The Shoe Shine Post

idblHardShoesWhat The Feis do you do to get her shoes that shiny?

A few people have asked about what I do to get TGC’s (that is The Girl Child in case you are new to my blog) shoes looking the way they do. Its easy, step 1, join the Navy, step 2, go to boot camp… OK, so maybe that is a little extreme, but it is how I learned. I use a technique commonly called ‘spit shine’ or ‘bull polishing’, but don’t worry, there is no actual spit or bulls involved

Please note, I have put as much detail into this as I could to try to describe the process. There are actually very few steps, but I tried to list all the little nuances to consider and be aware of. I am not big on videoing, and I can’t hold a camera and polish shoes at the same time anyway, so this is going to have to do. I will gladly demo in person, at the hotel bar, the night before a feis, by appointment only ;).

Bringing Back the Spit Shine

Here is a list of what you need to get the shine in the pictures, the After, not the Before

  • Kiwi Black Shoe Polish in the little round can, not a bottle or anything with a spongy applicator
  • Old tshirt, white – cut into small pieces. I guess it doesn’t have to be white, but that’s what I always use.
  • Small container of hot water – the water helps the polish stick to the shoes instead of the tshirt.
  • A beverage – suggested, not required
  • Time
  • Patience

NOTE: The shiny shoes in the pictures where shined with a very old can of Kiwi (at least 13 years old if memory serves). Recently I bought their latest product as my old can is nearly empty, but I am not impressed with the shine. It is OK but no where near the shine I can get with the older stuff. I have not tried their ‘Parade Shine’ product, which I am hoping will be more like the polish I am used to, and will let you know when I do. Bottom line, your mileage may vary.

I have a plethora of old white tshirts from my Navy days, so I use those to apply the polish. I assume any tshirt will work though. Cut the tshirt into small pieces so that you can wrap it around your finger covering the tip, while being able to hold it securely with at least two layers of shirt between you and the shoe as you apply the polish.

For the container of water, use something you won’t mind getting polish on, because inevitably you will get polish on it. Keep the lid off a can of spray paint or hairspray, and add that to your shoe shine kit.

A little polish, a little water, and little circles

  1. Wrap a piece of tshirt around your finger and dip it in the warm water, just moist, not really wet. Wipe both shoes with the damp tshirt to get any dirt and debris off them.
  2. Grab a new piece of shirt, wrap it around your finger again with at least two layers of tshirt covering your finger. This ‘helps’ keep your finger clean, but you will probably get some polish bleed through. You can try more than two layers, but I always go with two and just deal with the black finger tip.
  3. Making sure the tshirt is secure, dip your finger in the water like in step one, and then get a small bit of polish on your fingertip. Start applying polish to the shoe in small circles, about the size of a Kennedy half-dollar, or the diameter of a ping pong ball for you people who have no idea how big a KHD is ;)
  4. Repeat Step 3, a lot.

beforeShineI tend to blacken the entire shoe, laying polish in pretty heavy to damaged areas. Make sure it is rubbed in well, and there are no thick spots that can rub off easily and give a spotted cow look to your poodle socks.

After the entire shoe is evenly blackened, I start working on the front of the shoe and toe. You can shine the entire shoe, but the top and front is the focus area, besides the fact that doing the entire shoe will completely eat up your Friday night. I repeat step 3, continuously, still working in small circles. I keep the tshirt moist and will occassionally get a dab of polish first, and then a small dip of water on top of it, and continue the process. There is no rhyme or reason to when to dip polish first or water first, just make sure you don’t get the tshirt too wet.

To get things really shiny, the objective is to get the polish spread over the entire area (remember, I focus just on the top and front of the shoe for the ‘mirror’ shine). Going over the area repeatedly builds layers of polish and helps fill in the grain of the leather. You are not really going to shine the leather, you are going to shine the polish on the leather, so having the leather grain filled in and having a smooth coat of polish is important.

