Shoe polish

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Shoe polish jar

Shoe polish (. Austrian also shoe polish ) is a waxy , ointments -, pastes - or gel-like mixture for leather care , most of shoe surfaces of leather . Chemically, like many creams, it is a dispersion or suspension . Shoe creams are among the surface-effective shoe care products. Forerunner of shoe polish which until the early 20th century shoe polish .


For the Werner & Mertz wax goods factory in Mainz , the chemist Philipp Adam Schneider developed the world's first modern shoe polish ( Erdal ), for which a patent was granted in Germany with effect from 1901. She removed the shoe wax.



Examples of solvent-free shoe polishes from various manufacturers

Shoe polish is the collective term for various cream-like shoe care products. Their fundamental differences can historically be traced back to the economic requirements of the time after the First World War, when manufacturers tried to replace the then scarce raw materials for the solvents used with water.

Basic types

First and foremost, there are two different types of shoe polish:

  • Hard wax cream
  • Emulsion creams

The emulsions are further subdivided into

  • Water emulsion cream (solvent water)
  • Mixed emulsion cream (contains both water and organic solvents).

Practical differentiation criteria

An external distinguishing feature of the two main groups of hard wax and emulsion creams is their consistency : the hard wax creams are much harder than the soft emulsion creams, which in the case of leather milk can even be of a liquid consistency. The different firmness also requires different packaging : Hard wax creams are always filled in flat tin or plastic jars. Emulsion goods, on the other hand, come in tubes , pots or flat plastic containers shaped like tin cans. Iron sheet would rust due to the water content of the emulsions. Leather milk is offered in bottles.

A distinction between mixed emulsions and water emulsions is not easily possible for the end user. The clearest indication is the solvent- free packaging on the water emulsion creams. Experienced users can differentiate between the two types of emulsion cream on the basis of their different degrees of effectiveness and other application features (e.g. dosage). In the 21st century, water emulsions dominate the shoe polish market in Europe. Since the mixed emulsion creams are the rare exceptions in the overall range of creams, experts already recognize them by their brand names.


The main active ingredients are the wax compositions of hard and soft waxes contained in the products. The waxes ensure the water-repellent effect of the cream, the shine and - in the case of hard waxes (especially carnauba wax , the hardest naturally occurring wax) also the protective effect of the cream. It also contains oils and fats (colloquially the “food” of leather ). This applies to all types of cream. In addition, small amounts (less than one percent) of dyes or pigments (both to freshen up the color) and the largest proportion (more than half) solvents or thinners ( white spirit , turpentine oil, etc., with emulsion creams basically also water) are added with it the individual components are evenly distributed in the cream, a ready-to-use consistency of the ointment is achieved and it can better penetrate the leather surface. Emulsion creams also require emulsifiers (hence the name) so that the waxes and fats, which normally cannot be mixed with water, are finely distributed in the cream.

Additives or individual components that are often highlighted in advertising are intended for fine-tuning the cream and do not say anything about its quality. Beeswax, for example, ensures a pleasant smell and, as a soft wax, ensures good elasticity of the wax film. Paraffin helps to adjust the consistency and silicone oils facilitate the polishing phase .

Water emulsion creams in particular require a large number of other ingredients that are superfluous for the leather care effect. For example, the preservatives contained in it prevent the cream from going moldy and other additives increase its resistance to cold (important for transport) etc.

Function and effect


Soldier taking care of shoes (1982)

When applying a shoe polish, the following happens:

  1. The wax particles adhere to the surface of the shoe like scales and create a matt appearance. The waxes ensure the water-repellent effect (impregnation effect) and the protective effect.
  2. Apart from the water emulsion creams, the solvents ensure additional cleaning when the cream is applied using a cloth, as they can remove the dirt that has remained - after the essential preliminary cleaning - and thereby loosen the used cream residue from the previous cream application, which is interspersed with microscopic dirt particles. In addition, the solvents transport the oils and fats contained in the cream somewhat into the top layer of leather and, in the case of emulsion creams, also the oil-soluble dyes (the color pigments of the hard wax creams remain on the leather surface).
  3. After the solvents have evaporated, the oils and fats are drawn a few tenths of a millimeter into the leather and replace any fatty substances that may have been washed out of the top layer of leather. The lipid molecules are placed between the individual leather fibers so that they can be moved against each other, thus maintaining the suppleness of the leather. The dyes freshened the color impression and the waxes, which still look dull, remain on the surface.
  4. If the wax layer is polished, the individual wax platelets melt due to the heat generated at certain points during polishing and a more closed and above all very smooth surface is created. New dirt does not adhere so easily to this and the incident light is reflected in such a way that a glossy impression is created. At the same time, a very thin protective film is created on the leather surface, which is invisible to the naked eye.

Different care results for different types of cream

This protective film is decisive for the effectiveness of a shoe polish: it must adhere well to the leather (= durability of the care, no staining) and be very elastic (effective impregnation; no gray breakage in the folds), but at the same time be as hard on the surface as possible in order to be chemical and mechanical barrier to protect the leather as best as possible against leaching of fats and tannins (= change and weakening) and injuries (= surface damage).

