How To Polish Boots: Make Your Boots Shine in 20 Minutes

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by  William Barton | Last Updated: 

Do you have an old pair of boots that could use a little love? 

The best way to freshen up your footwear is to give it a good buff and polish. They’ll look as good as new (but you won’t have to go through that tough break-in period again). 

Best of all, follow these steps and you’ll have a beautiful shine on your boots in under 30 minutes. The process is simple, but the results make a huge difference. Here’s how you do it. 

What You’ll Need to Polish Boots

saphir black shoe polish top down image unpolished boots 1

To get your boots looking like new, you’ll need a few things first:

  • Shoe polish
  • Horsehair brush
  • Welt brush (a toothbrush works well)
  • Cleaning and polishing rag (microfiber or old tshirt)
  • Cup of warm water
  • Polishing wax (if you want a mirror-shine)

Use any brand of shoe polish, but it’s hard to beat the old standard Kiwi:

Kiwi Shoe Polish
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Be sure to buy the correct color shoe polish for the boot you intend to spiff up. Black shoe polish on a brown boot will look terrible and vice versa. 

To buff your boots, a horsehair brush is much better than any other type—the hairs are soft enough to create an even finish across the leather, so there’s really no replacement. 

For horsehair brushes (including a welt brush and a polishing rag) check out the set below.

Jovitec 3 Pieces Horsehair Daubers Shoe Brush Set
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You don’t need all those brushes, but if you have a small collection of boots, shoes, or leather bags you’d like to keep crisp, investing a little up front is worthwhile. 

When you polish your shoes, it’s really about the details, so you need a “welt brush.” It’s just a small brush that can get into smaller areas like between the upper and sole and around the eyelets. 

The kit mentioned above comes with a horsehair welt brush, but you can also use an old toothbrush. It’s not the best method, but it gets the job done and no one will notice the difference

boots with black shoe polish rag and horse hair brush

As for a polishing rag, I recommend microfiber towels, but you can also recycle old t-shirts or socks to get the job done. Don’t use anything you might want to wear again because you won’t be able to get the polish stains out. 

Get a cup of warm water ready before you start—this will help distribute the polish evenly and bring out a beautiful shine. 

Have everything you need? Let’s get started. 

How to Polish and Shine Boots in 4 Easy Steps 

Step 1: Clean off dirt

First things first, bang your boots together to remove any chunks of dirt or mud clinging on to the sides or bottom.

Use a towel, old shirt, or even a dirty pair of socks and run it over your boots to remove any dust or stray dirt. 

While it may seem like a throwaway first step, dirt will cause your polish to spread unevenly, and can even cause permanent scratches to the leather. So take this first step seriously and give your boots a cursory clean. 

If your boots are dirty, it helps to clean them with saddle soap and condition them before polishing. Read my detailed guide on how to clean and care for your boots here.

Step 2: Apply the polish

using dauber brush to apply black shoe polish 1

Take your microfiber polishing cloth, wrap it tightly over your finger, and gather up a layer of polish by making tight circles. You can also use a dauber horsehair brush to apply the polish like I did in the photos above.

Friction will liquify the polish enough to stick on to the towel, so if you’re dealing with old polish, it may take a little while, but you’ll eventually get it. 

If you’re working with a polishing cream instead of a solid puck, this step should be no problem. Just scoop up a dime-sized amount. Start small and add more little by little.

applying polish to boots with dauber brush

Apply the polish to one part of your boot at a time. I start with the toe box. Rub the polish in small circles, working it into every inch of the leather. Add one layer for a subtle cleaning or several layers for more shine. 

When you first put the polish on your boots won’t look shiny. That part comes later. For now, just ensure that you’ve worked a few layers of polish over every part of the boot. 

Step 3: Buff and distribute the polish

buffing boot with horse hair brush 1

Now that you’ve got several layers of polish on your boots, it’s time for the buff. Basically, this step evens out the layers of polish you’ve added so you don’t get any dark spots on the leather. 

buffing with horsehair brush

Take your horsehair brush and make even strokes across each part of your boot. You don’t need to labor over this step for too long. Five or six swipes at each part of your boot should be enough to evenly spread the polish. 

