Cordovan leather is derived from the coronary band of a horse. The fashion for it as material for men’s shoes dates back to the early 19th century when, according to some sources, it was discovered that cordovan dye is not soluble in water but will resist washing and perspiration. As a result, cordovan shoes are leather products that require a unique level of care. For this reason, today, I will discuss a technique on how to clean Cordovan shoes.
What Makes Cordovan Shoes Unique?
Cordovan is a type of leather made from the shell (or neck) of a horse. The word comes from Cordoba and Spain, where it was originally made. Cordovan has the following characteristics:
For this reason, Cordovan shoes are often called “the poor man’s version of bespoke.” It is indeed similar to bespoke in that both are individually crafted to fit each wearer perfectly. But even though they can be expensive compared with mass-produced footwear, neither is your normal run-of-the-mill item. An artisan who makes artisanal shoes will typically only make one or two pairs per month. The time and effort involved in making them make them more durable (and thus less likely to need replacement ). These are the properties that make Cordovan so desirable.
A Process on How to Clean Cordovan Shoes
If you’ve invested in a pair of Cordovan shoes and have kept them in good condition, you will probably want to prolong their life span as long as possible. But how do you clean them? What products should you use? While many believe that they’re supposed to be cleaned infrequently (even with special shoe cleaning kits), this isn’t true. So to ensure your shoes continue looking their best, here’s a simple guide on how to clean cordovan shoes at home:
Step 1 – Examine the Shoe Sole and Inspect for Any Damage
Before applying any cleaner to your Cordovan shoes, it is important that you first examine the shoe itself. Look at the sole, and inspect for any cracks or holes that may be present. If this is your first time cleaning Cordovan shoes, you should probably have a professional do it instead since they will know how to make sure that there aren’t any permanent damages made by improper care.
If you don’t see any damage on the bottom of the sole when examining your Cordovan shoes, proceed with the following steps.
Step 2 – Remove The Laces and Examine Them for Cracks or Damage
After doing a quick examination of the sole of your Cordovan shoes, remove the shoelaces if they’re present. Take them out one at a time and examine their condition thoroughly; if either lace is damaged, you should consider replacing them before starting your cleaning process. Old and worn-out shoelaces can leave colored residue on the shoes that are very hard to remove.
Step 3 – Cleaning Supplies Needed: Shoe Trees, Cleaner, and a Brush
After removing the old laces, it’s time to get started with the cleaning process itself. The first thing you’ll need is a shoe tree if your Cordovan shoes have removable ones. These will keep the shape of your shoes intact while also absorbing any moisture or water they may come in contact with during their cleaning process. Some people prefer using newspapers for this instead; however, they tend not to do as effectively as a job at keeping the shoe’s shape intact.
In addition to a pair of shoe trees, you’ll also need a special cleaner for Cordovan shoes and a stiff-bristled brush designed for cleaning leather products. A gentle brush will work just fine; however, it is always best to use one specifically designed for cleaning your shoes if possible. This ensures the bristles won’t fall out while cleaning and puncture the surface of your shoes, letting moisture in and harming them in the long run.
Step 4 – Apply Cleaner to Shoes with Brush
After gathering all of the supplies needed, it’s time to start applying the cleaner to your cordovan shoes. Most people overlook this first step when attempting to clean their Cordovan shoes at home, yet it is one of the most important. The reason for this is simple: if you don’t clean the shoes first, then any dirt or debris that may be stuck on them will still be present after you polish them.
To get started, pour some cleaner onto a piece of white paper and use your brush to apply it to the Cordovan shoes. Be sure to coat every surface completely using long back and forth motions; if necessary, let the shoe sit in this position for ten minutes before proceeding with Step 5 if needed. This will ensure that all dirt is fully removed from both sides.
Step 5 – Use a Brush to Clean Shoes and Remove Excess Dirt
After coating your Cordovan shoes with cleaner, it’s time to start cleaning them. While most people will use the brush they used to apply the cleaner with, it’s often a good idea to double-check that both surfaces are spotless of any dirt or debris. Therefore, we recommend using a separate soft-bristled leather brush for this stage.
As you’re brushing your Cordovan shoes, make sure to keep an eye out for any remaining bits of dirt or debris. Once you’ve done this, proceed with Step 6 if necessary.
Step 6 – Repeat Cleaning Steps as Needed Until Shoes Are Completely Clean
The final step in how to clean cordovan shoes is optional; however, it can be beneficial when cleaning stubborn stains off of the surface of your shoes. For this step, repeat steps 4 and 5 until you no longer find dirt or debris on the surface of the shoe.
Step 7 – Buff Shoes to a Mirror Shine
Once your Cordovan shoes are completely cleaned (or as clean as possible), it’s time to polish them with a horsehair brush designed specifically for polishing Cordovan leather. It may take several passes back and forth using long strokes to achieve the desired mirror finish; however, if done correctly, you should be able to get very close with practice. Make sure to buff every part of the shoe, including the laces and sides, so that they too are free from any scratches or marks.
After buffing your Cordovan shoes, it’s time to do another careful inspection to ensure the shoes are as clean as possible. If everything looks good, it’s now time to reinsert your shoe trees and store your Cordovan shoes in a cool, dry place until they’re next worn.
Can I Use Regular Cream Polish on Cordovan Shoes?
The short answer is probably no. Sure, the most traditional cream polish will contain a mix of pig skin glue and acrylic resins that could be applied to Cordovan leathers without any adverse effects. Still, there are so many other options available today that I would not want to put anything other than specialized cordovan leather creams on my shoes.
Also, cordovan leathers are more absorbent than regular horsehide or cowhide types. The bootmakers I have spoken with all advise against using anything containing water-based pomades or waxes because it can result in some pretty unforgiving damage if left for too long (or even temporarily).
Cordovan is a tough leather to keep clean. It will dust easily. Therefore a brushing is necessary every day or at least every other day. Water must be avoided because it darkens the leather permanently and creases and wrinkles the surface terribly – this can happen even with water (the perspiration from your feet and body) that does not manage to penetrate the leather.
It should go without saying that Cordovan shoes are best stored in tissue paper to avoid any contact with light-colored clothing of any kind. Even dark colors like blue, grey, black, etcetera may transfer dye onto the shoe’s surface; therefore, one should use extra caution when packing one Cordovans away after use: always store them wrapped securely in tissue.