Thorough overview of why you should not wear tight shoes, and ways to stretch them.
Introduction: Stretch That Shoe!
As our lives become increasingly busier, we’re all spending more time on our feet.
A good pair of shoes is a great way to keep your feet comfortable and well protected from the trials and tribulations of daily life. But a pair that is too tight can wreak havoc on foot health.
If you’re finding that a pair of shoes you’ve recently purchased are fitting a little too snugly, then you’ll need to stretch them out.
If you don’t, you may find yourself running into a host of foot-related problems including painful blisters and bunions. You even run the risk of forming hammer toes or claw toes!
To help keep your feet comfortable, healthy, and ready to bear the load of your busy day, we’ve put together this ultimate guide on how to stretch out shoes.
Below you’ll find several methods that you can use to stretch your shoes out correctly, along with a wealth of information on how to keep your feet and your shoes in great condition.
What’s Wrong With Wearing Tight Shoes?
Before we start looking at how to stretch out shoes, let’s take a moment to look at what wearing tight shoes can do to your feet.
Many of us are guilty of choosing style over comfort, opting for the fashionable aesthetics of high-heeled stilettos or flat-soled sneakers instead of thinking about whether our feet will be cared for properly while wearing them.
This is a huge mistake to make. The human foot is a complex piece of our anatomy, and each of our feet contains a staggering 26 bones that are held together by joints and thickened ligaments.
This structure helps to spread our weight evenly so we’re able to balance, absorbs impact shock, and allows the muscle in our feet to flex enough to be able to walk or run.
Cramming this marvel of evolutionary engineering into an ill-fitting shoe will only result in problems!
Wearing tight shoes can also result in nerve damage and skin conditions, which leaves your feet susceptible to infection.
There’s an increased chance of falls too, and this can severely affect your mobility. This can result in potentially fatal accidents, especially if you’re an older person.
Disorders That Can Occur
We’ve touched on some of the foot issues associated with wearing shoes that are too tight above.
However, to reiterate how important it is to find a pair of shoes that fit correctly, it’s important to outline some of the disorders that can occur in a little more detail.
By doing this, you aren’t only able to see what can happen when you wear tight-fitting shoes, but you may be able to find out some more information on an existing foot problem you might already be suffering from.
Despite the name, athlete’s foot doesn’t only affect people that spend a lot of time playing sports.
This is a fungal skin infection that causes flakiness, itchiness and scaling on the affected areas (which is usually between the toes).
Tight-fitting shoes are one of the most common causes of athlete’s foot, and wearing a correctly fitting pair of shoes will dramatically reduce the risk of this infection from setting in.
Bunions are large, unsightly lumps that form on the side of your feet or on the base of your big toe.
These are caused by wearing shoes that are too narrow at the front as they cause the bone at the base of the toe to push outwards.
As a bunion forms, the big toe becomes slanted and presses against the other toes instead of pointing straight ahead.
When you wear shoes that are too tight, more continuous friction is placed on the skin of the feet.
And, as the friction continues to rub against the skin over time, the skin reacts by building hard layers to help protect itself. This results in the formation of hard, yellow, round bumps called corns.
One of the symptoms that people with diabetes can suffer from is a loss of sensation in the foot’s nerves.
This is known as ‘diabetic foot’. Wearing tight shoes can cause cuts and blisters which, if not felt due to a loss of nerve-sensation, can lead to infection.
However, a pair of shoes that fits correctly will not cause any damage to the feet, and so the risk of this happening is significantly reduced.
When you wear shoes that are too tight or too narrow, your toes start to pile up on top of each other.
This is a condition known as ‘hammer toes’, and it most commonly affects the second, third, and fourth toe. In some instances, the toes can become completely rigid and may be permanently dislocated.
If your toes are all squished together in a shoe that is too narrow, the edges of your toenails can begin to dig into the edges of your toes and create ingrown toenails.
This can cause severe discomfort and can lead to infection if not treated properly. In some extreme cases, the entire toenail may need to be surgically removed.
This is an extremely painful condition that affects the front (metatarsal) region of the foot.
Also known as ‘stone bruise’, metatarsalgia is an inflammation on the ball of the foot and is caused by a combination of wearing tight-fitting shoes and excessive jumping or running.
More commonly known as ‘pins and needles’, peripheral neuropathy causes the foot to go numb while simultaneously being overrun with an uncomfortable, tingling sensation.
Shoes that are too tight can cause this to happen as they can cause injury to the nerves in your feet and, as a result, an attack of pins and needles becomes a more regular occurrence
All of these disorders can easily be avoided simply by wearing a pair of shoes that fit correctly.
