Leather Care Overview

This guide gives a brief overview of different types of leather and their care.

The first step to proper shoe care is the identification of the material from which the shoe is made. Different materials require different shoe care routines. What is appropriate for a pair of one pair of shoes could damage another.

The purpose of this guide is to help you identify the material from which your shoes are constructed and then provide a brief summary of the proper shoe care products.

Once the leather type has been identified, then you can safely choose the correct products to use to shine your shoes!

Shop our Shoe Care Products here

Overview of Different Leathers and Their Care

 

To Clean

To Protect

Conditioning

Polishing

Recoloring

Smooth Calfskin

Saphir Reno’Mat
Saphir Leather Cleaning Soap

Saphir Super Invulner

Saphir Renovateur
Saphir Pommadier Cream Polish
Saphir Dubbin Grassie

Saphir Pommadier Cream Polish
Saphir Pate de Luxe Wax Polish

Saphir Juvacuir Recoloring Cream
Saphir Renovating Repair Cream

Pebble Grain Calfskin**

Saphir Reno’Mat
Saphir Leather Cleaning Soap

Saphir Super Invulner

Light Saphir Renovateur
Saphir Pommadier Cream

Saphir Pommadier Cream Polish

 

Saphir Juvacuir Recoloring Cream
Saphir Renovating Repair Cream

Unwaxed Nappa Leather

Saphir Leather Cleaning Soap

Super Invulner

Saphir Nappa Leather Balm

 

 

Suede

Saphir Omni’Nettoyant Suede Shampoo
Saphir Gommadin Suede Eraser

Saphir Super Invulner

Saphir Renovating Suede Spray

 

Saphir Renovating Suede Spray

Nubuck

Saphir Omni’Nettoyant Suede Shampoo

Saphir Super Invulner

Saphir Renovating Suede Spray

 

Renovating Suede Spray

Crocodile and Alligator

Saphir Reno'Mat
Saphir Leather Cleaning Soap

 

Saphir Reptan Leather Balm

Saphir Pate de Luxe Wax Polish*

 

Lizard and Snake

Saphir Leather Cleaning Soap

 

Saphir Reptan Leather Balm

 

 

Ostrich

Saphir Leather Cleaning Soap

Saphir Super Invulner

Saphir Renovateur/span>

 

 

Cordovan

Saphir Reno’Mat
Leather Cleaning Soap

Super Invulner

Saphir Renovateur
Saphir Cordovan Cream Polish

Saphir Cordovan Cream Polish

 

Oiled Calfskin, Chromexcel

Saphir Leather Cleaning Soap

Saphir Super Invulner

Saphir Oiled Leather Cream
Saphir Chromexcel Greasy Leather Cream

Oiled leathers are generally unwaxed.

 

Patent Leather

Vernis Rife Patent Leather Cleaner

 

Vernis Rife Patent Leather Cleaner

 

 

Smooth Leathers

Smooth Calfskin Shoe Ca

Full-grain, smooth leather calfskin is the most common leather used for fine leather dress shoes. This material is tanned from leather hides and is identified by its smooth appearnce and fine pour structure.

Fine calfskin shoes require proper care to prevent the leather from drying and cracking. It is essential that the leather be fed with high-quality, natural nutrients. With proper care, a pair of smooth calfskin shoes can remain soft and supple for decades.

 

To Clean: Saphir Reno’Mat, Saphir Leather Cleaning Soap

To Condition: Saphir RenovateurSaphir Pommadier Cream Polish

To Polish: Saphir Pommadier Cream PolishSaphir Pate de Luxe Wax Polish

Deep Conditioning: Saphir Dubbin Graisse

Recoloring: Saphir Juvacuir Recoloring Repair Cream

Protection: Saphir Super Invulner 

 

Pebble Grain or Hatch Grain Leather Shoe Care

Textured leathers, such as pebble grain or hatch grain, are smooth leathers that are then embossed in order to create a textured, grain pattern in the leather. Pebble grain leather is regarded as less formal than smooth calfskin and offers additional visual texture.

