You know a great way to ruin your entire day? Stepping out of the house in a brand new pair of shoes that don’t fit comfortably. Maybe you bought them online in your normal size, and they turned out to be a bit too snug. Or perhaps you fell in love with a pair on the sales rack that were a half size too small.
But no matter how cute they are, wearing shoes that are either too narrow or too tight can cause blisters and toe pain — two things that are never pleasant! Not to mention they can aggravate problems like bunions, hammer toes, and bone spurs.
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to alleviate that potential pain before it starts.
Have a new pair of shoes that need stretching out or breaking in? Here’s our complete guide on how to stretch shoes.
Can All Shoes Be Stretched?
Before we get into how to stretch shoes, let’s set some realistic expectations. You will never get a pair of size fives to fit your size eight foot, so don’t even bother.
If you’re looking to stretch your shoes about a half size, there are many ways to do it. But it’s a waste of time and effort if you’re hoping to expand your shoes by a full shoe size or more. When shoes are really tight, it’s better to return them and buy a new pair in a bigger size.
Only need to stretch your shoes a little bit to get that perfect fit? It absolutely can be done.
In theory, all shoes can be stretched. It can get a little bit more complicated with rigid leather shoes, but various types of leather, suede, and fabric shoes can be stretched out to alleviate tight areas and spots that pinch.
Ready to learn how to stretch your shoes with some of these methods? Here are 11 ways to stretch shoes that actually work.
Related: The 5 Best Shoe Subscription Boxes [New Shoes Are Always A Good Idea]
1. Find a Cobbler
Yes, cobblers still exist!
If you have shoes that need a bit of stretching, take them to a local shoe repair shop. Professional shoe repair shops are full of lotions, conditioners, and equipment that can help stretch your shoes.
Don’t need the entire shoe stretched? Be sure to let the professionals know if you only want them to stretch your shoes in certain areas.
Depending on where you live, shoe cobblers charge anywhere from a few dollars per shoe to $30 per pair or even $50 to stretch a pair of boots. Before you turn your shoes over for professional stretching, consider the price of stretching versus the price you paid for the shoes in the first place.
Don’t have a local shoe repair or don’t want to shell out any money? There are plenty of DIY ways to stretch your shoes at home.
2. Buy Shoe Trees
Shoe trees—also referred to as shoe stretchers—are the best way to stretch out new shoes, especially a good pair made from firm leather.
They also come in different sizes and designs. You can stretch your shoe’s length and width with a two-way shoe stretcher. With a four-way shoe stretcher, you can expand a shoe’s length, width, and height and target specific areas with extra parts generally known as “bunion plugs.” These metal or plastic add-ons are placed in small holes on the stretcher to help soften those tight spots inside your shoes.
Shoe trees are also one of the safest ways to stretch leather and suede shoes, especially expensive ones that you don’t want to risk damaging, with some of the other methods we’ll discuss below.
There are tons of different shoe stretchers available on Amazon, including some designed specifically to stretch high heels, boots, or cowboy boots. You can expect to spend anywhere from $20 to $ 30 a pair (although more elaborate models may cost even more). But once you have them, you can repeatedly use them to stretch out all of your future shoe purchases that fit too snugly! Pay attention when purchasing them online, as some come in a pair, while others only include one shoe stretcher.
Also, remember that shoe stretchers take some time to work, so don’t expect to pop them in and have stretched shoes within five minutes. For maximum effect, leave them in your shoes for about two days. If your shoes don’t feel pulled enough after 48 hours, expand them more and let them sit for another day or two.
With shoe stretchers, it’s all about patience.
3. Freeze Them
Are your new shoes too tight at the toe? If so, popping them in the freezer can make all the difference.
To stretch your shoes with the freezing method, fill two plastic bags about 3/4 of the way with water. Seal them tight and put one bag in each shoe, pushing them towards the front of the shoe into the toe area.
Clear off some space on your freezer shelf and put your shoes inside. As the water freezes and turns to ice, it expands and stretches out your shoes.
This method works best if you’re trying to stretch out the toe area of your shoes, as it’s pretty easy to wedge bags of water up and into the toe box. If you’re trying to stretch the entire shoe, you may need more than one bag of water for each.
Leave your shoes in the freezer until the water bags have turned to solid ice. When you take them out, let the water melt before pulling the bag out. Otherwise, you could damage your shoes.
If you try this method with suede shoes, be extra careful when putting the bags in and taking them out. Water ruins suede!
4. Heat Them Up
Don’t want to freeze your shoes? Heating them works just as well.
With a hairdryer and thick socks, you can stretch out a pair of tight shoes rather quickly. Here’s what you need to do:
Wear some really thick socks, put on your shoes, and turn your blow dryer to medium heat. Run the hairdryer over different parts of the shoe for about thirty seconds at a time. Be careful not to apply too much heat, as most shoes are glued in spots, and excess heat can melt the glue.
If there are specific parts of the shoe that don’t fit well, aim the heat there. This method is ideal if you only need to stretch out particular areas of the shoe.
Wear the shoes until they cool down, then take off those thick, sweaty socks and test them out. If you plan to wear the shoes without socks, give them a test run around your house barefoot. If you plan to wear them with thin socks, put a pair of thin socks on and see how they feel with those.
This method works best on sneakers and soft shoes. It won’t do much for structured dress shoes made from heavy or hard leather. The more rigid and structured a shoe or sneaker is, the harder it will be to stretch, regardless of the method used.
5. Steam Them
Instead of using dry heat as in the method above, a garment steamer employs wet heat to stretch your shoes.
First, set your steamer to low, and wear a pair of gloves to protect your hands. Now hold the steamer about six inches away from your shoes and move it all around them to distribute the heat evenly.
