How to clean leather shoes

Man shining black leather shoe.

My teenage son was so excited when his new white leather sneakers arrived, his first question was, "How do I clean leather shoes? I want them always to look this white!"

The first step to leather shoe care is the most important - apply a leather protectant to the surface of a new pair to protect them from dirt and stains before you wear them.

And this is true whether the shoes in question are sneakers, pumps or boots.

Once primed for wear, when the inevitable stain or splotch happen, here's how to clean leather shoes.

What You'll Need to Clean Leather Shoes

  • Tarp or newspaper. This will be used to create a protected cleaning area that will prevent cleaners from staining the floor or table. Cleaning leather is a dirty job.
  • A shoe brush. You'll need this a couple of times during the cleaning process. 
  • Dishwashing detergent. 
  • An eraser. For cleaning rubber soles and sides.
  • Paper towel, cotton balls, or clean cloth. You'll use this to apply the cleaner. 
  • White vinegar. To spot clean leather shoes.
  • Leather conditioner. This will help keep your shoes in excellent condition in the future.
  • Soft cloth.  For buffing dry. This can be any clean and dry cloth, such as a t-shirt or towel.

Set Up a Shoe-Cleaning Area

Use a tarp or newspaper to protect your floor or other surfaces during the process of cleaning leather.

To make cleaning easier, remove the shoelaces so they won't be blocking parts of the surface of your shoes.  If your laces could use a good cleaning too, you can wash them in a container with warm water and laundry detergent.

Brush Surface Dirt and Debris Off Shoes

Brush surface debris and dirt from your leather shoes with a shoe brush with 100% horsehair bristles. Gently brush in a single direction to loosen the dirt and brush it off. That way you're cleaning the leather material itself and not rubbing in any dirt when you add soap or cleaner.

Apply either the water and vinegar solution, or create a stain-solution of water and mild dishwashing detergent.

Create a rich lather using as little water as possible. Lather on both shoes using a damp paper towel or cloth.

Use a soft, slightly damp cloth to remove the excess soap from the shoes before conditioning and to dry them. For more resistant marks, dab with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol, then wipe with an absorbent cloth.

To clean white leather sneakers, make a paste of three tablespoons baking soda and two tablespoons of water, and use a toothbrush to scrub the shoes clean. 

Then, for rubber soles and sides, clean them with Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.

Protect Shoe Leather

Now that my son has learned how to clean his shoes, he's kept his white leather Adidas sneakers looking pristine. We should all be so diligent with our shoe cleaning routine!

Apply the leather protectant while shoes are still damp. Gently rub the conditioner on your shoes and allow to air dry. Keep them away from heat and direct sunlight, which can cause damage and craking in the leather surface.

Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.