The texture of the grain requires light polish in order to prevent wax buildup inside the grooves of the grain, which can leave an unattractive white residue, especially when exposed to water (easily removed with leather cleaning soap or Reno’Mat).

A stiff bristle brush, such as our Wellington Pig Bristle Brushes, are perfect for polishing pebble grain leathers because the stiffer bristle effectively removes waxs from the texture of the leather. 

All of the same polishes that can be used with Smooth Leather can be used with Pebble Grain Leathers. 

Nappa Leather Shoe Care

Nappa leather is similar to smooth calfskin but from goat. It is an incredibly delicate, soft material and is never waxed. Nappa leather is quite uncommon in men's dress shoes, instead primarily being used in women's shoes, sich as the Chanel leather flat pictured to teh right.

One of the unique care considerations for Nappa Leather is that it is rarely waxed in order to preserve the soft, natural texture of the leather. Nappa demands special attention when cleaning to prevent damage to the skin and the soft, unwaxed texture from changing. 

Nappa is very porous. One way to test if leather is nappa is to place a wet finger directly on the leather; if the leather quickly absorbs the leather and produces a water stain, then the leather is nappa. Nappa is not often used for shoes because it’s such a fragile skin.

 

To Clean & Condition: Nappa Leather Balm

To Protect: Super Invulner

Suede and Nubuck Leather Care

Suede Shoe Care

Suede is the reverse side of smooth calfskin. It is a fantastic and often under-appreciated material for shoes. Suede is perfect for more casual shoes and boots, is durable, does not scuff, and easily cleaned with the proper cleaning products. When cared for correctly, a fine pair of suede shoes can last years.

Integral to the proper care of suede shoes is the regular brushing of the nap using a suede brush. Just like vacuuming carpet, a suede brush helps remove any embedded dirt and keeps the nape fluffy.

 

To Clean & Condition: Nappa Leather Balm

To Protect: Super Invulner

Nubuck Shoe Care

Nubuck is similar to suede but features a much finer texture. It is created by sanding the smooth side of calfskin to produce a very fine, suede-like texture. It is much more delicate than suede.

Because of the delicate nature of the nap, a suede brush with their stiff bristles will actually damage nubuck. Instead a Crepe Brush should be used for brushing. In addition, it is particularly important to protect with the Saphir Super Invulner.

 

To Clean: Saphir Omni’Nettoyant Suede Shampoo, Crepe Brush

To Condition: Saphir Renovating Spray

To Protect: Super Invulner

Exotic Leathers

Crocodile and Alligator Shoe Care

Crocodile and Alligator are two of the most expensive materials used to make shoes. The smaller the scales of the crocodile and the fewer pieces used, the more expensive the shoe.

Because these animals live in water, these skins are not very porous and are prone to drying, which will cause the skin to crack. A well cared for pair of crocodile shoes can last decades (as illustrated by the pair pictured, which I inherited from my grandfather). It is essential, though, to keep the skin fed with essential nutrients in order to prevent drying and cracking. For this, there is the Saphir Reptan Reptile Conditioner.

 

To Clean:  Saphir Leather Cleaning Soap

To Condition: Saphir Reptan

To Polish: Saphir Reptan, Saphir Pommadier Cream Polish (to recolor), and Saphir Pate de Luxe Wax Polish (to shine)

 

*Multiple coats of the Reptan may be required to produce a high-gloss finish. If after three coats of the Reptan, a higher gloss polish is still desired, apply a thin layer of Saphir Pate de Lux neutral wax polish and buff with a chamois.

Lizard and Snake Skin Shoe Care

Lizard and Snake are most commonly used for cowboy boots than leather dress shoes. These exotic skins are incredibly unique and require special care. The Reptan Reptile Milk is a total care solution that can be used to clean, condition, and polish these skins.

The colors can be mixed to produce a wide variety of finishes.

