How To Clean Leather Shoes

Tennis shoes, sneakers, kicks, loafers, whatever you call them, they all get dirty. Based on proximity with the ground alone, it is inevitable, so sooner or later your fancy new leather shoes will be dingy and dirty until you clean or replace them. Everybody feels great when wearing a new pair, but few of us are able to hold our heads high when sloughing around in dirty old sneakers. If you have some shoes made out of canvas or a similar material, you can just toss them the wash, but most of us have at least one pair of leather shoes, and cleaning them is not so straight forward. You certainly don’t want to throw your kicks  in the trash just because they have a little dirt on them, but proper tools and techniques can be complicated, expensive or both.

If you go with the expert recommendations available, you will think that you need a special cleaner and a special conditioning product to back it up. As an alternative, you could opt for some home remedy style concoction, but your results would not be guaranteed,  and you may have to mess around to mix the right solution. Despite the seemingly difficult nature of this job, it can be done effectively, at a low cost, and without any risk to the longevity of your footwear. For the sake of thoroughness, we will detail the commonly used methods below, and after that, you can keep reading to discover one that is safer, cheaper and more effective.

Why Is Leather So Hard To Clean?

This is a common misconception. It is not actually that difficult to do a good job, and it is not as easy as you might think to ruin your shoes. This is a rather durable material, which is why it is used for footwear in the first place, but there are certainly things you should be careful of when cleaning it. We all know that you do not want to get the material too wet, but you also don’t want to use something that will dry it out. Over time, using the wrong stuff will cause fading and cracking, and eventually this will result in disposal because rejuvenation will no longer be possible. Because it is a more natural material,  leather is pretty absorbent. This helps it to hold onto dirt and stains in the first place, but it can also make it hold onto the cleaning product you use as well. This will typically result in darker material that is never the same again. When using soaps that may result in drying, which is most, you are told to use a conditioner afterward. Some people try to skip the expensive store bought versions, and go with an oil at home instead. This can result in permanent damage, so instead of experimentation on your expensive shoes, it is best to stick with proven techniques to achieve results in a safe manner. More on Cleaning Leather

Traditional Way To Clean Leather Shoes

Lots of us like to get a new pair even if the old ones are still wearable, but other folks would prefer each pair to last as long as possible. For best appearances, you should clean any dirt as it arrives, but for longevity, regular cleaning will make ensure your shoes last for the long haul. The following technique is what any shoe store or professional might suggest, and it should work in most cases. Exact results will depend upon how dirty the surface is, and the exact products you choose to tackle the job. The main downsides would be that it requires multiple products that are expensive, and it will not work on staining that is too severe.


  • Several clean cloths
  • Shoe specific cleaner or a comparable soap
  • White distilled vinegar
  • Shoe polish
  • Leather conditioner
  • Eraser (gray gum type)


  • To prepare for cleaning, take out your laces, and use the cloth or brush to wipe away any loose dirt. Do not scrape or scrub, just remove anything that comes off easily because it will make the rest of the job easier. Set laces aside.
  • Get your cleaning cloth damp and apply a small amount of soap or shoe cleaner. Gently rub the the dirty areas and scuff marks to clean. A circular motion works best to work in the cleaner and remove grime.
  • For salt stained shoes, get out your vinegar. Mix equal parts white vinegar and water to come up with a solution that should remove winter related staining on your boots from road salt. A gentle rubbing action is recommended here as well.
  • Once clean, allow to dry away from direct sunlight.
  • A little polish will lock in the cleanliness, so take another clean, dry cloth and your shoe polish for the next step. Use a small amount and apply to the cloth. Work into shoes with circular rubbing motion, and then wipe away with  different cloth. Do not apply to parts made of non-leather material.
  • Allow drying time and then take another cloth and apply your conditioning product. This will lock in oils and moisture to prevent stiffness and drying.
  • Allow drying time and then use another clean cloth to shine and finish the job.

Homemade Cleaners For Leather Shoes

We all have stuff around the house that can be mixed up to provide a home remedy for this job. These will not always be the best option for the each shoe type or specific dirt, but they may work in a pinch, or for someone that is low on funds or someone that prefers something more natural. It will take a bit more work because you have to create the substance  will be cleaning with, but the end results can be similar when compared to going at it with the traditional tools and techniques.

Lemon Juice + Cream Of  Tartar

Most people have these to things at home, and the resulting scent may be welcomed by some. When mixed together in the right amounts, this team of ingredients is said to be effective for spot cleaning leather. If you have a few small marks on your shoes this may be a good option. It will not be incredibly powerful, and you will need to condition to prevent drying, but it you have dirty sneakers, a lemon and some baking supplies, you may be able to prevent purchasing anything while still making your footwear look better.

