How to Shine Shoes: A Step by Step Guide

There are plenty of simple shoes and styles that don’t need any maintenance. But, you can’t beat a classic pair, so full-grain leather and shiny formal shoes are still widely worn.

Such costly leather shoes can last you a lifetime of formal events and parties if you care for them. As well as that, a bright shine sets the shoes apart from the crowd.

Once you learn to shine your shoes yourself, there’s nothing to stop you from owning, wearing and prolonging the life of these quality shoes.

Here are the basics on how to shine shoes, which we’ll ding into deeper shortly:

  1. Clean off your shoes with a brush and water.
  2. Apply polish with a soft cloth—wax, cream or an alternative.
  3. Polish the welt and other areas.
  4. Buff your shoes.
  5. Spit-shine your shoes, and repeat until satisfied.

How to Shine Shoes: Step by Step

#1 Gather Supplies

You need a lot more than just polish when shining leather shoes. To shine your shoes effectively, you need a supply kit.

This one gives you what you need if you don’t have the supplies already.

Shoe Polish

What shoe polish you use is up to personal preference.

The shoe-shining process will be the same either way and cream and wax work equally well—the difference is mostly in the visual.

Polishing Cloth

Use a designated cloth for polishing during the process. It cuts down on mess, and you won’t get things mixed up.

Whether you choose a high-quality purchase or just an old t-shirt, it should be soft.

Clean Rag

You need another soft cloth or rag to clean off the excess polish. Again, an old shirt works, or any cloth that’s not coarse and won’t leave a residue.

Welt Brush

A small welt brush can be used to clean the shoe and apply polish to the welt and other difficult areas.

If you lack in the welt brush department, an old toothbrush should also work. Try to get one that’s hard-bristled but not scratchy.

Larger Brush

A larger, horsehair brush is ideal for buffing. Horsehair brushes work well because they’re not scratchy, but they’re firm enough to do the job.

However, you shouldn’t just use any old horsehair brush. One made specifically for shining shoes will work the best.

Glass of Water

You’ll need this for the spit-shine finish.

It’s easier to have the water in a glass nearby than to do your polishing by the sink.

Black shoe

#2: Remove the Laces

You can leave the laces in if you want, but you might get polish on them. Take them out, and if you don’t know how to put them back in, check out our guide on how to lace shoes.

#3. Fill the Shoes

Applying pressure to an empty shoe won’t work too well.

Fill your shoe with paper, socks or a shoe tree, so you have a solid surface to polish on.

#4: Clean the Shoes

Make sure your shoes are completely free of dirt and debris before you shine them.

A welt brush will work for this, and use water if the debris is stuck or stubborn.

Make sure you let the shoes dry completely before you continue—you can help with this by giving the shoes a rub with a cloth.

You should also clean off your welt brush. Use an old, hard toothbrush for this, or some other small brush.

Pro Tip:

Use a microfiber cloth when dealing with shoes. They won’t leave a residue, whereas other cloths might.

#5: Polish Your Shoes

Don’t put your polish directly on the shoes.

  1. Start with a small dot on a cloth.
  2. Now apply the wax in smooth, circular motions, so you don’t get streaks.
  3. Keep adding polish as needed.
  4. You know you’re finished when the shoe is shiny and a solid color from heel to toe.

Also, be aware that wax polish may be stubborn at first, but the motions should melt it. Cream polish and alternatives will be easier to spread.

Pro Tip: For easier polishing, wrap the cloth around your first two fingers and secure it.

What Is the Best Shoe Shine Polish?

The best shoe shine polish is either cream or wax. Both will:

  • Match the color of your shoes.
  • Add shine to your shoes.
  • Make your shoes last longer.

The alternatives won’t do the last part, so when you can, choose between these, which we’ll delve into further right now…


Cream polish has less shine than wax or alternatives, but it’s great for your shoes. It moisturizes the leather, which can stop it from drying out and cracking over time.

