That new pair of shoes or boots that felt OK when you originally tried them on can turn out to be that bit too tight the first time you wear them. In some cases, you might even end up with blisters.


Leather shoes

 As we know, leather shoes usually stretch with continued wear, but is it possible to reduce the ‘breaking in’ time?  

Shoe uppers are made of firm, thick cowhide. There is only limited space to work the leather to make it soft. The tanner or shoemaker uses two methods to make leather more flexible and stretch it out. 

One is to loosen the fibre network by ‘movement’. The tanner does this by walking on the leather, whereas the shoemaker knocks it to make it soft. Tapping or walking stretches the fibre structure microscopically so that the leather expands and becomes softer. As long as this is done professionally, the essential stability of the leather will be preserved.  

The second option is to wet clean the entire shoe. Soaking the leather swells the fibre network and the leather can then be permanently reshaped. Tanners take advantage of this when they need to mould the leather to change its shape. After drying, it will maintain the new shape. 

Based on these principles, there are therefore several ways to make shoe leather soft: wear the tight footwear with thick (but not too thick) socks for about an hour. Be careful not to overstretch the leather and make the shoes too large. Often moistening the socks can help make it easier to reshape the leather. 

There are many myths about leather getting wet and how to stretch leather. For example, it is said that cowboys used to ‘pee’ in the shoe or boot. Pouring alcohol inside is another one. Then there are shoe stretcher sprays, grease and shoe detergents. The urine idea might make a good story, which is all it should be. The fact is that while moistening makes leather soft, unwanted foreign materials should be avoided. It’s best to stick to water. Alcohol is not suitable because it dissolves the fats in the leather, making it lose its suppleness. Fats are only partially helpful, because they are tough and do not penetrate into the fibre structure. This makes them useful for care and waterproofing footwear, which is important for everyday use. 

Lipid ‘moisture’ as oils, shoe stretcher sprays or shoe detergents with oils also help to soften shoe leather. Moistening softens the fibres and oils keep them flexible.

     Leather Shoes     Leather shoe cleaner     Leather shoe preserver

Important points to consider when wet cleaning shoes 

Work with care when dealing with bright coloured leather shoes. Spots, raised edges and stains are formed very quickly as the moisture breaks down. Porous leather can turn dark immediately when applying oils. Be aware that shoes can turn a shade darker when wet cleaned or trying to widen the shoe. If the shoe in question is light in colour (white, cream, beige etc) always try wearing a pair of wet socks or place a pair of wet socks inside the shoe to widen it. React quickly if stains or smudges are visible. 

In bright leathers and generally with expensive shoes you should consult an expert. Shoe makers and cobblers usually have more tricks up their sleeves to solve most problems. For example, by tapping the shoes with appropriate tools they can make the leather soft by loosening the fibres.

The methods described will only work if the leather shoes are just slightly tight. If they are completely the wrong fit, these techniques cannot help.

Recommended products

Use COLOURLOCK Aniline Water Stain Remover to remove water marks.

For cleaning and caring Pigmented Leather Shoes:

For cleaning and caring Suede or Nubuck Shoes:

Top tips!

How to clean leather shoes?

STEP 1: Clean the leather with a 1:1 mixture of COLOURLOCK Leather Shoe Cleaner and water. Moisten the inside and then wear the shoes or boots for at least one hour. On the outside the leather yields and remains subsequently softer.

STEP 2: Allow to dry. Away from any sources of heat. Do not leave near or on a radiator or blow dry. Heat causes the fibre network to bond strongly and the leather may even shrink at high temperatures. In such cases, only strong force can loosen the fibres again. However, there is a high risk that the leather may tear. Ideally, stuff the shoes with a towel or paper to speed up the drying process and/or insert a shoe tree to ensure the shoes retain their shape.

STEP 3: Once dry, apply a care product which is suitable for the type of leather.