I know it can be intimidating to choose which shoe polishes are best for your shoes. I mean, there are so many. When I first started making shoes it was the hardest part for me.
“Do I choose one with color or that is neutral? Will it make my shoes too shiny or not shiny enough? Will it make my shoes look cheap?”
Fortunately for you, I have spent countless hours testing a variety of shoe polishes on hundreds of shoes. These are my favorite name brand polishes. I like them enough that I don’t take the time to make my own. Also check out or polishing guide here for some great techniques on the art of shoe polishing.
This one is a classic, and I use it on ALL Standard Handmade footwear for an initial polish. It comes in a tin can and is solid like, and even smells like, soap. The way to use it is to have a cup of water and a rag. Wrap the rag around your finger, dip it into the water, and apply it to the soap in a circular motion. Once there is a nice lather on the rag you can apply it to the shoe. When the lather is dry you use another rag, this time dry, and apply a circular motion to begin to remove the film of lather. You will be left with a regal, soft luster. You should not use this polish for high gloss applications because it will not work. We love this one for its rich, yet soft finish, and is our main leather care product. Its primary use is to clean leather, and often, we find, is the only polish needed for some shoes.
Meltonian (neutral) has a similar finish to Fiebing’s Saddle Soap, if just a little shinier. The biggest difference is it’s in a soft cream form so there is no reason to get a lather going on a wet rag. It can be applied as is to the leather. We typically stick to the neutral color, but they have a wide range of hues to choose from. Just be sure to use a color lighter than your shoes because ALL polishes with dyes will make your shoes darker. It also acts as a great leather conditioner, in my experience.
In addition, you can use Meltonian for a semi-gloss shine if, while it’s still moist on the shoes, you brush them quickly with a fine horse hair brush.
Saphir Renovateur is actually sold as a leather conditioner. While we think it’s great as a conditioner, in most cases it’s enough of a shine that nothing else needs to be done. It leaves the leather looking full and smooth. The drawback is its price, about $20, that makes this one a harder buy. However, many people swear by it, and we think it’s great too (worth buying). Many bespoke shoemakers use only this polish.
- Bees wax
Bees wax, or any polish that contains it will surely get you a glossy shine. In the case of beeswax, however, heat is required to achieve the mirror shine. Heat can be generated via elbow grease and rubbing with a rag. Or, if you have a bench grinder, the shine can be accomplished with a polishing wheel. Some that we like: Dr. Robson’s shoe polish, Murray’s, and Saphir’s shoe polishes. Just be careful not to use too much. A little goes a long way. And you want to be sure all of the excess is worked off. Otherwise the surface will seem a little sticky. Beeswax polishes definitely take a bit of practice to master the application.
For the ultimate shine, Lincoln polishes are the winner. We typically only use Lincoln at the toes and heels of the shoes in order to give them an extra shine. A traditional polish job on a pair of shoes will usually leave the toes and heels shinier than the rest of the shoes.
- Final note:
It’s important to think about the type of shoes you are polishing before you choose a polish. For example: You likely wouldn’t shine a pair of work boots the same as you would a pair of dress shoes. For your work boots I’d recommend either Feibing’s or Meltonian to bring back the richness and protect the leather. But then again, it’s all about what You want your shoes to look like.
For the over achiever, applying Fiebing’s saddle soap in order to clean the leather, then applying Saphir Renovateur to condition the leather, then applying Lincoln shoe polish will give your shoes the richest and shiniest look around. If you have time for that sort of thing…
And, If you're looking for more of a how-to check out my post on shoe care.
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