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Shoe Cream vs Polish: What’s the Difference?

Fact checked by Andrew Carnegie

shoe cream vs polish

While leather goods are durable enough to withstand the elements, they need regular cleaning and polishing. But with so many products available in the market, knowing the difference between shoe cream vs polish is essential.

Ultimately, your choice will depend on several factors, including the color of your shoes and how you want them to look.

Generally speaking, shoe polish offers longer-lasting protection against the elements than shoe creams. Shoe creams can also safeguard leather shoes against wear and tear, but they impart a less shiny finish. 

Without further ado, let’s discuss the characteristics of each type, so you can decide which one is best for you.

Shoe Cream vs Shoe Polish: What’s the Difference?

Shoe polish comes in three different forms: wax, cream, and liquid. Shoe cream is technically a kind of polish, but it differs from traditional wax polish in protection, composition, and a number of other attributes.

Although this article will focus on comparing shoe polish vs shoe cream, we will also include liquid polish, so you can determine when to use it each time.

1. Wax Polish


  • Composition

The traditional shoe polish is one that shoe shiners on the streets typically used back in the day. Contained in a tin can, it is made of 20% to 40% natural or synthetic wax, up to 70% solvents—which explains the odor—and about two to three percent of dyes.

  • Colors

Shoe polish is available in more hues than shoe cream. For instance, a typical shoe polish color guide will show a dozen if not tens of different hues, including dark to bright and neutral shades.

In comparison, shoe creams are often available in neutral colors only.

  • Finish

Wax-based polish makes leather super shiny.

  • Protection

Wax offers better protection against moisture, thereby prolonging the lifespan of the boots. But of course, there’s a caveat: If you apply too much, it can cause the leather to dry and crack.

Hence, you need to wipe it with a horsehair brush to ensure that the wax does not accumulate on the material.

  • Application

You can use a shoe brush or cloth to apply the wax onto the leather and then wipe it until it shines.

2. Shoe Cream


  • Composition

Cream utilizes emulsifiers and surfactants to mix its three main ingredients, namely waxes, liquid vehicles (such as water or oil), and dyes. The product often comes in jars.

  • Colors

As stated above, shoe creams tend to have a more limited selection of colors than polish. That said, you can find products with more variety, like Saphir’s Creme 125, which offers 26 colors.

  • Finish

Shoe creams produce a matte finish.

  • Protection

Shoe creams can also repel water and stains, but wax polish’s protective coating is more long-lasting. Creams are preferable to wax polish for restoring colors.

  • Application

You can apply shoe creams onto the leather with your finger and use a cloth to buff it.

3. Liquid Polish


  • Composition

Liquid shoe polish contains the least amount of wax compared to the other types. It usually combines polyethylene wax, polymers, resins, casein, fatty phosphate esters, glycols, emulsifiers, and pigments. It comes in a squeeze bottle that features a sponge applicator on the nozzle. 

  • Colors

This product is only available in a few colors, such as black, neutral, and brown.

  • Finish

Liquid polish products can make the shoes shine, but not as shiny as wax polish or shoe creams.

  • Protection

Because it does not condition shoes, experts don’t recommend using it as your main shoe polish, as it can dry the leather in the long run. 

  • Application

One may assume that liquid polish is easy to apply. In reality, it can get messy, since it tends to release way too much liquid when you squeeze the bottle too hard. This can cause the leather to darken.

Before we proceed to the next section, let’s first answer your burning question: How long does shoe polish last?

It depends on the chemical composition of the product. Polishes that contain lower wax and oil can last only a couple of days. By contrast, those with higher quantities of these components often last many weeks.

If you’re thinking about shelf life, six months to three years is the general estimate.

Which is Better?

Earlier, we already stated why liquid polish should only be used sparingly. Wax and cream are your best bet as they help prolong the lifespan of leather shoes. Here are some factors to consider:

  • If you like a shinier and polished look, you need wax to achieve it. If you prefer a natural, less glossy finish, cream is the way to go!
  • Besides keeping the shoes shiny, the purpose of applying products is to shield the leather against moisture. As such, wax polish is the best choice if you need to wear your leather shoes during rainy or snowy days.

Meanwhile, shoe cream is an excellent product for polishing shoes that you want to wear for casual events due to its satin finish.

  • If you want to recolor the leather, choose cream. This product can even revive the original shade and lengthen the lifespan of the shoes.


By learning the different uses for shoe polish, you can determine what your shoes need more accurately, especially when factoring in different occasions.

At any rate, you can apply cream and wax treatments to keep your shoes in good shape. It does not always have to be a choice between shoe cream vs polish.

Start by applying the cream first. Once the leather absorbs it, buff your shoes with some wax to make it look neat and shiny. Do this regularly, and your favorite footwear will surely look beautiful.

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