By purchasing shoes that are the perfect fit you won’t only save yourself from a lot of unnecessary pain, but you’ll also save yourself a lot of time spent at your doctor’s office!
Signs That Your Shoes Are Too Tight
Trying on shoes before you purchase them is always a good idea, and will help you get a feel for whether or not they are a suitable fit for your feet.
However, in the world of online shopping, there’s no guarantee that the shoes you’re looking at will fit properly.
Different brands often use different measurements to dictate sizes too, which makes it even more difficult to find that perfect fit.
Recent studies have shown that two-thirds of people wear shoes that are too narrow for their feet.
And it’s safe to say that this is because a lot of people are unaware of the warning signs associated with ill-fitting shoes.
So, how can you tell if your shoes are too tight? Tightness in shoes doesn’t necessarily come from just one place and you may be able to feel it in single or multiple areas throughout the shoe.
Here are some signs that your shoes are too tight when you’re trying them on:
- The toe box is too narrow for your feet to fit into comfortably
- The toe box isn’t high enough and may feel as though it’s pressing down on your toes
- In some instances, you may feel a combination of both of the above toe box issues
- The overall length of the shoe is too short, resulting in you struggling to fit your entire foot in easily and comfortably
- The shape of the shoe doesn’t conform to the contours of your feet
- The height of the heels on the shoe puts pressure on your toes or any other part of your feet
If you have already purchased some shoes and you feel as though they may be too tight for your feet while you’re wearing them, there are few signs that will confirm this for you:
If you find yourself having to put more pressure on a certain part of your foot or you feel as though you’re having to stretch your toes out more than you usually would while walking, there’s a good chance that your shoes are too tight.
A pair of shoes that fit correctly will allow you to walk naturally and comfortably in them.
If some of your toes are trying to make an escape through the top or the sides of your shoes, then they are being crammed in far too tightly.
This is a regular occurrence in high-heeled shoes as they tend to have very narrow toe boxes. Cramming your toes together like this can result in hammer toes, bunions, and ingrown toenails.
So, if you have noticed your toes are externally visible, ditch those shoes and purchase a pair that can comfortably contain them all!
Blisters are a common issue with new shoes, even with those that fit well as they stretch out and contour to the shape of your feet.
However, if you’re getting blisters every time you wear a pair of shoes (especially if you were them regularly) there is a strong chance that they are too tight for your feet.
Regular blistering can lead to infection, and no style is worth the pain that blisters can bring with them.
Wearing socks with shoes is always a good idea as they will help prevent rubbing. They’ll also absorb sweat, so your shoes will smell better for longer.
However, if you find yourself having to reach for a specific, thick pair of socks each time you want to wear your shoes because they help prevent blistering or make the shoe fit better in certain areas, then your shoes are too tight!
Each and every person is different, and what might fit somebody else may not necessarily fit your feet.
This is why it’s important to try on shoes before you buy them wherever possible.
And, if you’ve ordered shoes online, try them on as soon as they arrive. If they don’t fit, send them back and try another size.
By doing this, you’ll be able to find a pair of shoes that fit properly, won’t cause you any discomfort, and that you won’t have to pad out with socks or walk unnaturally in.
Can You Stretch Any Type Of Shoe?
If you’ve got a pair of shoes that you’re absolutely in love with but they are a little too tight, then you may be able to stretch them out for a better fit.
But can you stretch any type of shoe? The success of this does depend on the material that they are made of as some are far more pliable than others.
Leather isn’t only one of the toughest materials, but it’s also the most malleable material when it comes to stretching shoes and boots.
So, if your tight-fitting shoes are made of leather, there’s a strong chance that you’ll be able to stretch them to a more comfortable shape.
The easiest way to stretch out leather shoes is to wear them around the house for a couple of hours at a time. Don’t just sit in them while you’re watching television or reading a book, though.
You need to keep moving so that they can stretch and mold themselves to the contours of your feet. Put them on and do some vacuuming or wear them while you’re cooking dinner.
This will stretch them out and make them much more comfortable when the time comes to wear them outdoors.
There are also several other methods you can use to stretch out leather shoes, and we’ll go into more detail on these a little later.
Canvas shoes have a tendency to be quite narrow in the toes when you’re trying them on, however, just like leather shoes, canvas shoes can also be stretched to create a more comfortable fit.
Despite being lighter in weight, canvas isn’t as easy to stretch as leather though, and it takes a little more effort than simply wearing them around the house.
