The best shoe polish
- Shoe polish is an important part of ensuring that your leather shoes and boots last as long as possible.
- With its all-natural formula, great nourishing properties, and centuries-old pedigree, the French-made Saphir Renovateur is an old-school icon that remains the premier shoe polish.
A good pair of leather dress shoes is one of the most important parts of any wardrobe, but one of the "catches" with buying quality leather is that animal hide needs a bit of care in order to maintain its character and suppleness. After you wear those new shoes for a while, they're naturally going to start looking worn out as the leather's natural oils dry out and the surface takes on scuffs, scratches, creases, and general wear from the elements.
The good news is that you don't have to toss those worn-out shoes in your closet: Good leather can last for decades and decades with proper care, and many people (myself included) actually find polishing their shoes to be a relaxing old-school ritual. Good polish can breathe new life into leather, making it look almost new again, and if you're investing good money in quality shoes then it behooves you to spend a few bucks on quality polish. Few things look worse than an otherwise nice outfit ruined by worn-out, dull-looking shoes.
Shoe polish generally comes in two forms, shoe cream and shoe wax:
- Shoe creams are oil-based polishes that impart a matte shine to the shoe while also restoring moisture and adding a bit of color to the leather — great for shoes that are looking a bit dry and rough on the surface. This is the most common type of polish, the easiest to work with, and our recommendation for beginners.
- Shoe wax is a solid polish with a base typically comprised of beeswax or something similar. It offers a more classic glass-like shine than cream polishes as well as some extra resistance to scuffs and marks on the leather, but takes a bit more time and effort to use. You don't want to over-apply wax as it can dry out and flake off if you layer it on too thick — rather than getting fully absorbed into the leather, wax polishes do most of their work on the surface.
How to polish your shoes
To start, find a flat surface to work on and lay down an old towel or some newspaper. Remove the laces, clean any dirt off the shoes with a horsehair brush, and then use a dauber to apply the polish. If the shoes are considerably dirty, consider cleaning them with saddle soap before starting this process. Work the polish into the leather with a cloth, moving in small circular motions with your fingers. Finish by buffing the shoes to a shine with a separate buffing cloth, and you're done.
Polishes are also great for casual shoes and boots, and there are special types made for these that offer additional leather protection. We've rounded up the best shoe polishes available today to suit just about any need, so read on to find the right one to help you keep your leather footwear looking great for years to come.
Here is the best shoe polish you can buy:
- Best shoe polish overall: Saphir Renovateur
- Best shoe polishing cream: Meltonian
- Best shoe polishing wax: Lincoln Stain Wax
- Best shoe conditioner: Otter Wax
- Best shoe protectant: Obenauf's
- Best saddle soap: Fiebing's Saddle Soap
- Best horse hair brush: Allen Edmonds Horsehair Brush
- Best dauber: Allen Edmonds Dauber
- Best buffing cloth: Allen Edmonds Buffing Cloth
Updated 8/20/2020 by Amir Ismael: Prices and links are up to date.
The best shoe polish overall
For the be-all, end-all cream polish that can bring even the most worn-out pair of leather dress shoes back to life and impart a world-class shine, look no further than Saphir Renovateur.
In the world of shoe care, there's one name that stands tall above the rest: Saphir. This award-winning French shoe polish brand, established in 1925, retains a near-legendary status among style experts after nearly a century.
If you're looking to treat and condition your leather shoes and aren't looking to add any color to them, then our top recommendation is Renovateur. Saphir Renovateur is a mink oil-based polish with a 100% natural formula. It's a neutral-colored cream, and as you probably guessed from its name, Renovateur is specifically made to treat and nourish full-grain leather, something it does better than just about any other shoe polish you're likely to find.
Cheaper polishes you'll see online and in stores are almost always made of natural oils and waxes with synthetic additives like petroleum and/or silicone. Synthetic materials aren't absorbed into the leather nearly as well as organic ones because leather itself is a natural material and they aren't as good for the leather over the long-term. These polishes are OK for shining up cheap corrected-grain leather, but for full-grain hide, you want something all-natural like Renovateur.
Considered by many sartorial enthusiasts to be the prince of shoe polishes, Saphir Renovateur is a little expensive. It's worth it. A jar or tin will last you a very long time, anyway, so "buy the best and you'll only cry once." For conditioning leather while still delivering a fantastic shine, Saphir Renovateur remains far and away the best polish that money can buy.
Pros: All-natural formula is healthier for leather than creams that use synthetic additives, provides excellent shine, hydrates and nourishes full-grain leather extremely well, and it can restore even the most worn-out pair of shoes
Cons: It's comparatively expensive, and it's only available in a neutral color
The best cream shoe polish
If you're looking for a cream-based shoe polish that's as easy to use as it is easy on your wallet, it doesn't get better than Meltonian boot and shoe cream.
Like Saphir, Meltonian is another classic shoe polish brand and one you might have heard of before — If your father or grandfather favored a cream-based polish, then there's a very good chance it read "Meltonian" on the tin. Meltonian polish is a soft cream formula, making it very easy to work into leather than wax-based polishes and even most other cream polishes while imparting a subtle matte, rather than super-glossy, shine.
Meltonian does contain some synthetic materials — namely petroleum — as most inexpensive polishes do. That's not a deal-breaker, especially at this price, but bear in mind that it's not quite as good for full-grain leather as all-natural formulas like our top pick, Saphir Renovateur. Nonetheless, it is dead simple to use, is even somewhat easier to work into the leather than Saphir can be, and reconditions leather very well without leaving behind excess residue.
Meltonian boot and shoe cream is available in a variety of colors, whereas Renovateur is only available in a neutral tone. Colored polishes aren't necessary to help your shoes retain their luster, but they can add some color and patina to shoes and other leather goods that are a bit worn-out or ones you'd like to darken up a bit. Colored polish is also great for getting rid of scuffs and scratches. If this doesn't interest you, then Meltonian's "bone" color is a neutral option.
Pros: Soft cream formula is easy to work into leather and doesn't leave residue behind, a number of colors (including neutral) available, and it's an excellent value
Cons: Partially synthetic formula isn't as good for leather as all-natural polishes
The best wax shoe polish
A decades-old favorite among both soldiers and civilians, Lincoln Stain Wax is an American classic with a rich waxy formula that will bring your shoes and boots to a mirror shine.
If anybody in your family has served in the military, then they were likely familiar with Lincoln Stain Wax. This iconic American shoe polish has been "general issue" in the military for decades, but you don't have to be a GI to appreciate it — Just as many civilians as soldiers have found Lincoln to be the go-to wax polish for buffing up leather shoes and boots of all colors to a glass-like shine you can almost see your reflection in.
As a hard wax-type polish, Lincoln Stain Wax requires a bit of extra elbow grease to work with, which can take some getting used to if you're more familiar with soft cream polishes like Meltonian. Don't be intimidated by this, and don't be afraid to use a little bit of water and heat to help you work the Lincoln wax into the leather. Once it's absorbed into the leather, you'll be ready to buff it up to a glassy surface shine that no cream polish can rival.
Lincoln Stain Wax is an American classic and has thankfully remained so, still being made right in the US. It's cheap, too, at around $7 per tin, with multiple colors available —including a neutral tone — with black likely being the most popular due to its association with the military.
Harder wax polishes also typically last longer than creams, as they're not designed to condition leather as much and are more for shining up the surface while adding some extra scuff protection.
Pros: Made in the US, wax formula imparts a glass-like shine to your shoes, protects the surface of your shoes better than creams, and it's an excellent value
Cons: Hard wax formula requires more time to work into leather and buff to a shine
The best conditioning shoe polish
An all-natural formula that combines carnauba wax with shea butter makes Otter Wax Leather Salve another great choice for dry, worn-out shoes that need restoration and protection as much as a polish.
As stated in the intro, shoe polishes tend to fall into two categories: creams and waxes. Softer creams nourish and hydrate, but don't deliver a long-lasting glassy shine like waxes do. Waxes, on the other hand, don't condition leather as well, tending to mostly sit on the surface of your shoes where they provide that great shine. For something that can do both, Otter Wax Leather Salve is a great alternative that conditions and restores leather while also polishing and protecting it.
Otter Wax products are made in Oregon of all-natural ingredients. Its Leather Salve, in particular, uses carnauba wax and shea butter — no silicone or petroleum to be found here — which are great organic ingredients for hydrating and conditioning dry, worn leather. This unique formula basically delivers a one-two punch: The shea butter penetrates deeply to nourish the hide, and the carnauba wax can be buffed up to a shine while protecting the surface of your shoes similar to wax polishes.
Like Lincoln Stain Wax, Otter Wax takes a little more work to use than creams, although it's a bit softer and easier to apply than most hard wax polishes. The extra effort is worth it and lets you achieve a glossier shine than is possible with most purely oil-based conditioning products like mink oil. I've never used Otter Wax for shoes, but I do use the company's fabric wax (a beeswax-based solid), so I can attest to the quality of Otter Wax products.
At $10 for a two-ounce tin, Otter Wax is more expensive per ounce most of our other picks aside from Renovateur. A tin should last a while, though, unless you have a lot of shoes you need to polish. Although once you use it to restore your old Oxfords, you might start discovering other things you own that could benefit from an Otter Wax application. And while it's great for dress shoes, Otter Wax is just as useful for work boots, bags and purses, and other leather goods.
Pros: All-natural ingredients, made in the US, organic carnauba wax and shea butter formula hydrates and conditions leather extremely well, provides a better shine than purely oil-based products, and it can also be used on a variety of other leather goods
Cons: Only available in neutral tone, and it's relatively expensive per ounce (but still quite affordable)
The best polish for protecting shoes and boots
If polishing your shoes is a secondary concern to restoring and protecting them, then Obenauf's Heavy Duty LP should be your go-to for bringing rough-looking shoes and boots back to life while also guarding the hide against water, acids, and other damage.
Designed 25 years ago by a firefighter looking for the perfect shoe wax, Obenauf's Heavy Duty LP has since become an American icon in the world of shoe care. While technically not a "polish" like products such as Saphir Renovateur or Lincoln Stain Wax, Obenauf's still has a place on our list for a number of reasons: It revitalizes and conditions dry and worn-out leather, it provides great protection against water and other things that can damage hide, and — unlike similar products — it actually looks great and can even be brought to a shine.
Obenauf's excellent leather-protecting properties are owed to the formula's beeswax base, but out of the jar, Obenauf's Heavy Duty LP has a more cream-like consistency that's very easy to apply. It's similar in texture to mink oil — although somewhat thicker due to its heavier wax base — than it is to hard polishes like Lincoln, yet it provides much better water-resistance than mink oil while nourishing and hydrating leather incredibly well.
Alternatively, Obenauf's Leather Oil is a slightly different beeswax concoction that's more liquid-like than Heavy Duty LP and even comes with a dauber, and it works just as well for restoring and protecting leather. Nonetheless, both Obenauf's Heavy Duty LP and Leather Oil aren't quite as good at locking out water as Sno-Seal, another popular "boot grease" and a heavier beeswax formula. Many users prefer the way Obenauf's looks, however, and so do we.
It's also why we included it on our list of shoe polishes where Sno-Seal wouldn't really fit: Obenauf's imparts a nice patina to leather shoes and boots and can even be buffed up to a matte shine. Just note that it will darken whatever leather you apply it to.
It's not our top recommendation for dress shoes, but it's the best choice for keeping your go-to pair of work boots and other casual leather footwear looking almost new assuming you're not going for the "mirror shine" look.
Pros: Made in the US, beeswax base revives and conditions hide while providing good protection against water and other leather-damaging compounds, available in wax and oil formulas, easy to apply and work with, and imparts a nice-looking patina to shoes and boots
Cons: Waterproofing is not as good as Sno-Seal, and it will noticeably darken leather
More shoe care-related stories
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Although shoe polish is a great way to preserve the life of your leather shoes, it shouldn't be the only shoe care product you rely on. There are many products that can help you keep your shoes clean, dry, and odor-free. From sneaker cleaners to water-resistant sprays for suede and nubuck, these are the best products for keeping your shoes of all kinds clean.
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Jason Markk has been a staple in the sneaker community for years, but it should be known by the masses. It's a simple and effective cleaning kit that's safe to use on all materials including mesh, leather, rubber, suede, and more.
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