Skip to Content

Shoe Leather Polish – Use it? When Yes and When Not To

Leather shoes are a great look for every season and almost every outfit, and they require some specialized care. One often used treatment is shoe leather polish – but when should it be used and when should it not? I will answer that and more regarding leather care.

Shoe leather polish is a leather care product made of simple ingredients. Wax protects against dirt and water, oil keeps leather soft, and dyes disguise scratches and scuffs. Shoe leather polish costs $4–10 and lasts about one year.

Do your leather shoes or boots have scratches you’re unsure how to fix? Are you looking for a way to protect leather shoes and make them shine?

What Is Shoe Leather Polish?

Shoe leather polish is a substance applied to leather shoes to buff, shine, and repair scratches and scuffs. It is made of beeswax or carnauba wax, mink or neatsfoot oil, turpentine or naphtha, and chemical dyes. Shoe leather polish comes in many colors to aid in matching with leather shoes.

What We’ll Explore

  • Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
  • When You Might Use Shoe Leather Polish
  • Shoe Leather Polish Quick Reference Table
  • Shoe Leather Polish Types and Variations
  • Shoe Leather Polish Characteristics
  • Shoe Leather Polish Pros
  • Shoe Leather Polish Cons
  • Shoe Leather Polish Manufacturing Process – How They’re Made
  • Shoe Leather Polish Costs
  • Alternative Options to Shoe Leather Polish
  • Experienced Tips for Working with Shoe Leather Polish
  • My Personal Research with Shoe Leather Polish
  • Shoe Leather Polish Care and Maintenance
  • Helpful Shoe Leather Polish Insights
  • Key Takeaways
Polishing a Brown Leather Shoe - Shoe Leather Polish - Liberty Leather Goods
Polishing a Brown Leather Shoe

Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions

One misconception is that neutral shoe leather polish can be used on any shoe color. However, this is false. Neutral shoe leather polish may not have any dye, but it can leave a white residue and even strip the color from leather shoes. It can be used as a top coat over colored polish — that’s it. 

Shoe leather polish can condition leather shoes — nope! Shoe leather polish is best used for shine, scuffs, scratches, and color; conditioning is best left to leather conditioner. Some rare shoe leather polishes have some conditioning properties, but apply shoe leather polish after leather conditioner for the best outcome! 

And the last one — shoe leather polish cannot be used to dye leather. It just doesn’t penetrate well enough or evenly enough to do this effectively.

When You Might Use Shoe Leather Polish

Daily use of leather can take a toll on the material over time, and luckily shoe leather polish is there to keep leather looking great. Here are some of the most common times for using shoe leather polish:

  1. Leather color has faded
  2. Scratches and scuffs
  3. Protective finish is worn
  4. Leather has lost its shine
  5. Leather is cracked

Shoe Leather Polish Quick Reference Table

ToolShoe Leather Polish
Component MaterialsWax (beeswax or carnauba), oil (mink or neatsfoot), solvent (turpentine or naphtha), chemical dyes
Common Sizes0.56 oz., 1.125 oz., 1.55 oz., 2.5 oz., 4 oz., 32 oz.
Cost Range ($)$1.50–$45
Recommended MaintenanceApply shoe leather polish once per week.
Recommended StorageSeal tightly and store in a cool, dry place
Common UsesRestore leather color, add shine, repair/mask scratches and scuffs
How Long It Lasts (on average)one year
Shoe Leather Polish Characteristics

Shoe Leather Polish Types and Variations

Because leather shoes and boots have different needs at times, different types and variations of shoe leather polish exist. Cream polishes are applied in a circular motion using a clean cloth or applicator. These come in many different colors, are excellent for scratches, and are the best at restoring leather color. 

Cream polish provides a glossy shine with minimal effort. Wax polishes are applied with a brush using a circular motion and actually penetrate the leather. These can protect the leather from water and dirt and lock in natural oils. Wax polishes also come in many different colors.

Shoe Leather Polish Characteristics


Shoe leather polish usually contains four substances: wax (beeswax or carnauba), oil (mink or neatsfoot), solvent (turpentine or naphtha), and chemical dyes.

Shoe leather polish comes in different varieties and colors for every pair of leather shoes.


Shoe leather polish comes in a range of sizes from 0.56 oz–32 oz.


Several variations of shoe leather polish exist, from a small tin of wax to a squeeze bottle with a sponge applicator. There are cream, wax, and liquid variations, from large to small, for every leather polish job.