 

To Clean: Saphir Leather Cleaning Soap

To Condition: Saphir Reptan

To Protect: Saphir Reptan or light Saphir Pate de Luxe Wax Polish*

Ostrich Leather

Ostrich Leather is another exotic skin used primarily for cowboy boots. Leather from the leg of the ostrich is what is most commonly used. Because Ostrich leather is normally unwaxed, the Nappa Balm is the best total care product to use.

 

To Clean: Nappa Leather Balm or Leather Cleaning Soap (if soiled)

To Condition: Nappa Leather Balm

To Protect: Super Invulner

Speciality Leathers

Patent Leather Shoe Care

Patent leather is characterized by its high-gloss, almost glassy finish. To obtain patent leather’s hard, glossy surface, a varnish or lacquer is applied in the final steps of the tanning process. Patent leather is most commonly reserved for formal evening shoes.

The care of patent leather is quite easy. Saphir has developed a special Vernis Rife “total care” product especially for patent leather. Available in both black and neutral, it will clean and restore the shine of all patent leathers.

 

Chromexcel and Oiled Leather Shoe Care

Horween Chromexcel, or oiled leather, is calfskin that has been stuffed with oiles during the tanning process. These leathers are traditionally used on more casual workwear boots. You can identify oiled leather by pressing the leather with your thumb from the inside; if the leather ligthens in color, then it is an oiled leather.

Oiled leather shoes are traditionally unwaxed, so it is important to avoide shoe polishes that contain waxes because they can alter the leather's original texture.

Saphir Medaille d'or Oiled Leather Cream is designed to both condition and recolor oiled leathers, such as Horween's Chromexcel, while replinishing the oils used during the tanning process. The addition of a light beeswax emulsion helps to add a soft shine and waterproofing.

 

  • To Clean: Saphir Leather Cleaning Soap
  • To Polish: Saphir Oiled Leather Cream

Saphir: The Gold Standard

Saphir Médaille d'Or (“Gold Metal”) is the highest-end collection of shoe care products available worldwide and is widely considered by shoe aficionados to be the best. Made in France, this exclusive line has its origins in formulations that earned Saphir the award of the GOLD MEDAL, PARIS 1925. Saphir is the brand of choice for the world’s most respected cobblers—from John Lobb and Louis Vuitton to Corthay, Edward Green, and the list goes on. The polishes are formulated using all-natural ingredients of the highest quality and they contain no silicones, resins or petroleum products, which are often found in less expensive products.

Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced Shoecare

Like many things, shoe care has various levels, from basic to intermediate and advanced, with each successive level requiring a wider range of products, time, knowledge and techniques. However, the care process can be easily tailored to match one’s comfort level and to fit one’s schedule.

It is important to note, though, that even the basic shoecare will make a tremendous and noticeable difference in how well your shoes look and wear each day.Do not let the complexities of the Intermediate and Advanced shoe care routines discourage you

Basic Shoeshine Tools

Two Horsehair Brush (one for black; one for brown)
Two Chamois (one for applying polish; one for buffing)

Optional Shoeshine Tools

Leather Shoeshine Matt
Lambswool Polishing Mitt
Saphir Pommadier Polish Dauber or
Deluxe Shoe Polish Dauber
Deer Polishing Bone (for Cordovan Shoes only)

Optional Shoeshine Tools

Leather Shoeshine Matt
Lambswool Polishing Mitt
Saphir Pommadier Polish Dauber or
Deluxe Shoe Polish Dauber
Deer Polishing Bone (for Cordovan Shoes only)

Specialty Shoeshine Conditioners & Polishes  

Saphir Cordovan Cream Polish for Cordovan Leathers
Saphir Reptile Milk for Exotic Skin Shoes
Saphir Vernis Rife Patent Leather Cleaner

And, if you do not already have them:

Horsehair Brush (one for black shoes, a second for brown)
Two Cotton Chamois (one for applying polish; one for buffing)
Cedar Shoetrees (essential for storage)
Shoehorns (essential for putting on your shoes)