How to Care for Smooth Leather Shoes

The majority of your shoes are likely made of smooth leather. Are you sure you know how to care for them properly?

There are many types of smooth or full-grain leather, but they all have one thing in common: a grain side that is not buffed. Smooth leather comes in a variety of textures including grained, embossed, structured or completely smooth. If the grain side is buffed or sanded, the leather is considered nubuck.

Most smooth leather shoes on the market are pigmented. This means the leather has a coloured coating. The advantage of pigmentation is that it makes the leather easier to care for and less susceptible to spots.

More porous leathers, such as nappa and anline leathers, are also considered smooth leather. Both of these require special care. In this article, we’ll cover all the ways to care for classic shoes made of smooth leather, which likely make up the greater part of your shoe collection.

Prep Before Cleaning

Before cleaning your shoes, make sure to remove the laces. Use this opportunity to check whether they also require some maintenance or warrant replacement.

And don’t forget to use a shoe tree whilst cleaning. Not only does a shoe tree give you something to hold on to, but it also prevents wrinkles from forming, so cleaning products and polish can be applied more evenly.

Dry Cleaning Smooth Leather Shoes

We always begin the cleaning process with a CLEANING BRUSH to remove any loose dirt or dust. It’s good to get into the habit of doing this every night, because if there’s no dirt on your shoes, it can’t soak into the leather during the next unexpected rain shower.

You can get rid of encrusted dirt with a moist towel. Be sure to apply the same amount of moisture to the entire shoe to prevent the formation of watermarks or rings.

You can use our SOFT GUM to tackle more stubborn spots. It works like an old-fashioned rubber eraser – that’s specialised for smooth leather, of course. It also works wonders on dirty, scuffed soles.

For a more thorough sole cleansing, we recommend using the REINIGUNGSCREME. It will make even light-coloured soles and natural rubber soles shine like new. Don’t worry if some of the sole cleaner comes into contact with the leather upper, it is also suitable for use on the shoe itself.

When Things Get Dirty: Wet Cleaning

In general, you should always start with a dry cleaning before adding moisture. BAMBOO LOTION is the perfect go-to cleaning product for this second step. Not only does the solution clean the leather with natural ingredients, but it also nourishes your shoes with bamboo extract and prevents them from drying out.

Seriously dirty shoes require a more intensive wet cleaning to get at dirt that has soaked deep into the leather. If you find yourself in this situation, try applying CLEAN + CARE foam to your shoes and letting it soak in. Then wipe it – and the dirt – away with a damp towel.

Waterproofing Smooth Leather Shoes

Do you really have to waterproof smooth leather shoes? Whilst smooth leather is certainly more robust than rough leather or textile – especially when it’s regularly treated with wax products – additional waterproofing protects the material even more. This means the leather will stay dry longer and withstand higher levels of water pressure.

Waterproofing doesn’t only protect your shoes from moisture, it also prevents dirt from entering the material and settling deep into the leather.

However, many shoe buyers don’t realise that shoes aren’t always suitably waterproofed by the manufacturer. Passing over your shoes two or three times with waterproofing spray will provide them with a base coat and protect them from dirt and moisture. Also, it will make your shoes easier to clean going forward. A solid waterproofing treatment is halfway to a clean shoe.

How to Apply Waterproofing Spray

When refreshing your shoe’s waterproof coating, apply it directly after the cleaning product. Many people think you should apply it at the very end, but the waterproofing spray effects a deeper layer of the leather than shoe polish and wax, and therefore, it should be applied before subsequent care products.

Of course, you can use our all-rounder waterproofing sprays, but we also have some that are specially designed for use with smooth leather. WATERSTOP RELOADED, for example, offers shoes additional UV protection and is the first spray available without PFCs.

Fans of the top seller CARBON PRO should also take a look at our CARBON WAX spray. The latter offers an extra glossy finish in addition to its renowned waterproofing qualities.

Also, be sure to consider more than just spray products. Our LEATHER GEL is perfect for targeted waterproofing, e.g., for seams, but can also be used on the entire shoe.

