Skip to Content

How To Shrink Leather Shoes – And Keep Them Looking Good

There are the perfect leather shoes on a favorite brand’s website, but they’re unavailable in the needed size. Is it possible to shrink leather shoes to the right size? To a degree, yes! I will provide instructions for shrinking leather shoes, both new and old, and tips for how to keep them looking good.

Shrinking leather shoes is making new and old leather footwear smaller using several methods for a better fit. Leather shoes that are too big or stretched out can be shrunk using water, heat, or steam. It takes one to two hours and little skill to shrink leather shoes. 

Do you have an old pair of stretched-out leather shoes in the closet that no longer fits well? All it takes is a little water and gentle heat to shrink them back to their original size.

What Is Shrinking Leather Shoes?

Shrinking leather shoes is using one of several methods to make leather footwear smaller for an improved fit. This can be done for new leather shoes that are half a size too big and older leather shoes that have stretched out with time and wear. Shrinking leather shoes can be targeted to one spot or all over various types of leather footwear, including:

  1. Sandals
  2. Dress shoes
  3. Flats
  4. Boots
  5. Athletic shoes
  6. Heels

What We’ll Explore

  • Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
  • Reasons You Might Choose to Shrink Leather Shoes
  • Variations or Styles of Shrinking Leather Shoes
  • Shrinking Leather Shoes Overview Table
  • Skill Level of Shrinking Leather Shoes
  • Tools and Supplies Needed for Shrinking Leather Shoes
  • How to Shrink Leather Shoes Step by Step
  • How to Get Better at Shrinking Leather Shoes
  • My Personal Research on Shrinking Leather Shoes
  • Helpful Insights on Shrinking Leather Shoes
  • Key Takeaways
Various Pairs of New Leather Shoes - How To Shrink Leather Shoes - Liberty Leather Goods
Various Pairs of New Leather Shoes

Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions

The first misconception about leather shoes is that they stretch when they get wet. The truth is leather shoes usually shrink when they get wet, especially when exposed to heat. Another misconception is that leather shoes shrink with wear when they actually stretch.

A myth about leather is that it is waterproof. This is untrue because leather is water resistant and can be damaged by water. Some finishes on leather shoes and substances used to waterproof leather can make leather more waterproof. 

Reasons You Might Choose To Shrink Leather Shoes

If one goes leather shoe shopping and can’t find the right shoe size, shrinking a pair that is a half size up could be an option. Another reason for stretching leather shoes is that they’ve been worn for several years and stretched out with time.

Older leather shoes can be shrunk to restore a better fit. Or perhaps there’s a pair of leather shoes that had been stretched for being too small previously but were stretched too far. These are all good reasons for shrinking new and old leather shoes.

See a close-up look into leather fibers to get an idea how and why they respond to different treatments:

Variations or Styles of Shrinking Leather Shoes

Several variations of shrinking leather shoes exist; however, some are more prone to damaging leather. I will discuss three methods of shrinking leather shoes that are least likely to cause drying out and cracking. 

  1. Water and air drying
  2. Water and drying with low heat
  3. Steam

With all methods of shrinking leather shoes, a leather conditioner should always be applied to keep the leather soft and supple once the leather has dried.

Shrinking Leather Shoes Overview Table

Area of PreparationDetails
TechniqueShrinking Leather Shoes
Overall Level of Skill (1–5)2
Time to Complete (minutes/hours)1–2 hours
Workspace NeededCountertop or table
Skills NeededBasic leather care, clothes iron, or steamer use
Tools and Supplies NeededWater, clothes iron or steamer, hair dryer, towel, leather conditioner, leather shoes
Key Helpful TipUse low heat, apply leather conditioner once dry, avoid shrinking the toe box
How to Shrink Leather Shoe Characteristics

Skill Level of Shrinking Leather Shoes

Shrinking leather shoes does not take a high level of skill, partly depending on how one goes about doing it. Some knowledge regarding leather care is beneficial as it is a complex material that needs special care.

It is also important to be aware that the processing and tanning method used to preserve leather material affects its ability to stretch and shrink, according to researcher Antonio Pizzi of the University of Lorraine. If a clothes iron or steamer is used, knowing how to use those appliances safely is required. 

