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Taking care of your leather dress shoes or boots is a big part of keeping them comfortable and extending their lifespan. But you may have found there is an overwhelming amount of information out there about how to care for leather shoes. It seems everybody has a different opinion about how to go about taking care of such a simple thing. However, a few things are clear when it comes to shoe care. This guide is a simple set of principles that everyone can follow when taking care of leather shoes.

  1. Realize that leather is skin, both figuratively and literally.

The leather used to make your brogues, boots, loafers or sneakers acts as a second skin for your feet, and is just as sensitive to improper care or neglect. You need to take care of your leather shoes almost as lovingly as you might purchase your skin care supplies or hair care products.

  1. Clean your leather shoes on a regular schedule.

Regular cleaning can prevent early wear, stains and discoloring. To clean your leather shoes, start by wiping away dust and debris using a soft, dry cloth or a horsehair brush. Next, use soapy water and a soft cloth to clean the surface. Wipe away the excess. Then gently apply saddle soap all over the shoes, both inside and out. Wipe away the excess again. This will effectively clean your leather shoes without damaging them. It's a tried-and-true combination.

  1. Polish shoes for the best looks.

After cleaning your shoes, you are ready to apply a polish or wax. Make sure you choose the correct color that matches the leather. A universal clear polish is okay, but it just doesn't have quite the same shine as color-matched polishes. The purpose of polishes and waxes is not just to make your shoes look great, but also to protect them from the elements. Water damage is a real threat to leather shoes, so be sure to protect them. If your polish or wax does not contain a waterproofing element, apply a spray-on waterproofer after polishing.

  1. Use leather conditioner to retain moisture.

Just like skin moisturizer or lotion prevents your skin from getting dry and cracked, leather conditioner does the same for your shoes. In doing so, it keeps the shoe soft, supple and smooth. Most people apply conditioner to leather dress shoes every three months or so. However, those with leather outdoor boots sometimes do so less often, as this will help the leather take on a more rugged look over time.

  1. Keep your shoes stretched out.

If your leather shoes are a bit small, or if they pinch in certain places, they will cause blisters and other foot aches. You can use a shoe stretcher, available at most shoe stores and shoe repair shops, to lengthen or widen the shoe to your foot. If the shoe is pinching only in certain places, you can apply a 70 percent isopropyl alcohol solution to the problem area, then wear the shoe around the house with thick socks and some well-placed moleskin for a week.

  1. Restore the shape and become one with your shoes.

If your shoes are out of shape, you can clean them, apply saddle soap and a leather conditioner, stuff them with newspapers and leave them for two nights. Alternatively, you can wear them around the house to break them back into shape. This process of softening and shaping is great for the health of your feet, allowing the shoes and your feet to become friends over time.