What worth is an arsenal of shoes without a complimentary shoeshine kit? And of what worth is a shoeshine kit without the proper shoe brushes? Often, a quick brush and polish is all that's needed to take your footwear from dull and boring to smart and classy!
In this article, we explore the various brush types available, ranging from simple cleaning brushes to horsehair polishing and finishing brushes for suede and leather. We know your appearance matters, so we're also here to help you make your shoes, boots, and even your trainers gleam with our ranking of the best brushes to buy online from sites like Amazon, Tesco and John Lewis.
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Shoe care involves three processes – cleaning, polishing and finishing – all of which require a different style of brush. We've prepared this buying guide to help you understand the differences and purpose of each type, and all the considerations you should be making while shopping.
It is important that the shoe brush you buy is suitable for the texture of your shoe material to avoid ruining them, so firstly, we're going to look at the different types and their footwear matches.
Pig bristle brushes, also known as boar hair or hog bristle brushes, are perfect for scrubbing off dirt and work well on tough-textured shoes due to their stiffness. They're best for sturdy leather shoes and boots like brogues, as they penetrate the perforations nicely to bring about a deep clean.
Pig hair brushes are great for pebble grain or hatch grain shoes too, as the bristles do a good job at cleaning otherwise hard-to-reach spaces between the grain patterns, eliminating excess wax that has built up in the grooves.
Finally, these brushes are also adept at working cream more effectively into embossed grain leather shoes. For more delicate material like mesh and cotton canvas fabric, however, we'd recommend getting softer hog bristles.
Horsehair shoe brushes are the most commonly used type because they're adaptable to both cleaning and polishing, and are suitable for a variety of shoe materials; both regular leather and suede.
They're made up of horse mane or tail hairs and are much softer than tougher pig hair bristles, making them perfect for removing dust and irritants. Use horsehair brushes to give your shoes a good buffing and shining treatment.
Brass wire shoe brushes are used to get rid of coarse dirt, and are especially useful for stubborn, deep-seated stains on suede and nubuck shoes. Because the bristles are quite tough, they're usually reserved for more heavy-duty cleaning, particularly with stains that have set strongly.
Brass can be quite tough on suede, however, and can cause the top layer to wear off gradually over time, so these brushes should be used with care. It's also important to note that this is not a brush to be used for daily cleaning, but rather kept for occasional use when the need to banish those tough stains arises.
Crepe rubber is made of a light latex material. The texture is soft and sticky, thus fitting for delicate shoe materials which would be ruined by harder brushes. Overall, they're best for removing light stains on delicate suede and nubuck.
This brush style is also used to re-fluff the fine fibres on shoes, thereby expelling trapped dust and dirt. Good for dislodging grime, soiling and debris, they can be used frequently for daily care.
A dauber, or applicator, is a smaller brush with a round handle. Unlike all the other flat brushes, its longer handle means that your hands are less likely to get messy while applying polish or wax.
The shape is designed to give your fingers a comfortable grip and is capable of accessing hard-to-reach edges around the shoe. Polish, wax or grease are applied evenly using a dauber in a circular motion in order to adequately penetrate the leather.
Goat hair brushes are ideal for adding the finishing touches to your shoe care routine. They're even softer than horsehair brushes and will not harm delicate shoe surfaces, instead allowing you to achieve a mirror-like finish on your leather shoes.
If you want a brush that delivers a high-gloss effect and a bright finish to your shoes without damage or scratches, this is the style to go for.
Synthetic brushes are rigid and tough, and a very useful tool for removing accumulated polish, dirt, mud and stones from soles of shoes. They're essentially cleaning brushes that do their job without damaging your footwear.
These characteristics make this variety great for garden or other work boots and hiking shoes. You should, therefore, avoid using a synthetic brush on smooth leather shoe material.
Brushes also ought to have a wooden base or handle as opposed to plastic or resin. Although plastic and resin are lightweight and inexpensive, wood is more durable and will last longer. Look for a contoured handle for easy and comfortable grip with minimal slipping.
Finally, a brush with minimal shedding and firmly-attached hairs is always preferable. Do not worry if some hairs fall out on your first use – this is typical of natural hair as it is simply ridding itself of the weaker ends. You'll see less falling out as you continue to use it (assuming it's of good quality, that is!)
You really don't need to have every type of shoe brush there is! All that matters is that you have a distinct brush for each step of your shoe maintenance routine – one for cleaning, one for polishing, and one for finishing.
Ensuring you have one of each will prevent polish residue or dirt on brushes used in a previous care routine passing onto fresh surfaces and hampering your shoe shine efforts. For efficiency and often better value, look for sets or multi-headed brushes which offer the varieties you need.
Moreover, you could get a separate brush for each colour of shoe you have if you like, but if not, two brushes would suffice – one for light coloured shoes and the other for the darker shade of shoes.
Click to purchase
Premium Horsehair Shoe Brush
A Useful Brush Duo for All Footwear
A Fine Pair of Shoes
Premium Goat Hair Polishing Brush
A Brilliant Brush for a Smart Finish
Shoe Polish Applicator
Small and Handy for Spotless Polishing
Beechwood Crepe Brush
The Perfect Brush for Delicate Shoes
Suede Shoe Brush
Solid and Genuine Brass Bristles for Cleaning Suede
Pig Bristle Shoe Brush
An Excellent Pick for Quality Shine
Lux Premium Quality Shoe Brush
Great for Buffing and Shining Your Shoes
Natural Bristle Polishing Brush
For a Brilliant Shine and a Glossy Finish
Suede & Nubuck Combination Brush
An Affordable Combination Brush for Gentle Cleaning
Suede & Nubuck Multi Brush
A Multipurpose Brush to Clean and Revive
There's a reason horsehair shoe brushes are the most common – because they're the most versatile. This brush not only cleans, but also buffs and shines beautifully. It is said that if you only buy one style of shoe brush, it should be horsehair, so it makes sense for this to be our winning pick!
