Shoe polish has been around for centuries, but was originally used to soften and waterproof leather, not polish it. During the 19th century, high gloss finishes on shoes became popular. Original polish was made from wax, oil and tallow with lanolin and beeswax being added later to achieve a shine. The modern composition is not very different, but some products have been added to improve the quality and as alternatives to other ingredients.
This is still a main ingredient in any shoe polish and is there to improve the water resistance of leather. Today these are more commonly petroleum or vegetable derived waxes, rather than the animal wax used in the past.
This petrochemical is a modern addition to the shoe polish mix and is separated during the fractional distillation process. It is most commonly used as a cleaning solvent, but in polish it does largely the same job as wax as it waterproofs and cleans leather. Other solvents, such as turpentine, are sometimes used. Solvent accounts for 60 per cent of the ingredients in shoe polish.
A colourant is often added to shoe polish for certain shades of leather. These dyes, or colourants, are commonly chemically manufactured. Dye is not added to clear or neutral polish.
This greasy substance is a bi-product of sheep wool and is more closely related to wax than fat. Most lanolin is used to protect woollen clothes, but it is also added to shoe polish to protect leather.
Derived from the sap of the acacia tree, gum Arabic is added to shoe polish to thicken the otherwise liquid mixture.