As I watched Mayes work Renovateur into my shoe, I recognized the ease of control that Nick Horween had attributed to the product. Medium pebble grain, enhanced softness, light natural pebble texture.
I polled several people around the office of varying hand sizes and genders, and most but not all said that the Allen Edmonds and Kirby Allison brushes were not so large that they were difficult to handle.
The Kirby Allison and Kiwi brushes have divots alongside the wooden handles, making them marginally easier to get a grip onto, whereas the Allen Edmonds handle is ungrooved.
Its medium-stiff bristles work well for getting what you need out of the tin and onto your shoe. You can find brushes for nearly every special cleaning task, but if you intend to buy just one specialty brush, I have to recommend getting at least one dauber for applying cleaner and an optional one for polish, which you can also apply with a rag.
Conditioner is better applied with a rag. Because you will need separate brushes for each color, we recommend going cheap. The most cost-effective percent horsehair dauber is made by Kiwi , and it gets the job done as well as anything.
Unless your shoes are fresh out of the box, your first step is to clean them. Saddle soap, as its name suggests, was created to clean leather saddles. However, after conducting a meta-review of 15 different saddle soaps and reading multiple shoe-care guides, we discovered that saddle soaps rely on a similar, basic formulation of a mild soap that acts as a surfactant and a blend of oils and greases that replenish some but not all of the oils that the soap removes.
A wipe of a cloth and a close visual and manual inspection by Stanley Mayes revealed the gentle thoroughness of the saddle soap: It had effectively lifted away the dirt and previous layers of polish that had accumulated on my shoe. Lexol Leather Cleaner, on the other hand, had difficulty removing the old polish that had built up on the shoe.
It did an adequate job dealing with small stains on the surface, but only with some serious working by Mayes did it manage to lift a nominal amount of the old polish. Removing old polish is an important step, as old polish can suspend dirt and other grime that then gets sealed underneath a new polish layer, where it can rub against the leather. The Lexol cleaner was gentle, as promised, but it also produced a noticeably tacky feeling on the shoe, meaning that it left behind some residue.
Its ease of use and efficiency make it worth the premium. Shoes treated with this conditioner had a better shine, and one jar will last about shines. After you clean your shoes with a cleaner or with a slightly damp rag , conditioning them is the next step. Conditioning should form the basis of your leather-care routine. Conditioning your shoes is a vital step because leather is basically flesh—without moisturization, it will lose its pliability and start to acquire a decidedly duller look as creases form.
In extreme situations, the leather will start to crack and flake, which is in most cases irreversible. After reading through plus-page debates about conditioner choice on menswear forums, reading shoe-care guides, speaking with leather-care experts and tanners, and conducting in-store testing with Stanley Mayes and his crew, I can say with confidence that Saphir Renovateur is worth the extra cost over Venetian Leather Balm and Lexol Leather Conditioner.
Renovateur has a lot of hype surrounding its supposedly miraculous abilities to nourish leather. As I watched Mayes work Renovateur into my shoe, I recognized the ease of control that Nick Horween had attributed to the product. Instead it remained malleable, and it spread easily and evenly across the leather.
We noticed that Renovateur took longer than the other products to fully absorb; this is good, however, because it gives inexperienced home users a larger margin of error. I also took the liberty of flexing and feeling the Renovateur-treated vamp and quarter, and in comparison with the results from using Lexol Leather Conditioner and Venetian Leather Balm, the Renovateur-treated side felt more naturally moisturized.
All three conditioners, according to Mayes, did an adequate job moisturizing the leather, but he and I preferred Renovateur for several reasons. The Lexol Leather Conditioner—treated side felt moisturized, but much like the Lexol cleaner, the conditioner left a perceptible tack to the surface. Under longer-run testing, Mayes confirmed the conclusion that Renovateur was the best conditioner for home use, even given its higher price. He then pulled out a surprise for me: He had gone ahead and cleaned, conditioned, and polished the Allen Edmonds Cliftons I had left behind, but had used Venetian Leather Balm on one shoe and Renovateur on the other.
He directed my attention toward the toe caps; on any shoe, the toe cap is especially vulnerable to scuffs and scratches when you drag it against the sidewalk, say, or stub it against the teeth of an escalator. As you can see in the pictures, Renovateur was far more effective in smoothing out the scuffs I had generated over the course of several wears the DC Metro system does your shoes no favors. The shoe treated with Renovateur also had fewer small wrinkles the larger ones remained on both shoes—no conditioner is a miracle worker in the crease points where the toe box bends.
