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The Ultimate Guide: How to Clean Your Leather Shoes and Accessories

7-minute read

With spring in the air and a bit of spare time on your hands, now is the perfect time to clean and stow your winter shoes, and pull those summer flats and sandals out for the refresh they deserve. We’re rounding up everything there is to know about treating your luxury products with the luxury care they deserve. Bonus: we’re also answering your most-asked questions, too! 

First things first, understanding leather as a material is essential. When properly cared for, leather retains its strength and durability. The beauty of premium leather is in its ability to evolve with the wearer and take on its own unique characteristics over time. As it ages, a shoe will change in shape to fit your foot, and the hide will deepen in texture and colour. This is not a “flaw,” but instead a reflection of its beauty and premium quality.

Next, gather your necessary tools. While it’s not essential to purchase all of the items below, it’s important to invest in premium care for the shoes or accessories you’ve invested in. Here’s what’s in our ultimate leather care tool kit: 

  • Protectant Spray

We love this spray by Walters that works for both smooth leather and nubuck/suede. It’s important to note that Poppy Barley products are NOT pre-treated. Ensure you treat your new item with a protectant spray before wearing them outside for the first time!

  • Leather Conditioner

We recommend this one by Walters. Make sure not to use this product on suedes or nubucks. Mink oil works well too!

  • Spray-On Suede/Nubuck Cleaner
Spray-on products work best for this material.
  • Leather Polish

We recommend this black or neutral polish by Walters depending on your leather colour. Make sure not to use this product on suedes or nubucks. 

  • Soft-Bristle Saddle Brush
Used to add shine to smooth leather. 
  • Wire/Rubber Brustle Nubuck Brush

Used to brush up dirt and restore the texture of the material. We recommend this one.

Tip: You can even use a piece of a cut-up old t-shirt!

  • Rubbing alcohol

Used best for accessory cleaning. 

Shop our Leather Care Collection

Next up, time to put in the work and start cleaning! We’ve broken down different cleaning tutorials based on the type of leather used for your shoe or accessory: 

Cleaning and Treating Smooth/ Pebbled Leather

  1. Give an overall clean to your product with a damp cloth or cleaning wipes.
  2. Condition the leather by applying the conditioner with the cloth.
  3. Apply a polish to the leather once the conditioner dries and brush the shoe with a saddle brush.
  4. Retreat the shoe with a protectant spray.

    Cleaning and Treating Water-Resistant Leather

    Our Water-Resistant Leather can withstand the elements better than our traditional leathers, suedes, and nubucks. We use this leather for some of our best-selling products, including The 2.5 Ankle Boot, The Chelsea Boot, and The City Tall Boot. To keep this material in its ideal condition, we recommend not using any abrasive solvents or materials during cleaning. Vigorous scrubbing and cleaners can remove the water-resistant coating, making the leather susceptible to damage caused by water, snow and other environmental factors.

    1. Give an overall clean to your product with a damp cloth or cleaning wipes.
    2. Use a saddle brush to polish the shoe.

    3. Retreat the shoe with a protectant spray.

    Cleaning and Treating Suede and Nubuck

    It’s a common misconception that Nubucks and Suedes require more care than smooth leathers. This is not the case!

    1. Treat the product with a spray-on cleaner. 

    2. Use the rubber side of a nubuck brush to clean the shoe.

    3. Retreat the shoe with a protectant spray.

    Cleaning and Treating Accessories

    Accessories don’t typically face as much wear or tear, but they still need care and attention to keep them looking their best.

    1. To clean the outer leather of the item, wipe it down with a damp cloth.

    2. Condition the leather by applying an appropriate conditioner with the cloth.

    3. Use the rubber side of a nubuck brush to clean any nubuck detailing.

    4. Retreat the item with a protectant spray.

    Plus, here are your most-asked questions...

    How do I remove salt stains from my shoes?

    It’s important to remove salt stains as soon as possible. Once the salt stains dry and set, it’s very difficult to get rid of them. Use a mixture of warm water and lemon juice or vinegar to dab away salt stains (do not use this solution on suedes or nubucks). Allow the leather to dry on its own. Do not use heat to accelerate the drying process.

    How do I clean the fabric lining of my accessories?

    Start with pulling the lining out so it’s as exposed as possible. You’ll need rubbing alcohol, a cloth and cotton swabs. Use a swab dipped in rubbing alcohol to scrub any ink or set-in makeup stains. After this, use a cloth dampened with rubbing alcohol to wipe the entirety of the lining (this may take a while, so keep wiping!) Then, use a cloth damped with water to clean off the alcohol and let the lining dry completely.

    How do I clean the wooden heels of my shoes?

    A wood-wrapped heel will get damaged by water, so we recommend avoiding it as much as possible. However, to freshen the look of the heel, you can wipe off any dirt/mud with a lightly dampened cloth. After this, take food-grade mineral oil/cutting board moisturizer (available at Home Depot and Canadian Tire) and apply sparingly to the heel using a cloth. This helps moisturize and revitalize the look of the wood heel! 

    If the heels of your shoes are beginning to peel and show water damage, we would recommend taking them into a cobbler for professional repair. This wear will occur naturally over long periods of time, but with proper care, you can extend the life of your heels.

    How do I clean the lining of my shoes?
    Use a dampened cloth with a small amount of liquid detergent and water to rub the insole, creating a lather. To avoid shrinking or drying out the leather, dampen the cloth with cold water instead of using hot temperatures. 
    Nubuck Brush
    Wire/Rubber Brustle Nubuck Brush

    How do I remove deeper stains from Nubuck and Suede?

    If you get a substance on your Nubuck or Suede, we would recommend these steps before following our regular procedure. First, wipe the area with a slightly damp cloth (not too wet, as water can change the appearance of the material.) Next, use the wire-bristle side of a nubuck brush to brush up the substance and revitalize the original texture of the material. Clean and treat as usual after this.

    When investing in leather goods, such as our shoes and accessories, proper leather care can prolong the life of your investment by years. To shop our complete leather care collection click here.

    If you have any further questions regarding leather care, you can reach out to our team at any time at concierge@poppybarley.com.


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