Leather shoes are sturdy and durable, but cleaning them is a task. For most dirty shoes, you would just throw them in the washer, but can you do that for leather shoes?
You can’t put leather shoes in the washer because water and detergent can damage the material. Additionally, the heat from the washer can cause the leather to shrink, deforming the shape of your shoes. However, you can spot-clean them as needed.
Leather shoes are known for being long-lasting and sturdy, which is also why they’re quite expensive. Instead of damaging your leather shoes by washing them, read on to learn how to care for them properly.
Can You Put Leather Shoes in the Washer?
You can’t put leather shoes in the washer because they become deformed and damaged. Laundry detergents, particularly ones with harsh chemicals, can damage suede, leather, and rubber. Leather also shrinks when wet, which could warp the shape of your shoes.
Unfortunately, leather is a delicate material, so putting it in the washing machine is not a good idea. If your leather boots are starting to look worse for wear, you should either clean them by hand or take them to a professional shoe cleaner.
What Happens if You Put Leather in the Washing Machine?
Leather is a natural material and is sensitive to water and detergents. If you wash your leather shoes in the washing machine, they will shrink, warp, or otherwise change shape. Moreover, the water and detergent can strip away the natural oils that keep the leather looking shiny and new.
Here are some of the biggest drawbacks to washing leather shoes in the washer:
- Water can damage the leather by making it brittle.
- The detergent and friction from the washing machine can create wrinkles in the leather.
- Repeated washing can make the leather lose color.
- Soaked leather often loses its shape and looks dull.
- Leather is a delicate material that can shrink or warp when wet.
- The water pressure in a washing machine can loosen the stitching.
- The shoe soles might come loose if put in the washer for a long time.
- When you put leather shoes into the dryer, it makes them stiff and causes cracks.
- The shoes will likely develop mold and mildew if they aren’t dried properly.
To keep your leather shoes in good shape and looking brand new, it’s best to avoid putting them in the washing machine, with or without detergent.
How Do You Clean Dirty Leather Shoes?
You can use mild soap and water to clean dirty leather shoes. Otherwise, you could use a dedicated leather cleaner. Use a soft cloth and gently wipe off the dirt using circular motions. Avoid abrasive cleaners and harsh chemicals, as they will damage the leather.
Leather shoes react badly to most detergents or harsh chemical cleaning solutions. Here are some tips for cleaning your leather shoes relatively quickly and without damaging them.
- If your shoes are slightly dirty, clean them with a soft cloth and mild soap. Rub the soap into the leather in a circular motion, then wipe it off with the cloth. Saddle soap is also acceptable for leather shoes.
- If your shoes are heavily soiled, you may need a stronger cleaner. You can make a cleaning solution by mixing one part white vinegar with two parts water. Apply the solution to a cloth and gently wipe down the shoes.
- Rinse the shoes with water and dry them as much as possible with a towel. To dry your shoes, place them on a shoe tree. The shoe trees will help keep them in shape as they dry and prevent the leather from forming creases.
- Avoid wearing the shoes until they are completely dry to prevent them from developing a musty smell. If you don’t have shoe trees, stuff the shoes with tissue paper and place them on a shelf.
Using only a little water or soap when cleaning leather shoes is essential. Otherwise, you risk damaging them.
If you have a few hours to spare, you can opt for a more thorough cleaning process.
- Unlace the shoes and clean the laces separately. You can clean the laces by soaking them in a mix of mild detergent and water.
- Remove debris, like dirt and rocks, with a soft brush. Remember to place the shoes on a newspaper for a clean, mess-free procedure.
- If there are any tough stains, spot-treat them with a cleaner specifically designed for leather. Popular DIY solutions like vinegar and lemon are often harsh on delicate leather.
- Rub off the solution by gently scrubbing it with a microfiber cloth. You can use talcum powder to remove excess oils from the stain without damaging the leather.
- Apply a layer of leather conditioner for better protection and shine. After application, let it sit for 10-15 minutes.
- Buff the shoes with another soft cloth and let them air dry for another couple of hours. Drying them in a shady, open spot is better than using direct sunlight or a heater.
If you have those classic white leather shoes, you can look at this guide for a more elaborate cleaning process.
How Do You Restore Leather Shoes?
To restore leather shoes, dip a soft cloth into the leather conditioner and rub it into your shoes. By restoring the moisture to your shoes, the leather won’t dry out or crack. Then, apply a thin layer of shoe polish to retain moisture and provide more shine to the leather.
Here’s a detailed guide on restoring that shine on your leather shoes:
- Using a soft brush, gently scrub the dirt off your shoes.
- If your shoes are really filthy, use a specialized cleaning solution designed for leather.
- Dip a cloth into the solution and wipe down your shoes. Focus on areas that seem especially dirty or stained.
- Once you’ve wiped down the shoes, let them air dry completely before applying leather conditioner to restore the moisture in the leather.
- If your shoes are scuffed and worn out rather than dirty, you can rub a small amount of oil or glycerin into the leather. The oil will give it some extra protection and keep it soft.
- Apply a tiny dollop of leather conditioner and rub it into the shoes, leaving them to dry for about 10 minutes after.
- Apply some shoe polish in a circular motion for a long-lasting shine. Use your fingers to apply a thin layer of polish to the shoes, then use a soft brush to cover the entire shoe.
- If necessary, repeat the previous step until you’re satisfied with how the shoes look. Shoe polish adds water resistance to smooth leather, which makes it great for shoes that get a lot of rain or snow exposure.
- Let the shoes dry for about half an hour before applying a shoe protection spray.
Whether you own leather shoes, handbags, or jackets, it is essential to know how to care for them properly so they last longer.
Here’s an interesting video on how to restore your leather boots to life in just 4 minutes:
The high temperatures and harsh detergents in a washer can break down your leather shoes, making them dry, brittle, and more susceptible to damage.
When cleaning leather, it’s best to use a brush with soft bristles.
You should also use a leather conditioner every few weeks and wash them with leather-friendly cleaning products.