As a leather crafter, I put a lot of time into my work until I’m proud of the final result. Leather polish lets me add a finishing detail that helps my projects stand out and look professional.
Leather polish is a finishing wax added to leather that provides a shine when buffed. It’s made from a solvent, oil, wax, and often color. The color in polish can restore faded goods; however, it’s also available in neutral. Leather polish can cost $6–25, depending on the ingredients.
Let’s discuss what leather polish is and how it can benefit you and your leather goods.
What is Leather Polish
Leather polish is a finishing product used to shine and protect a leather good. It is made from a combination of solvent, oil, wax, and a color pigment. Polish can restore faded leather goods while sealing them with a top wax that can be buffed to produce a glossy finish.
Types of Leather Polish
There are two main types of leather polish, colored and neutral. Colored leather polish can be used to cover marks left on leather or restore a faded area. Whereas a neutral polish can be used on any leather product. The benefit of a neutral polish is its versatility and ability to be used on lighter leathers without the fear of changing the color.
Pigmented vs. Neutral Leather Polish
|Characteristics||Pigmented Leather Polish||Neutral Leather Polish|
|Ease of use||Simple||Simple|
|Usage||Single color||Any leather|
Characteristics of Leather Polish
Solvents used in leather polish are either naphtha or turpentine. This helps break down the ingredients for a more even application. Leather polish has materials such as pigment and wax that need thoroughly mixed to provide a clear surface to polish. Solvents will also remove any remaining wax on a product, creating a clean surface for its application.
Oil is a common item found in various leather care products. Its primary purpose is to rehydrate the leather while a product is being used. Common oils found in leather polish are lanolin oil, neatsfoot oil, coconut oil, mink oil, and various nut oils.
Each oil provides unique characteristics. Mink oil and lanolin are water resistant. Neatsfoot, coconut, and nut oils can deeply hydrate leather. Although leather polish contains these oils, it does not replace a traditional conditioner used for maintenance.
Wax is perhaps the most important part of leather polish. This is the coating added to the shoe to produce a shiny finish after buffing. The wax used in leather polish also locks in color and hydration. Common wax choices for leather polish are beeswax and carnauba wax.
Beeswax provides more protection but does not offer as nice of a shine as carnauba wax. Companies will mix the two waxes in their product to achieve protection and shine.
Color pigment is a coloring material insoluble in water and used in leather polish to restore faded goods. Its property of being insoluble in water comes in handy with leather products that will be exposed to elements, as the color will not bleed or rub off in normal conditions. While pigment is popular in leather polish, it is not required, and neutral polish is also available.
Leather polish comes in small amounts, typically 4oz and below. This is because the product is made to be used sparingly, and a small container can last months, if not years. Liquid leather polish may be much larger, 8oz and above. The primary use of liquid leather polish is to cover a larger surface at once. These may be couches, garments, car seats, or other large leather products.
Leather polish comes in two forms, hard wax, and a liquid. Solid polish is the most common as it is heavily used in footwear maintenance. Alternatively, the liquid polish is used for larger leather goods that have been upholstered. A common solid wax will be the best choice for most products, as it allows for controlled application and polish layers to build.
Pros and Cons of Leather Polish
Pros of Leather Polish
Leather polish can be a great finishing product for most leather goods. It adds a pleasing gloss to the leather while providing a layer of protection. Accordion to Olga Niculescu, Minodora Leca, Zenovia Molodovan, Ciprian Chelaru, Dana Gurau, and Daniela Mariana Berechet, from the University of Bucharest, Faculty of Chemistry department, in Bucharest, Romania, beeswax, and lanolin wax, offer resistance to scratches and water.
If a colored wax is used, it can restore faded or worn leather. The leather polish also provides a small amount of hydration that is sealed in due to the wax.
Polish can restore faded leather goods while sealing them with a top wax that can be buffed to produce a glossy product.
Cons of Leather Polish
Although leather polish contains many similar ingredients found in leather conditioners, it does not offer the same benefits. Leather polish is strictly the final coat to be added to leather and can not be used as a conditioner. If used excessively, the leather polish can cause discoloration and prevent the leather from breathing properly.
This may cause an increase in bacteria leading to a poor-smelling product. Leather polish can also leave a product feeling sticky if it is not rubbed in thoroughly or if too much is applied.
How Leather Polish is Made
Leather polish starts from an oil and wax mixture that is heated and blended. A solvent is added to break down the mix to an even consistency. If the leather polish is not colored, the process will end here. However, if a pigment is necessary, it would be added in the final step, coloring the entire mixture.
Wax is perhaps the most important part of leather polish. It is the coating added to the shoe that produces the shiny finish after buffing.
Cost of Leather Polish
Leather polish’s cost depends on the size, form, and materials used. A simple hard wax polish may only cost $6–$10 for sizes less than 4oz. While a polish that utilizes more luxury ingredients will cost up to $20 for the same size.
