Leather shoes have a particular appeal. They’re stylish and can be worn in a professional setting and casually. One of the best things about them is that they’re extremely durable.
But what happens when your leather shoes are too big for your feet? You can continue to wear them as is, but that could lead to unpleasant consequences for your feet and legs.
The good news is that you can shrink leather shoes at home as long as you are very careful. There are potential dangers, but this article will tell you all you need to know.
Why Shrink Your Leather Shoes?
Leather shoes are known for stretching over time. They mold to the shape of your feet the more you wear them, causing the leather to stretch slightly.
Shoes of high quality will take longer to stretch; if the leather is of lower quality, it will most likely stretch more quicker.
But even a small bit of stretch can alter the fit of your shoes to the point where they’re no longer comfortable or even a little unsafe to wear.
At this point, you might consider shrinking the leather to get them back to the original fit.
On the other hand, you might just find a pair of leather shoes you like that are only available a half-size bigger than what you would normally wear.
Does Shrinking Leather Shoes Damage Them?
It’s important to note that many of these methods can cause permanent damage to the leather material of your shoes.
Heat, water, alcohol, vinegar, and other substances recommended to shrink leather can compromise the integrity of the material. This means your shoes may not last as long, and the leather may become brittle and look cracked or faded.
It can be difficult to figure out how to shrink your leather shoes exactly the right amount. You can’t apply these techniques more than once or twice without a high chance of damage to the leather.
Even when done once, it’s important to be aware of the potential dangers of damaging the shoes. Try these techniques at your own discretion!
How to Shrink Leather Shoes
These three ways are the most common ways to shrink leather shoes at home. Keep in mind that there’s always a chance of damage, so take it easy and be careful as you do them.
Also, remember that you might only be able to shrink your leather shoes by half a size. If your shoes are any larger than that, you would be better off buying a new pair in the right size.
1. Shrink Them With Water
While this is probably the easiest method, it’s important to know that water can damage leather.
You can apply a leather shoe protector solution to the shoe, but be aware that this may make it harder to shrink them effectively with water. If you apply a solution, make sure it’s completely dry before starting with the water.
Focus on the area of the shoe you want to shrink—for example, the sides or the toe box. We recommend using a spray bottle or dipping your fingers in water and gently rubbing it on the leather until it’s damp but not overly wet.
Then all that remains is to dry them. Allowing them to dry in a sunny spot is best, as long as the sun isn’t too harsh. Alternatively, you can use a hairdryer to dry the shoes evenly. Keep it at least 6 inches away from the shoes while drying.
We advise against leaving the shoes by a heater or fireplace, as the heat is unevenly dispersed across the shoes.
2. Shrink Them With Vinegar
You can effectively use vinegar to shrink your leather shoes. White vinegar will work the best, although you can also use apple cider vinegar if you have it.
Pour one cup of vinegar into a bowl. Then, soak a pair of socks in the vinegar until they’re completely soaked through. Don’t wring them out when you remove them from the bowl—place one sock in each shoe and let them stand for an hour or two.
This will allow the vinegar to soak into the shoes’ material, which helps shrink the leather. Remove the socks after a few hours and throw them away. Unless you want to keep them and use them again for this purpose, it’s best not to try and wear them.
Dry them in sunlight or with a hairdryer. Once they’re dry, wear them like normal and check the fit. You may need to do it once more to get a better fit.
3. Use An Elastic Band
This requires some more work than the other methods, but it can help if the heel of your leather shoes is slightly too large and slips off as you walk.
You will need some thick elastic—the kind used in making clothes. You’ll also need hairpins, a needle, and thread.
Cut a piece of elastic a few inches long. You’ll need to stretch it along the inside of the heel of the shoe. Once it’s in the right position, use the hairpins to hold it there.
Then sew the elastic band onto the shoe. It may be easier in shoes with thinner uppers, and you might find that using a curved needle makes it easier to sew.
The elastic must be stretched tight across the heel when sewn in. Make sure it’s flush against the back of the shoe, with no gap between the elastic and the shoe.
The force the elastic exerts on the shoe should pull it into a slightly narrower position, preventing it from slipping off your foot.
Other Ways to Improve the Fit of Your Leather Shoes
While the above ways can improve the fit of your leather shoes, they’re damaging to the material, especially if you have to do them more than once.
The methods below are non-permanent and preserve the integrity of the leather. We highly recommend trying these ways first—although they don’t shrink the leather, they can help your shoes fit better.
Try an Insole
If there’s too much space inside the shoe, the solution may not be to shrink the leather upper. Instead, you can take steps to reduce the excess space inside the shoe, and using an insole is a good option.
While all shoes come with insoles, most of them are removable. You should be able to remove the existing insole and insert one that has more volume, which will take up more space underneath your foot.
Look for a high-profile insole, but make sure it offers the right arch support for your foot.
Consider a Heel Pad
If there’s too much space in the heel or toe of your shoe and your foot moves forwards and backward as you walk, a heel pad could be the solution.
This is a sticky pad you place inside the heel of the shoe. Not only does it fill that space and keep your foot pushed forward in the shoe, but it can also reduce chafing and lower your chance of developing blisters.
You can easily find heel pads online or at your nearest drugstore.
Stuff With Tissue Paper
If you don’t like the idea of a heel pad, it may work to stuff the toes of your shoes with tissue paper. It serves the same purpose as a heel pad but instead fills the space in the toe and stops your foot from sliding forward as you walk.
You can also use tissues, a small sock, or anything else that effectively stops the gap between your toes and the shoe.
Wear Thicker Socks
If your shoes are just a little loose, it might help to wear a thicker pair of socks every time you wear your leather shoes. This will make up the small space between your foot and the upper of the shoe and give you a better fit.