In contrast to the softer waxes in the emulsion cream, the carnauba wax content of a hard wax cream ensures longer-lasting protection: the film resists friction and impacts particularly well and thus protects the leather better from mechanical damage. The gloss effect also lasts longer and can be polished up several times without having to re-apply the cream (economy, quick care). In conjunction with the purely organic solvents used in hard wax creams, this also has a longer-lasting water-repellent effect.

Compared to hard wax creams, emulsion creams offer a larger selection of different colors and a somewhat stronger color effect due to the oil-soluble dyes that are also present in addition to the pigment colors. The gloss effect of emulsion creams appears silky, that of hard wax creams more reflective.

Water emulsions are more limited in their positive effects compared to mixed emulsions and hard wax creams. The protective effects of a water emulsion cream are overall less pronounced and of shorter duration. Leather experts emphasize again and again that a water cream is not a recommended leather care product. Rather, it only creates short-term and purely visual effects, but no sustainable care effect.

Application limits

As a surface care product, the protective effect is the most important quality feature of a shoe polish. The constant mechanical loads on the leather surface due to walking movements, tension, pressure and friction, which are unavoidable in the daily use of shoes, constantly attack this surface. If the protective film caused by the cream is damaged, the unprotected leather underneath is affected. This is why regular care intervals are required to renew the protective film and to prevent chemical or mechanical damage to the leather. Hard wax creams offer the most effective protective effect and allow the longest maintenance intervals.

The described mode of action of the creams and the stresses in everyday use explain why an excessively thick layer of cream only offers disadvantages, but no advantages. Too much cream application also hinders the water vapor permeability ("breathability") of the leather and has negative effects on the shoe climate. Shoe polish - applied regularly and very thinly - on the other hand, protects the factory finishing of the leather surface and ensures that the properties of the shoe upper leather are retained, which are important for the comfort and durability of the shoes. In this respect, both the appearance and factors such as breathability, elasticity, extensibility and flexibility of the leather are preserved and positively influenced by good quality shoe polish.

Shoe creams are not suitable for the care of suede ( velor , nubuck ) because the wax of the cream changes its surface visually and haptically (greasy and stained). Heavily stressed shoe uppers, such as those of work boots or mountain boots, may not be adequately protected and cared for by shoe polish. There are therefore special care products for these often stronger and vegetable-tanned upper leathers.

Hardened, brittle leather cannot be sufficiently supple again with shoe polish, regardless of the type. Provided that the leather does not lack moisture (leather that is too dry is hard and brittle), only the use of deep care products (leather oil, leather grease ) can restore the lost suppleness. In such cases, it is reserved for the specialist to use them if undesirable side effects (permanently matt surfaces, limp leather, poor fit, fat penetrating the stockings, etc.) are to be excluded.

The shelf life of shoe polish is several years. In the course of time, volatile solvents - especially in the case of hard wax creams with their comparatively large evaporation surface - lead to a slowly progressive hardening of the cream and to a shrinking of its volume. If the cream becomes harder, it becomes increasingly difficult to use. The optimal storage temperature is around 15–20 ° C.

Confusion of terms

The terms used for shoe polish are often ambiguous. The term shoe polish alone says nothing about whether it means a hard wax cream or an emulsion cream in an individual case. Emulsion cream is also inaccurate because it does not make any statement about its basic composition. There are big differences between water emulsion creams and mixed emulsion creams, both in terms of ingredients and practical application.

In addition, there are many common and synonymously used terms:

  • Hard wax cream = canned cream, wax paste, hard wax paste, gloss wax, turpentine oil cream, wax-turpentine paste, canned goods, oil goods
  • Emulsion cream = tube cream, tube goods, emulsion
    • Water emulsion cream = water cream, water ware, solvent-free cream
    • Mixed emulsion cream = mixed cream, mixed goods

Employed as a solvent in cans and mixing creams some manufacturers turpentine is often associated with the harmful turpentine confused. The use of turpentine oil as part of a shoe polish is even a quality feature; it is mainly contained in the higher-priced canned creams. On the other hand, there is turpentine, which dissolves heavily and is not suitable for leather care products.

Around 1915: Postcard number 1 from Carl Gentner with the lithographed portrait of Colonel General v. One over oak leaves - and two cans of “Dr. Gentner's Schuh-Putz Nigrin . Gives an elegant mirror finish "

Examples of some well-known shoe cream manufacturers


  • Helge Sternke: Everything about men's shoes . Nicolai, Berlin 2006, ISBN 978-3-89479-252-7 (With a detailed description of the composition and mode of action of different types of shoe polish, as well as their historical development)

Web links

Commons : Shoe polish  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ABC of German inventions . Report by Dorothee Ott and Kristine von Soden. Hessischer Rundfunk , December 23, 2010.
  2. About KIWI: The World of Shoe Care , accessed on April 3, 2020.
  3. Homepage Collonil, Berlin , accessed on April 3, 2020.