What is a Shoe Stretcher? — and How to Use It

Have you ever asked yourself — what is a shoe stretcher? If so, would you know how to use it? We reveal the answer to this and more. Let’s find out what this device can do, the different types available, and how to make your own.

After all, when investing in a pair of shoes, you want them to be comfortable. It could be that your “must-have” pair of shoes don’t fit as well as you thought. Maybe the heels rub, the toes pinch, or they’re tight across the instep.

The last thing you want to do is relegate them to the depths of your wardrobe — or only wear them occasionally when you know you can put up with the pain. A shoe stretcher could be the solution you need.

an infographic about shoe stretchers

What is a Shoe Stretcher?

While to some, it might resemble a Medieval torture device, it’s nothing of the sort. A shoe stretcher is a versatile tool that expands either the width or length of your footwear; or both. 

You can also target areas to stretch, such as the toe box, to relieve the pressure on bunions or calluses. Long length boots are not left out either. Stretchers are available for increasing the volume inside the calves or instep of boots. 

Materials used for their construction are generally metal, wood, or heavy-duty plastic.

Some come as a single option, and some in pairs, although there are no left or right feet when it comes to shoe stretchers.

Leather and canvas footwear are the best candidates for decent results from using a shoe stretcher. Although they do work on synthetic materials in the short term, it’s not uncommon for them to revert to their original size. You could end up having to stretch them time and again — but this might be worth the effort if it means you can wear them pain-free.

What is a Shoe Stretcher

Do Shoe Stretchers Really Work?

Despite our best efforts, we don’t always get it right when we buy shoes, even when we select the correct width and size. A purchase made in haste early in the day — when your feet are at their smallest — might feel too tight when you put them on to go out for dinner. They could be pinching your toes, too narrow, or too short. 

This is where a shoe stretcher comes to the rescue, providing that extra room your feet are screaming out for. However, shoe stretchers aren’t miracle workers. They can give you an extra half-inch in width, length, or both — but they won’t increase the room in your shoes by a size or more. 

Shoe stretchers are also a great option if you have one shoe smaller than the other. Yes, it happens, all our feet differ slightly in size between the left and right foot, and one shoe fits perfectly, while the other pinches. Using a shoe stretcher on the smaller shoe solves the problem.

Do you have a toe box that’s too tight for your bunions? Or does the instep of your boots put pressure on the top of your foot? Utilizing the help of a shoe stretcher can customize the fit of footwear, returning the comfort factor.

Are There Different Types of Shoe Stretchers?

When it comes to shoe stretching, you want to make sure you have the right one for the job. The different types include:

  • One-way shoe stretchers: True to their name, these shoe stretchers target specific areas only. It could be the height of the instep area, the room in the toe box, or the width.
  • Two-way shoe stretchers: This stretcher adjusts the width, length, or both. Some include small attachments that you can add to expand pressure points over corns, calluses or bunions.
  • High heel shoe stretchers: Narrow and angled to fit perfectly in those Louboutins or Manolos you couldn’t resist, these stretchers get the job done. 
  • Boot stretchers: Whether it’s knee-highs, hiking boots with a longer shaft, or cowboy boots, these stretchers have you covered. They can stretch the foot width, the circumference of the shaft, and/or heighten the instep.

How Do You Use Shoe Stretchers?

We’ve mentioned that a two-way stretcher adjusts the length and width of your footwear at the same time. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to make these adjustments. It’s worth mentioning the other types of shoe stretchers work along the same principle.

How to Stretch the Width of Your Shoes

What You Need

  • Your chosen footwear.
  • Shoe stretcher (one way or two way)
  • Shoe stretching spray.

What You Do

  1. Prepare your shoes by spraying them inside and out with a shoe stretching spray. This one from Footmatters is a popular choice for leather, nubuck, suede, or canvas. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions, and do a patch test first on an inconspicuous area. You don’t want it changing the color of your shoes.
  2. Insert the plugs supplied with the shoe stretcher into any areas that are putting pressure on your feet.
  3. With the stretcher fully closed, insert it into your footwear.
  4. The end of the shoe stretcher should sit right at the end of the toe box.
  5. At the other end of the shoe stretcher is a handle resembling a hook. Take this and turn it clockwise — this opens the plastic or wooden block. Once it feels snug, turn it approximately three more times, so it’s tight. 
  6. Now you need to play the waiting game. Leave it in place for between six and eight hours so it can do its work. 
  7. Once the time is up, take the handle and turn counterclockwise to loosen off the tension. 
  8. Slip the shoe stretcher from your footwear and see if it has stretched enough.
  9. If it needs more adjustment, repeat steps one through to eight above. 
  10. If you have a single stretcher and want to adjust both shoes in a pair, follow the same steps for the other shoe. 

Pro Tips

  • Pay particular attention to parts of the shoes that are very tight when using stretching spray. 

  • Patience is a virtue, and you might need to repeat this process a few times to achieve the result you want. 

How to Stretch the Length of Your Shoes

What You Need

  • Your chosen footwear.
  • Shoe stretcher (one or two way)
  • Shoe stretching spray.

What You Do

  1. Take the stretching spray and follow the manufacturer’s instructions to spray your shoes inside and out.
  2. Pop your shoe stretcher with the main toe block closed inside your shoes until it’s flush with the end of the toe box.
  3. With the flat side of the heel block at the back of the shoe stretcher facing upwards, make sure it’s fully enclosed in the heel of the shoes.
  4. Find the adjusting wheel located between the handle and heel block.
  5. As you turn this wheel clockwise, the heel block will move towards the heel counter (the firm section at the back of your shoes). 
  6. When the heel block fits tightly against the heel counter, turn the wheel approximately three more times. 
  7. Let the shoe stretcher do its work. This will take between six to eight hours.
  8. Release the tension of the shoe stretcher by loosening the heel block — turning the wheel counterclockwise. 
  9. Ease the shoe stretcher out of the shoe.
  10. Try the shoe on and see if the fit is now as you want it. If it’s not, repeat the process in steps one to nine. 
  11. If you have a single shoe stretcher and both shoes require adjustment, follow the same process again. 

Pro Tips

  • Make sure to check for fit after the recommended time. You don’t want to overstretch them and end up with shoes that are too big.

  • Once you have stretched your shoes, help them retain their shape with a shoe tree. These Cedarwood ones from Stratton come in a two-pack and help keep shoes fresh at the same time.


How Do You Make Shoe Stretchers?

If you don’t want to invest in a shoe expander, there are a few alternatives you can try, including:  

1. Wearing Your Shoes Around the Home

Leather shoes can naturally stretch with wear. If your shoes are just a little too snug, wear them around the home with a thick pair of socks to expand them. You’ll need to do this for around 30 minutes at a time until you’re happy with the fit. It may take a few attempts, so be patient.

Pro Tip

  • If you can manage to squeeze your feet into the shoes with two pairs of socks, then do it. This will speed up the process.  

2. Thick Socks and a Hairdryer

Pop a pair of thick socks on your feet and put your shoes on. Take a hairdryer and heat the shoes for about 20 to 30 seconds at a time. Take your socks off and try the shoes again. If they’re stretched as much as you want, great — if not repeat the process until you get the right fit.

Pro Tip

  • This method might work best on leather or suede footwear. Be sure to condition them afterward so they don’t dry out.

3. The Freezer Method

Ever thought about putting your shoes in the freezer? Probably not! However, fill a bag with water and place it in the front of your shoes and then pop them in the freezer. The water expands when it freezes and can stretch the material. 

Pro Tips

  • This tends to work better with synthetic material footwear. 
  • If you’re trying to stretch footwear that doesn’t ruin when it’s wet — like canvas shoes, you can soak the entire shoe. Pop the bags inside the shoes and freeze both.   

4. The Peeled Potato

Next time you head to the grocery store, find a potato that is the ideal shape to fit inside the shoes you want to stretch. When you get home, peel it then push it into the toes of your shoes. The moisture will get into the fibers of your footwear and help them stretch as the potato dries. 

Pro Tip

  • This is probably not a good idea for fabric footwear, but it does have the added benefit of removing odor.

5. Rubbing Alcohol

Mix ½ cup of rubbing alcohol and ½ cup of water in a spray bottle. Generously squirt the inside and outside of the shoes, paying close attention to the tight spots. Put the shoes on with a thick pair of socks and walk around the house until the mixture dries. 

An alternative way is to soak a pair of socks in alcohol. Pop them on your feet and put the shoes on. Keep walking around until both socks and shoes are dry. 

If your kicks still feel too tight, keep repeating as necessary — this applies to either method. 

Pro Tip

  • When trying this method with leather footwear, make sure you use a leather conditioner afterward. Alcohol will quickly dry out the material.

 6. Sock Stuffing

Raid your sock drawer. Roll them up into balls and pack them tightly into your shoes — until you can’t physically fit another pair inside. Leave the socks in place overnight. 

Check the fit in the morning. If you’re still feeling the pinch, either stuff the socks in again for the remainder of the day or wait and repeat the overnight technique.   

7. Ask an Expert

If you really don’t fancy running the risk of ruining your shoes through overstretching, take your kicks to a professional. Shoe repair people have the appropriate tools and know-how for altering your footwear.

Is a Shoe Tree the Same as a Shoe Stretcher?

While a shoe stretcher and a shoe tree may look similar in appearance, they’re made for different purposes. We’ve talked about what is a shoe stretcher — here’s what a shoe tree can do.

When walking in your shoes, your gait causes the sole to flex upwards. The vamp — the upper front section — also begins to develop a crease. After you kick off your kicks, you may notice the sole has curled slightly upwards. This encourages that crease line to stick around.      

The issue lies in that when your shoes are not being worn, they remain in this folded position, as opposed to bending and straightening as you walk. Over time, this crease becomes a permanent fixture and causes a weakness or a crack in the leather. 

When this happens, your footwear could be at the end of its life. If you think your footwear has seen better days, take a look at our guide on how to repair leather shoes in easy steps. 

However, inserting a shoe tree into your footwear when you aren’t wearing them extends their lifespan. It straightens out the sole and supports the vamp — ironing out the crease and keeping the cracks at bay. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Does It Take To Stretch Shoes With A Shoe Stretcher?

Most manufacturers recommend that stretching shoes or boots for between six to eight hours, although with some it may be longer. To ensure you don’t overstretch your footwear, err on the side of caution. It’s advisable to stick to the timings and test for fit. 

You can always stretch them for longer if they aren’t quite as roomy as you would like. However, if you overstretch and they become too big, you might not be able to shrink them again. 

If that happens, you can pick up some tips to make leather shoes smaller in our article on how to shrink leather boots.

Can You Use a Shoe Stretcher on Boots?

Yes. Most shoe stretchers will double as boot stretchers. 

This will depend on the angle of the turning hook or handle of your shoe extender and boot type. Some shoe stretchers may not sit into the heel of the boot properly to allow the correct tension settings for stretching. 

What Happens When You Wear Tight Shoes?

We’ve all felt toe pinch from ill-fitting footwear. But, wearing shoes that are too tight for too long can lead to more than blisters. Here are a few foot conditions you could end up with:

  • Corns and calluses: The squeeze on your feet can lead to these hardened areas of skin. 
  • Ingrown toenails: Excess pressure on your toes causes the edge of your toenail to grow inwards.
  • Hammertoes: This abnormal bend in the toe joint may occur because your shoe’s toe box is too tight. 
  • Bunions: A bony bump on your big toe. It’s likely to develop or become worse when you continually wear footwear that is too narrow or too tight. If you suffer from this ailment, take five minutes, and read our review of the best insoles for bunions.  
  • Metatarsalgia: Pain you experience in the ball of your foot. Wearing high-heels is also a culprit of this issue, but shoes that are too tight can also lead to this type of inflammation.

Shoe Stretcher for women

Stretching Out

Now we’ve answered the burning question — what is a shoe stretcher? You’ll no longer be plagued by shoes that pinch your toes or too-tight boots that you can’t get your feet into.

These shoe stretchers aren’t miracle workers, but they can give you more volume where you need it. So delve deep into the shoebox or the bottom of your closet and find those shoes you don’t wear because they’re snug. Choose yourself a product that suits your needs and get stretching.

We hope you enjoyed our insights and picked up some useful tips and tricks. Please let us know how you get on by leaving a comment and don’t forget to share.


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