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If you are looking for the best way to polish leather boots, you will find a surprising range of techniques. Soldiers, equestrians, cobblers and airport shoeshine stand owners are all tasked with achieving a shiny and long-lasting polish on a pair of boots. Each population has different techniques, although the cobbler likely provides the longest-lasting shine, and the soldier, the highest gloss. Using the best practices from each will provide the best shine.
If you are looking for a fast and easy way to polish your boots, one method is the combination bottled shoe polish with built-in daubers. These give a decent temporary shine but not a lasting one.
A thorough polish touches upon every surface of the boot. It includes removing the laces (if any) and stuffing the boots with shoe trees and rags to create a smooth polishing surface. It means you must use saddle soap to clean off any dirt and clean dirt out of the welts (the joint of the sole to the upper). Dye the sides of the soles and heels. Use shoe cream first and then a wax polish.
Most people use only a wax-based shoe polish, but a diligent soldier or cobbler uses shoe cream first. Creams are a softer consistency and impart color to the boot. They also include conditioners like lanolin, which preserves the leather and keeps it flexible.
Given the choice between the two, polishing with cream only is better for the shoe. Wax dries and cracks. While it has some water-resistant property, it does not condition the boot.
What used to be sold as “boot polish” was simply a bigger tin of shoe polish. Shoe polish is chiefly wax—usually carnauba or beeswax. A wax-based shoe polish offers what manufacturer Kiwi calls a “reserve shine” which can be buffed to a shine days later. Kiwi makes a brand of wax specifically for the military, called "Parade Gloss." This is impregnated with dimethicone, an organic silicone compound also used to add shine to hair care products.
Water is essential to polishing wax. The “spit shine” or just a splash of water allows for a higher polish.
Finally, you may use a soft-bristled shoe brush for an overall shine, but a buffing cloth (the kind you hold between your hands) is how cobblers achieve the final polish.
The soldier’s trick is to soften and melt the wax--even to apply flame to the waxed boot.
One method is to cover the surface of the polish with lighter fluid. You then light the fluid and allow it to melt the wax. Extinguish the flame and use the polish while it is quite soft. This allows for better coverage and penetration. Soldiers will also leave the wax in the hot sun or near a radiator to soften it.
Another method that soldiers will use is “burning” the boots. In this method, the boots are covered with a heavy coat of wax. You then use a lighter to melt the wax while it is on the boot. This takes practice and provides no greater results than a buffing cloth does but, unlike flame, it runs no risk of damaging the leather.
- Kraig Scarbinsky/Lifesize/Getty Images