Shoe Cream VS Polish: What’s the Difference?

Your shoes are an essential part of your wardrobe. Not only do they protect your feet, but they also can add style and personality to any outfit. However, just like any other piece of clothing or accessory, your shoes need to be taken care of to look their best.

When it comes to taking care of our shoes, most of us are probably a little fuzzy on the difference between shoe cream and shoe polish. Some people think they are the same thing, while others believe that one is better.

In this article, we will explain the difference between shoe cream and shoe polish. We will also answer some questions like what is a shoe polish and shoe cream? What do they both do for your shoes? When should you use one over the other? How should you apply each product? And what are the downsides of using either one?

So put on your reading glasses and get ready to learn all about shoe cream vs polish.

Shoe Polish

What is Shoe Polish?

Shoe polish is a waxy substance applied to shoes to shine and give them a glossy appearance. It works by coating the leather surface with a thin layer of wax. This layer of wax protects the shoes from dirt, water, and salt stains.

Shoe polish can also be thought of as an old-fashioned way of maintaining that shiny appearance that the shoes had right out of the box.

Polishes do not penetrate the leather. It comes in both liquid and paste forms and is available in various colors. Shoe polish typically contains three main components: wax, solvent, and pigment.

The main ingredient in polish is wax, which can be natural or synthetic. The solvent dissolves the polish and helps it spread evenly over the shoe’s surface. The pigment is what gives the polish its color.

Polishes sometimes also contain additives such as drying agents, fragrances, mineral oil, and dyes.

We recommend choosing wax polish that contains natural waxes, such as beeswax or carnauba wax. Synthetic wax will damage your leather shoes in the long run.

Why do Leather Shoes Need Shoe Polish?

Leather is a natural material that is made from the hides of animals. Leather slowly loses its outer layer of protection and becomes faded and dried out. Like human skin, leather also has pores and blotches that make it susceptible to damage.

In the same way, we humans apply makeup to tone our skin; we need to apply polish to tone leather shoes. Think of polish as a cosmetic for preserved animal skin.

Shoe polishes also reduce the visible signs of wear and tear on the shoes. Furthermore, a pair of polished shoes is a must-have to complete the look of any outfit.

When Should You Use Shoe Polish?

It would be best if you used wax polishes when you want to give your leather dress shoes a –

  • Glossy and varnished finish
  • A protective layer against water, dirt, and salt stains
  • High shine similar to a new pair of leather shoes

However, the best time to use wax polish on leather footwear is after moisturizing them with shoe cream or leather conditioner.

How to Polish Shoes?

Polishing shoes is not a difficult task. Just follow these instructions, and your shoes will look great in no time.

You will need:

  • Shoe polish in a color that matches your shoes
  • Polishing cloth (an old cotton cloth will do)
  • A clean cloth
  • Shoe brush (horsehair brush is recommended)
  • A welt brush or toothbrush
  • Newspapers or a shoe tree
  • Water (If you want a mirror finish)

Before beginning the process, make sure you cover the area with newspapers or clothes. This will prevent shoe polish from getting onto the floor and other surfaces.


Step-1 Remove the shoelaces from the shoes and insert a shoe tree or crumpled newspapers. This will help the shoe maintain its shape while you work on it.

Step-2 Using a horsehair brush, remove any dirt or dust particles from the surface of the shoes. Ensure that you clean the entire shoe thoroughly. This will help the polish adhere better.

Tip: If there are stubborn stains, such as salt stains, make sure to get rid of these as well. You can use one of our cleaning methods to remove salt stains from leather shoes.

Step-3 Apply shoe polish. If you are using liquid polish, shake the bottle well before use. Put a small amount of polish on the polishing cloth. Rub the polish into the shoes in a circular motion until evenly distributed. The circular motion creates friction, which slightly melts the wax and spreads it more evenly.

Next, apply polish to the welt, throat, and other hard-to-reach areas with a welt brush or toothbrush. Allow the polish to dry for approximately 10 minutes. Meanwhile, you can polish the other shoe.

Step-4 Use a horsehair brush to buff the entire shoe in quick, side-to-side motions. The shoe will begin to shine.

Wait for 5 minutes before moving on to the next step.

Step-5 Take a clean cloth and use it to wipe the entire shoe surface. This will remove excess polish and give it an excellent finish.

For Mirror Shine:

If you want a mirror shine on your shoes, follow these additional steps:

Step-6 Wet your finger and place small droplets of water on the shoes.

Step-7 Put a pea-sized amount of polish on the polishing cloth and rub it into the water droplet quickly and gently. Small circular motions are recommended. Repeat this process on the entire shoe.

Step-8 Wipe down your shoes with the dry area of the polishing cloth in a circular motion.

If you want a more shiny finish, repeat the process.

How Often Should You Polish Your Shoes?

There is no definitive answer to this question. It depends entirely on the type of shoes and how often you wear them.

If you wear leather shoes on a daily basis, we recommend polishing them at least once a week. If you wear them less frequently, polish them every two to three weeks.

If you have shoes that are made of suede or nubuck, we recommend polishing them at least twice a month. Suede and nubuck are more delicate materials and require more care. You can follow our complete guide on taking care of suede shoes.