Again, we’ll go into several different methods a little later on how to stretch out canvas shoes. However, if you’re looking for the easiest method possible, then follow these steps:
- Put on a pair of thick socks and then put on your canvas shoes
- Take a hairdryer and give each shoe a blast of hot air for around 30 seconds, keeping it a good few inches away from them
- While the canvas is still warm, wiggle your toes and stretch your feet
- Remove the shoes and socks, then put your shoes back on without any socks underneath
They should now be stretched out to a more comfortable fit. However, if you feel as though they could still do with a little more room, then repeat the process until you’re satisfied with them.
If they still don’t feel comfortable after 3 or 4 attempts, then it would be a good idea to exchange them for a different size.
Plastic / Acrylic
Plastic and acrylic are incredibly strong materials.
While they can be stretched, you will have to use something with a little more force than you would for leather or canvas shoes.
There are some ways you can stretch a plastic or acrylic shoe using household items, however, your best bet is to use a shoe stretcher.
These are available online and from most high street shoe shops, and, as you may have guessed, they work by literally stretching the shoe for you.
Shoe stretchers come in a variety of styles, so it’s important to find one that fits the style of shoe you’d like to stretch.
You can also find styles that allow you to stretch the length of a shoe, the width, or both.
They are easy to use as well. Simply insert the shoe stretcher into the plastic or acrylic shoe and turn the knob until the stretcher is the same size as the shoe.
Then, turn it 3 or 4 more times to begin stretching it out. Leave the shoe stretcher in place overnight, and in the morning you should be able to feel a noticeable difference.
As with canvas shoes, if you need to stretch them a little more give it another few attempts.
If the shoe is still uncomfortable or tight after three or four tries, it would be a good idea to swap them for a larger size.
How Much Can You Stretch A Shoe?
As with all items of clothing, shoes do have their limitations, and attempting to stretch them beyond their capabilities may cause damage to the shoe.
Even if the damage doesn’t look physical, there’s a chance you’ll have decreased their lifespan by pushing the material to its limits.
So, how much can you stretch a shoe?
The answer is fairly simple. Any shoe, regardless of its material, will only be able to stretch to half a shoe size in width at most.
Trying to push it beyond this could result in the shoe becoming detached from the sole and the material will lose some of its durability.
If you’ve stretched your shoes to this limit and they still don’t feel comfortable, then there is a high chance that you need to go up a size.
Do not be tempted to wear them even if you have stretched them as far as they can go. They still won’t fit properly and you’ll still be running the risk of causing some serious damage to your feet.
A Guide To Stretching Your Shoes
Stretching out shoes can seem like a difficult task, but there are actually loads of methods that are cheap and easy.
They can also be done at home, so there’s no need to worry about heading back into a busy shopping mall or dealing with a long post office queue in a bid to return them!
Below, we’ve listed some of the most effective ways to stretch out shoes along with step by step instructions.
Each of these is super effective, however, not all of them can be used on leather, canvas, plastic, and acrylic.
So, to make things a little easier, we’ve also highlighted what materials each method is suitable for.
The Sock Method
Use for: Leather Shoes
This is one of the easiest ways to stretch out a pair of leather shoes and you’ll only need a pair of thick socks and a bottle of rubbing alcohol to do it.
Here’s what you need to do:
1. Begin by soaking your socks in the rubbing alcohol.
2. Wring them out tightly, then put them on your feet.
3. Now, put the tight-fitting shoes onto your feet and wear them around your home until the socks have dried.
The combination of the rubbing alcohol and your natural body heat will allow the leather to loosen up a little more and they will shape themselves to the contours of your feet, resulting in a better-fitting pair of shoes!
Depending on how tight the shoes are, it may take a few attempts to get them fitting perfectly.
But one of the best things about this method is that it can be repeated several times until the shoes are completely comfortable.
The Soaking Method
Use for: Leather Shoes
If you like the idea of the sock method, but would rather not soak your socks in rubbing alcohol, then the soaking method could be a better choice.
It works in the same way, except instead of soaking your socks you soak the shoes themselves in a basin filled with warm water.
Leave them submerged in the warm water for 10 minutes, then put them onto your bare feet and walk around your home in them until they are dry.
Your natural body heat and the warmth of the water will give the stiff leather some suppleness, and this will allow the shoes to stretch to the size and shape of your feet.
It can be a little uncomfortable to walk around with wet shoes on bare feet though, so you’ll need to keep this in mind before you attempt this method.
