Proper Leather Brushing Technique

Leather brushing (including shoe and boot brushing) is a combination of science and skill. In order to have the proper skills you need to understand the science.

Proper brushing leads to beautifully shined and properly maintained leather shoes, boots, and other goods

Leather brushing serves a few purposes:

  1. Helps remove surface dust collected while not in use. For leather that is actually dirty, you should use a different brush for removing the dirt first.
  2. The friction warms up the wax and oils slightly, which helps disburse them across the leather.
  3. Crossing brush patterns help smooth the wax for a better shine.

The typical leather brush is made of horse hair, but you can also get brushes made with boars hair and goats hair. Boars hair is stiffer than horse hair, and goats hair is softer than horse hair. Boars hair brushes are more typically used for cleaning dirt from leather, while goats hair brushes are more typically used for final brushing or touch up between shines.

Full-size Horsehair Brush

Note: we do not recommend brushing a spit/bull shine with anything other than a cotton cloth, or sometimes a goats hair brush (if used delicately enough).

A critical aspect of leather brushing to be considered is the amount of wax that is on the leather. The more wax on it, the more difficult it will be to produce a shine due to drag (brush stroke impedance). Starting with a very thin coat of polish/wax is best. You want the brush to flow smoothly and quickly.

Initial brush stroke weighting (pressure) should be about 60% through (parallel to the surface) and 40% down (toward the surface). This will allow you to properly spread the wax. Brush strokes in a diagonal hash pattern. You should avoid brushing directly across the leather or directly along the length of the leather as it will diminish the shine.

Once you have gone over the leather with the 60/40 weighting once or twice, reduce the pressure to 70/30 weighting and continue to brush completely another four to ten times. Finally reduce the weighting to about 80/20 and brush the piece a final two or three times.

As the weighting ratio changes so should the velocity of your brush strokes. The lighter the downward pressure, the faster the stroke should become. The exception to this is the final brushing or two that should be at a moderate pace. Brush stroke pace would be defined as follows: two strokes per second is slow, six strokes per second is fast.

The full process should be done with leather polish, and may be done more than once in a single sitting. But, you need to avoid adding too much polish. To test if you have too much polish/wax, simply slide your finger across the surface of the leather lightly. If your finger seems to drag on the polish, it is too thick. Keep brushing with a brush until you feel no drag with your finger.

You do not have to add polish each time you brush your leather. If fact you should only add polish about every three or four wears/uses. You should brush your leather lightly to moderately each time before you wear it however.

This post was written by Glen, the creator of our products, shared here with his permission, and originally posted on his Old Leather Shoe blog. 

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