Herring Shoes

How to polish a calf and suede shoe:

2 July 2015

We receive many calls from our customers asking us about polishing shoes, the best techniques and products to use. We have put a video showing basic polishing and bulling techniques on our youtube channel. But this blog post is aimed at the specific challenges of two-tone shoes. Due to the amount of superb two tone shoes we sell ( leather and suede ) we wanted to show you how easy it is to care for them and to show that suede is not as fragile as you may think.

Although I always take care of my shoes personally, I noticed my Hathaway suede and leather shoes needed a bit of TLC and so I took this opportunity to document the process of cleaning them and protecting them. I have used mainly Saphir products as they are superior to anything I have used before, although I have used our own Herring brush and cloth as these work very well with the products being used. All of these products can be purchased together in our unique Saphir by Herring valet box for only £149.95 inc vat.

For todays session you will need the following:

1)  Suede cleaner

2) Large brush

3) High gloss polish x 2. Always have a neutral and a colour that closely matches your shoes. It does not have to be the exact same colour as polish does not contain much pigment and wont stain as such, but if in doubt always use a lighter shade than your shoes

4) Crepe suede brush (or Brass suede brush )

5) Cloth

6) Shoe trees

7) Bowl and water

Step one: 

Firstly, we want to remove the laces so we do not get polish on them, also with the laces removed we can polish around the eyelet area. You then want to add your shoe trees, this is important as  this will push any creasing out while you are polishing and so you do not get polish building up and drying out in the creases ( if this happens you can use Reno-mat or Renovateur to remove the excess polish)

Remove laces and add shoe trees

Step two:

Now we want to prepare the leather and make sure there is no loose dirt on your shoes. For this I am using a large brush. Simply brush the shoes back and forth and try and work in the welt area too ( you can use a welt brush if needed ) but you do not need to brush them very hard. Just use light to medium action until they are free from dirt etc.

Brush off any loose dirt

Step three:

So your leather is now ready, but your suede still needs any dirt or marks to be brushed out. For this I am using a crepe suede brush but you can also use a brass suede brush. Simply brush against the pile lightly, and work your way around the suede parts of your shoes focusing on any dirty areas. Continue until you are happy the suede is free form loose dirt.

Brush the dirt off your suede

Step four:

Our shoes are now ready for a good pampering. We want to give the suede a nice deep clean using Saphir suede cleaner ‘ Omni nettoyant ‘. This cleaner doesn’t only clean, it brings life back into the suede and also helps to protect the suede from staining.

As suede takes a while to dry out I am cleaning this first. You need to get a bowl and put a small amount of warm water in and then add the suede cleaner, you want to put 50/50 water and cleaner, so you really do not need much. You then use the brush provided to apply this to the suede, I brushed it against the pile. Don’t worry if this gets onto the leather as it will not affect it, just wipe it off with a cloth. Once your suede has darkened down due to being wet, you have put enough on.

Apply your suede cleaner mix

Leave this for 5-10 minutes and in the meantime clean out the bowl and rince your brush. Put some clean warm water in the bowl and when the suede has started to dry you want to rinse this off. Its very simple, just use the brush and dip this into the clean water and brush the suede again, try and brush it from lots of different angles to get the suede cleaner off. Do not worry if the suede looks darker, it will only be while they are wet. Once done leave them to dry, this takes around 20-30 minutes. I put a cloth over the front to help soak up the excess moisture but DO NOT rub the suede with a cloth as any loose bits will come off and go onto the suede and ruin your work so far.

Finished cleaning the suede
Resting a cloth over the front to help them dry a little quicker

Step five:

Now your suede has dried and will be looking cleaner and more vibrant. We just have the small matter of polishing the leather now. As my shoes are polished fairly regularly the leather was looking ok so I did not need to use any Renovating cream but I would highly recommend using this to help nourish and even clean the leather a little. You could then even use a cream, but again I did not need this.