We also wouldn’t recommend trying this method in the winter months when the cold temperatures can make it even more uncomfortable.
The Freezer Method
Use for: Leather Shoes, Canvas Shoes, Plastic or Acrylic Shoes
From keeping a fresh supply of food available for hungry family members to freezing jeans for removing chewing gum, the humble freezer has been used as a tool for all sorts of tricks and life hacks since its invention.
One of the most surprising things you can use your freezer for is stretching shoes!
It’s also super easy to do, and the only equipment you’ll need is a roll of freezer bags with a zippable top.
If you’d like to try the freezer method for stretching out leather or canvas shoes, follow these simple steps:
- Partially fill a freezer bag with water, seal the top, and then place it into a second freezer bag before sealing that one shut too.
- Place the freezer bag into your shoes.
- Repeat this process until each shoe is stuffed with water-filled freezer bags.
- Place the shoes into a large freezer bag, seal it shut, and then place them in the deep freeze.
- Leave them in the freezer overnight, then remove them the next day and take out all of the (now frozen) bags of water.
You might be wondering how this method works. Well, when water freezes, its volume increases by 10%.
This means that as the bags of water begin to freeze, they push out the sides and corners of the shoes, stretching them in the process.
By placing your shoes into a freezer bag before putting them in the deep freeze, you’ll be preventing any water damage from happening on the outside of them.
It’s also a lot more hygienic, especially if you’re putting them in amongst frozen food.
This method is ideal if you’re looking for an easy and chemical-free solution to stretching out tight shoes.
You can also repeat this method several times as necessary until you’ve got a more comfortable fitting pair of shoes.
The Hair Dryer Method
Use for: Leather Shoes, Canvas Shoes
We’ve touched on the hairdryer method briefly above, and this is the most effective way of stretching out canvas shoes.
It’s also really effective on leather, but it won’t have much impact on plastic or acrylic shoes.
- Choose a pair of thick socks, then put your shoes on.
- Put your hair dryer on its hottest setting then, keeping it a few inches away from your feet, give each shoe a 30-second blast of hot air.
- While you’re doing this, and as the shoes begin to cool down, stretch your feet and toes out so that the material loosens up.
- Once the shoes are cool, remove them and the socks.
- Put the shoes back on your bare feet and see how they fit.
If you feel as though they could do with another blast of hot air, repeat the process until they feel more comfortable and you’re able to walk naturally in them.
Stretching Through Walking
Use for: Leather Shoes, Canvas Shoes, Plastic or Acrylic Shoes
One of the simplest ways to stretch your shoes out is to simply walk around your home in them for a few hours at a time.
The natural body heat that your feet will give off will help them loosen up and mold to the shape of your feet over time.
Don’t make this mistake of putting your shoes on and then sitting down, though! You need to keep your feet moving to stretch your shoes out using this method.
Try taking on a job you’ve been putting off for a while, such as organizing your kitchen cabinets or categorizing a bookshelf.
This will keep your feet active and ensure your shoes are subjected to enough movement to allow them to stretch out.
This can take a little longer than some other methods, so if you need your shoes to feel comfortable as fast as possible, it would be a good idea to try another stretching method.
However, it’s still a good idea to wear them around your home whenever possible until they feel as though they fit perfectly.
Use for: Leather Shoes
Many stores sell shoe-stretching sprays that are designed to loosen up leather and make it easier to stretch them out.
However, these often come with a hefty price tag.
So, to save yourself some money, why not make a shoe-stretching spray at home?! It’s super simple and you only need a couple of ingredients.
- Take a small spray bottle and fill it with equal amounts of water and rubbing alcohol, then give it a good shake to mix everything together.
- Squirt the spray on the inside layers of the shoes.
- Place the shoes on your feet and wear them around your home for a couple of hours so that they mold to the shape of your feet.
If you don’t have a spray bottle, you can make the shoe-stretching mixture in a small bowl and use a clean cotton pad to apply it to the inside of the shoes.
You can also place a shoe-stretcher into each shoe if you’d prefer not to wear them after you’ve applied the spray.
Stuff With Newspapers
Use for: Leather Shoes, Canvas Shoes
Another great way of stretching out leather or canvas shoes is to stuff them with newspapers. We know it sounds simple, but it’s super effective and it works particularly well on tight toe boxes.
- Roll up individual sheets of newspaper as tightly as possible until you’re left with a hard ball of paper.
- Stuff the ball of paper into your shoes, making sure you get right down into the end of the toe box.
- Repeat this process until you have stuffed each shoe with as many newspaper balls as possible.
