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Adjusting Ill-fitting Shoes at Home

Updated: Jan 30, 2022

We all know the defeated feeling of finding a must-have pair of shoes online, picking out your size, and receiving them only to find that they don’t fit; maybe even after having adjusted your order based on reviews. It’s always inconvenient to go through the online return or exchange process, especially when your guess at which size will fit is basically a shot in the dark, or worse still, when your item is non-returnable. But luckily, when you find yourself in this situation, so long as your shoes are between a half size to one size too big or small, there are some easy at-home solutions to adjust them to your feet. So skip the frustrating guessing game of exchanging sizes, and walk in comfort with these simple shoe adjusting tips!

Too Much Wiggle Room

For any shoe that’s a bit too big, whether they are heels, boots, or sneakers, the simplest solution is to simply add soles or cushions to the inside of the shoe. If they are too long and your foot doesn’t quite reach the toe box of your shoes, try putting a cushion into the back to give yourself a bit of lift that brings your foot forward. On the other hand, if length is not the issue yet you still have wiggle room and gaps between your toes and the inside of your shoes, opt for either a full sole, or a partial sole in the toe box to fill out the extra space comfortably.

Targeted Shrinking

If extra support and lift doesn’t fill out the extra space adequately, you can also try physically shrinking your shoes with the blow dryer method. All you’ll need is a spray bottle of water and your trusty hair dryer.

First try on your leather, suede, or canvas shoes, walk around in them a bit, take a look in the mirror, and figure out which areas are too loose. Next, generously spray the malfitting areas, being careful not to over soak them or let water seep into the insoles. Lastly, dry with your hairdryer on a medium setting from at least a 6 to 7 inch distance, as direct heat can cause damage or discoloration. If working with leather shoes and you sense a strange smell during the process, be sure to stop immediately and air dry instead. Try on your shoes, and if they’re still a bit too small repeat the process as needed. Be sure to condition your leather shoes once the desired size is reached to maintain the leather’s softness and avoid cracking or ashiness caused by overdrying.

Full Size too Big

When the size difference is more serious than a quick adjustment here or there, you’ll need a fuller, more serious resizing approach.

For leather shoes that aren’t suede, as this method can damage suede leather, you’ll need room a tub or bucket filled with room temperature water and some socks. First, submerge the uppers (not the insoles) of your shoes in the tub of water, and wearing your socks, submerge your feet in the water as well. As soon as your socks are wet, remove your shoes from the water and immediately put them on; remember, shrinking will start as soon as you take your shoes out, so timing is key! Then just go about your day as usual, trying to avoid dust and dirt, until your socks are completely dry. We know it might be uncomfortable, but your wet socks ensure that your shoes will shrink to the form of your feet! Once your socks are dry, remove the shoes, allow them to completely air dry, then try them on before giving them a quick conditioning.

Luckily, shrinking your canvas shoes a full size is much easier and more comfortable. Soak them generously in water, then simply throw them into your clothing dryer for 10 to 15 minutes and let it work its magic. Just like the heat shrinks jeans and sweaters, so it should shrink your shoes up in no time! If they’re still too large, repeat the process or target specific areas using the blow drying method described above.

Breaking Them In

It’s rare that your shoes will fit perfectly when you first put them on, so when your shoes are pinching or rubbing you the wrong way but aren’t exactly unbearable to wear, sometimes all you need to do is to break them in.

Breaking your shoes in can be as easy as adding some sock layers and/or wearing them for a few extra hours in your day. Try putting on an extra thick pair of socks, or layering multiple pairs before putting on your shoes and going about your day. This is going to feel cramped, as the purpose is to stretch your shoes out. If this tightness feels too uncomfortable to wear all day, then you can opt to wear your shoes as usual during the day, then wear them with thick or layered socks for a few hours when you get home.

To increase the effects of the stretching, try filling a spray bottle with rubbing alcohol, and generously spraying your shoes on the exceptionally tight areas before using the above method. Alternatively, to really speed up the process, wear thick or layered socks under your shoes, and apply heat with a blow dryer for 20 to 30 seconds at a time in the tight areas on medium heat, making sure to avoid burning by keeping your dryer in motion.

Adjustable Shoe Trees

If your shoes feel too narrow but manually breaking them in isn’t quite your style, adjustable shoe trees are the perfect investment to add some extra room without the fuss. Available for both men’s and women’s shoes for under $25, these devices include cranks which, once the shoe tree is inserted into your shoe, can be adjusted to your desired length and width.

Simply insert the shoe tree, set your desired stretching measurements, and leave your shoes for 8 to 12 hours before further adjusting the cranks, or trying them back on. Shoe stretching liquids or rubbing alcohol can also be used to speed up the process. This method can also be repeated as many times as needed, and the devices can be kept in your shoes for longer periods of time as well.

Pro tip from our shop: Shoe trees can become more difficult to adjust by hand the further you want to stretch your shoes as the pressure on the shoe tree increases. We suggest inserting a metal tool into the loop at the top of the adjustment crank and using this to turn it doing so by hand becomes too hard.

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