Shiny Shoes

A look at my red shoe polish

Last week I went walking in the rain wearing my black leather shoes. Predictably, my shoes got wet. As they dried salt stains appeared, creating jagged white lines across the dull black leather. I’m not particularly fussy about my footwear, however, I want them to look well kept. So, I dug out my shoe polish tin and brush to return the shoes to their uniform black state.

As soon as I twist open the lid, the shoe polish smell takes me back to when I was in the military. Boots polished to a glossy shine was required back then – a feat that included a time-consuming regimen of spit and polish. I never really had the patience to keep my parade boots to the required shine as I always could think of better things to do. As a result, I suffered the consequence of not having shiny enough shoes more than once. I do however, have no problem brush shining my shoes to preserve the leather and keep them black.

The few moments it took to blacken my shoes started me to wondering: what is shoe polish anyway?

From wikipedia: Shoe polish is a waxy paste or cream to polish, waterproof, restore the appearance and extend the life of leather footwear. Originally concocted from wax and tallow, generally people made their own shoe polish. Tinned shoe polish took off during World War I as suddenly there were hordes of soldiers who needed to shine their shoes. Recipes for shoe polish have evolved by going into the realm of industrial chemistry. Now they are composed of a multitude of ingredients including naphtha, turpentine, dyes and gum arabic. Clearly modern shoe polish is flammable (I wonder if it would work as a fire starter in the event of an apocalypse as I have several cans in the house).

Again according to wikipedia, banana peels can be used to shine shoes – who knew? So banana peels can make my shoes shiny, what can make them black?

There is a recipe made from olive oil and lemon juice here, again lacking a blackening ingredient. A recipe more along what I would expect can be found here. These directions use: charcoal (what makes the polish black), hard soap, kerosene (still flammable), citric acid and liquid paraffin. More recipes can be found here. Since I have lots of shoe polish at the moment, I haven’t tried any of these concoctions – yet.


As a tangent – I polish my black shoes with red polish (the tin calls it ‘mahogany’) from time to time as I like the rich colour the red adds. I always feel a little naughty doing it as I was only allowed to use black polish on my army boots.