There are certain products that you never knew you needed, and yet, once had you can't imagine your life without them. For us that includes Beautyblender, a plush bathrobe, and now, shoe stretchers. Honestly, the struggle to find the perfect-fitting shoes is real. Chances are there's at least one pair gathering dust in your closet and not because you don't want to wear them; but rather, they're uncomfortable to wear. Of course, you knew they were a tad too tight before buying them, but that didn't stop you (and you're not the only one, believe us).
Fortunately, shoe stretchers are the answer to your ill-fitting shoe woes. Never again will you need to squeeze your feet into shoes that are too small nor will you be forced to endure the discomfort that comes with—and follows—wearing shoes that frankly, don't fit. A shoe stretcher's aim is simple: to get you in the shoes that you want comfortably.
Keep reading to learn how shoe stretchers work and how you can use them to get the perfect-fitting footwear.
When to Use
Shoe stretchers can come in handy on a variety of occasions. For one, if you've got swollen feet from standing or sitting all day—or just happen to be pregnant—your shoes could probably benefit from having some extra wiggle room. (Note: You should see a doctor if your swelling worsens or you experience chronic swelling as this can be related to an underlying condition). Another reason that you might want to consider using a shoe stretcher is if you land between two sizes or perhaps to ease discomfort stemming from common foot problems.
Shoe stretchers can help alleviate these issues by bringing you a more comfortable shoe. Some can even target problem areas like where a blister is or where pinching occurs. These types of shoe stretchers typically come with small, built-in holes in which plugs are inserted to stretch the desired spots. However, keep in mind that shoe stretchers are best suited to breaking in footwear that is made of natural materials (think: suede and leather) since they offer more give. Also, they're meant to stretch a shoe whose size is only slightly too small. So if you're looking to take a size 7 to a size 9, you'll need new shoes, not a shoe stretcher.
When shopping for shoe stretchers, know that some come in pairs—one to stretch the left shoe and the other the right—and others as singles, like EST's New Two Way Shoe Stretcher ($16), that can stretch both shoes. There are also shoe stretchers that are made for specific types of footwear, such as, flats, heels, and boots, so be certain that you're buying the right tool for the job. Shoe stretchers can be sold in both men's and women's size ranges but we like Plixio's Shoe Stretcher Women and Men's Shoe Widener ($22) for being one-size-for-all.
In addition to expanding a shoe's length, some stretchers can also increase width. These are known as two-way stretchers and they work by having a vamp or instep stretcher lift the part of the shoe that sits on the top of your foot and a toe stretcher to lift the shoe's toe box. And it doesn't stop there. Ariat Unisex Boot Trees ($28) are boot calf stretchers that make more room in the shaft of a boot so calves won't be squeezed. Finally, a ball and ring cast-iron stretcher like this device by FootFitter ($40) is designed to address specific areas of the shoe that need relief.
How to Use
Given all of the varieties of shoe stretchers out there, it's important that you follow the instructions for the product you purchase. You'll also want to buy a shoe stretching liquid, like FootFitter's Shoe and Boot Stretch Spray ($13), too. It primes a shoe by saturating and relaxing its material, making it easier to expand. You might say it's a shoe stretcher's BFF. With shoe stretcher and stretching spray in hand, the size adjustment can now begin:
- Spray the shoe stretching liquid a few times on the inside or outside of the shoe area that needs stretching. Wait two minutes for the liquid to absorb.
- Insert the shoe stretchers into the shoes, making sure they are expanded as much as the shoe will allow before inserting them.
- Turn the knob to begin stretching the shoe and keep turning it until you feel resistance.
- Leave the stretcher in at least overnight—and sometimes for as long as 24 to 48 hours.
Tip: The longer you leave the stretcher in, the more the shoes will stretch, so you might want to try a shorter period of time first to make sure they don't stretch too much. Shoes that are too loose can be just as problematic as those that are too small.
Since it might take some practice getting used to the process of stretching your shoes, we recommend trying it out first on a pair that you wouldn't be devastated over ruining. Obviously, we hope that you won't overstretch them, but we're only human, right? In case it happens, you'll be better off if it's with shoes that you don't care as much about than with your sacred Manolos. Alternatively, you can leave it to the pros and contact a shoe repair shop to do the stretching for you. The shoe repairperson may also be able to recommend specific products or tools for the kind of shoes you want to have stretched. Talk about cobbler to the rescue.