Caring for Smooth Leather Shoes - Nourish, Colour and Polish

Once your shoes are clean and protected, it’s time to nourish the leather with care products. A whole host of products fall under the category of shoe care: products to provide the leather with nutrients, refresh the colour and ensure a polished finish. Many care products achieve more than just one of these functions.

1. Nourishment

Leather is a natural material that dries out over time and will eventually become brittle. You can slow the aging process by regularly providing the leather with nutrients.

1909 LEATHER LOTION rejuvenates the material, protects it from losing moisture and keeps it soft and supple.

Our first vegan shoe cream, ORGANIC CREAM, provides nutrients from natural ingredients. Carnauba wax and macadamia oil don’t only make the leather soft, but also give it a natural shine.

2. Colour

Several factors can cause the intense colour of your leather shoes to fade. Whether from UV rays or extended use, pigmented care products can help return shoes to their original lustre. If you can’t find a 100% match for your shoe’s colour, the rule of thumb is to opt for one shade lighter.

Our classic coloured shoe polishes are the WATERSTOP COLOURS series. This versatile product comes in a tube with a handy foam applicator. In addition to refreshing the colour, the product provides the leather with nutrients and – as the name suggests – boosts its water resistant properties.

If you have a soft spot for colourful shoes and are looking for a more obscure tone, our SHOE CREAM line may be your best bet. With extra pigment, this product gives shoes a particularly intense boost of colour and is available in over 40 different tones.

We recommend using COMBI WHITE CLASSIC for white leather shoes. The coloured cream will make your shoes look like new. 

3. Shine

A polished shine is the cherry on top for most shoe care enthusiasts. This process involves applying a wax-based product followed by polishing.

Traditionalists tend to go for hard wax in metal tins. 1909 WAX POLISH contains high-quality wax and nourishing oils. Wax doesn’t only give your shoes a glossy finish, but it also protects it from outside influences and gives shoes a certain level of water resistance.

Others prefer to use the high-gloss 1909 CRÉME DE LUXE, the successor to our legendary DIAMANT cream. It protects your shoes with natural waxes and oils, refreshes the colour and offers wonderful grip.

How to Properly Apply Shoe Polish and Wax

The secret of proper shoe care is often a question of volume. Typically, the answer is: less product is more.

If you think a thick layer of shoe polish will do your shoes a world of good, think again. Leather can only absorb a limited amount of any given product. If you apply too much, the dried shoe polish will form a greasy film that makes the leather look dull. Also, you’ll ruin your polishing brush if the bristles get caked with excess polish.

The same goes for shoe wax. The more wax you apply to your shoes, the longer it takes for it to harden and polish. Furthermore, excess wax tends to gather in seams and wrinkles and break off whilst walking. This could give the appearance of broken leather.

It’s important to use the proper method when applying shoe polish and wax. We recommend using a POLISHING CLOTH for use with smooth leather shoes. This will give you the most feel for the material and the product.

The APPLICATION BRUSH is a great way to apply tinned products (SHOE CREAM or 1909 CRÈME DE LUXE, for example) without getting your hands dirty. Brushes are also able to reach those nooks and crannies that cloths can’t, i.e., punched patterns and seams.

Shoe Shine Like a Pro – How to Polish Smooth Leather

Allow shoe polish to sit for about 15 minutes before touching it. This gives the leather time to absorb the important nutrients.

Begin the polishing process with a horsehair brush (our POLISHING BRUSH, for example). This type of bristle is much softer than typical cleaning brushes, but still hard enough to remove extra polish from seams, stitching and holes.

Wax requires a bit more patience; leave it sit for at least one hour.

Afterwards, you can polish it to a high gloss. A goat hair brush, such as our 1909 POLISHING BRUSH, is perfect for this. The bristles are so soft that they won’t leave marks behind in the wax – after all, the goal is to achieve the smoothest surface possible.

Polish the leather with long, even brushstrokes. This will create friction that softens the wax and gives the leather a shiny surface. You can enhance this effect even further by pulling a nylon stocking over the brush.

Need even more shine? Why not give water polishing a try? It is much easier than most people think.