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- Conditioner, shoe cream, and wax polish work hand-in-hand to keep leather footwear looking its best.
- Don’t skimp on your leather-care routine if you want your shoes and boots to last.
- Think of these leather-care products as skincare for your shoes.
I still vividly remember the time when a TSA agent told me I needed to shine my shoes as he watched them pass through the scanner at the airport. I was mortified. I’m notoriously hard on footwear, so keeping them looking their best is a constant battle. Thankfully, there are some great products out there to help in this Sisyphean effort.
The three product categories covered in this guide are cream polish, wax polish, and conditioner. I also spoke to Tony Pecorella, the owner of Manhattan’s Modern Leather Goods, a storied leather care and repair business that’s been around since the 1940s, who explained to me what each product is good for. Conditioner and shoe cream both moisturize the leather, but the cream polish leaves a thin layer of cream that helps blend scratches and scuffs and gives the shoe a medium shine. Wax polish is the best at covering scuffs and scratches and leaves a higher shine, Pecorella said. For more on our conversation, see the FAQ section below.
To narrow down the best shoe polishes, I did some testing at home with products that have gotten high marks from experts and customers. I used them on a single boot or shoe as a before-and-after snapshot to see what kind of coverage, shine, and conditioning power they had. Other considerations included price, ingredients, and range of colors. Note that these products are for smooth leather, not suede or nubuck.