  • To make this cleaning solution take equal parts lemon juice and cream of tartar and mix together.
  • To clean with it, simply apply with a clean cloth and work into the stain. Use a clean part of the same cloth to wipe the surface to finish.
  • If dirt still remains, let the shoe sit for a bit, and then try it again. If results do not improve, you need to try something a little bit tougher, so move on to another method.

Vinegar + Water

In agreement with the professional recommendation, this mixture is highly regarded as an effective way to clean shoes with stuff you already have. It will sort of work for dirt and stains, but is best used for water spots and salt stains on boots and other leather shoes. Some regular spots caused by moisture alone can be eliminated by just wetting the whole area again and letting it dry evenly, but hard water spots and road salt grime will need help. This vinegar solution does the trick in a lot of cases, but it will dry the material, so be sure to condition afterward to keep the leather soft.

  • Mix equal parts water and vinegar together. For tough jobs, you may want to use a ratio that has less water.
  • To clean, simply apply with a clean cloth and a blotting action. You will probably have to go over the same area several times to finish the job, but with enough effort this method does work.
  • Condition when finished to prevent drying.


Got an oil stain on your kicks? Run to the cupboard and grab the box of cornstarch because it may be just the thing to absorb the greasy stain and get your shoes clean. This will not work at all on an older spot, but when caught right away, it can be effective.

  • To clean rub the cornstarch right into the spot.
  • Continue rubbing vigorously to free the bond and clean the area.
  • Keep rubbing, and add more if necessary. As it loosens it’s hold the cornstarch will be able to soak up the oil before the leather does.
  • If cornstarch is not available, another absorbent powder would make a good substitute.


Some folks will recommend toothpaste to clean almost anything. This is a pretty old school suggestion, and only works with certain types. Much of the newer ones have whitening agents that are bound to cause problems, and anything that looks like a gel is not going to work either. Because the results are not that great in general, and the stuff you have on your bathroom sink is probably not right, we would have a hard time endorsing this method. If you do borrow your grandma’s tube and use it sparingly, it may do the job, but most likely you will just end up with a minty fresh stain. If you do want to give it a whirl, use the steps below.
  • Choose an adequate paste. As discussed above, not all will work.
  • Use and old tooth brush and apply a small amount right on the stain.
  • Work it in gently, and then rub off with a clean cloth.
  • Condition afterward to prevent long term problems with the material.

Hair Spray or Nail Polish

If you are truly desperate you may read about these methods and decide to give them a try. This is probably a bad idea. Whenever the risks outweigh the benefits, you are probably doing it wrong. Although many people have had success with one of these or both, you can also permanently damage your shoes if you are not extremely careful. If you were guaranteed results it would be one thing, but you are not. This two may or may not remove tough stains, but 100% of the time you will be risking damage.  For hair spray specifically, it will require several applications, and the sticky residue will need to be removed afterward. This is probably one to skip, because there are better options available.

Soap + Water

A mild soap like castille or saddle soap is often recommended for cleaning leather products. You will need to be careful so that the material does not get too wet, but if used correctly, this combo should be somewhat effective for removing light dirt. If you end up adding too much moisture, the leather will absorb it and this will result in additional stains to clean. Saddle soap works well because it is designed for use on leather, and has a higher oil content than others.
  • Use a damp rag, and apply soap to it directly.
  • Rub into shoes with a circular motion.
  • Continue until a lather builds, and dirt starts to lift.
  • Take a clean, dry towel and wipe the area clean to finish.
  • Follow with a conditioning product to prevent drying.

Homemade Conditioners

Pretty much every home remedy that will work well for your dirty shoes will also leave them dry after you finish. For this reason, you really need to condition the leather afterward in order to prevent stiffness, cracking and an early demise. This can be tricky, but there are some options available. If you add too much oil the material will darken, and food grade oils like olive oil can cause long term damage even though they are widely suggested as a good idea. This stuff is often sticky and stinky upon application, but over time it will actually cause your shoes to age quicker. A mixture that seems to produce better results would be a combo of vinegar and linseed oil. It is safer because it will not cause the same sort of damage.

Other Options

Other stuff like WD-40, banana peels, baby oil, Vaseline, rubbing alcohol, shampoo, etc. are also offered as things you can use to clean or polish your shoes. All of these are less likely to work when compared to the options listed above, but feel free to give them a try as some folks have had success in the past. Any of these will be a bit more risky and less likely to give the end result you are after, but theoretically they should clean adequately in some situations.

Simply Good Method

Want to get amazing results like in the pictures above? Would you believe that you can rejuvenate your shoes without tons of effort, time or money? Well.. You can.

