How to Polish Shoes to a Mirror Shine – Tips & Tricks from a Professional

Whether you’re looking to get a mirror shine on that fading pair of Oxfords or trying to high shine your new favorite shoes, I’ve got you.

This step-by-step guide has all the information you’ll ever need.

Moreover, I’ll go beyond the steps and into the know-how behind the process. You can use what you learn here today to wax, polish, and shine pretty much any shoe type.

The Basics of a Mirror Shine

What is it?

Intuitively, you might think that a mirror shine is just a name used for a shoe that’s polished and buffed to the point of creating a reflection.

However, mirror shine is more than that; it’s a technical term.

You have ONLY created a mirror shine when you add enough wax to fill all the cracks and grain on the leather and then buffed it to a perfectly smooth shine.

The Problem with that Definition

You can easily interpret what I said above as a green light to pack slabs of wax onto the shoe and rub it in.

That’s not what mirror shine is about either.

A well-executed mirror shine lives at the sweet spot between a regular shine and suffocating the shoe in wax.

You’ll understand what I mean by that as we move along.

What you’ll Need

Isopropyl Alcohol

There’s no specific type of alcohol you need. Any store-bought rubbing alcohol will do just fine.

Ice Cube(s)

Combined with polishing wax, ice cold water creates a potent high-shine formula (more on that in a second).

Shining Cloth

Again, any all-cotton cloth will do.

If you’re like me, you have a dedicated cloth because a bit of pompousness never hurt anybody. But a cut-up T-shirt rag will serve the purpose.

Wax Polish

You probably already have a favorite wax polish, and that’s fine. My favorites are Red Moose and Saphir.

Mirror Shining your Shoes – Step by Step

Step 1 – Clean the Shoe Thoroughly

Going into detail about cleaning is beyond the scope of this guide. You can read more about cleaning leather shoes in my dedicated guide here.

Step 2 – Mix Water and Alcohol and ‘Bathe’ an Ice Cube

Pour about an inch of rubbing alcohol into a one-liter bottle and fill the rest of it with water. Don’t use too much alcohol because it can melt the wax off and make it impossible to get a high shine.

Cut a hole on the bottle’s cap, place an ice cube onto a plastic tray and bathe it with a few splashes of the alcohol-water concoction.

Step 3 – Apply Layers of Wax Polish

Starting from the cap toe, apply the wax polish. I like to wear gloves and use my fingers because it allows me to feel those finer cracks and crevices around the welt.

Typically, I go for six evenly applied layers of wax.

If in doubt about the number of layers, go higher – it’s easier to underdo it than overdo it.

Step 4 – Make sure the Wax “gets in there” and Dries

If you’ve just opened the wax, you’ll be working with a nice soft substance that can get into all the fine crevices of the leather.

A pro tip that can make a difference between a “bro-shine” and a pro-shine is using a blow drier to soften or melt the wax and make sure it covers the surface well.

An even, dry wax layer is essential for a good mirror shine.

Step 5 – Wax On, Wax Off

Stretch and wrap the cotton cloth over your fingers, creating a “cap.” Pour some of that alcohol solution onto your cloth, dab the excess off, and apply it by briskly rubbing back and forth.

Once you’ve applied a generous layer of the solution, touch the ice cube, and apply that extra cold water onto the surface.

Touch the wax for two seconds (without scraping) and apply the small amount that stays on the rag.

Step 6 – Repeat

Repeat the steps above a few times. If you’re noticing “gunky” chunks of wax that aren’t melting perfectly, add a drop or two of the alcohol-water solution.

If you’ve never shined a shoe before, this is the time your face will probably light up as that deep mirror shine starts building up.

The more times you go through the steps above, the higher the shine you’ll get.

Shine your Shoes like a Pro – A Few Tips and Tricks

A good mirror shine often comes down to the products used. High gloss shoe polish will make more of a difference than using a shoe buffer machine.

Get a Mirror Shine Every Time

To ensure you get solid results every time, go with dedicated products, like high-gloss shoe wax.

Again, my favorite comes from Saphir. It’s not cheap, but it’s worth every penny. I’m impressed by the Mirror Gloss, and I’ve been working with shoes for decades.

Use your Breath for Extra Moisture

Take a deep breath, exhale warm air onto the cloth, and buff it in. This will add that extra fine warm moisture and make your shoes shine like glass.

Other Tips and Tricks of the Trade

Best Way to Shine Boots

Boot leather will generally be more forgiving, and most boot owners don’t want the kind of high shine we talked about above.

The best way to mirror shine boots for most people will be using cream polish or wax, cold water, and plenty of cotton balls for the buffing.

How to Polish Shoes Without Polish

If you don’t have shoe polish and only want to do one pair, you probably don’t want to spend extra money on buying wax that’ll end up forgotten in a drawer.

Instead, polish your shoes without dedicated products by using some of these household items:

  • Petroleum Jelly – I’m not sure if you have this lying around, but if you do, it can do almost as good of a job on leather shoes as cream polish (or even wax if you take the time)
  • Vegetable Oil – this one is pretty intuitive. Clean the shoes and use droplets of olive oil to bring out that shine. It will only take five minutes (pro tip – avoid coconut oil because it dulls the leather and leaves white residue behind)
  • Honorary Mentions – Banana Peel – if you want to go the less conventional route, use banana peel. I have to say – I tried it and I’m not a fan. It does give you a nice shine, but after a day out leaves you with dried up gunky leather.


You now have all the know-how to shine your shoes properly.

You know what to do, and more importantly, you know why you’re doing it.

Stay smart and shine,


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