Finding the perfect pair of shoes can be an exciting experience, but only if that stylish pair that caught your eye still feels good on your feet after a few laps around the store (or your apartment). Otherwise, tight shoes can cause discomfort, blisters, and even foot pain, making it essential to find ways to widen them for a better fit.
Thankfully, it’s possible to learn how to make shoes wider without wrecking them. It just takes some careful steps and a little effort.
If you’re interested in taking the big stretch, we’re here to help. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the various methods and techniques for how to stretch shoes wider, ensuring you can step out in style and comfort.
Understanding the Need to Widen Shoes: When and Why
You pulled on your brand-new loafers this morning, eager to show off your favorite kicks. After going about your day and arriving home you discover swollen feet and blisters below. You then begin to wonder, “Do I need wide shoes?”
Don’t fear—if you think you need wide-width shoes there are ways you can go about stretching your beloved new pair. In fact, widening shoes can add up to a half-size of room depending on the type of material and newness of the shoe.1
From rigid new shoes to suddenly uncomfortable old favorites, here are some common situations where you might need to stretch shoes for wide feet:
- Too-narrow shoes – Shoe manufacturers often use standard shoe widths, which might not suit everyone’s foot shape. If you experience some of the more common wide feet problems or specific foot conditions, widening your shoes can provide the necessary space for a more comfortable fit. Any signs of tightness and pinching may suggest too-narrow shoes.
- Breaking in new shoes – New shoes can feel a bit snug initially, and wearing them for extended periods may lead to discomfort. Widening techniques can help speed up the break-in process.
- Foot deformities and conditions – Individuals with bunions, hammertoes, or other foot conditions may require additional space in their shoes to prevent pain and irritation.
- Swollen feet – Your feet may swell for a variety of common reasons, including warm weather, pregnancy, medications, or any number of health conditions. Having the flexibility to widen your shoes when needed can accommodate these fluctuations.
Effective Methods for Shoe Widening
So, whether you’re breaking in new soles, accommodating bunions, or seeking to widen some unyielding styles, these tried-and-true methods will help your feet fall in love with your shoes.
Method #1: Ice Technique
Make room in your freezer. If you have water and plastic bags, you can widen your shoes by harnessing the power of the elements.
As water freezes, it expands and takes up more room. When this phenomenon happens inside a pair of shoes, it puts extra pressure on the shoe’s materials—and voila! You have some more room. Follow these steps to widen your tight shoe with ice:2
- Fill two sealable plastic bags halfway with water and place them inside the shoes, ensuring they cover the tight areas (usually the forefoot and heels).
- Put the plastic bag-filled shoes in the freezer until the water freezes (around four to eight hours).
- Remove the plastic bags and try on the shoes. If they need further stretching, repeat with more water in the plastic bags.
Method #2: Shoe Stretchers
This might just be your best friend for giving shoes a safe stretch.
Shoe stretchers are solid structures meant to sit in shoes and expand their size. Depending on your needs, they can come in a variety of types, including:3
- Single-way stretchers, which simply stretch a shoe’s length, from toe box to heel
- Two-way stretchers, which stretch both the length and width of a shoe
- Boot trees, which stretch the calf area of tall boots
- Ball and ring cast-iron stretchers, which can address specific localized areas of the shoe
No matter your stretching needs, you need to make sure your shoe stretcher is the right size. Typically, shoe stretchers come in men’s sizes, women’s sizes, or adjustable sizes. Once you have the appropriate shoe stretcher in your shoe size, master how to expand shoes with these steps:
- Apply a shoe stretching spray (best for suede and leather shoes) on the inside or outside of the shoe area that needs stretching.
- Insert the shoe stretchers into the shoes.
- Stretch the tight shoe by turning the knob, then keep turning it until you encounter resistance.
- Leave the stretcher in and let it work its magic—at minimum, overnight, and up to 48 hours, if you’re so inclined.
Method #3: DIY Techniques
No plastic bags or shoe stretchers on hand? No worries. You can stretch your shoes with some common items found in your home.
Moisture and heat are two of your best friends for stretching (most) shoes. Try these DIY methods to achieve a small stretch without leaving the house:2
- Liquid and walking – Don’t underestimate the power of your bathroom cupboard. Apply a small amount of rubbing alcohol or water to the tight areas of the shoes. Pull on thick socks, pull on the shoes, and then walk around to stretch the material gently.
- Blow dryer – Likewise, pull on a thick pair of socks and step into your shoes that need stretching. Use a blow dryer to warm up the shoes while wearing them, flexing your feet to help the material stretch. Make sure you’re constantly moving the blow dryer’s nozzle to avoid overheating any one area and keep this up for at least a few minutes. Just make sure your shoe’s material is heat-safe (more on this shortly).
