I needed a pair of brown Florsheim Imperial 93602 long wing bluchers but with a rubber heel. Okay, it was more of a want than a need. I already owned a pair of these shoes and liked them but their original v-cleat/suicide heel made them terrible in wet weather. And I live in Seattle. So instead of putting a new heel on my existing shoes, I decided to find a second pair. Yes, that was my plan.
This shoe is a common one on eBay but you have to wade through a lot of listings and look at a lot of photos. And wait. Wait for the right one. Eventually, I found this pair up for auction:
The shoes pictured are a pair of Florsheim Royal Imperial 97625 shoes which are a close cousin of the ones I was looking for. In the listing photos, the leather was in good condition, there was minimal wear on the sole and the shoes had my sought after rubber heel. But whoa – look at that curl! That doesn’t look good. Shoe trees were obviously not used in these shoes and they must have been stuffed into a box. A small box. But the price was good ($50) and I ended up bidding and being the only bidder. I had hope.
This was the condition of the shoes when I received them. Curled.
The “Shoe Snob” has an excellent blog and has a great article on restoring shoes. In his blog post, he recommends submersing shoes in water followed by heating them to reshape the leather. That sounded wrong (I try to avoid soaking shoes), but I couldn’t find any other advice on the topic. Plus he is the Shoe Snob. So that’s what I did.
I sprayed the inside of the shoes with some isopropyl alcohol to kill any bacteria that might enjoy a wet environment. I also cleaned the outside with damp cloth and brushing. Then I threw them into a tub of cold water. I let them soak for about one hour. I did not put in a shoe tree in them while they were soaking.
When I pulled the shoes out of the tub, they were water logged and heavy. Very heavy. This was a bit concerning. I drained them and very gently dabbed off the excess water. You need to be careful not to rub off the finish of the shoe with the towel.
Next, I inserted adjustable cedar shoe trees and left them to air dry for 4 hours. After that I replaced the damp cedar shoe trees with fitted, hardwood shoe trees. I occasionally used a heat gun at distance (about 24 inches away) for a couple minutes to speed the drying process. Be careful with heat though, warm is okay but the leather shouldn’t get hot. The leather contracted and tightened significantly on the shoe tree as it dried. The leather was so tight that it was difficult to get the shoe trees out of the shoes after about 1 day. It took 3 days for the shoes to feel completely dry.
[*** See this updated method that doesn’t require soaking ***]
This method largely worked for me. It didn’t completely remove the wrinkles from the leather but the curl was gone. And the curl hasn’t come back even after repeated wearings. Also, this process did not damage the leather. Here are the shoes a few months later without shoe trees:
21 thoughts on “Reshaping Shoes with Water and Heat”
Now you’ve got me doing it…
(My 93602’s with some curls and wrinkles are on the way…)
Can you elaborate a bit on how much heat you used, for how long, etc.?
I used the heat gun for a couple minutes and multiple times over a few days. If its a warm day, leave it outside.
The heat isn’t necessary. Just put them on a proper fitting shoe tree and in front of a fan at room temp for a day or 2. Leather will shrink when it dries but it will be soft and pliable when soaked so be careful not to ram an oversized tree in when it’s wet.
I did this reshaping on some black Florsheims with good results. Be careful with the heat as it can damage the leather. Make sure you do not get closer than 18 inches and keep moving it around. I also recommend you try to use the same shoe trees in the pictures. They are tighter than regular trees and will do a better job.
To every pre-owned pair of shoes I buy I do a 50 %water/50 %alcohol soak, then let them dry completely on a snugly fitting shoe stretcher. Brings back the shape remarkably.
The heats not necessary
I agree that heat is optional
I just completed the water soak method to reshape and help remove heavy creases on some corrected grain Dexter Longwings. They are VERY vintage (from the 80’s) and looked like they had been shoved into the bottom of a box with lots of other crap piled on top…and stayed there for 20+ years! Wow, such a difference!! This method worked great for me and the shoes have been given a new lease on life. Honestly, I found a ‘turd’ pair of shoes as I just wanted to try this. And it works…the turd was polished and I will get some wears out of these shoes. Thanks for all the great tips and content.
Thank you! Glad it worked out.
David, what typically shrinks on these shoes: the soles or the uppers?
The upper leather shrinks a bit. I haven’t noticed any shrinkage of the sole.
Hey, I tried this method of reshaping, but I made a crucial error–not discussed in the article–and disaster ensued. Please don’t do what I did.
I had bought a pair of Church’s wholecut oxfords off of E-Bay. They were very lightly worn, but also badly misshapen. Clearly they had never encountered a shoe tree because there was a deep fold across the vamp between the toe-box and the laces, and the toe was curled up toward the vertical.
Water to the rescue! I soaked the shoes in cold water for a few hours until they were thoroughly saturated. Then I wiped them off, put in a pair of cedar shoe trees, and set them aside to dry slowly.
Boy did they dry slowly! (I am in Oregon–think mild temperatures, high humidity.) A couple of days later, they were still damp; but they were also clearly relaxing into a less misshapen state, so I left them alone.
A week or so later, I returned to the shoes. Now dry, the uppers were in beautiful shape: folds gone, upper beautifully formed… now in need of conditioning and a little polish, but looking good.
Unfortunately, where the sole had been in contact with the floor, green mold blanketed the outsole, the insole, and penetrated deep into the unfinished cedar shoe tree. One has to assume that the mycelium runs throughout the cork midsole. Bummer!
So I ruined not only a beautiful pair of barely worn shoes but also a brand-new pair of shoe trees. (This was also not ideal for my floor.)
Let this be a lesson! If it comes up again for me, I would do cold-water reshaping again, but put the wet shoes on a RACK, maybe with a fan nearby. This would be a good idea for anybody; but in a mild, damp climate such as here in the maritime NW of North America, a rack is clearly mandatory.
Thanks for the feedback and advice.
Does soaking help with the mold in the insole from the previous owner? Can that be smoothed out some?
No, it doesn’t. If the pair has cork filler, once the cork is compressed, it is set. You might try a foam insert to help.
Great piece of advice!
You think that would also work with suede shoes / boots?
I haven’t tried it with suede but it should work. It might darken the suede.
Would it be safer not to wet the shoes at all, but instead, to first clean and apply leather conditioner, then shoe trees, and more leather conditioner while the shoes are on the trees? Conditioner could also be be rubbed into the leather soles to relax them.