In the Broadway musical Hamilton, a young Alexander Hamilton in the “My Shot” number sings the line “The problem is I got a lot of brains but no polish.” The sort of “polish” Alex is referring to in this case is refined manners, wealth and social standing. He has great intelligence but no formal education. (This is why he came to America.) The only way Alex feels he can make himself stand out and shine is to be aggressively outspoken.
When it comes to the polish you use on your shoes, brains can help when you don’t have classic polishing materials. Just as Alex used what he had on hand to achieve greatness you can use what you have on hand to shine your shoes. They won’t put your face on the ten-dollar bill for shining your shoes but you will save money while looking like a million bucks.
Table of Contents
How do You Shine Like You Haven’t Got a Dime?
You could always take a banana peel out of the trash and use that to shine your shoes. No really. It sounds like the kind of thing you’d see Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp character do after slipping on a banana peel, but really, you can use them to shine your shoes.
Just rub the inside part of the banana over your shoes and wipe them down with a soft cloth or tissue. A little buffing and no one will know you just used garbage to shine your shoes.
Do you have a stubby bit of lip balm that you haven’t gotten around to throwing away? This too is a way to shine your shoes with something most people would throw away without a thought. Just rub it all over your shoes, keep rubbing it in with a soft cloth and use a rag to buff.
The balm will fix up the leather just as they did your lips! The primary ingredient of lip balm is petroleum jelly which seals cracks and gives the leather a glossy shine. It is debatable whether or not petroleum jelly is good for leather so try it on an old pair first.
When That Wouldn’t Be Enough and You’re Willing to Wait for It
Sometimes you don’t just want the leather to shine, you want it to be nourished so it will stay in good condition for a very long time. Your solution is as close as your kitchen pantry! Just about any vegetable-based oil will do. Animal-based oil could work, but it goes rancid easily and you may find the neighborhood dogs following you around, convinced you’re hiding a hamburger on your person.
Any oil will do but most people agree olive oil is best. Don’t slut-shame your olive oil; the cheap stuff will do. Just spritz a little on clean, dry shoes (the stuff used to spray frying pans works well), wait for it then buff with a soft cloth. You can finish it off with a drop of lemon juice if you want it glossy.
Consider the coconut! (The what?) The jury is hung over whether or not coconut oil is appropriate for leather shoes. Some say that it’s a great natural moisturizer and restorative. Some claim it dulls the leather and leaves a white residue. This may depend on the local climate. Coconut oil just seems better suited to warm temperatures. Cool temperatures cause it to congeal into a thick white mess that can only be removed with the hottest of hot water. it is best if applied with a cotton ball.
Keep in mind that oil should be used in moderation. You do not want to over condition leather to the point that it falls apart. Oil also works better on black or white shoes than any color in between. Do a spot check first to see if this will work on your shoes. Otherwise, you may not have a shine but a stain and no way to get rid of it.
Would You Rather be SHINY?
Oils and banana peels will make your shoes look polished but if you want something with a real eye-catching gloss here are some other tricks. You may have to go from your kitchen cabinet to your bathroom cabinet. Put a little rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball. Rub it into the leather in small circles.
Buff it with a soft rag until you are satisfied. If you’ve got a little linseed oil and some vinegar on hand and you feel like playing chemist you can mix two parts of the oil to one part of the vinegar. The solution should keep your shoes not only shiny but supple. A spot test is recommended. Remember that oil is only for leather, not suede.
Are you minding your own beeswax? You should! Beeswax is great for polishing shoes. Some candles are made of beeswax, but as they may have added dyes or perfumes you are advised against using them. If you can get some untreated beeswax all you have to do is heat it just until softened and rub it right into the shoe leather.
Buff with a soft cloth and the shoes will look like new. The wax will also condition the leather. If you add cocoa butter and olive oil to beeswax and melt it in a double boiler, you have your own shoe paste.
Could some of the stuff you use on yourself work? Possibly. If you pride yourself on being a sharp dressed man that every girl’s crazy about you probably have some hair gel on hand. If you’re in a pinch you can rub a tiny dab of hair gel into your shoe leather. You should know what to do with the soft cloth by
now. The result will be in sparkly shiny shoes. You can do much the same thing with a little bit of body lotion on a cotton ball. If you have white shoes, toothpaste could make them just as shiny as your teeth. Be sure to use a brush with very soft bristles and don’t forget to buff.
With a Little Patience and Faith, You May be Satisfied
Some natural shoe shining solutions can be found in your garden. Coconut oil is pretty good for shining shoes but did you know there is another Hawaiian export that can be used to shine shoes?
The lovely hibiscus flower can be used for more than just leis and a drink garnish. All you have to do is rub the flower onto the shoe and wipe it dry with a cloth. Do the buffing as usual and ‘A’ole pilikia! (That’s Hawaiian for “You’re welcome”.)
Now let’s wish a fond aloha to Hawaii and say ciao to Italy. There’s a little herb called oregano that’s very popular in pizza and pasta dishes. It pairs very well with hearty tomato sauces but it can also be used to treat your Italian loafers.
Not only does oregano contain essential oils that are suitable for leather treatment but it contains natural anti-fungal and anti-bacterial agents that will keep out germs that cause odors and infections. Be sure to use fresh oregano leaves. The dried stuff won’t do a thing.
If all else fails, there’s always soap and warm water. The soap must have a neutral pH value. Saddle soap works well on leather. A very mild liquid detergent (Not naming names, but think about a sunrise.) could work.
The water must be warm and not too hot or too cold. The sponge used for this job must be only mildly damp as too much water can ruin a good pair of shoes.
The Story of Polish
In medieval times, it was considered more important for leather to be soft and waterproof than shiny so it was treated with dubbin, a mixture of oil, wax, tallow and soda ash. Around the 18th century, it was considered posh to have leather with a highly glossy finish. This polish was often made of lanolin or beeswax.
In the late 18th and 19th-century shoe polish (then called “blacking”) became commercially available with factories popping up near stockyards for a ready source of tallow. It was in 1823 that a twelve-year-old little boy named Charles Dickens got his first job at Jonathan Warren’s Blacking Company. (Compare this writer’s first job; nineteen years old washing dishes at a pizza parlor.)
Blacking at the time was available in two forms; a bottled liquid or a thick paste. Civilians could buy the paste wrapped in oiled paper or stone tubs. Circular tins of blacking were reserved for military use. By 1851, James S. Mason & Co. of Philadelphia started up and had the means to produce ten million boxes of polish in one year with two hundred employees.
In 1892, the Leather Trades Exhibition was held in Northampton. William Edward Wren was awarded “First in the Field”. At the turn of the century, many enterprising young boys found they could make money as shoe shiners. Kiwi has practically become a generic trademark for boot polish and can have its history traced back to 1904 in Melbourne, Australia.
Two Scottish expatriates named William Ramsay and Hamilton McKellan started a factory with a boot polish formula intended to preserve shoe leather, make it shine, and restore color. Ramsay named the business Kiwi in honor of his wife who was a native New Zealander. Their logo, of course, is the kiwi, a flightless bird native to New Zealand.
And then The War happened. There was a great demand for a product that was easy to use, quick to dry and produced a quality shine. The polish was used on horse tack, boots, and gun holsters as well as boots, increasing demand.
New industries meant more shoes could be made quicker, which further increased the demand for polish. Fortunately, the new industries meant shoe polish could be produced quicker as well. After World War II, Kiwi, among other products, became in high enough demand to be sold worldwide.
The popularity of sneakers in recent years has caused the demand for shoe polish to become static in recent years. Still, whenever someone needs their leather black and shiny, the shoe polish will always be there.
Everything I Know About Making Your Shoe Blackout
Always remember that shoe polish is a finishing touch, not a cleaning product in of itself. You must always make sure your shoes are clean and dry before you polish them no matter what method you use. Once your shoes are good and clean, here are the steps to go through to get them nicely polished.
- Lay some old newspapers out on the floor to prevent staining.
- Remove the laces if you have not already done so.
- If you have chosen to use vinegar, olive or vegetable oil or Petroleum jelly, dip a cotton ball in it.
- Use this cotton ball to rub the substance of your choosing all over your boots using small circular motions.
- Utilize a cloth or rag in wiping your boots to get rid of all the excess oil or Petroleum jelly.
- Leave your boots to dry in an airy but not too hot space.
If you have scuff marks a little vinegar can fix them. The petroleum jelly can repair cracks.
Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Shines Your Shoes
Using any of the aforementioned products will make your shoes shiny quickly and easily. If you don’t like using caustic substances, these natural remedies can work. Just remember, technically, everything is chemicals. Some of the home remedies may leave a distinctive odor.
Keep in mind that these are quick fixes. If you want your boots to last a long time, you’ve got to use a real shoe polish at least occasionally and follow up with conditioner. Do this and there’s just no telling how far you’ll go!