Drawbacks of Using a Shoe Polish

Polishing your shoes has many benefits. However, it also comes with some drawbacks that you should be aware of. Here are a few disadvantages of using polish –

  1. Polishes are a temporary solution. Yes, they can make your shoes look shiny and new, but this shine won’t last forever.
  2. Polish can crack on your shoes and leave behind an unsightly white residue. Therefore, It’s crucial to apply the minimum amount of wax polish to the area where the shoe flexes.
  3. Polishes can accumulate over time and harden on your shoes. This makes the shoe surface dull.
  4. Wax polish does not contain any moisturizing elements that can penetrate the leather upper.
  5. If used excessively, polishes can change the color of shoes.
  6. Polishes can dry out. Follow this article to learn a few tips to prevent shoe polish from drying out.

Shoe Cream

What is a Shoe Cream?

The shoe cream is a type of polish that is rich in natural oils. It is meant to keep the leather hydrated and looking good. You can think of shoe cream as a moisturizer for leather shoes.

Shoe creams contain leather dye or pigments, a small amount of wax, and water or oil. This product also uses surfactants and emulsifiers to blend the cream and a solvent to aid its application.

Cream polishes penetrate the leather and replenish any natural oils that have been lost. This helps to keep the leather supple and prevents it from cracking. Cream polishes can help hide any scratches or scuff marks on the surface of the leather. They also add color and shine to the shoes.

Why do Leather Shoes Need Shoe Cream?

As you know, leather is a natural material that loses its natural oil and color with time. This makes the leather dry, stiff, and prone to cracking. Therefore, it is essential to re-hydrate and recolor the leather regularly.

In the same way, we humans apply moisturizer to keep our skin hydrated; we need to apply cream polish to hydrate leather shoes.

When Should You Use a Shoe Cream?

It would be best if you used shoe creams –

  • If you want to bring out the natural shine.
  • When your leather shoes start to look dry and stiff.
  • When you want to mask scratches and scuff marks.
  • If you want a matte finish on your dress shoes.
  • When you want to enhance the color vibrancy of leather shoes.
  • After cleaning leather shoes with harsh chemicals or solvents.
  • Before storing shoes for a season

How to Apply Shoe Cream?

The shoe cream is applied in a very similar way to shoe polish. However, you should use a smaller amount of cream shoe polish than you would use wax polish.

You will need:

  • Shoe cream
  • Shoe brush (horsehair brush is recommended)
  • Applicator brush or an old cotton cloth
  • Newspapers or a shoe tree


Step-1 Remove the shoelaces and stuff them with crumpled newspapers or a shoe tree. This will help the shoe maintain its shape while you work on it.

Step-2 Remove dirt and dust from the surface of the shoes using a shoe brush. Make sure to clean the entire shoe thoroughly. This will help the cream polish penetrate the leather more deeply.

Step-3 Apply a small amount of shoe cream to the applicator brush or an old cotton cloth. Rub it in circular motions all over the outer surface of the shoes.

You must apply a thin coat and cover the entire surface, as you do not want an uneven finish.

Step- 4 Let the shoes sit for about 10 minutes so that the cream polish can penetrate deep into the leather. Meanwhile, apply cream polish to the other shoe.

Step-5 Buff the leather surface using the shoe brush. This will help remove any excess cream polish and bring out the natural shine of leather shoes.

To get a high shine on fine leather shoes, apply a shoe conditioner after step-2. Let the conditioner soak for 5 minutes, then move on to step-3.

How Often Should You Use Shoe Cream?

There is no one definite answer to this question. We recommend that you apply shoe cream at least twice a month. If you clean your shoes regularly with harsh chemicals or if they are exposed to extreme weather conditions, apply shoe cream more often.

Additionally, if you regularly use leather conditioners, using shoe cream once will be sufficient.

Drawbacks of Using a Shoe Cream

Just like any other product, shoe cream also has a few drawbacks –

  1. Cream polishes take longer to dry than wax polishes.
  2. Shoe creams can attract dirt and dust, making your shoes look dirty over a period of time.
  3. It is difficult to achieve an even shine with cream polish.
  4. If applied excessively, cream polishes can darken light-colored shoes.
  5. Cream shoe polish can not be applied to some special leathers like shell cordovan. 

Shoe Cream vs Polish 

You may be wondering why there are two products when they seem to serve pretty much the same purpose. Well, it turns out that wax and cream polish actually have some key differences –

  1. Cream polishes nourish and condition your shoes better than wax polishes.
  2. Shoe creams contain more shoe color dyes, whereas polish contains more hard waxes.
  3. A wax polish leaves behind a thin wax layer that protects the shoe from moisture and dirt particles, while a cream polish replenishes natural oils.
  4. While wax polishes do not penetrate leather, cream polishes do.
  5. Wax polish produces a high gloss finish, while cream polish leaves a matte finish.
  6. While a cream can repair scratches and dents, a polish will shine the shoes.

The Bottom Line 

Cream and polish are both products used to enhance the appearance of leather shoes. However, you do not necessarily need to choose one over the other. You can enjoy the benefits of both simultaneously. 

Initially, you can use a cream polish for reconditioning and restoring the color of your shoes. Afterward, you can apply wax polish to make them waterproof and shiny.

We hope this article has helped you understand the differences between wax and cream polish. If you have any questions or doubts, feel free to ask in the comments section below. 

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