So, it's come time to polish your shoes. But, the tin of polish you have is dried up, cakey, and hard as a rock. Now you're wondering -- is there any way to soften dried shoe polish?
We'll explore that question in this article.

What is shoe polish, exactly?
Before diving in, let's consider what shoe polish is.
In short, it's a blend of polymers that can be classified into three categories: waxes, cream-emulsions, and liquid solvents.
Wax-based polishes can include plant derivatives like caranuba or petroleum products like paraffin. Solvents, like naptha, turpentine, or Stoddard solution are blended in, and typically make up about 70% of the concoction.
The rest includes dyes (black, brown, etc.) and may also include natural conditioning oils like mink or neatsfoot.
Saphir Shoe Polish Wax

The primary difference between a wax polish and a cream-emulsion polish is the amount of wax in each. As the name should indicate, a wax-based polish will have higher wax content, and a cream polish will have higher oil content.
A liquid-based polish often has a low wax content, which makes it much more viscous. It is a complex blend of various polymers and pigments, with additional dyes mixed in. It's usually slathered on with a sponge-based applicator.
This potent cocktail can be harsh on leather goods in the long term, so we don't recommend using it unless you're really in a pinch.
Polish works, essentially, by applying heat in the form of friction to layers of wax, and then repeated buffing and rebuffing to create a shine.

Why does shoe polish dry out?
Polish can dry out from prolonged exposure to air. When this happens, the polish becomes gritty with a cake-y, cracked appearance. Kind of like this:
Dried Shoe Polish

It's the not the oils that have dried, however. Rather, the solvents we spoke about have evaporated.

So, How to Soften Dried Shoe Polish?
Now that we know why it dries out, can we soften it?
There's been a good and ongoing discussion on the topic in our online community, with a range of suggestions:
  • One member suggested using a candle to soften, and then going from there.
  • Another suggested holding it close to a gas stove burner - but took no responsibility for safety should such a feat be attempted!
  • A third suggested just tossing it and buying another - shoe polish is cheap, and not worth the trouble.
  • Another source suggested a 300-degree oven for five minutes.
We decided to test some of of these methods to see if any of them worked.
First, we let it dry out overnight. Then, we got to it!

The Candle Method
For this, we lit a standard, lightly-scented room candle, and put the tin of dried shoe polish on top of it.
Initially, there was a little pool of melted polish at the center where the flame was closest. However, the melting stopped soon after - the lack of oxygen extinguished the flame!

The Stove Method
All in all, this is generally not recommended. If you have a gas burner with grates, the polish risks falling close to the flame.
Even then, you'll have be to be sure to use tongs to remove the tin.

The Oven Method
Even 300 degrees seemed a little toasty for the tin, so we turned it down to 250.
We put the tin of dried shoe polish on a baking sheet with some foil underneath (in case of bubbling). We saw results within 90 seconds. There was no bubbling or separation of oils.
However, we removed it quickly and allowed the polish to cool.

Leave in the Sun
Much like Play-Doh and the Slinky, this was an accident gone right.
Our intrepid tester had left the shoe polish to further dry on the deck overnight with the intention of retrieving it in the morning. As he went to do so, the pressing matters of being a new parent called, and he tended to his progeny.
A few hours later, he went to inspect the polish, and found the heat of the sun had slowly and evenly melted the polish. Eureka!

Our Recommendation
To answer the question - yes, you can soften dried shoe polish.
We'd not recommend using a candle or a match, as it takes a lot of time and usually just ends up putting the candle out.
To keep your local fire department running smoothly, we also not recommend putting it by an open, gas stove flame.
If you are in a hurry, setting an oven to 250 (or perhaps even less) will do the trick nicely without separating any of the essential waxes and oils. We'd not recommend doing this more than a few times, though.
Additionally, if you have a little more time (and a warm day) on your hands, simply leaving it in the sun will soften it up nicely.
Thanks for reading!

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