polishing will keep leather from looking dull and will restore the leather’s shine and color. Be mindful of the combination of products you are using on your shoes and make sure they are all compatible with one another. When finished with cleaning and conditioning, leave the shoes to dry naturally. The use of heat on leather shoes can cause shock and cracking.
Suede: Water is a big NO on any suede. Some especially delicate suede materials may need to be professionally cleaned. For those that do not, use an emery board or an eraser to brush off dirt. For dry stains, use a clean towel with a small amount of white vinegar on it to gently blot the stain repeatedly until it is gone. For wet stains, pat dry the area in question and apply a layer of corn meal or talcum powder. Leave it to absorb into the stain overnight, and then use a suede brush to remove the corn meal or talcum powder. Lastly, suede should always be brushed in the same direction to regain its original look.
Athletic Shoes: Use warm water, anti-grease soap, and a toothbrush or nailbrush to gently scrub out any dirt from your shoes. Sock liners and laces can be removed to be washed or replaced. Do not put the shoes close to a heat source to dry, as this can affect the shape of the shoe.
When your shoes become well worn, it’s time for professional intervention. I visited a local cobbler, The Shoe Smith LLC, to discuss the ins and outs of shoe repair and care.
The most common type of shoe repair is the heel of women’s shoes. It’s a relatively quick fix as long as the heels have not been worn down to the shoe body (causing a clacking sound). The cobbler simply pops out the worn down pin, replaces it with a new one, and reshapes the shoe. The entire procedure generally takes around 10 to 15 minutes.
Another common repair is the replacement of the sole on men’s shoes, especially for dress shoes or work boots. Generally, the leather upper will outlast the sole of shoe, with approximately two soles to every upper with proper care. Since the boots or dress shoes have separate components of a welt, midsole, and sole, the sole can be easily removed and replaced to extend the lifetime of the shoe.
Shoes with a one-piece construction can be problematic for a cobbler. Polyurethane soles, common in inexpensive shoes, tend to wear out easily – literally turning to dust. Make sure you deal with an experienced cobbler for your shoe repairs as there is no repair for shoes with polyurethane soles.
Besides repairing shoes when they are damaged, the best way to get the most amount of time out of your shoes is to take care of them by practicing proper weatherproofing, daily care, and storage techniques.
If you are in the Willimantic, Connecticut area, be sure to check out The Shoe Smith LLC. Owned by John and his wife (pedorthists by trade), they can address painful or disabling foot disorders with customized shoes and orthoses. In addition, their experienced cobblers can take care of almost any shoe repair. Because, as per one of John’s favorite sayings – you can’t look neat if your shoes look beat.
Web site: http://theshoesmith.com/ Phone: (860) 423-8873