How To Restore Old Shoes

The average American family spends $1,400 on footwear each year, and the average adult owns about ten pairs.

So, what happens to all those old, worn-out shoes?

The answer is: “nothing good!”

If you’ve got a pair that’s seen better days, consider giving them a new life by following the tips below. I’ve split this guide into two parts, for your convenience: restoring sneakers and restoring leather shoes.

How To Restore Sneakers – A Step-By-Step Guide

Step 1 – Remove the Tough Dirt

You don’t want to waste any dedicated shoe-cleaning products on rough dirt. Using warm water, brush until all the dirt is dissolved, and wipe the shoe off using a microfiber cloth. Take special care of the stitching and try to get any embedded dirt out.

Step 2 – Take out the Shoelaces and the insoles

There are two reasons for removing the shoelaces and insoles:

  1. To get unrestricted access to the uppers and the insides
  2. To clean them separately or replace them if they’re too worn out. If you do a good job at restoring your sneakers, there’s a good chance you’ll want to replace the old laces and insoles.

Step 3 – Insert a Shoe Tree

Inserting a shoe tree into the shoe will allow you to work on the shoebox more comfortably and in greater detail, including creases that are hard to remove.

If you don’t have one and are not in the habit of using it for other things (like storage), get a cheap plastic shoe tree like this one:

It works just as well as expensive wooden inserts.

Step 4 – Deep Clean the Upper, Midsole, and Sole

For this step, use a brush and a generous amount of sneaker cleaning solution.

You’ll need three brushes for the three portions:

  1. Soft bristle for the upper
  2. Medium bristle for the midsole
  3. Hard bristle for the sole

To simplify things, I’d get these in a kit rather than buying them separately.

I’m a fan of the Neshoevn8r brand. Their essential brush kit includes everything you’ll need for effective DIY shoe restoration. You can see it here –

If you’re buying the cleaner separately, I’d recommend the original Pink Miracle or the Reshoevn8r Premium Solution (these links lead to Amazon).

Cleaning the Uppers

To deep clean, the uppers, use a soft bristle shoe brush and a dedicated cleaning liquid. Squirt an ounce or two into a small, deep container, apply a generous amount onto the shoe, and brush away. How long you’ll need to brush will depend on the cleaner you choose. Follow the instructions precisely to avoid damaging the material.

Detailing the Soles and Midsoles

The Reshoevn8r Premium Solution does a great job, not only on the upper but also on the midsoles and the sole.

Use a medium-bristle brush for the midsoles and a hard-bristle brush for the soles.

Step 5 – To the Laundry Room 

Place your shoes in a laundry bag and machine wash in cold water on a gentle cycle. Use dedicated shoe washing detergent. Something like this will do a great job:

Step 6 – Get Rid of the Yellowing

The yellowing on the midsole of the sneaker is a result of oxidation. To get rid of it, I use Salon Care 40 and saran wrap. 

Apply the Salon Care 40 using a flat painting brush or a toothbrush, carefully wrap the bottom part of the sneaker in a saran and leave it in the sun. I found that 35-45 minutes gets rid of most of the yellowing.

If you don’t want to paint your shoes, this is where the restoration ends.

Steps 7 and 8 are for painting, which is what most sneakerheads think when they say “how to restore sneakers.”

Step 7 – Preparation: Sanding off the Scuffs and Scratches

Start with 600 grit and work your way up to 1500 grit for the midsole. Go as high as 3000 grit for the leather parts of the upper.

Step 8 – Painting

Painting takes patience. So much so that I have a dedicated guide just on that.

For the purposes of this article, here’s a brief run-down.

  1. Tape up the midsole and any other parts that are not the color you’re working with (like the logo and tongue).
  2. Apply the paint using a dedicated airbrush (I use Master performance, and you can see it here:
  3. Protect the paint job by applying an acrylic matte finish spray.
  4. Remove any overspray and touch up any spots you missed.

Your sneakers should now be as good as new.

How to Restore Shoes Part 2 – Refurbishing Old Leather Shoes

If the shoes are expensive and seriously scuffed, it’s best to leave the restoration to the professionals.

If the soles are damaged, you’ll need to resolve and re-heel your old leather shoes.

When to go with a Professional

Go with a professional if the sole is stitched to the upper. If it’s not, you might be able to get a good result on your own.

However, you might ruin the shoes. That’s just the way it is. Restoring leather shoes is tricky work – don’t kill the messenger!

With that said, most people who want to restore their shoes are not doing it to save money (which you likely won’t).

They’re doing it because it’s satisfying. I have about a dozen shoe restoration projects under my belt. Just the other day, I successfully restored my old Berluti’s, and it felt great.

Step-By-Step Guide for Leather Shoe Restoration

In case you still want to know how to restore leather at home, here’s an outline of what to do:

  1. Visit your local cobbler and get all the supplies (new sole, glue, sponge, elastic bands, tack nails).
  2. Pry the old sole off.
  3. Clean the sole and use sandpaper to get a velvet-like finish on the bottom of the shoe.
  4. Thoroughly apply glue to the shoe and the new sole using a sponge.
  5. Wait for the glue to be slightly sticky and not yet dry.
  6. Press the new soles on.
  7. Tightly secure the new sole in place using rubber bands.
  8. Dry it out for 3-6 hours (depending on the glue).
  9. Hammer the tack nails along the edge of the new sole.

My Two Cents

Successfully restoring a pair of sneakers or leather shoes at home is a demanding job. However, the feeling that follows is worth every minute of the tedious detailing.

I did my best to cover every angle here including how to restore shoe color, how to restore your sneakers, and how to restore old shoes.

Some say that shoes speak louder than words. Make sure that yours say all the right things.

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