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On shoes, leather scuffs and scratches are unsightly, but they happen to most people with normal wear during their day to day life. In most cases, they can be treated to restore your leather shoes back to a presentable state. Read on to understand the difference between scuffs and scratches, as well as how to treat them.
A material transfer scuff occurs when another object makes contact with your shoe and transfers material. For example, someone else might step on your foot and their rubber sole might leave a black scuff mark. This is the best kind of scuff because it is the easiest to remove. The black mark is added material from another object and the leather shoe itself has not been damaged (hopefully). In this scenario, you just need to gently remove the added material without harming the leather.
To remove material transfer scuffs, start with the least abrasive methods.
A shoe brush is perfect since it’s already designed to remove grit and debris from shoes. Try this option first to see if the brush can remove the scuff.
A pencil eraser works great for simple scuffs because the eraser itself is soft enough that it won’t damage the leather. Apply moderate pressure and work the eraser across the scuff to remove the added material.
A magic eraser is a piece of melamine foam, which is a mildly abrasive foam used to clean stains off a variety of surfaces. Melamine foam can be carefully used to remove foreign marks, but because it is abrasive, be gentle and go slowly so you don’t damage the leather. Wet the melamine foam and then gently wipe the scuff to remove it. Try the melamine on an inconspicuous spot first to ensure it doesn’t cause any damage.
For stubborn scuffs, baking soda can be mixed with water to create an abrasive paste. Toothpaste has a similar level of abrasiveness and can also be used with water to remove stubborn scuffs. Both of these solutions are more abrasive, so apply them to a soft cloth and gently work them into the leather to remove the scuff.
Do not use nail polish remover, rubbing alcohol, dish soap or other chemicals to remove scuffs. All of these have the potential to damage the leather by drying it out, warping it, or cracking it.
In other cases, a scuff may occur when something makes contact with your leather shoe, and doesn’t leave any material behind, but causes shallow damage to the surface. This type of scuff will usually look like someone lightly sandpapered the leather and the affected area will typically be lighter in color. These types of scuffs are basically small scratches since they have damaged the leather itself.
Leather can’t heal itself, so fixing abrasive scuffs is accomplished by a combination of minimizing them, and then hiding them.
Applying a basic conditioner may be all you need to do to fix minor scuffs. Leather conditioner is a moisturizer and just like moisturizing your skin, leather will absorb the moisturizer. Absorbing the moisturizer causes the leather to swell and that swelling will minimize the appearance of scuffs. Apply leather conditioner per the conditioner’s instructions, and when finished, wait for it to fully dry.
If conditioning alone doesn’t eliminate the scuffs, polishing may be able to finish the job. Whereas conditioner focuses on maintaining leather’s softness and texture, polishing is more focused on leather’s appearance. It adds a shine to the outside surface. For fixing scuffs, use a colored polish. Colored polish will help cover up the scuff and make it less visible.
Scratches are similar to scuffs - a foreign object has come in contact with your leather shoes and left a mark. Scratches, however, are deeper than scuffs and are more difficult to repair. In extreme cases, a scratch may go deep enough to cut the leather.
With deep scratches, it’s nearly impossible to completely hide their appearance, so the focus becomes lessening their appearance. Scratches can give shoes or boots some character, so if they can’t be eliminated, you have to embrace them. Conditioning and polishing can help minimize the appearance of the scratch, but probably won’t hide it completely.
Some will recommend using glue or fillers to fill a scratch and help hide it. These are a poor choice and are a temporary fix at best. While the shoe may look better in the short term, it will have a negative impact on the way it looks in the long term.
Glue and fillers only work on surfaces that don’t move. Most parts of a leather shoe will be flexed on a regular basis, so glue or filler is likely to work loose, separate from the leather, and look worse than the original scratch. Once this has happened, it’s increasingly difficult to make the leather look presentable.
Cuts can’t be repaired while still maintaining the shoe or boot’s appearance. A cut has separated the leather into two distinct pieces and has compromised the shoe’s outside layer. There are some solutions, like gluing the cut closed, or sewing it back together, but these are functional fixes that don’t do anything to fix the shoe’s overall appearance.
If your leather shoes or boots have been cut, it may be time to move on to a new pair.
Samuel Hubbard makes a wide variety of handcrafted leather shoes and boots for both men and women, made from the finest materials available.