The only major concern he had about Renovateur involved its packaging. It comes in a squat, wide-mouthed glass jar that looks more like a container of expensive face cream than a shoe product. And as with an expensive face cream, a little bit goes a long way. Following this guideline, a ml jar should last you at least or so conditioning treatments.
Venetian Leather Balm suffers from the same problem as Saphir Renovateur: This meant that Stanley Mayes had to be diligent about keeping his rag moving along the shoe, lest the product absorb unevenly into one spot and not thoroughly nourish another.
Although the precise formulation of Venetian Leather Balm is not available, I have heard several shoe-care and menswear experts speculate that it contains a higher level of solvent. Lexol Leather Conditioner comes in a shampoo-bottle-like container, which in our tests made controlling the amount that came out significantly easier. The consistency was somewhere in between that of Renovateur and Venetian Leather Balm—not really a lotion but not really a liquid, like a homemade salad dressing.
And the Lexol conditioner itself took somewhere in between the time of the other two products to absorb into the leather. Mink oil is another product that experts frequently cite as an ideal substance for moisturizing shoes, and for good reason: You can find a bevy of mink-oil products, and in fact, our top pick, Saphir Renovateur, is a mink-oil suspension. But we did not test other mink-oil products, for two reasons.
I left five top-rated cream and wax polishes with Stanley Mayes so that he could use them on shoes that came into his store that were of a suitable color. After two and a half weeks of in-shop testing, and plus hours spent reading shoe-care guides, interviewing shoe-care experts, and trying to track down MSDS Material Safety Data Sheet information on the polishes, we came to some conclusions.
You can think of a cream polish as a hybrid of a conditioner and a polish. However, because it soaks into the leather as opposed to staying on the surface, cream polish is better for restoring faded colors—for example, if you were overzealous in cleaning your shoe, and the cleaner ate away at the original finish.
If you stop here, you end up with a matte, colorful finish that has a natural look. Saphir and Meltonian are the two major brands of cream polish. The Saphir polish is richer and more nourishing, but the Meltonian polish is easier to work into the shoe and thus delivers the same result with less effort. Moreover, because the Meltonian polish easily worked into the leather and did not leave residue behind, it provided superior aesthetic qualities in comparison to the Saphir polish, restoring the color of the shoe leather and creating a matte shine the type of shine that you can expect a cream polish to provide.
Our experience with the Saphir cream polish is an example of how more is not necessarily better. Although Mayes conceded that, when used perfectly, the Saphir product is probably more nourishing of a polish than the Meltonian product, the fact that he had difficulty getting it to fully absorb into the leather made us hesitant to recommend it for routine, home use.
This wax polish is the one to get if you want a high-gloss shine. It lasts longer than Kiwi polish and has superior spreadability. Splurge on this polish if you want a longer-lasting luster. Generally a wax polish also does a better job of covering up minor scuffs that a conditioner has properly filled in.
This is because a wax polish, unlike a cream-based polish, does not sink into the leather and instead forms a thin layer that sits on top of the shoe. For this reason, you must make sure to clean or brush your shoes thoroughly before you apply a wax polish. Once trapped, it will rub against the leather of your shoes and remain there until you strip off that polish layer , which can cause serious damage in the long run. Although the longevity and nourishing qualities of the Saphir product are great, a good moisturizer which, again, is a vital step levels out the playing field.
In testing, Stanley Mayes found that the Saphir wax polish had a higher oil content in comparison with the Lincoln wax polish; its glossier in-tin appearance indicated that the Saphir polish was a richer product.
He had shined the boots using the Saphir Pate de Luxe wax polish after cleaning and moisturizing them. The surface had the telling gloss of a wax-polish shine, but it did not reach the mirror finish that many people have come to expect from wax polishes. I noticed that the toe cap seemed well restored and that the wax polish had been successful in filling in any small nicks and scratches that invariably would have formed.
Overall, the shine was nothing spectacular, just a solid, everyday shine rather than a high-gloss, mirror-finish shine. What did make this shine special, however, was the fact that it had happened five days prior. Wax polishes tend to be relatively unstable—after a couple of days, the shine typically wears off as the solvent dissipates into the atmosphere.
Lincoln Stain Wax Shoe Polish was better at producing the classic mirror-like shine that many people expect from a wax polish. Cape Cod Excel is a classic pull-up leather meaning that, when folded and flexed, greases that were impregnated into the skin migrate causing a very nice tonal effect.
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