- Leave them overnight, then remove the balls and try the shoes on. If they are still a little tight, restuff them (adding more if necessary) and leave for another day.
If you’re stretching out leather shoes, you can also soak the newspaper before rolling it into balls and stuffing your shoes with them.
The moisture will make the leather become more supple and, as they dry, they’ll stretch out.
If you do choose to moisten the paper first, you’ll need to leave the shoes for 24 hours after you’ve removed the paper to allow them to settle.
Use A Shoe Stretcher
Use for: Leather Shoes, Canvas Shoes, Plastic or Acrylic Shoes
One of the most effective ways to stretch out your shoes at home is to use a shoe stretcher.
These are widely available and can be picked up in shoe shops and online. Although they can look a little confusing, they are actually super simple to use.
- Place a shoe stretcher inside each shoe.
- Turn the knob until the shoe stretcher is firmly lodged inside the shoe.
- Now, turn the knob 3-4 more times. This allows them to start stretching the material.
- Leave the shoe stretcher in place overnight and try your shoes on in the morning.
If you feel as though they could do with a little more stretching, repeat the process again until the shoes fit comfortably.
Shoe stretchers are also a fantastic tool for keeping your shoes in shape until you’re ready to wear them again, which is ideal for canvas or leather shoes that can begin to lose their shape over time.
Hiring A Cobbler
If you would prefer to task somebody else with the job of stretching your shoes out, or if they are particularly tight, then taking them to a cobbler would be the best option.
A cobbler will have access to special shoe-stretching machinery that will be able to do a really effective job of making your shoes more comfortable.
Tight Shoe Problems: How To Alleviate Them
Even if you think you’ve found a pair of shoes that fit perfectly when you first try them on, they are still going to be a little tight, to begin with.
This is simply because they haven’t been created for your feet alone.
Even though they may not need to be stretched out, there are still some things you should do to prevent your feet from suffering from tight shoe problems before they’ve fully loosened up.
And, if you have stretched a pair of shoes out, you’ll definitely need to take some extra precautions to stop them from creating blisters, bunions, or any other problems.
The first thing you need to do is make sure that you’re reducing the amount of friction the shoes create against your feet while you’re wearing them. Here a few handy tips to help you do this:
A pair of socks will act as a cushion between your foot and the shoe, preventing any damage to the skin on your foot while you’re still breaking your shoes in.
Don’t sacrifice comfort for style here by choosing to wear your shoes without socks for fear of looking unfashionable.
There are some socks available in flesh colors, so you can give the illusion of being sockless while still protecting your feet.
Inserting toe protestors into your shoes will help to cushion your toes better while you’re walking and protect them from friction.
Friction means blisters, and these should be avoided at all costs!
One really great way to stop painful blisters from forming is to apply paper tape to common blister-susceptible areas of your feet before putting your shoes on.
This includes the back of your heels, the top of your toes, and the ball of your feet.
This method is so effective that a 2016 study found that ultramarathon runners considered this as the most effective form of blister prevention.
If you do find that your shoes are creating some foot problems for you, the best thing to do is stretch them into a more comfortable shape.
In the meantime, there are a few things you can do to alleviate the pain:
Surprisingly, petroleum jelly has barrier-repair and antimicrobial properties. This makes it ideal for treating particularly nasty blister
Tight shoes can make your feet incredibly tired, especially if your toes have been crammed together all day long. Treating your feet with a spray of peppermint will help soothe and revive them.
Conclusion: Walk The Walk
Stretching out your shoes can be easy and, as you can see, there are a lot of methods available to choose from. It’s also highly beneficial and will help to keep your feet in good condition.
The material that your shoes are made of will play a large role in the stretching method you choose, and it’s far easier to stretch leather shoes than any other material.
This doesn’t mean that all hope is lost for canvas, plastic, or acrylic shoes though, and there are still some easy ways you can stretch these types of shoes out for a better fit.
Ultimately, however, the best way to keep your feet healthy and free from any external or internal damage is to find a pair of shoes that fit you.
Don’t put 100% of your trust into the size marked on the shoes, but go by how they feel when you slip your foot inside them.
As we’ve mentioned previously, shoe sizes can differ between brands and while you may be a certain size in one store, you won’t necessarily be the same size in another.
But, if you have a pair of shoes that you simply cannot bear to part with, and they’ve always felt a little tight, stretching them is a fantastic way of giving them a better fit.
This won’t only make them more comfortable, but they’ll be far less likely to cause any lasting damage to your feet.