Method #4: Professional Assistance
If you have delicate, expensive, or seriously tough shoes that need widening, you may need professional help to reach new strides. Your local cobbler can stretch shoes without damaging their structure or materials.
Shoe Material—How Does It Impact Widening?
Pause before picking up the hair dryer. While every widening method has its use, you have to take a shoe’s material into account before you give it a stretch. Otherwise, you risk damaging the shoe permanently.
Before attempting any stretching, consider these tips for widening each type of shoe:
- Leather – Leather is a luxurious and durable material for shoes, but it comes with some particular needs. When stretching leather, you want to make sure that you don’t tear, scratch, or thin out the material. To soften the material, try applying a leather conditioner, stretching spray, or alcohol solution before any stretching method.4
- Canvas and fabric – Though fairly flexible, these materials still need some care before any attempts to stretch. Moisten a clean cloth and dampen any tight areas before using a DIY stretching technique (blow dryer, rubbing alcohol, etc.).5
- Suede and nubuck – If there’s one rule for suede and nubuck, it is don’t use water. Water can permanently damage suede and nubuck shoes, so it’s best to avoid any water-based stretching solutions. Stick with a specialized stretching spray, shoe stretchers, and help from a cobbler.6
Tips and Precautions: Best Practices for Safe Shoe Widening
Shoe widening can be a game-changer, providing sweet relief from cramped toes and heel blisters. However, it’s crucial to approach this task with care, as improperly executed techniques can lead to unintended consequences, such as damaging those beloved sneakers or heels.
By following these best practices and safety tips, you can practice stretching shoes for wide feet while preserving the beauty and functionality of your footwear:
- Start low and slow – Always start with gentle stretching and gradually increase the intensity to avoid damaging the shoes.
- Spot-test – Before using a product across the full surface of the shoes, test it on a tiny, discrete area first. Typically, an area near the heel’s bottom is fair game.
- Don’t force it – Avoid excessive force or aggressive stretching, especially with delicate materials.
- When in doubt, ask for help – If you’re unsure of what you’re doing, don’t stretch blindly. Consider seeking professional assistance from a cobbler or shoe repair shop for valuable assistance on how to widen shoes.
Maintaining the Widened Fit: Care and Maintenance Tips for Extended Comfort
You’ve successfully widened your cute shoes for wide feet—now what?
The journey doesn’t stop at a single stretch. To enjoy the benefits of your newly widened shoes for the long haul, you need proper care and maintenance. Preserve your comfort with these insights into keeping the widened fit of your shoes:
- Learn how to store your shoes properly to maintain their shape—that means using a shoe tree or inserts rather than tossing them haphazardly on the floor
- Regularly clean and condition your shoes, particularly if they are made of high-quality materials like leather
Find the Perfect Fit With Vionic
Don’t let a little tightness and pinching lead your favorite shoes to the donation bin. If your shoes are slightly tight, they have a chance at a second life (and size). By knowing how to stretch shoes for wide feet, you can keep your favorites in rotation without sacrificing an ounce of style or comfort.
But after all that, what’s the best way to “widen” shoes? Start by familiarizing yourself with the difference between wide vs regular shoes. If you have wider feet, wide-width footwear would be the perfect option.
At Vionic, no feet are beyond our reach. Through biomechanical designs, ample sizes, and stylish looks, we make podiatric support an easy choice for all feet, big or small. If you want to step into comfort, pick your favorite wide-width shoes today and feel the difference of a perfect fit.
- Cruel, jessica et al. “How to Stretch Shoes That Are Too Small.” SELF. 24 December, 2018. https://www.self.com/story/how-to-stretch-shoes-that-are-too-small
- Milbrand, Lisa. “How to Stretch Shoes so They Fit Better Than Ever.” RealSimple. Updated 29, August, 2022. https://www.realsimple.com/beauty-fashion/shoes-accessories/how-to-stretch-shoes
- Stimpert, Desiree. “All About Shoe Stretchers, Including 10 Recommendations.” Byrdie. Updated 8 November, 2022. https://www.byrdie.com/shoe-stretchers-2987806
- “Crowe, Portia. The right way to stretch your leather shoes.” Business Insider. 25 February, 2015. https://www.businessinsider.com/how-to-stretch-your-shoes-2015-2
- Head, Ally. “Ever wondered how to stretch shoes? A fashion expert explains how.” Cosmopolitan. Updated 11 December, 2022. https://www.cosmopolitan.com/uk/fashion/style/a34918600/how-to-stretch-shoes/
- Keilholtz, Jeffrey. “How to stretch suede.” eHow. https://www.ehow.co.uk/how_8726973_stretch-suede.html