Skip to Content

How to Stretch Leather Shoes – Easy DIY Steps to Success

We’ve all experienced it at least once in our lives: we find a great pair of leather shoes and they fit perfectly in the store.  Then when we wear them to work or for a special occasion, they squeeze your toes or rub blisters.  I will discuss several methods of stretching leather shoes to prevent this from ever happening to you again.

Leather shoe stretching is relaxing and extending leather to fit the foot better.  Few supplies are needed, like thick socks, a hair dryer, zip-lock storage bags, or stretching spray.  I will share easy DIY instructions on stretching leather shoes, plus some helpful tips for specific footwear types.

Have you ever found the perfect pair of leather shoes only to find they hurt your feet when you wear them?  Are you looking for a way to improve how your leather shoes fit and feel? These easy steps for stretching leather shoes can help you feel more comfortable wearing your favorite leather kicks. 

What is Leather Shoe Stretching?

Leather shoe stretching is relaxing new leather shoes to help them fit the foot better.  The process of creating leather for shoes has changed over the years.

In most cases, industries are working to maximize leather production and decrease waste, according to researchers Appiah-Brempong, Essandoh, Asiedu, Dadzie, and Momade from the Journal of Leather Science and Engineering.  Leather shoes often fit well during store try-on, but prolonged wear beyond these fittings can lead to foot pain if the leather is tight.  This is where leather shoe stretching comes in.

Brown Leather Boots - How To Stretch Leather - Liberty Leather Goods
Brown Leather Boots

Supplies Needed to Stretch Leather Shoes

There are a few different methods to stretch leather shoes, and most don’t require a lot of supplies.  You probably already have many of these items somewhere in your home.  Here are the supplies needed to stretch leather shoes by each method:

  1. One tried and true method is a shoe stretcher, a device that fits in the shoe with plugs that can be placed on problem areas where you may have bunions or corns.  Then the device handle is turned about every eight hours to stretch leather shoes to a better fit.
  2. Another method to stretch leather shoes is with heat.  For this method, you need a couple of pairs of thick socks, a hair dryer, and some leather conditioner.
  3. Then there’s the cold method which requires a zip-close sandwich or storage bags and tap water.
  4. Another way to stretch leather shoes is with stretching spray, which you can purchase online or in many stores.

There are products to condition, tan, stretch, and process the leather while manufacturing leather shoes.

How to Stretch Leather Shoes – Step by Step

Now that you have your supplies to stretch leather shoes, let’s go through each method.

Shoe Stretcher

1.      Turn the handle counterclockwise at the back of the stretcher to close the toe box block.

2.      Turn the lengthening drum clockwise at the middle of the stretcher to shorten the heel block.

3.      Slide the toe box block into the shoe as far as possible.

4.      Push the heel block down into the shoe without damaging it.  It might take a little wiggling.

5.      Turn the lengthening drum counterclockwise to lengthen the shoe.

6.      For stretching width, turn the handle at the back of the stretcher clockwise to open the toe box block.

A Leather Crafter - Leather Furniture Repair - Liberty Leather Goods
Leather Guides - Liberty Leather Goods

Crafter's Notes - Free

Receive my periodic Crafter’s Notes with tools and tips. Download these free leather guides with signup.

7.      Turn just enough that it’s snug, plus one or two more cranks for optimum stretch, but don’t over-stretch or damage the leather.

Heat Method

1.      Put on a pair or two of thick socks.

2.      Put on the leather shoes. 

3.      Use a hair dryer on medium heat on the shoes for 30 seconds while moving your feet.

4.      Total heat time is two minutes for each shoe.

5.      Leave your shoes on until they cool down.

6.      Remove the shoes and thick socks, then put on regular socks and replace the shoes.

7.      Walk around in the shoes, and no more heat is required if they feel comfortable.

8.      Use a leather conditioner to moisturize the heat-dried leather.

A Hair Dryer - How To Stretch Leather Shoes - Liberty Leather Goods
A Hair Dryer

Cold Method

1.      Fill two zip-close sandwich or storage bags with tap water. 

2.      Place one bag in each shoe, ensuring they fit in the toe box.

3.      Place the shoes in the freezer for 8 hours or until frozen.

4.      Remove the shoes from the freezer and allow the ice to thaw

5.      Walk around in the shoes; if they feel comfortable, no more ice is required.

Stretching Spray

1.      Put on the leather shoes.

2.      Read the directions on the bottle of stretching spray.

3.      Spray the shoes with the stretching spray.

4.      Wear the shoes normally while the stretching spray dries.

Tips by Footwear Type

There are products to condition, tan, stretch, and process the leather while manufacturing leather shoes.  These products include enzymes and can help produce leather shoes that have excellent grain properties.