Using a cloth for the polish

As you can see below, my Hathaway shoes have red stitching around the punching going around the shoes and red piping over the rim. A feature I love and it looks great, but I want to keep it looking great and so I am going to start off by using neutral polish ( Saphir high gloss polish ) instead of the navy so as not to darken the stitching down. I will start off by applying the neutral polish around the all the areas that have the red stitching using a cloth. It is also a good idea to use a neutral next to the suede will less likely stain the suede if you accidentally get it on there. I only used small amounts, but enough so you can see it on the leather. Once I have gone around the sides and the the eyelet area I left this on for a few minutes. While it dries there is enough time to start applying the navy.

Carefully applying the polish to the edges

Step six:

The neutral is just drying and in the mean time we are going to polish the toes, vamp and heel ( all that is left to do ).

I am using navy to match the colour of the calf (using Saphir high gloss polish ) using the same cloth. As we are trying to get a nice deep shine you can put on a little more than normal. I used small circular motions to apply the polish and work around the shoe, do not worry about getting it mixed in with the neutral on the sides, just wipe it away. I worked from the toes, to the sides and around the shoe, but this is not essential and this is just how I find it easier.

Applying the navy polish

Once I had gone around the shoe, I left it for a minute or so. I then buffed all the polished areas, using either a another large brush, or a cloth. As with the first step, if using a brush simply use long strokes and not too much force. Its key to keep your eye on the leather and you will see when you have buffed them enough. If using a cloth, simply wrap around your fingers and buff off, again not using too much force but instead relying on friction to do the work. If  you do get any polish on the suede, do not panic. Use a damp cloth to gently rub it off and it will come straight out, most polishes do not actually contain much pigment and if you act quickly no harm will be done. Again, if you get any polish on the welt ( sides of the soles ) it will rub off with a damp cloth.

Buffing off all of the polish

By now, your shoes will be looking better than the day you bought them.

Step seven:

This is where we find out how far you would like to go. Are you happy with the shine you have created? If so, no need to read any further and you can go and enjoy your beautifully polished shoes. If you would like more shine and depth then continue reading.

The following process is called ‘Bulling‘ and is basically the old ‘ Spit shine’ technique. The reason this technique is still used to this day is very simple, it works! Instead of using spit however, we will be using water as its a bit more civilised and works perfectly well. You can use warm or cold, I have not noticed any difference personally but for this example I simply used the same water from earlier when cleaning the suede.

I have wrapped the cloth around two fingers very tightly, you want the surface you are using for applying the polish to be completely crease free so its a nice smooth surface for bulling. As we have already applied a layer of polish we are a step ahead. You always want a layer down first to stop the water form soaking the leather, if this happens it can damage the shoes and we don’t want that.

With the cloth wrapped around your fingers dip this into the polish and use a decent amount, do not apply this yet however firstly you want to use one of your other fingers and dip this into the water and get a droplet on the end of your finger, then apply this to the toe area then apply the polish you have on the cloth already. Again, work this in small circular motions doing one area at a time. Once the resistance builds up and it is drying add another droplet of water and a little less polish, continue until you achieve a high shine and then work your way around the shoes using this same method. You do not need to push down hard, infact do this very lightly (around the red stitching and piping I again used the neutral polish).

Collecting a small droplet to put on my shoes

Once your have gone around the shoe once, leave them for 10 minutes to dry a little and to avoid over soaking the leather. Repeat this process and after around 3-4 applications you will notice the shine is starting to build up ( it is the layers of polish that are making the shine, not the leather as such ). On each application change the ratio of polish to water and start using less polish but a tiny bit more water and on your last application simply use the droplets of water and slowly work this in very lightly, without any polish (use a clean part of the cloth ). This will add that final bit of shine.

Remove your shoe trees and your laces back on, you are now finished!

Our video showing a pair of boots being bulled is available on our youtube channel here.

You will have a sense of satisfaction as you sit back and admire your hard work, also expect lots of compliments from friends and colleagues admiring your wonderfully cared for shoes.



  • Reply ash green 8 December 2018 at 5:11 am

    It was really insightful.
    Thanks for the info.
    Wanna have more contents from you.
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    • Reply Chris Clark 5 February 2019 at 3:56 pm

      Thank you Ash, we are working on more content so please do keep your eyes peeled. Great write up also on your website, very insightful! Cheers, HS

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