The most important consideration in purchasing a shoe brush is getting one suitable for the material your shoes are made of. Shoe brush types are numerous and using the wrong one could worsen a shoes' condition. There are also different brushes for different tasks, and it's important to use them correctly to get a pair of shoes looking their best.
Those without any shoe cleaning supplies at home may want to consider purchasing a shoe shine kit. Available in many department and footwear stores, these kits generally include a shoe brush and other supplies needed to clean most shoes. If it's more convenient to buy a shoe brush separately, remember that two will be needed: a shoeshine brush, usually rectangular and made from horsehair, and a shoe polish brush, which is smaller with a round head. The shoeshine brush is used to clean dust and grime from the surface prior to polishing, and to brush away the polish after it has dried. The shoe polish brush is what the polish is applied with.
For smooth leather or sports shoes, a regular horsehair shoe brush is usually sufficient. If the shoes are of a different material, however, they may require gentler care, and thus a gentler shoe brush. Suede and nubuck shoes are much alike, and can be cleaned with similar brushes. Brushes for nubuck shoes have a rubber portion to remove scuff marks, as well as a bristle side to restore their velvet-like texture. There is also a special shoe brush for suede shoes which cleans the surface with metal wire instead of rubber; however, the metallic bristles are actually removing the top layer of the suede, so it may be best to use such a brush only if the shoes are very dirty.
Both suede and nubuck shoes should only be brushed in the direction of the grain. Depending on the design of the shoes, there may be some areas that are hard or impossible to reach with ordinary brushes. For these cracks and crevices, a clean toothbrush can be used. Cotton swabs may be a better choice for delicate materials.
Some shoes have surfaces so fine they should be brushed rarely, if at all. This includes some high-end suede and nubuck shoes, as well as shoes made from velour. These shoes are often best cleaned with a block of gum-like rubber that will pick up dirt and remove stains. A bristle shoe brush is not recommended. Gum blocks are available at footwear stores.
Leather shoes with a high-gloss finish, such as those made of patent leather or of a metallic color, cannot be brushed without scratching their coating. These should only be cleaned with a soft cloth. An old T-shirt or a shoeshine cloth works well for this task.
Shoes are an oft-overlooked part of wardrobe maintenance. Proper brush selection and a little care will help the wearer ensure the longest possible life out his shoes. He'll also look sharp doing it.