We recommend this particular horsehair brush because it manages to pass all of the quality checks in build, design, and material. We also love the fact that you can buy the neutral-toned brushes separately or as a pair if needed. All in all, this is a sturdy product that's well worth the price.
As the name suggests, this brush is made from super-soft goat hair bristles. This softness makes it ideal for delicate materials and any precious footwear items you want to take good care of. The hand-finished wooden handle is also well-designed and rather elegant, too.
Another plus is that this brush is very easy to maintain; it can be combed out and also washed with liquid soap. Handily, it's also useful for dusting off your shoes and boots and is available in dark and light colours. For a finishing brush to give that spotless final shine, this is as good as it gets.
This set of two applicator brushes may be compact, but they're very useful for applying polish. The small frame enables you to manoeuvre seamlessly around your shoes as you work in your polish, wax or cream and it's able to reach all corners, including hard-to-reach places like the welt.
Not to mention, their portability makes them great for travel or stashing in your desk! Build-wise, the rounded wooden handles are ergonomic and comfortable to hold, and the pig hair bristles are quite versatile – they can also be used for cleaning and removing excess polish.
This crepe brush is ideal for delicate leather due to its soft and sticky bristles which pulls dirt apart. Best suited for suede and nubuck shoes, the flexible bristles remove soiling and debris gently and thoroughly.
The flat handle is made of polished beechwood too, which guarantees a longer-lasting product. This is an impressive brush, particularly for those who want to avoid harsher brass wire and prefer a gentler alternative. It can also be used on shoes made of fabric and canvas.
Not every brush can give a deep and thorough cleaning like this one! The brass bristles are genuine as opposed to just plated, so it is very efficient at getting underneath the fibres of your suede footwear to get the job done.
The wooden extended handle, shaped like a toothbrush, allows for a tight hold and ensures your hands are at a good distance from the bristles, thereby keeping them clean during use. The rather harsh bristles are not right for more delicate suede materials, though, which is something to be mindful of.
This natural pig hair brush is available in dark and light bristles, allowing you to have different brushes for light-coloured and dark-coloured shoes accordingly. The bristles are stiffer than horsehair and perfect for cleaning shoes and working polish into textured leather.
Wren's brush has a durable, varnished wooden handle which is contoured on either side, allowing you to rest your fingers comfortably while working and minimising slipping. The handles are a bit rough around the edges, but the general quality of the brush is satisfactory.
Here's a nice, soft shoe brush that's made of 100% natural horsehair, with an extended length that's extra convenient to use. This premium quality brush is great for buffing in polish and shining boots and shoes.
Not only does it come at a decent price, but it's practical and adaptable for both cleaning and polishing purposes. You might find that some hairs are lost in the course of using it, but it gets the job done and is worth the price.
This polishing brush, also by Kiwi, is made from dense, natural bristles which are suitable for tackling trapped dirt and stubborn stains. After applying your polish with an applicator, you should buff with this brush to give your leather shoes a glossy shine.
It has a flat, wooden handle that is both large and comfortable to hold, as well as being of a good quality and durability that mean it will stay with you for a while. Do note, however, that the natural hairs may shed a bit.
This multi-purpose cleaning brush by the popular Kiwi brand does a great job at light cleaning. It has a soft rubber head that is gentle on suede and nubuck shoes, as well as a brush and an eraser block for the removal of stains and shiny marks.
This easy-to-use kit restores the appearance of suede and nubuck after removing water spots and stains. Some reviewers have reported, however, that it is not very tough on stains even if you apply plenty of pressure, so you'll need a harder brush if you're dealing with heavy staining.
This triple-sided brush is designed to clean and revive suede and nubuck shoes. The tough synthetic bristles really get under the nap of the suede to remove stains, marks and dirt, and the rubber adds shine. It's also practical to use, with a long, ergonomic wooden handle and a hole at the tip for hanging.
This is a multipurpose brush that can be used to clean items other than shoes too! However, because it is so tough it's likely to scratch your footwear if you aren't sure what you're doing, so it will require very careful use.
Taking good care of your shoes and clothes means they not only look better, but they last longer too, which is especially beneficial if you've paid a premium for them! Here are some more recommendations for products to keep your wardrobe favourites in tip-top condition.
Shoe maintenance is one of those little things in life that says a lot about a person. So the next time you're stepping out, remember that a good shine will not only look good, but probably give you a confidence boost too! With our guide to hand you can be sure you're using the right brush to extend the life of your favourite footwear.
Author: David Gbe
No. 1: Selvyt｜Premium Horsehair Shoe Brush
No. 2: A Fine Pair of Shoes｜Premium Goat Hair Polishing Brush
No. 3: Seaperich｜Shoe Polish Applicator
No. 4: Saphir ｜Beechwood Crepe Brush
No. 5: Charles Bentley｜Suede Shoe Brush
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