Occasionally, check the condition of the tshirt on your fingertip, as I find that the tshirt can get rough with use and can actually scratch the polish instead of getting a smooth application. You may consider swapping it out for a fresh piece or rearraging it so you are using a clean section of the same piece. This is also the reason I do not use a shoe shine brush. I know they are intended for buffing, but I tend to think they have more of a scrathy effect.

afterShineRepeating the process above will begin to bring on the shine, so keep going until you are satisfied with it. Remember, you will have to do the other shoe and they ‘should’ match, so plan ahead for time.

To finish off, after I have the polish worked in and start to get a nice shine, I will keep going with the little circles(making sure the shirt is not scratchy), even when the last bit of polish is rubbed in from the cloth. As long as the shirt is soft, gentle circles after you have plenty of polish applied will shine the polish. You will actually learn to feel the difference between the ‘raw’ leather and one with a good coat of polish because the cloth will slide more easily over the shoe.

Finally, I will breathe onto to the toe and go over it a little bit more with the cloth, and repeat that a few times. I have it in my head that the warm breath heats the polish a little, and finishes off the shine nicely. I don’t know why I think that, but I have been polishing shoes like this for a very long time, so…

Depending on the condition of the leather and how well the polish is going on, this can take quite a bit of time. I have literally spent an hour on one shoe, so I find it best to set aside a lot of time, put on some mindless tv, grab a beverage, and go to it. It should not take as long the next time, because you have a base of polish on the shoe, but if you go a while between shines, you may have to spend some time on them again. In the peak of feis season, when I am doing the shoes every week or so, I can do both in about 30 minutes, which is probably longer than you spend on them now so plan, you don’t want to get one done and run out of time.

And thats it, really. I know there is a lot of detail there, but I didn’t want to leave anything out. If you boil it all down, it is just a little polish, a little water, and little circles. I would love to see how yours come out. Take before and after pictures. You can post them on the WTF page(s) if you want. Be careful though, if you get really good at it, people will ask you for lessons, trust me ;)



Ok, I seriously had to come look this up. I remembered seeing it on Facebook a while back. My kid had good scores this last weekend in Atlanta, and what did the judges say? Shine her shoes! But I love this post…long after my dad was out of the Navy, I remember seeing him sit at his desk with black polish and a cut up white t-shirt doing this. :-)


The Parade Gloss is a lot like the original Kiwi Black used to be. If it can take the abuse of teenage boys and marching band/ drumline drills it might hold up for her dancing shoes.

What The Feis

Kimberly, I have a can of the Parade Gloss, and unless I got a bad can, I am not a fan. I found it gritty and I could not get the shine I could from my ‘old can’ of Kiwi. I am not a fan, your mileage may vary ;) Thanks

Peg Cameron

So, I have been a foam shiner for years. Didn’t find these directions, but decided to buy the “can”.LOL, my dancers teacher remarked on how shinny and nice my dancer’s shoe looked! I just applied the can shoe polish, and rubbed the tshirt back and forth. Only half the shine,u get, but much nicer than the foam, tnx,mister wtf

What The Feis

Glad to help Peg! Try my steps and stick to it, you will be mirror shining in no time :)

Laura G.

My Dad was in the army. I ask him to shine my dancer’s shoes. He takes a lighter and lights the top layer of polish in the kiwi can. That’s his trick. He also swears by finishing the shine with an old pair of nylons.

What The Feis

I have heard of both methods, and seen the lighter used on the shoes, not in the can. Heating the polish is kind of my point when I breath on the shoe for the last buff.

I have also heard of the nylons technique, but have not done it.

Thanks for sharing!

'Nother Feis Dad-Midwest

AMEN! No shirt for me, cotton balls and HOT HOT HOT tap water. Parade gloss or the the plain black work fine….however once you can “count your teeth in the reflection” then reach down for that “neutral” polish. Little neutral over that black and WATCH OUT! Super gloss. Plus once my Little Lass scuffs up the heavies, it comes out much easier with that neutral or clear coat. Finish off the heavies with the kiwi “edge dressing”. Kiwi does NOT make the “Honor Guard” edge dressing anymore but the squeeze bottle with sponge top is better than markets or paint!