Shoe Leather Polish Pros

Shoe leather polish is a cost-effective way to keep your leather goods looking great. Other shoe leather polish pros include:

  1. Covers scratches and scuffs
  2. Softens
  3. Provides a glossy shine
  4. Restores color
  5. Protects
  6. Prevents water damage
  7. Keeps leather looking new

Shoe Leather Polish Cons

Although shoe leather polish has many benefits, some downsides can include:

  1. Darkens leather
  2. Rubs off onto carpet, clothing, etc.
  3. Difficult to remove
  4. Chemicals can build up on leather
  5. Requires some time and practice

Shoe Leather Polish Manufacturing Process – How They’re Made

Shoe leather polish is manufactured in large batches and with care, as some solvents are volatile and can evaporate. According to a 2019 article in the Journal of Science and Technology Research by Ofunne Charles of the University of Benin, shoe leather polish does not lose much input material to steam, meaning the end product is the same amount of material.

The wax is melted in a large reactor and stirred constantly, then the dye or colorant is added. The welted wax is then mixed with the solvent that has also been warmed then a machine dispenses small amounts into the small tins or jars.

Shoe Leather Polish Costs

The cost of shoe leather polish depends on the type and size. Small tins (0.56 oz.) cost approximately $1.50, while a large liquid formulation (32 oz.) costs about $45. The common wax polish is simple, great for regular usage, and generally lower in price. Luxury polishes will cost more and sometimes offer extra benefits, including leather conditioner ingredients.

Alternative Options to Shoe Leather Polish

When shoe leather polish isn’t available, alternative options can provide a similar shine on leather shoes and boots. Sometimes a simple cleaning with a leather cleaner will suffice. Leather conditioner is also always an excellent option to keep the leather soft and can diminish scuffs and wrinkles. 

Experienced Tips for Working With Shoe Leather Polish

Working with shoe leather polish isn’t the same as a leather conditioner. Here are a few tips to get the best finish:

  1. Clean leather shoes before applying shoe leather polish.
  2. Use cream polish for light-colored leather and wax polishes for dark-colored leather.
  3. Don’t lay it on thick — too much shoe leather polish will darken the leather.
  4. Buff the shoe leather polish into the leather with a clean cloth to ensure absorption and remove excess polish.

My Personal Research with Shoe Leather Polish

Which polishes are the best for certain jobs? I’ve put together a table listing the best uses for each type of shoe leather polish to hep you make the best decision.

Shoe Leather Polish TypeReason for Polishing
WaxAdd shine
Cream or WaxColor fading
Shine renewal
Shoe Leather Polish Uses

Shoe Leather Polish Care and Maintenance

How to Apply Shoe Leather Polish

Before applying shoe leather polish, ensure the leather shoes or boots are clean. Wash the leather shoes with a proper leather cleaner first. Allow the shoes to dry completely, then using a clean, soft rag apply a small amount of the shoe leather polish. Test the shoe leather polish in an inconspicuous spot first to test for color match.

Use a circular motion to massage the polish all over the shoes leaving a thin, even coating. Allow the shoe leather polish to sit for a few minutes, then use a soft-bristled brush or another clean, soft rag to brush or buff away any excess polish. If more shine is desired or it has been more than a week since the last polishing, another layer may be applied using the same method. 

Watch this video from Kirby Allison of the Hanger Project to learn how to use shoe leather polish.

How To Maintain Shoe Leather Polish

Apply shoe leather polish once weekly and after every cleaning to keep the leather color even, cover scuffs and scratches, and maintain the shine. 

How To Store Shoe Leather Polish

Keep shoe leather polish sealed tightly and in a cool, dry place. Most shoe leather polishes will stay effective for up to a year, but check the manufacturer’s directions and any expiration date once opened.

Helpful Shoe Leather Polish Insights

Which shoe polish is best for leather?

The best shoe polish for leather is cream or wax based. Look at the manufacturer’s label to check the uses, including scratches or scuffs, and shine to achieve the desired look. There may not be a perfect color match for all leather colors, but there are plenty of options that can come pretty close.

Is shoe polish good for leather?

Shoe polish is good for leather for several reasons. It can restore color where it has faded and conceal scratches and scuffs. Shoe polish is also suitable for renewing or adding a high-gloss shine to make leather shoes look like new.

Is Kiwi shoe polish good for leather?

Kiwi shoe polish is sometimes good for leather, but it shouldn’t be the only tool in one’s leather care tool kit. Kiwi shoe polish has been around for a long time, and their polish has proven effective for color renewal in small spots that have been worn. However, I do not recommend Kiwi shoe polish for all-over polishing of leather shoes.

Key Takeaways

  1. Shoe leather polish comes in different varieties and colors for every pair of leather shoes.
  2. Shoe leather polish is effective for concealing scratches and scuffs.
  3. Faded color spots on leather shoes can be corrected using shoe leather polish.

In Closing

Leather shoes and boots have special care needs when they’re worn often, but they are worth the investment. Shoe leather polish is one part of the leather care tool kit and can renew all types of leather shoes. It’s a small investment with a huge return!

Other Resources: