The Best Techniques for Polishing Military Boots

army boots image by green 308 from

Maintaining a mirror-like shine on a set of military boots is one of the earliest tasks cadets and soldiers are told to do. For newcomers to the art, achieving a good shine can take hours.

Most military personnel insist that the only way to get the perfect finish is with a traditional spit shine, but there are other techniques that will save time and deliver a finish that is almost as good.

The Spit Shine

Although deceptively named---you do not have to spit on your boots if you have some water nearby---the simple spit shine is the only way to get military boots to the perfect shine they need if being inspected by an officer. To spit shine boots, you must first clean them thoroughly. Wet a brush and add a bit of soap (ideally saddle soap) to the bristles, and gently wipe down your boots. Clean the stitching and seams with a toothbrush and let the boots air dry. Open a can of black shoe polish and use a very soft rag wrapped around the index finger of your dominant hand to apply thin layers of polish in circular motions. Between layers, spit on or dab water onto your rag and wet the polish slightly. Keep adding polish until the boot has a smooth, black finish. This may take hours. You can then add a mirror shine by pulling the rag tight around two fingers, adding water and a tiny bit of polish, and resuming the swirling motions until you can see your reflection in the boot.

The Blow Dryer Spit Shine

In this method, you begin by using your bare hands to apply thicker layers of polish to the boot. Between each layer, melt the polish into the leather by using a standard blow dryer set on "High" and held a few inches away from the boot. This will build up your base finish faster than adding layers with a rag. If you do want a mirror finish on the boots, you will then have to spit shine them to completion.

The Cotton Ball Method

Apply a thick base coat of polish using the blow dryer method or by using a rag dipped in polish. Once the cracks and scuffs have disappeared and the smooth matt black finish has emerged, add a small amount of water to the lid of your shoe polish jar. Dip a cotton ball in this water, then very lightly into the shoe polish. Rub the boots with the cotton ball in circular motions until a mirrored finish emerges, re-wetting the cotton if it gets dry.

The Hot Spoon Method

Apply beeswax to your boots, then heat a spoon in a pot of water on your stove. Use the spoon to melt and spread the beeswax evenly over the boots. When this is done, use the spit shine method to apply a thin finishing layer of polish over the beeswax coating and achieve a final shiny finish. This approach may not be as durable as the other polishing techniques, but it can be faster.