Angelo White

I wondered why I couldn’t get that good shine anymore, Kiwi switched their ingredients on us! I’m going to try this polish I found on Ebay – Lincoln Stain Wax Shoe Polish

What The Feis

Have never heard of it Angelo. Would love to see some before and after of results. Thanks!


Thank you for this helpful info About polishes! The complaints keep mounting about kiwi and that they are adding silicon to the real wax which will damage the leather . I also have herd about the brand mentioned in these coments called Lincoln shoe wax sold on Amazon. But at this point Iam still looking for a better polish to try than kiwi long ago I was told about the kiwi parade polish so bought it saw no difference really. I am 72 and was in the Army and watching the MP’s shine their shoes like glass was so cool since I was in the seventh grade I have been wanted so bad to learn how to get that patent leather shine . But even though Ive been told how and even watched some one finishing up a mirror like shine I never came very close . have tried everything but still seeking the answer I found your page and I have learned some good things. One, that you need to start with a clean finish and seal off and fill any pores and create a smooth bottom layer. And as you said ‘your polishing the wax not the shoe’ . That was interesting to me because a athough it obvious but for me some how the brain keeps me thinking its the leather. I even stripped the leather down bare once and then tried to burnish the lesther with a buffing wheel ( with some improvment but thats another story ) Hot water, I didn’t ever think of using the hot water. But this might help some use distilled water. Its better than water out of your faucet, because it makes hard water spots like you see build up on your plumbing ( some places are worse than others ) And the point to make small circles was very helpful no one ever really told me how big a circle to make so I was making dime sized ones . Lots of work and slow going. And about the cloth type,for sure a good cotton cloth is important because the one thing that ruff fabric does is scratching the shine. It was always at the fimale stag and I would reach my limit of getting a better shine and quit . I detected the need of a softercloth the softer the better But here is another thing about cotton, cotton is a plant and there are all kinds of it 100% cotton but some are of lower quality than others ( have you noticed how quick T Shirt and socks wear out ? ) So the difference matters in its softness some cloth just isnt that soft . and sorry but I cant tell you where to get good cotton it only tells you the % and where uts made. it in fact as for softness I couldnt tell untill I was trying to shine my shoes . So I have tried specialty cloths to wax buff your car and didn’t work for me at all. Then I tried virgin cotton balls but they were hard to hold onto and they are very small. But the one thing that I seem to think helped me was to be with using lighter and lighter pressure on the polish with the cloth. and that was really hard to maintain for very long anyway thats as far as I ever have gotten. Maybe a tiny spot of near mirror shine but it was just a spot. And this led me to believe that it was because I by chance got the exact mix of water an polish and that created this mirror finish. Who knows As I said since the 7 th grade 1961 I began trying to get a spit shine shoe it fascinated me to no end. You article has given me some hope that it is possible and not just some talent from birth like Celine Deon s voice. And as you said one hour in a acceptable investment of time. I don’t think I have ever spent that long at it because I wasnt having any success. One othe point, today leather dress shoes are seen less and less as is the attention to a good shine. I went to buy some polish at Walmart and they had no wax in a can any more so its available online at Amazon. but $8-$10 for a small 1,2 oz can! But Thank you for the info and for letting me post something here. I gathered that this is a web sight about dancing iits my first time here so I will want to check it out. It just so happens I love the art forum of dance and wish I could learn to jitterbug but not at 73 .

Heidi Clarke

Might you know the best way to dye the fiberglass taps on the hard irish step dancing shoes? They are a dominant feature when looking at the shoe and after years of use they appear more tan than black. Thoughts?

What The Feis

Heidi, I wish I had an answer but really have no clue. If you wish, I can post it as a question on my What The Feis Facebook page and see if we get any feedback.

Shelly Coleman

Don’t forget the lighter , if you have a particularly scuffed up area putting the polish on and gently and quickly warming the leather and polish will suck it in … then follow the above steps . ( old army trick learned from dad) also to clean up the suede on the bottom micellar water on a cotton swab and brush with the grain … once dirt is removed use a stiff nylon brush and brush the leather lightly

What The Feis

Thanks Shelly. Personally I never used a lighter, but some of my shipmates in the Navy did. Something about wax and a flame just put me off ;)


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