Breaking in new shoes can be a painful process. As they mold to your feet, there’s bound to be some discomfort as the shoes move, stretch, and soften.
Often, the worst part is the back of the shoe around the heel.
That’s why learning how to soften the back of new shoes can be quite helpful. Softening this part of your shoes will reduce chafing that can cause blisters, and will make breaking in your shoes easier and more comfortable.
These tips are particularly handy for leather shoes, but you may find that the problem occurs no matter what shoe you buy. Work shoes, dress shoes, and even athletic shoes can all have hotspots in the back of the shoe – so here’s what you can do about it.
How Long Does It Take to Break In Shoes?
There’s no specific time period to break in a pair of shoes. It depends on a variety of factors, but in general, it should take three weeks to a month to break in a new pair of shoes.
Factors that could influence this include the quality of the shoe, how well it fits your foot, and how often you wear them in this time period.
But if you take specific steps to break your shoes in faster, you can likely have them ready for full-time wear in about a week.
How to Soften the Back of New Shoes
One part of a shoe that requires a lot of breaking in is the back section of the upper, commonly called the heel collar.
This area of new shoes is often stiff and hard, which can cause painful chafing that leads to blisters on the back of your heel.
It usually softens over time, the more you wear the shoes and the heel molds to the shape of your foot. But it can be a painful process, since you may only be able to wear the shoes for an hour or so at a time.
If you do develop blisters, it can stop you from wearing the shoes for a few days, resulting in a long time to break them in.
Thankfully, there are some ways to speed up the process of softening the back of new shoes.
Heat and Tweak
All you need for this method is a source of heat—a hairdryer is a good choice– that can be directed onto the back of the shoe.
Aim the hairdryer at the heel of the shoe and heat it up for a few minutes. When it’s warm to the touch—but not too hot to hold it—grab the heel and twist it gently, bending the materials to soften them.
Take care not to twist or bend too hard, as this may damage the shoe. Gentle twisting will help to soften up the heel material, but you may need to do it a few times a week to soften it enough to wear.
Taking this action can help you break your shoes in much quicker, especially if you do it two to three times a week in the first two weeks of having the shoes.
Another excellent way to soften the heel is using oil. You can use any kind of cooking oil—oils used in mechanics are not advised. An extra bonus of using this method is that the oil will help to keep leather shiny.
Place just a few drops of oil onto the heel of the shoe. Gently rub it into the material, taking care to cover the entire heel. You can do this on the outside and the inside of the heel.
Leave the shoes for a few hours. The leather will absorb the oil, and become more soft and supple. You can also do this with other materials, and it should still work, but it’s particularly helpful for leather shoes.
Be careful not to soak the shoes in oil. Stick to just a few drops on the area you need to soften, otherwise the shoes might get damaged.
Use Petroleum Jelly
Petroleum jelly—also known as Vaseline—can also help to soften the back of new shoes. It works in a similar way to oil, being absorbed by the shoe material and softening it from the inside out.
Run a light layer of petroleum jelly over the heel area of your new shoes. Leave them for a few hours, to make sure it absorbs as much as possible.
Remove the excess with a clean cloth, and then leave them for another hour or two before wearing them. You should notice that the heel is softer and more pliable after you’ve done this.
Try a Shoe Stretching Spray
Leather, nubuck, suede, and canvas shoes can be made softer and more supple by using a shoe stretching spray like FootMatters Professional Boot & Shoe Stretch Spray.
Follow the instructions on the spray you buy. But most of them will have you spray the shoes in the areas that are tight and then wear them with a pair of thick socks for a few hours.
Aside from softening the back of new shoes, this can also stretch them a little, reducing chafing and tightness.
You can use this spray a few times if your shoes are tight and stiff, but remember that repeated use could damage the materials.
Try Rubbing Alcohol
If you don’t have shoe stretching spray, you can try using rubbing alcohol. It works the same way and you may even have some in your home right now so you don’t have to go out and buy.
Spray or dab some rubbing alcohol on the heel of the shoe. You can do it both inside and outside the heel, but try not to soak the heel—rather, dab it on until it’s a little damp but not soaking.
It’s a good idea to do a patch test first to make sure the alcohol doesn’t damage the shoes. Dab a bit on a small part of the shoe and see what effect it has. If it lightens the color of the shoes, it might not be a good idea to use.
It’s likely that you already have soap in your home, and you can use it on the back of new shoes to help soften them up. Most soaps are high in fat, which means they work the same way as oil when applied to the back of your shoe.
Rub the soap on the inside and outside of the back of your new shoes. While the soap is still soapy, put the shoes on with a thick pair of socks and take a walk. The soap should soak into the back of the shoes; as you walk, it will soften and mold to the back of your foot better.
And your shoes will be cleaner! This method can be used more than once, but be careful because it can fade the color of your shoes. Remember to wipe off any excess soap after you’ve taken a walk in the shoes.