Do Shoe Stretchers Really Work?

The simple answer I found is that shoe stretchers really do work, but different fabrics will yield different results and you will need specific stretchers for the job.

Natural fabrics will have a lot more give than synthetics and the key is to use plenty of product-specific shoe stretching spray. You will also need a specific type of stretcher for the area that needs to be worked.

Shoe stretchers that need to modify the insole or the sides of the shoe that are closest to the insole will have a lesser effect than the rest.

I have recently discovered in storage a pair of hiking boots that were too small for me when I got them, and I started to wonder whether shoe stretchers really work. I got the boots as a gift from my wife and felt very bad that I could not wear them although she spent a lot of time and money to get them for me. Initially, I tried to wear them into submission, but they defeated me, so I started to do a little bit of digging online.

Do Shoe Stretchers Work on Leather?

As mentioned before natural fabrics such as all the different types of leather offer the best chances of stretching out. However, even leather does not stretch out to more than one size.

So if you have a size 6, there is absolutely no way to stretch it out to a size 8, and that is, most importantly, because the insole of the shoe will force the shoe to a very specific size. Even in the leather category, different types of leather will have different levels of give.

A dress leather shoe, for example, will barely stretch to half a size, but the good news is that, with this type of shoe, it is not the length that is the problem, it is the sides, which are often enough too narrow, and the back part of the shoe. In both cases, using the correct shoe stretcher will work wonders.

A ball and ring stretcher can provide room to the sides of the shoe of calluses or bunions, while a two-way shoe stretcher will widen the entire shoe.

On the other hand, softer types of leather such as suede, calf leather and ostrich, whether it is suede or regular, can stretch out to a full-size number. In this case you should start by spraying the leather with a leather softener and leave it overnight to absorb.

The shoe stretching spray was designed to simply soften up the leather so that it will give, but it does not feed it the way the softener does. By stretching out a well maintained and hydrated leather shoe, you are making sure that there are no visible signs of the process.

The process is quite aggressive on the leather, especially if you are going an entire size up, but as a general rule of thumb, more expensive pairs of shoes will be easier to stretch out than a cheaper version. That is because expensive shoes use more supple leather that reacts better to treatment.

Do Shoe Stretchers Work on Synthetics?

Most synthetics will have a little give in them but not as much as leather. Here you should expect that the more expensive shoes will stretch out less than the cheaper versions.

Getting back to the boots I received as a gift and that I decided to test out my new shoe stretchers, it was actually frustrating to realize that the feature I like the most was also the one that stood in the way of me truly enjoying them.

In fact, the very reason why my wife was confident to buy them without asking me, was that they have a Vibram sole and she knows just how much I value it. The problem is that, as is the case with most high-quality hiking shoes, the Vibram soul extends over the tip of the shoe so as to provide protection against accidentally hitting your toes against tree roots or rocks. The lesson here for me was to realize that most shoes are created with several layers and each one will have another level of give.

There are also different type of shoe stretching sprays depending on the fabric they are meant to be used on. In my case I actually bought a leather shoe stretching spray for the outside of the shoe, and a synthetic for the interior layers.

By using both of them on the respective fabric they are meant to work on, I was able to get the entire sandwich of fabrics to move at the same time, thus making sure the water protection and the breathable functions were not damaged in the process.

Do Shoe Stretchers Work on Rubber Boots?

Rubber boots, such as wellies or fishing boots are a completely different matter. In the first-place rubber has a lot more give than any other fabric when under pressure but it will always come back to its original form. So, while you will have a very easy time of using a shoe stretcher to expand the shoe, no matter how long you leave it in, or what type of shoe stretching spray you use, it will always come back.

The one piece of advice I could come up with on this matter is that heat usually gets the rubber to actually change shape. However, heat will easily enough melt the rubber completely if you are not extremely careful. So, although I do not have a pair of rubber boots to experiment on, if I were to try to do it, I would start by leaving the boots with a good stretcher in, somewhere out in the sun, provided you get 80 degrees weather.

That will provide the stretcher not only with a steady level of heat but also with the time it needs to work. If that does not work, or you leave in a part of the country that does not get too much heat, I would put the boots, with the stretcher in an oven and I would turn the heat as low as it will go.

If you do decide to put use stretcher and heat in an experiment of this type let me first warn you to keep a close eye on your shoes to make sure they do not simply melt, but also use wooden stretchers as plastics ones will simply soften with the shoes and will not put any real pressure on the shoe.

Can Shoe Stretchers Work Against Narrow Areas of the Shoe?

Although most store will only carry the traditional two way shoe stretcher, more specialized stores will carry a wider variety of shoe stretchers.

There are instep stretchers that lift the part of the shoe that presses down on the arch of the foot, there are boot stretchers designed to widen the shaft of the boot, and there are the ball and ring shoe stretchers that will create space in very specific areas of the shoe.

You can make room for a bunion or a slightly larger than usual ankle bone, but you need to mark out exactly where it is and then use the shoe stretcher on that exact area.

The point I am trying to make is that I am currently running the experiment of getting the hiking boots my wife got me so many years ago to fit me and I am confident it will succeed.