They’re also able to withstand high levels of stretch during production, according to researchers at the Nigerian Institute of Leather and Science Technology, National Institute of Hospitality and Tourism Studies, and the Akwa Ibom State University of Nigeria.  That’s why it’s important to consider some tips for stretching leather shoes by footwear type.

Stretching leather boots can be accomplished through all the standard options, including boot stretchers, heat or cold expansion methods, boot stretching spray, and calf stretchers.

Stretching Leather Shoes Wider

Stretching leather shoes wider can easily be accomplished with a few different methods.  The shoe stretcher has a specific function just for this, but the heat, cold, and stretching spray methods work just as well by conforming the leather precisely to your feet or by expansion with wear.  The best method for stretching leather shoes wider is through wear, making the shoe box adapt to the width of your feet.

Tying a Leather Shoe - How To Stretch Leather Shoes - Liberty Leather Goods
Tying a Leather Shoe

Stretching Leather Shoes Lengthwise

Stretching leather shoes lengthwise is best done with a shoe stretcher.  Always start with shoes within one size of your regular shoe size, and then use the shoe stretcher to stretch them lengthwise.  It may take a little time, but don’t stretch lengthwise too fast, and be sure to condition the leather to prevent cracking.

Stretching Leather Boots

Stretching leather boots can be accomplished through all the standard options, including boot stretchers, heat or cold expansion methods, boot stretching spray, and calf stretchers.  So, if the boots are snug all around, use any of these methods to stretch them to your perfect fit.  If the boots fit perfectly but are too snug around your calves, calf stretchers should fix them right up.

Stretching Leather Sandals

Stretching leather sandals can be achieved through several methods, including shoe or sandal stretchers, heat or cold, stretching spray, and thick socks.  Wearing leather sandals with socks around the house may be all you need to stretch them slightly for a more comfortable fit, or if they need a bit more stretch, use a different method.

Leather Coach - Liberty Leather Goods
LeatherCoach™ Cover Image

LeatherCoach™

Get a head start with my personal knowledge program and enjoy crafting more today.

This helpful video explains five DIY tips for stretching your leather shoes just like a professional.

Helpful Insights on Stretching Leather Shoes

How can I stretch leather shoes fast?

There are a couple of methods to stretch leather shoes quickly.  Wearing thick socks with the shoes and using heat from a hair dryer is one of the quickest methods. While freezing water in bags placed in the shoes is effective, it takes a little more time.

How much can leather shoes stretch?

Leather is surprisingly durable and stretchy, but generally, you can’t stretch leather shoes up a full size or from standard to wide width.  They can be stretched to fit your feet as long as they are the appropriate size.

Can you stretch leather shoes a half size?

Yes, leather shoes can be stretched anywhere from a quarter to half size up with at-home techniques.

How much do cobblers charge to stretch leather shoes?

A cobbler will usually charge $15-25 to stretch leather shoes.

How long does it take to stretch leather shoes?

Using a shoe stretcher to stretch leather shoes will take 8–48 hours, depending on the size requirement.  Other methods can stretch leather shoes in a matter of a few hours.

The Method of Leather Shoe Stretching That Real People Would Like to Try Most

I asked friends and family which method of leather shoe stretching they would most likely try at home. Here is a table representing the percentages of their responses and what I learned from the poll about how real people would like to stretch their leather shoes.

Leather Shoe Stretching Method
50% of people polled said they would like to try the shoe stretcher method to stretch leather shoes
25% of people polled said they would like to try the heat method to stretch leather shoes
0% of people polled said they would like to try the cold method to stretch leather shoes
25% of people polled said they would like to try the stretching spray method to stretch leather shoes
Leather Shoe Stretching MethodsThat Real People Would Like to Try

Final Thoughts

The more we turn to ordering leather shoes online and guesstimating their fit, the more opportunities for error and shoes that are too snug.  The great thing is, for many of the methods we covered today, you probably already have everything you need to stretch your leather shoes effectively. 

The heat and cold methods are easy and cheap, plus they’ll quickly stretch your leather shoes effectively.  For worst-case scenarios, order stretching spray and shoe stretchers when you order those new leather shoes!

Other Resources: