All About Shoe Stretchers

Make your shoes fit perfectly

Wooden shoe stretcher
Peter Dazeley/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

In the best case scenario, your shoes fit perfectly when you buy them. You know your shoe size and width, you try on shoes late in the day when your feet are their largest, and you buy styles that don't have a tendency to pinch your toes.

But despite your best efforts to ensure comfortable shoes and a good fit, you can still sometimes find that your shoes are too tight and uncomfortable. This is when shoe stretchers come in handy.

Why You Should Use Shoe Stretchers

There are several reasons you might find a need for shoe stretchers—feet can swell; you can land between two sizes; and bunions, corns, or other foot imperfections can make your shoes hurt. And when your shoes hurt, life can be pretty miserable. Those shoes you really love might spend most of their time in your closet if this is the case.

Shoe stretchers can help alleviate several of these problems and deliver a more comfortable shoe.

Several of them also come with little built-in holes. Plugs inserted into the holes can stretch the shoes only in problem spots, like where a corn or a bunion is, or where pinching occurs.

Materials That Yield to Shoe Stretchers

Shoe stretchers work best for shoes made of suede, leather, and other natural materials. They don't work as well on vinyl because the material does not have as much give.

Shoe stretchers are also best suited to breaking in shoes that are barely too tight or expanding shoes that are close to the right size.

If you're looking to stretch a size 7 to a size 9, you need a new shoe, not a stretcher.

Different Types of Shoe Stretchers

Shoe stretchers are usually bought as singles and will stretch both the left and right shoe.

There are different shoe stretchers made for flats, high heels, boots, and other specific types of footwear.

Be certain that you are buying the right tool for the job.

Shoe stretchers are typically sold in men's or women's size ranges—for example, in men's size 6 to 8. 

A two-way shoe stretcher expands both length and width; a vamp or instep stretcher lifts the part of the shoe that sits on the top of your foot; and toe stretchers will help to lift the toe box of the shoe, providing more height for your toes. There are also boot stretchers that help stretch the shaft of a boot, making more room for your legs. A ball and ring cast-iron stretcher targets trouble spots that pinch bunions, hammertoes, and corns.

How to Use Shoe Stretchers

When you buy shoe stretchers, you should ask how the particular stretchers should be used, but normally, you'll need to use a shoe stretching liquid or spray. This will help to saturate the material and allow the shoe stretcher to work better; follow the instructions for the product you purchase because each one is a little different.

After you've used the stretching spray, 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.

That tells you the shoe is starting to stretch. You will usually have to leave the stretcher in at least overnight and sometimes for as long as 24 to 48 hours. 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 cause a different fit problem but one that is just as bad as shoes that are a bit too snug.

Before You Use Shoe Stretchers

It might take a bit of practice to get used to the process of stretching your shoes. Practice first on a pair of shoes you don't care as much about before you ruin a pair of Manolo Blahniks by overstretching them.

Alternatively, you can contact a shoe repair shop if you're uncomfortable with stretching your shoes yourself.

The shoe repairman may also be able to recommend specific products or tools for the kind of shoes you need to have stretched.

Where to Buy Shoe Stretchers

Look for shoe stretchers and stretching fluid or spray online or a shoe repair shop or a shoe store. 

FootSmart.com has several different styles of shoe stretchers, including those for high heels and flats, as well as styles for men's and women's shoes.