I am certain that most of the people reading this can think of at least one pair of shoes they are too in love with to throw out despite the fact that they are uncomfortable.

The good news is that shoe stretchers really do work and you owe it to yourself to spend a little bit of time and get your shoes in proper, dance-ready, order.

How to use shoe stretchers

We’ve all experienced buying that shiny new pair on display at the shoe rack. You knew they were tight as you tried them on. You thought they’ll get comfy as time goes on before realizing they’re simply too uncomfortable to wear. We know there are even some pairs that collect dust in your closet simply because the shoes are too narrow.

Thankfully, shoe stretchers are there to help make your favorite pair comfortable. Read on to learn more about how they work to get your feet free from blisters and calluses.

Spray the parts of your shoe that need stretching with a shoe stretching solution. This relaxes the fibers of the leather or canvas to make them expand. After that, put the shoe stretcher into your shoe ensuring it’s tight around the toe box. Turn the handle so it expands and leave it overnight. Once done, try the shoe on if it fits. If not, repeat as necessary.

How does a shoe stretcher work?

Shoe stretchers are a simple tool to help make your tight shoes comfortable for everyday wear. Once you’ve started experiencing swollen feet from standing all day at your work, these little medieval-like torture devices will sure come in handy. They assist you in targeting areas where a blister or pinching occurs.

They are also useful for calluses, hammertoes, corn, bunions, and more. They’re meant to stretch your pair to make it comfortable for your size. Shoe stretchers can only do so much. If your intention is to take a size 8 pair to a size 10, then get a new pair, and not rely on a stretcher.

What shoe stretcher should I get?

There are a lot of shoe stretchers with different specialties depending on your need. These things work well for natural materials like leather and suede so if your footwear is made from vinyl or polyurethane, it will tend to go back to its original state over time.

For flats, sneakers, and bucks with a narrow toe box, a one-way shoe stretcher is what you need. They widen shoes for a better fit to prevent bunions, corns, and calluses. If your pair of shoes is too small, then a two-way stretcher can lengthen and widen it at the same time.

Boot stretchers meanwhile are exactly what they’re called for. They loosen the toe area of boots to give you pain relief at spots that give you trouble. While they work on most boots, you’ll need a high-heel boot stretcher for heels and a western boot shoe stretcher for western boots.

There’s also a cast-iron ball and ring shoe stretcher that complements one-way and two-way shoe stretchers really well. This type of stretcher reaches areas other stretchers cannot go for an effective way to loosen pressure points overnight. Lastly, a toe box raiser alleviates pressure at the top of your toes preventing chafing while a vamp raiser stretches a vamp that’s too tight.

Can I use a shoe stretcher in a new pair of shoes?

Before attempting to mold your shoes to your feet, it’s recommended to break them in by wearing them and walking around the house. Once you’ve used the shoe stretcher, leave it in for approx. 6-8 hours only as leaving the shoe stretcher for too long can make your shoes too loose. After that, it’s best to use shoe trees during storage to maintain your pair’s fit.

Can I stretch shoes without a shoe stretcher?

There are other ways to widen or lengthen your pair if you don’t have a shoe stretcher at home. One method is by applying a little heat to stretch your leather shoes.  To do this trick, simply put on thick socks and wear your shoes. Use a blow dryer and aim at the spots you feel are tight for 20-30 seconds to stretch your shoes a little more.

Keep the blow dryers nozzle moving or the heat at medium to avoid damaging the leather. It also helps to apply a leather conditioner after heating the shoes to keep them in shape.

Another method is by utilizing ice as they can be just as effective as heat to stretch your tight pair of shoes. You can do this by filling a zip lock bag with water and placing it in the area where you need to stretch it up. After that, simply put your shoe in the freezer. As the water in the zip lock bag freezes into ice, the expansion helps stretch the shoe out naturally.

If you’re not comfortable with both methods and don’t have a shoe stretcher, then you can always take your pair of shoes to a professional. Shoe repair shops offer stretching services and have the proper machines and training to alter your shoes. Not only can they adjust your favorite pair, but they can also refresh them to make them more durable and last longer.

Can I use shoe stretchers on my sneakers?

As sneakers are worn more often nowadays, this question has propped up quite a lot. Shoe stretchers can definitely be used on sneakers but there’s a possibility that they will not work as well due to the materials involved. Since sneakers are mostly made up of artificial materials like vinyl or other soft materials like rubber, foam, etc., it is best to use a stretcher spray to maximize the intended result.

Make sure to spray all over the synthetic material. Ensure that it is visibly wet before inserting the shoe stretcher. Leave the shoe stretcher overnight or for at least 6-8 hours to properly stretch the sneakers. Improper or disproportionate stretching can lead to permanent damage to your sneakers. Excessive use of the spray meanwhile may degrade the quality of the material.


Everyone knows how annoying a new pair of shoes that can’t seem to match your expected comfort level is. When even a few try-on and break-ins don’t seem to help, a handy shoe stretcher can usually save the day. Leaving a shoe stretcher on your footwear overnight usually gets the job done. With this simple and easy tool, shoe stretchers can shape your favorite kicks and make them feel like they’re made just for you.