Leather shoe creasing, despite its unpleasant appearance, is completely normal. It may not look good, but some amount of creasing is normal in any shoe. Over time, creasing can get worse (especially as the shoe wears and flexes more) and can become unsightly. Fortunately, there are ways to remedy the creasing.
Why Does Leather Shoe Creasing Occur?
When you walk, your feet bend, with the ball of your foot acting at the pivot point. Your shoes bend with your feet, which causes creasing. It’s really important that your shoes bend - a shoe that doesn’t bend would be so stiff it would be painful to walk in. When shoes bend, the materials are compressed, which causes creasing.
You may notice that over time the soles of your shoes start to develop a more curved profile than when they were new. As soles break in, and are repeatedly flexed during walking, they eventually start to adopt the curved profile.
Poor-fitting shoes are also more likely to crease, especially shoes that are too big. A larger-than-necessary shoe results in extra space between the foot and the shoe, which limits the foot’s ability to hold the shoe’s shape (and causes extra creasing).
Materials and construction also have a major impact on creasing - higher quality shoes will resist creasing and hold onto their shape better over time.
How To Remove Leather Shoe Creases
There are a few different ways to remove creasing. Always consult the manufacturer’s guidelines and recommendations to prevent damage.
With An Iron & Cotton Cloth
First, pack your shoes with crumpled up newspaper. A few pieces of stiff cardboard can also be used to help the shoes hold their shape. Pack the shoes as tight as you reasonably can - this will help straighten out the creases.
Next, dampen a small towel or washcloth with water and lay it over the creased section of the shoe (folding and doubling up the towel is recommended). For suede shoes, make sure to wring out as much water as possible. The towel protects the shoe from receiving too much direct heat.
Take your iron and set it between 60-80 degrees fahrenheit, then iron the towel (on the shoes) for a few seconds at a time. Between passes with the iron, lift the towel to check your progress and make sure there’s no damage. The combination of moisture and heat will soften the leather and start to remove creases. Too much heat can damage the leather, so be careful to avoid direct contact. Repeat as needed until creases and wrinkles start to disappear.
When finished, leave the cardboard/newspaper in the shoe to help the leather retain its shape as it cools. If you have a shoe tree, you can insert the shoe tree during the cooling process to provide extra rigidity.
With A Heat Gun Or Blow Dryer
You can also use a heat gun or a blow dryer to remove creases, but this method is riskier because direct heat can cause permanent damage to the leather. This method requires a keen eye and a steady hand.
Insert cedar shoe trees into the shoes. These are important to fill the space inside the shoe and mold the leather against a shape that closely resembles a foot. Set the blow dryer or heat gun to a low setting and hold it 8-10 inches away from the shoe. Gently make a few passes back and forth to warm the leather. Now put down the heat gun and massage the warm leather against the shoe tree.
If the leather isn’t warm to the touch, increase the heat on the heat gun/blow dryer and try again. Repeat this process as needed until creases and wrinkles are minimized. Keep the shoe trees in place as the shoe cools. Direct heat can dry out the leather, so apply some polish or conditioner when you’re done applying heat. Applying polish or conditioner to the entire shoe is your best bet, otherwise you may end up with an uneven color/finish.
With Conditioner or Oil
Leather conditioners and oils can also be used to remove creases (no heat required). First, test the leather conditioner or oil by applying to an inconspicuous spot on the shoe. As noted previously, it’s recommended to polish/condition the entire shoe to maintain a consistent color/finish. Then continue to work the oil into the leather with your hands.
You can use a shoe tree to maintain the shoe’s shape, but be careful not to get oil or conditioner on the shoe tree. After conditioning, shoe trees are recommended to help the shoe hold its shape.
Shoe trees are helpful when removing creases, but they’re also helpful during normal storage. Shoe trees add rigidity that keeps the leather de-creased when you aren’t wearing the shoes. Additionally, cedar shoe trees help remove moisture and keep your shoes smelling fresh.