Shoe Shining Tips and Techniques
(written by Cadet Lieutenant Justin Hayes of Millington Central High School NJROTC in TN)
I. Materials You Will Need:
Types of Shoe Polish:
o Parade Gloss:It is always black and comes in 1 1/8 oz or 2 ½ oz containers. This
is the basis for a great, reflective, long lasting shine. Be careful about putting too
much parade gloss polish on a shoe as it can wreck a shine if you use an excess
o Standard Black:Comes in 1 1/8 oz or 2 ½ oz containers. This is the base coat if a
deep shine is what you’re looking for.
o Neutral:Comes only in a 1 1/8 oz container. If you have a great shine after using
parade gloss polish, use of neutral polish can provide an "insurance" layer for
your shoes. Neutral polish is invisible on the black shoes--providing a good
reflective shine and preventing your black layers from being stripped by the
weather or dirt.
Other Very Useful Tools:
o Shining Cloth: In order to shine shoes, you need something to apply the polish.
Any old, white undershirt will work or you can opt for a car cleaning sheet. Other
options include cotton balls and panty hose. The key to the shining cloth is to
ensure that it is both clean and smooth.
o Shaving Cream: Any brand will do, Use this to help soften your shoes before you
start to shine.
o Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol (rubbing alcohol): Use this to initially strip the
factory polish from your shoe and add it to water whenever you shine. The
rubbing alcohol will help to clean the shoe.
II. In the Beginning
1. Strip off the Factory Polish: When you first purchase or are issued a pair of
shoes, they will come with a factory polish. This is only to protect the shoes while
they are sitting in a warehouse. The factory polish will not help you at all in the
quest to achieve shiny shoes! Strip the polish by using shaving cream. Cover the
entire shining surface of the shoe with the shaving cream and let it sit for an hour
or two, or until the shaving cream starts to thin. Run the shoes under warm water
while scrubbing off the shaving cream with a toothbrush. This will have your
shoes completely stripped if done properly, but the shaving cream leaves a film on
the top of the shoe that will prevent it from shining. That is when you take the
alcohol on a clean cloth and wipe the entire shoe to remove the film.
2. Apply The First Layers Of Polish: One of the keys to shining shoes is realizing
that you are not shining the leather, but the polish on the leather. Therefore, you
must apply several layers of polish first. The easiest setup is to use the cover from
your polish and put water in it with a capful of alcohol. Soak your cloth in COLD
water and wring it out COMPLETELY. With a clean part of your shining cloth
TIGHTLY wrapped around your index and middle finger, dip the cloth into the
polish to get some polish on your cloth. Simply spread the polish on the entire
surface of the shoe. Once you have covered the shoe completely with a level layer
of polish, continue to make small to medium sized swirling motions with your
fingers, making sure the amount of polish that has been applied is consistent
throughout the shoe. Continue doing this until the polish shows no more signs of
swirls and you will start to see a very basic shine. This is only the first layer!
3. Texture Is Key: Before you begin to worry about a good shine, you must first get
the polish as smooth as possible. If the polish is not smooth when you begin to
actually shine the shoes, the friction between the polish and your shining cloth
will most likely strip the polish away, hindering a good shine. If your polish is not
yet smooth, continue to apply more polish with a few drops of water and work it
into the shoe with gentle, small, circular motions.
III. Now that You've got the Basics, Let's get more Advanced:
Once you have several layers of polish and you have a smooth finish, you can now begin
to "shine" the shoes. Create a 90% water and 10% rubbing alcohol mixture in the cover
of your polish or a small bowl. Apply the polish in the same way you did before (small
circles), making sure your cloth is always moist by either dipping it back into the water
mixture. If you allow the cloth to become too dry, you run the risk of stripping off entire
layers of polish. Basically, if you feel like you are scraping or scratching the shoes, it's
time to re-moisten your cloth. If you feel that one area of the shoe needs more polish than
the other based on the texture (one area looks more porous than another part), add more
polish to the area and make sure to work it in. Continue to add more polish while shining
in small circles.
IV. The “Mirror” or “Black Diamond” Shine
After you feel that you have put on enough layers of parade gloss on (at least 7 to 8
coats), then you may begin to apply the neutral. The neutral polish does not need to be
put on as much as the parade gloss. In fact, when you put the neutral on your cloth, only
swirl your finger twice at the most. Apply the neutral the exact same way as the parade
gloss EXCEPT after you have coated the entire shoe with the neutral, switch spots on
your cloth so you work it in with a brand new spot. This will make sure that you don’t
coat your shoe with “dirty polish”. (I personally do this even with the parade gloss, but
that is completely optional.) After you have worked in the first coat of neutral, take your
free ring finger and dip it in the water mix and then touch your shoe so that you have a
few drops on your shoe. Take these drops and continue going over your shoe until all of
the water has been worked in. This will enhance the “WOW” factor. Repeat the neutral
process for one or two more coats and you will have the absolute perfect shoes. Maintain
a schedule every week of applying at least three coats of parade gloss and one or two
coats of neutral. While you are not wearing your shoes, keep them on a level surface and
wrapped in a clean T-shirt inside of a shoebox.
IF and ONLY IF you have time every week, you should strip your shoes with the
shaving cream. This will keep the leather soft so the polish will go in and shine easier
and the polish is less likely to flake at the creases.