If you would prefer an easier way to get your shoes clean while conditioning the leather at the same time, then continue reading for a better way to do this job. You don’t need to rummage around your house to keep costs low and prevent the purchase of expensive shoe specific products, and you don’t need to go through fourteen different steps just to finish the job. Quick N Brite offers an incredibly effective way to clean any leather shoe you have, and it conditions at the same time, so you will complete the job in one easy step. It will remove way more dirt and staining than any of the methods listed above, and it runs no risk of permanent damage. You can use it with very little moisture, or you can clean with no water at all. Use it to remove mud, grass stains, salt stains, regular dirt, and virtually anything else coating you kicks. No toxic smells will sting your nose, and the cleaner is safe to use with your bare hands. It will not discolor your shoes, or dry out the material, but it will eliminate all dirt as it makes your shoes look like new again.

How To Use It:

Quite possibly the best way to clean any leather shoe, Quick n Brite is easy to use, and the results are amazing. Whether you are cleaning a child’s cleats after the big game, or improving the appearance of  pair or gardening shoes, this will be the perfect product to use. It is ideal for brown work boots coated with mud and other grime, but it also works to make dingy sneakers bright white again. It would be difficult to find something that this stuff won’t clean off, and you will not have to scrub and scrub to do it. When you finish, the leather will feel soft and smooth to the touch because this powerful cleaner will eliminate all dirt while allowing the material to hold onto the natural moisture within. For this reason, you do not need to polish or condition when you finish because you will accomplish that simultaneously with the cleaning.

You can always spot clean specific areas for a quick way to improve the look. Below we will detail how to do a thorough cleaning of the full shoe. Simply modify slightly to do a single spot or small area.

  • To prepare for cleaning, remove your laces and set them aside.
  • Take a dry cloth or soft brush and quickly wipe away any loose dirt to make the job easier.
  • To clean the laces put them in a cup of hot water and add 1 Tbs of Quick N Brite. The liquid is ideal for something like this, but you can also melt down the paste at low heat too. Once in there, mix thoroughly and then LET SIT for 15-20 minutes. Although there is not bleach or anything similar, this process will take dingy white laces and make them look like new again.
  • Once the laces have soaked, rub together a bit to free anything more stubborn, rinse, wring and then lay flat to dry.
  • To clean your shoes, get the included scrub sponge wet with warm water, and wring out until it no longer drips.
  • Use the scrubby side to pick up a small amount of paste and then apply to your shoe. The sponge has a non-abrasive surface that is ideal for working in the cleaner, and is safe for most shoes. If you are concerned about the abrasiveness on your pair, you can also use a damp cloth instead.
  • Rub in using a circular motion until all areas are covered.
  • Unlike other cleaners, you don’t have to stop with the leather. Any material on your sneaker can be coated and cleaned with Quick N Brite.
  • LET SIT for five or more minutes. Use a longer amount of time for serious soil. It can sit for any amount of time without worry. As it is on there, it will break down the dirt, release the bond with the leather, and float it off the surface to make it easy to wiper away. The slippery cleaner will mix with and surround the grime as it lift it up. This makes it very easy to eliminate.
  • After it sits, use a dry terry cloth towel to wipe the surface clean.
  • All dirt will transfer to your cloth and your shoes will be left spotless.
  • No conditioner is necessary, because this stuff leaves the natural oils, and the ingredients also condition as well. The material will be super clean, but also soft and flexible to the touch. Because no drying will occur, cracking, drying and deterioration are impossible.

Stop wasting money on expensive products that are only good for shoes. Quick N Brite will do a better job on your footwear, and it will also work on hundreds of other jobs too. This versatile cleaner is incredibly safe, and amazingly effective. Get it to make your sneakers look like new, and keep it around to remove stains from clothing, hard water spots from your tub, grease from kitchen cabinets and so much more. Unlike any other method above, this one is guaranteed to produce great results, and it is also way less risky. Guessing and experimenting with stuff around the house can be fun, but you will never get the surface as clean. You may be tempted in order to save money, but when you look at the cost, this natural cleaner will only set you back a few pennies for each cleaning. With a full money back guarantee, you can be sure that it will give you an easy and effective way to clean your leather shoes.

Other Tips

  • Even if they are not very dirty, taking care of your shoes on a regular basis can make them last longer. Regular cleanings are important for any pair that gets soiled regularly, but an occasional one for your loafers will keep them looking great for as long as you care to wear them.
  • Suede is not the same as the smooth stuff. Do not use the above techniques for suede. A gum eraser can take of surface dirt from this material, and light blotting with a cleaning product can remove other dirt.


You should avoid cleaning suede with any product specifically designed for regular leather, and you should never get it wet. This version is much different, and much more difficult to work with. Even a small amount of moisture can cause permanent damage.

Quick N Brite Cleaner



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