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Spit and Polish for a Better Shine on Leather

Updated on August 9, 2014

Is it worth the trouble

When polishing shoes with brush, polish and duster it always irked me that so much effort produced only a mediocre shine. The only compensation was that most other people seemed to achieve a similar result. That is, until one day I was introduced to spit and polish.

We were sitting in the garden one sunny day. I was shining my shoes - or trying to - with brush, polish and duster. My sister picked up the shoe not being shined and proceeded, on one spot of leather, as she had done for her husband in the British Army. In just a few minutes the spot shone brilliantly.
From that moment on, I abandoned the brush, polish and duster method of shoe shining.

Spit and polish is a time-honoured method of polishing leather, and making it longer lasting. It is widely used in the military services, where it underlines high and uncompromising standards.

Naturally, you will want to improve on your usual method of shoe cleaning.
For the first time you should be prepared to spend a total of around two hours to polish a pair of shoes. With this in mind, when you first try this, it might help spur you on if you have with you shoes that you polished in the usual manner, so you can compare the benefits as you work.

If you are prepared to spare the time and effort you may soon regard the polish, brush and duster method as distinctly second-rate.


How to spit and polish

You will need a fairly soft cloth of around eight to twelve inches square, and a tin of shoe polish of a suitable colour. Some might use a smaller cloth, but shoe polishing can become messy, so a larger clean cloth could be useful.

My method basically is to:

  1. remove any excessive dirt or debris from the shoe. A brush for this stage would be useful. Examine the upper in detail - the front upper and toe, around the sides, the back and where the upper joins the sole – and ensure they are all free of dirt and debris. Bear in mind that this process will progressively seal in whatever is on the shoe upper.
  2. rub several coats of saliva into the leather of the whole shoe without polish. After this, it would be useful to put your shoes aside for a while.
  3. open the tin of polish, and place it handy.
  4. select a spot on the shoe that really needs treating and polishing.
  5. Spit on the selected spot, and, using a finger behind your cloth, rub the saliva into the leather. I use the index finger, using the part with the fingerprint. For small spots, you could use the fingertip instead. Repeat this a few times over. For the first few coats, use more spit than polish.
  6. wipe the cloth across the open tin of polish to pick up a smear of polish.
  7. rub the polish into the same spot you have applied saliva to. Whenever you apply polish rub it in immediately and completely, else it will dry and cake. When you have rubbed saliva in completely you could leave it a while to take effect. You should rub that in also, though it is less important than with polish. The general principle is that more time spent gives a better shine.
  8. keep repeating steps 5 to 7 until you have put a shine on your selected spot.
  9. select a spot overlapping the spot you have just polished, and repeat steps 5 to 8.
  10. when you have polished the shoe completely put your polished shoe aside, and pick up the other shoe. Now do steps 1 to 9.

Keep going till you have polished the entire leather uppers of both shoes, and are happy with the result. If you allow at least three minutes per spot and around twenty spots per shoe, each shoe will take about an hour – 2 hours for the pair. The shoes will likely need less treatment with successive applications.
Ideally, leave the shoes for an hour or two afterwards, as the treatment seems to need time to work better on the leather. Your finger, or fingers, might be aching a little now, so I will understand if you decide not to complete the task immediately.

Doubtlessly, after all your work you will want to compare your handiwork with shoes you polished with less time and trouble.

The benefits

The accumulated effect of spit and polish, over time especially, will develop a deep shine and the condition of your shoes will improve.

When you are out and about, and really need a better shine on your shoes then your only requirement might be a clean soft cloth - and spit.

© 2012 Peter Ray


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