If you want extremely shiny shoes, then cream isn’t your best option. Although, you could shine your shoes with cream polish when you’re not wearing them. That way, the leather gets treatment, but nobody sees your lack of shine.

Just one thing to be aware of—cream might change the color of the leather, so get one that matches the shoe’s shade, if you can.

Pro Tip: Check out our guide if you want to know how to repair cracked leather boots.


Wax adds more shine than cream, and it covers any scuffs on the shoes. It also protects the leather, giving the shoe a longer lifespan.

You also need to color-match wax polish to your shoes if you want to make the color bolder.

There are also uncolored polishes that don’t influence the color; they only add the shine.

If you want the most classic shoe-shine look, then use wax polish for the shoe shining.

#6: Polish the Welt

You can’t neglect the welt of your shoe.

  1. Bring back the welt brush, or a smaller brush, to polish the welt and anywhere else the polish didn’t initially go.
  2. Set the shoe aside for about 10 minutes for the polish to dry on your shoes.

#7: Buff

Use a horsehair brush to buff the shoe:

  1. Move the brush side to side in quick, small movements.
  2. As you buff, you should see a shine starting. Keep going until the entire shoe is buffed, spending equal time on each part.
  3. Make sure not to over or under buff any areas—you don’t want an uneven look.

#8: Wipe

There’ll probably be some excess waxy or creamy buildup on your shoe. Wipe this off using a rag or cloth.

You could use a microfiber cloth, but if you don’t want to invest, part of an old t-shirt will do.

Cotton or linen will leave the least residue behind and will wipe off the excess with ease.

#9: Spit

The spit-shined look is classic, but you don’t actually need to spit:

  1. You need a tiny drop of water, applied with your finger.
  2. After applying the water, use a minimal amount of shoe polish with it. Use the polishing cloth and move it quickly in tiny circles all over the shoe.
  3. Reapply water and polish as needed.
  4. When you’re done, use the same motions but with a dry polishing cloth.
  5. After that, repeat the whole spit-shine process as often as you need to achieve your desired look.

#10: Finish

Finish up by letting your shoe dry completely. This will take about 20 minutes.

Now, you’re ready to re-lace the shoes, take out the stuffing and head off to your formal event.

how to shine shoes

Frequently Asked Questions

What Are the Best Substances to Shine Your Shoes?

The best substances for creating shine for shoes are specially crafted shoe polishes. However, in an emergency, anything shiny and non-corrosive will work.

How Can I Make My Shoes Shiny Without Polish?

To make your shoes shiny without polish, use one of the following:

  • Olive oil, with or without lemon in it.
  • Coconut oil.
  • Walnut oil.
  • Vegetable oil.
  • Banana peel.
  • Rubbing alcohol.
  • Linseed oil and vinegar.

There are plenty of other substances you could use as shiner for shoes, too, but the ones listed are things many people have in their kitchens.

That makes them a great and accessible way to make shoes shiny without polish.

If you want more of an explanation on some of these, here’s a guide on how to shine shoes without polish.

Can You Use Vaseline to Shine Shoes?

Yes, you can use vaseline to shine shoes in place of shoe polish. This is a little greasier than the other substances we’ve mentioned, but it will still work in an emergency.

  1. Grab a pea-sized amount.
  2. Rub it into the shoe with a cloth.
  3. When you’re done, wipe away the excess.

Vaseline won’t really extend your shoes’ lifespan, but it will make them shine.

black shoe

Fancy Footwork

Most shoes need at least a tiny bit of TLC. Shoe care tips and tricks are easy to learn and repeat to perfection once you get the hang of them.

Polishing to make your shoes shine is no different. It’s good practice to always keep some polishing gear around when you own formal shoes. But, in emergencies, a paper towel and some oil will do the job.

We hope this quick shine shoe tutorial helped you and answered any questions you might have. If there’s any we didn’t answer, we’d love to hear them and your opinions below. Also, don’t forget to share this post with your family and friends.


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