Step 4: Shine your boots

wetting rag to polish boot 1

Once you have the polish applied and levelled out, it’s time to get your shine on. 

Wrap your finger into the clean end of your microfiber towel and dampen with water. With the same motion you used to apply the polish (small circles) start shining your boots. You should get a noticeable shine after 10-15 small circles for each part of your boot, if not sooner. 

polishing black boot with rag 1

For the shining phase, more water means more shine. 

How to spit shine boots?

There’s no real difference between spit shining a pair of boots and using water to buff your polish. If you’re in a hurry, you can just dab a little spit on your boot and use that as the moisture to polish your boot. But a more sanitary method is to just use warm water. It’ll get you the same effect, but you won’t need to spit anywhere.

question icon

That said, don’t soak the microfiber towel you’re using because you won’t see any results. Again, like the other parts of the polishing process, start with a moderate amount. If you want more shine, add some more water to your towel and repeat this step. 

spit shining black boots with polish

Continue from the toe cap to the rest of the boot. 

How to Make Boots Shine Like Glass

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If you want to give your boots a mirror-like finish like the image above, you’re going to need more than just polish.

Try a wax polish to get a glassy shine on your boots. Several brands make shining waxes, and I’ve had success with Kiwi. The price is reasonable compared to other brands and it’s readily available.

Kiwi Black Parade Gloss Shoe Polish
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I like to polish my boots with cream polish first, and then I’ll use a wax polish. Of course, only use wax polish if you really want that glass shine. Otherwise, regular polish will do fine.

To apply the wax polish, grab a rag and rub a small amount of wax in circles, starting on the toe box.

You may need to add two or more layers of wax. Start with a little and build each coat slowly. Take your time (three to four minutes of buffing per boot) and really work the wax into a shine.

How to Shine Boots without Polish

When I used to work in restaurants, I would use vegetable oil to put a shine on my boots in a hurry.

There are a few downsides to this method. The oil tends to get sticky after a few days and your boots will attract more dirt and dust than ever. And if you use something like olive oil, the oil can go rancid and your boots will stink.

The best option is to fork over some cash to buy proper shoe polish. It’ll last you a long time and you can use it on all your footwear.

But if you absolutely need to get a shine on your boots now and you don’t have any polish, try vegetable or canola oil.

Bonus Tip: Deodorize

If you really want to give your boots a full “spa day,” deodorize them. The easiest way is with reusable deodorizing balls or spray. 

Rocket Pure Natural Foot & Shoe Deodorizer Spray
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But if you don’t have those on hand, you can also use baking soda or coffee grounds. With baking soda, you can lightly dust the inside of your boot and let it sit. And if you deodorize with coffee grounds, make sure they’re completely dry, or else they’ll cause more funky foot smells than you started with. 

Put a coffee filter and the bottom of your boot (or even better—a reusable tea bag). Pour the spent dry coffee grounds into the filter and let them sit for a day or two. 

Rise and Shine

So which pair of boots will get the shine treatment today? 

Is it those old work boots? Or do you have plans to hit the town tonight and need a little dapper edge for the evening festivities? 

Either way, give my polishing tips a try and see how it goes.

FAQs

How do you make boots shine?

To shine your boots, you need to apply several layers of polish. Work your polish into the leather first and then buff with a damp towel.

How can I shine my boots without polish?

To properly shine your boots, you need polish. But if you already have a fairly polished leather and just need a quick shine, you can apply canola oil to your boot in a pinch.

How can I shine my boots fast?

Our method will have your boots shining in under 30 minutes. If you need something faster than that, you can use a butane torch lighter to liquify your polish, thus making it easier to apply and eliminating the need to buff. That said, it’s more dangerous and it’s a disaster for your boot leather, so we don’t recommend that method.

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