Next, allow your shoes to cool off a bit. While they’re still a bit warm (but not too warm), put them on and walk around to help them give.
This method works especially well on canvas shoes. But if your shoes are leather, you may also want to massage them in circular motions once they’re heated (with protective gloves, of course). Then you can allow them to cool off a bit until it’s safe to put them on and walk around in them.
6. Spray Them with Water and Alcohol
Spraying your shoes with water and rubbing alcohol can help to stretch out problem areas. This method is suitable for leather and suede, but not necessarily fabric shoes.
Combine equal parts water and rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle.
Spray it into the inside of your shoes, and then stuff your boots with newspaper, particularly into the areas you want to stretch.
Let them sit overnight, and then try them on with the socks you intend to wear with them. If they still feel too tight, keep repeating the process. The mixture of water and alcohol can help make your shoes a bit more pliable, helping them stretch.
Another option is to soak socks in a half-alcohol, half-water mixture. Wring the socks out, put them on your feet, and wear those semi-wet socks with your new shoes for about twenty to thirty minutes. We don’t suggest doing this with suede, as the water and alcohol can create stains and spots where the shoe touches the sock.
7. Try a Shoe Stretching Spray
A shoe stretch spray can make new footwear feel like your old broken-in favorites, whether trying to stretch leather, suede, nubuck, or canvas shoes.
Shoe stretching sprays don’t stretch shoes miraculously—they soften shoes. And softening a shoe in a tight spot or an area that pinches makes it easier to stretch them out.
There are dozens of affordable shoe stretching sprays on Amazon — just make sure you buy one made for a suitable fabric or material. Some recommend that you spray them generously on the inside of the shoe and then stretch them out by wearing thick socks.
Others suggest that you apply the spray and let it sit overnight with shoe trees in your shoes.
8. Use a Potato
Yes, you read that right. A potato! For this unconventional method, you’ll need to choose a spud that’s right for your shoe shape (you may have to whittle it down a bit in some places).
Next, clean it, dry it off, and insert it as far as possible into your shoe.
While some people prefer to wrap the potato in plastic, inserting the potato just as it is won’t harm your shoe and may even help to remove unpleasant odors. Leave the potato overnight and then take it out in the morning and check the fit. (Any residue left inside from the potato can be wiped away easily with a damp cloth.)
This is an effective and very economical method that’s especially good for stretching out the toe box. Who knew?
9. Try a Tennis Ball
Another DIY tip for stretching narrow shoes is something many of us have around the house – a tennis ball! Cut the ball in half, and then insert it as far as you can into the toe box.
Leave the tennis ball there for at least 24 hours before taking it out and checking the fit of your shoes.
10. Try a Spoon
For those of you not afraid to use a little elbow grease, a spoon can also be used to stretch out the heel of a shoe. To start, you may want to use a shoe spray to help soften it. Then go to work with a metal or wooden spoon and vigorously work the inside of the heel compartment with it.
This method takes a bit of muscle, but it can be effective.
11. Wear Them Around the House
It’s happened to the best of us. We buy a new pair of shoes. They fit great! Then we slip into them, head out for the day looking oh-so-stylish, and midway through the day, we’re in agony.
They’re pinching in all the wrong places. Blisters are forming at the back of the heel and on the sides of each foot. We’re suffering with every step we take, and our OOTD is now wasted. We have no choice but to head home because our feet are killing us!
No matter how comfortable a pair of boots or shoes may feel when you first slip them on, it’s always a good idea to wear them around the house for a couple of days before introducing them to the world.
Freezing, heating, and other methods can help stretch out shoes, but wearing them around the house with thick socks is sometimes the only necessary method.
We suggest starting with this technique — if it doesn’t work, you can always move on to more drastic measures. Also, as our feet tend to swell over the course of the day, it’s best to use this approach in the evening to get the best stretch.
In some cases, you might not even need the socks! Just breaking in a new pair of shoes at home is sometimes all it takes to give them the proper stretch.
Can You Stretch Shoes?
From freezing or heating to using shoe trees and conditioning sprays, there are many ways to stretch out a pair of new shoes that feel too tight.
Forekan Sadik, chief shoe technician at Crocs Bazaar, suggests starting with the gentlest method and working your way up. “For leather shoes, a common method is to wear them around the house with thick socks or use shoe trees or shoe-stretching spray. You can also try filling plastic bags with water, putting them inside the shoes, and then freezing them overnight. The water will expand and stretch the leather as it freezes,” he shared. “For shoes that aren’t leather, such as canvas or synthetic materials, try using a shoe stretcher or using heat. You can use a hairdryer on a warm setting to stretch the material, or place a damp cloth over the shoe and then apply heat with a hairdryer. It’s important to remember that every shoe and material is different, so it’s always best to start with the gentlest method and progress from there to avoid damaging your shoes.”
But it can take some time and patience to do.
One of the most effective ways to stretch shoes is to wear them. You may have to endure some tightness or pinching in the first few hours or days, but it is the most effective way to break in a pair of shoes.
So the next time you buy a brand new pair of shoes, do yourself a favor and wear them around your house for a while. No matter how great those new shoes compliment an outfit, tingling toes, and blisters are never a good look.
You might also be interested in: The 17 Best House Shoes For Women [Comfy & Stylish]
Ways to Stretch Shoes:
- Find a Cobbler
- Buy Shoe Trees
- Freeze Them
- Heat Them Up
- Steam Them
- Spray Them with Water and Alcohol
- Try a Shoe Stretching Spray
- Use a Potato
- Try a Tennis Ball
- Try a Spoon
- Wear Them Around the House