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How to Keep Your New Shoes Looking New

The inexpensive shoe care products everyone should own.

A woman in high mustard suede boots Photo: Melanie Galea/The Street Muse/Trunk Archive

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Buying and wearing and admiring shoes is one of life's greatest joys for many, many people. But with great joy often comes great sorrow, and it would be difficult indeed to find a shoe lover who doesn't have a tale of woe befalling one of his or her beloved pairs.

But mourn no more! We’ve created a guide to shoe care products that will do everything, from protecting your shoes against the elements to keeping them shiny and bright to eliminating unfortunate odors that develop within.


The Best High-End Shoe Polish: Meltonian Shoe Cream

Meltonian Shoe Polish is the Mercedes Benz of shoe polish, and while it's pricier than other brands ($9.99 for 1.55 ounces on Amazon), it still comes in at under ten dollars for a canister. In addition to being an excellent polish, Meltonian comes in over 40 colors, making it a great choice for leather shoes in more outré hues.

Cream polish will leave your shoes with a more matte shine; if a high-gloss shine is what you want, opt for a wax polish. Angelus Shoe Wax ($7.99), which is favored by military sorts, is our pick for the best wax polish.


The Best Budget Shoe Polish: Kiwi

At about three dollars a tin, Kiwi shoe polish is the perfect choice for people with a shoe collection that doesn't demand the priciest products for upkeep, but that should still be treated with care. Kiwi shoe polish comes in eight colors, as well as a neutral polish that can be used on any leather regardless of its color.


The Best Shoe Brushes: Star Large Professional Buff Brush

While you don't need a brush to apply shoe polish — old cotton T-shirts are actually the best thing for that job! — a good shoe brush is essential for buffing the leather to a shine, and keeping the shoes free of dirt and street grit that can scratch and dull the leather. Giving your shoes a quick brushing will also help to improve their looks on days when you don't have the time or energy to do a full polishing, especially as regular shoe care becomes a less common part of getting dressed for the day.

Of course, if you would like to commit to polishing your shoes once a day, or once a week, they will thank you for that! But here in the real world, we know you're probably only doing so on an as-needed basis, i.e. when you look down and say to yourself, "Mercy, my shoes are a wreck."

The most important quality to look for in a shoe brush is natural, as opposed to manmade, bristles. The second most important quality is that the brush should be comfortable for you to hold; most brushes are bar-style models, like our pick, but you can find handled versions if that's a more comfortable style for you to use.

The Star brush gets high marks for its large size and durability, and its curved handle makes it more comfortable for most people to hold while vigorously buffing their shoes. And at under $10, it's a much more affordable option than similar horsehair brushes that can retail for upwards of $50.


The Best Leather Cleaner and Conditioner: Cadillac Leather Cleaner

Unless you've got a major stain on your leather goods that requires saddle soap, a combination cleaner and conditioner is all you need to keep shoes in good shape. A conditioner will help to protect the leather by keeping it moisturized, which is important because if leather dries out and cracks, there's not much that can be done to fix it. For more on leather, and descriptions of all the type of products you might need and why you might need them, check out our guide to leather care.

Cadillac Leather Cleaner ($10) came recommended by the people at Cuyana, and if they believe in it, we believe in it too, since at least three of us at Racked are devotees of the brand.


The Best Suede Stain Remover: Kiwi Suede Eraser

Another win for Kiwi! Well, here's why: Kiwi dominates the shoe care market, and the products are all very solid low- to mid-priced options. In the case of a suede eraser — which is exactly what it sounds like, an eraser that is safe to use to, well, erase stains from suede — the inexpensive option is the best option, because, much like a regular eraser, a suede eraser will disintegrate away as it's being used, meaning you'll eventually have to replace it. So! Don't spend a pretty penny on this type of product.

The other great thing about the Kiwi eraser ($6) is that it also comes with a suede brush, which can be used for regular cleaning and maintenance of suede shoes and other accessories. For more on that topic, head over to our guide to suede care.


The Best Protector/Waterproofer: Aquaseal

It's always a good idea to ask, at the time of purchase, whether a new pair of shoes has been treated with a protective and/or waterproof coating. If the answer is no and you'd like to apply one to help keep your shoes from becoming damaged by the elements or just by regular wear and tear, AquaSeal makes excellent protective products.

It offers formulas for both leather and suede, and you can choose from a bottle with a dauber applicator or a spray bottle, depending on which seems easier for you to apply.


The Best Odor Eliminator: Dr. Scholl's Odor-X Odor Fighting Spray Powder

Fun fact! A few years ago I wrote a book called My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag … And Other Things You Can't Ask Martha, the title of which was inspired by a cleaning problem someone asked me to help them solve. The problem wasn't so much staining as it was a terrible lingering vomit odor in a large leather satchel, and the solution was to spray the interior of the thing with Dr. Scholl's Odor Fighting Spray Powder ($4.46).

I tell you that to tell you this: If this product worked to remove the smell of upchuck from a leather bag, lingering foot odor in shoes has no chance against this stuff!