Liquid leather polish comes in much larger amounts, 8oz and above. This causes a price change, with simple polish costing around $10 and products with luxury ingredients costing $20 or more.
Tips for Working With Leather Polish
- Always apply the polish with a clean cloth.
- Thoroughly clean the leather before applying the polish.
- Remove excess leather polish before applying a new coat.
- To achieve the highest gloss, allow the polish to sit for up to an hour.
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In this helpful video, Kirby Allison will break down the process of polishing leather shoes. These techniques may also be applied to other leather goods with other leather polishes.
If you find yourself without leather polish, there are options depending on what your goals are for your leather product. Leather conditioners containing carnauba wax or carnauba wax alone can make the leather shine. Mink oil or leather conditioners containing beeswax can be used instead if the objective is to create a protective barrier for the leather
Examples of Items Made with Leather Polish
Deciding when to use leather polish can be important, as excessive use can damage leather. Leather crafters can use polish after completing a project to give them a professional glossy finish. Another place where leather polish is commonly used is shoe shining. In this case, the polish can be added every few months to a year, depending on how frequently the shoes are worn.
Typically only the toe of the shoe will be heavily polished, while the remainder will only receive a light coating. Gajendra Gaur and Yogesh Kumar Sharma from the Department of Chemistry at the Swami Shraddhanand College University of Delhi in Alipur researched the different uses for waxes and found carnauba wax, which is commonly found in leather polish, beneficial in producing a high shine while leaving a protective coating.
My Research on How Pigment Affects the Potential Shine of Leather
The toe cap of shoes or boots is a commonplace polish is used. I keep a pair of black boots with a mirror shine toe cap. The process to achieve that shine takes up to an hour of work. For my testing, I wanted to figure out if I could shorten that time by using a neutral polish instead of a black one.
Method For Testing Leather Polish
I started by removing the current wax on my boots with a mixture of water and isopropyl alcohol. The alcohol will break down the polish but needs to be diluted with water, as too much alcohol will also remove the dye. Doing this left me with a matte look on each boot, a clear sign that no coating was left.
I then took a horsehair brush and thoroughly cleaned the toes of my shoes, trying to keep them as even as possible. For the polish, I chose Saphir products. Unlike traditional leather polish, these tend to have a solid cream consistency rather than a waxy one. This difference makes it easier to apply to shoes and provides enough wax to build a proper shine.
Once all the prep work was complete, I applied a single coat to both shoes, one neutral and one black. I used a different clean cloth for both, applied the polish in a circular motion, wiped off the excess, and let them dry before buffing them with new clean cloths.
Results of Testing Leather Polish
From the first layer, it was immediately clear that the neutral polish was producing a much greater shine. However, because my boots aren’t in perfect condition, the neutral polish did not hide the scuff marks, scratches, and creases as well. I repeated the polishing twice more with very similar results.
The difference between the two polishes was not as vast once I added multiple layers. The pigmented shoe polish however, could not achieve the shine a neutral polish could. On the other hand, the neutral polish could not cover the wear marks that the black polish was able to.
With Saphir products, there is no issue with mixing polish layers on a shoe; therefore, I believe the best method is to start with a pigmented polish and use the neutral for a greater shine. This may not be possible with all shoe polishes, and products should be checked before attempting to layer different polishes.
Leather Polish Care and Maintenance
How to Clean Leather Polish
Leather polish can become contaminated if a dirty cloth is used. The affected area must be removed to be cleaned. However, this only applies to solid leather polish. Liquid leather polish may require replacement depending on if the contaminants can be poured out.
How to Maintain Leather Polish
Leather polish requires a clean cloth during use to maintain it. When storing leather polish, it is important to ensure the lid is completely sealed to prevent any unwanted contaminants.
How to Store Leather Polish
Leather polish should be stored according to its instructions and in the original container. Most leather polish will need to be stored at a moderate temperature and away from heat.
Is leather polish and conditioner the same?
No, although they may share ingredients, leather polish does not provide the same hydrating benefits as a leather conditioner. Similarly, leather conditioner does not provide a protective coating like leather polish.
Is furniture polish good for leather?
No, unless the furniture polish is specially made for leather, there are many risks in using polishes made for other products. Leather can be a delicate surface that reacts poorly to different chemicals.
Does shoe polish dry out leather?
Shoe polish can dry leather out if used excessively. However, if used properly, the polish should not cause any harm to the leather.
Is Vaseline good for leather?
No, although some sources online may recommend using vaseline or other petroleum-based products, from my personal experience, these will leave the leather feeling greasy and can cause unwanted discoloration.
Can I use Pledge on leather?
No, Pledge is not made to be used on leather. Its cleaning solution could react negatively to a top coat on specific leathers.
While leather polish may not be a necessary step in leather maintenance, it is still one of the best tools available for rejuvenating leather goods. Leather polish will always be used in my craft to give all my leather goods a finishing touch.