Tools and Supplies Needed for Shrinking Leather Shoes

Shrinking leather shoes can be performed in several different ways; however, not many supplies are needed. The method used can be chosen based on what tools are available, most of which are in every household. Here is a list of all the tools and supplies needed for every method of shrinking leather shoes:

  1. Water (tap)
  2. Clothes iron
  3. Steamer
  4. Hair dryer on a low heat setting
  5. Towel(s)
  6. Leather conditioner

Leather shoes can be shrunk up to a half size at most without causing damage.

How to Shrink Leather Shoes Step by Step

Now that all the supplies have been gathered, it’s time to get started. This process can be used on targeted spots or all over. Here is how to shrink leather shoes step by step:

  1. Dampen a clean towel with water.
  2. Use a damp towel to moisten parts of the leather shoes that need shrinking. For faster results, place the damp towel on the leather, then press with a hot clothes iron for up to 30 seconds. OR Use a steamer to steam the leather shoes.
  3. For drying – Place the shoes on a sunny windowsill and let them air dry. OR Use a hair dryer on low heat to dry the leather from about 6 inches away.
  4. Once the leather shoes are completely dry, apply a leather conditioner to keep the material supple and prevent cracking.
  5. Try on the leather shoes to see if sufficient shrinking has occurred. If not, repeat the process.

The entire process, from start to completely dry, usually takes one to two hours, but this may vary based on how much leather is dampened and the drying process used.

How to Get Better at Shrinking Leather Shoes

Shrinking leather shoes can be done on only a few spots or all over, so getting better at the process just takes repetition. One may find that only one pair of leather shoes needs shrinking and only does this once or twice, while others may have multiple pairs that need it done.

The key to caring for and shrinking leather shoes is trying different methods and seeing what works the best and does not damage the leather. So try one way, and if you are not happy with the results, try it again or try another approach. Remember that some leathers shrink better than others, and always apply a leather conditioner to prevent drying out and cracking.

For a helpful demonstration on how to shrink leather dress shoes, check out this video from The Bespoke Addict.

My Personal Research on Shrinking Leather Shoes

I polled several friends and family regarding their leather shoes and if they had ever used a method to shrink them. I also asked them if it was targeted spot shrinking or all over and on which types of leather shoes they had used the technique. Here is a table representing the percentages of their responses and what I learned from the poll about how to shrink leather shoes.

Leather Shoe TypeTargeted AreaLeather Shrinking MethodTimes Selected
Men’s leather dress shoesTargeted-sidesSteamer11%
Women’s leather sandalsAll overWater and air dry17%
Men’s leather work bootsHeelsWater and hairdryer6%
Women’s leather clogsTargeted-sidesWater and hairdryer22%
Women’s leather flatsAll overSteamer11%
Men’s leather sneakersTargeted-sidesWater and clothes iron11%
Men’s leather sandalsTargeted-sidesWater and air dry11%
Women’s leather cowboy bootsTargeted-sidesSteamer11%
Popular Methods for How to Shrink Leather Shoes

Helpful Insights On Shrinking Leather Shoes

Can you shrink leather shoes if they are too big?

Leather shoes can be shrunk if they are too big, but only by about half a shoe size. Even old leather shoes stretched with wear can be shrunk again if they become too big. Trying to shrink leather shoes by a full size is difficult and can cause damage to the leather.

How do you shrink real leather shoes?

Real leather shoes can be shrunk with water and a little warmth from sunlight or a hair dryer or steamer. Air drying after getting real leather shoes can help them shrink, but the heat will accelerate the process and cause more shrinkage. Always use low heat and just a little water to avoid damaging the leather.

Key Takeaways

  1. Leather shoes can be shrunk up to a half size at most without causing damage.
  2. Old and new leather shoes can be shrunk with water and gentle heat.
  3. Always apply leather conditioner after wetting and drying leather shoes to keep them looking great.

In Closing

Shrinking leather shoes for a better fit may sound challenging, but it really is not. Leather shoes should comfortably fit as they are an investment and should last a long time and shrinking them is sometimes necessary. As long as care is used to prevent damage, leather shoes can be shrunk even multiple times for just the right fit. Which method will you try?

Other Resources: