No matter what time of the year it is, leather shoes are always in! Especially soft leather ones. They can be styled with pretty much anything and have the power to take the entire look to a whole another level. But they can only do so if they are immaculately clean and spotless. So, how to clean soft leather shoes?
But first, we have to determine what in fact is soft leather.
Soft leather is a generic term used to describe particularly tender and supple leather material. For example, calfskin and goatskin are considered to bear particularly soft properties, as well as some exotic animal skin, like eel skin.
The material that is perhaps the closest and most familiar to us is Napa leather – a type of material usually manufactured from sheep, lamb, or kid goat skin.
What makes soft leather different from other types is its tanning process. When producing this type of leather, the tanner usually uses chromium or aluminum sulfate – salts known for their softness and durability.
Many people also include suede and nubuck in this category, and rightfully so, since these materials have a very soft surface. However, when it comes to cleaning, shoes made out of these materials should be treated entirely differently and with some extra care.
How to clean soft leather shoes
1. Remove the laces
The first thing you’ll want to do is to remove the laces, so you can access all crevices of your shoes and clean them better. You can clean them separately later, either manually, by using an old toothbrush and some detergent, or by putting them in the washer.
If you go for the latter, make sure to put them in a mesh laundry bag, so they don’t get caught on anything in your washing machine. When I’m feeling extra lazy, I like to put them inside the pocket of my jeans and wash them like that. It might not be the fanciest way, but it gets the job done.
2. Get rid of any loose dirt and debris
Before you run your shoes under water, first make sure there is no loose dirt or debris on them. You can do this by knocking the soles together and brushing the dirt away with a soft bristle brush.
This step is very important because it will ensure that there is no mud later on, making the overall cleaning process much easier.
A bonus tip: If you have shoe trees, this is the time to insert them into your soft leather shoes. This will give them more volume and make them easier to clean, allowing you to clean any dirt within the creases.
If you don’t have shoe trees, you can always use some paper towels or newspapers. But bear in mind they won’t be as sturdy as the classic metal, plastic, or wooden shoe trees.
3. Apply the cleaning solution
When it comes to the main portion of the cleaning, you can use either a designated shoe-cleaning solution or any average dish soap. If you want to be extra gentle, you can also use baby shampoo or unscented soap. Some people also love to mix in some baking soda to make a stain-cleaning paste.
Dip your soft bristle brush or an old toothbrush into hot water and pour some cleaning solution of your choice on it. Apply the brush to the upper and gently scrub back and forth. Work up a lather, so the bubbles can do their job.
You can also use some foam cleaners specially designed for soft leather and suede shoes. This type of foam will remove all the dirt and stains while being extra gentle on your shoes.
With a dry towel, remove the excess soap and suds and inspect your work. If you notice a missed spot, or you feel like your shoes need some extra attention, repeat the process.
When cleaning the midsoles, you can use the same cleaner and the brush, or you can opt for a magic cleaning sponge. Mr. Clean Magic Eraser isn’t only suitable for cleaning around your home. It works wonders on shoe stains just be gentle and scrub lightly until your midsoles are clean.
4. Pat your shoes dry
When the cleaning is done, use a new towel to pat your shoes dry. Then, set them aside, somewhere in the open air, to air dry. Never leave them directly exposed to the sun or near any heat source as this can damage the leather and cause it to crack or fade.
Also, it’s not recommended to put your soft leather shoes in the dryer since it can also be very damaging.
5. Condition your soft leather shoes
Additionally, you can use a leather conditioner on your soft leather shoes which will moisturize the leather and help keep it soft and supple. Just apply a small amount and spread it with a microfiber towel.
You can also use some shoe polish. It’s pretty easy to come by and can make a world of a difference with your leather shoes. Just bear in mind that a polish can also significantly darken your shoes, so if that’s not something you’re aiming for, then it’s best to skip this step.
6. Let your soft leather shoes air dry
When the conditioner (or polish) is applied, set your soft leather shoes aside and let them air dry for a couple of hours. And that’s it – you’re all done!
How to remove some stubborn stains from soft leather shoes
It’s pretty easy to clean your shoes when all they have is some dirt on them. But, how to clean soft leather shoes when they have stains?
Sometimes, our soft leather shoes can end up with some stubborn stains that don’t come off that easily. These stains can be of different origins, from water to paint, and the regular soap-and-water method won’t do the trick.
In these cases, we have to dedicate some extra attention to them. Here are some of the most common and annoying stains and a tip or two on how to get rid of them most effectively.
1. Water stains
If your soft leather shoes have water stains on them, the easiest way to get rid of them is to simply wet the shoes evenly and let them air dry.
You can also dry them using a hair dryer set to a low temperature and speed. Again, never leave your shoes in direct sunlight, and never dry them in the dryer.
2. Oil stains
To remove these types of stubborn stains, sprinkle some baking soda over the stained area and gently scrub it with a soft bristle brush. When you feel like you have brushed enough, set your shoes aside for a couple of hours, or overnight for the best results.
Later (or the next morning) wipe away the baking soda residue with a microfiber cloth and that’s it. The baking soda will soak up the oil from the stain, leaving you with spotless shoes.
An alternative to baking soda is cornstarch, so feel free to try this method, too.
3. Ink stains
Ink can be very hard to remove, especially from leather since it is a very porous material. But it’s not impossible.
All you’ll need to remove ink stains from your soft leather shoes are some rubbing alcohol, white cloth or cotton swabs, and a leather conditioner for the finishing touch.
Before you start, make sure the cloth you’re using is not colored since the alcohol can transfer the color to the leather, and you’ll end up with an added problem you never even asked for.
Also, make sure to first perform a test in a hidden area, to be certain the alcohol doesn’t damage the leather of your shoes. Cotton swabs will come in handy for this.
First thing first, dip the cloth or cotton swap in some rubbing alcohol and make sure you’re dabbing instead of swiping. Also, work from the outside to prevent accidental spreading. As soon as you notice any ink or your cloth, dip another part of it in the rubbing alcohol, so the stain doesn’t smudge.
When the stain is gone, leave your shoes to air dry, after which you can apply some conditioner to keep the leather soft and supple.
4. Dark stains
If you happen to have light-colored soft leather shoes, and you want to remove a dark stain from them, the easiest method is to mix some lemon juice with cream of tartar to create a paste.
Then, gently brush the paste over the stain with a soft bristle brush for a couple of minutes, and leave it to rest for 10–15 minutes. If necessary, repeat the process by applying another layer of paste, and later gently remove it with a damp sponge and some gentle soap.
When completely clean, set your shoes aside to air dry.