What Is a Shoe Tree & Why You Should Be Using Them

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The shoe tree may seem like a forgotten closet essential of past decades; a gadget better suited for your grandparents’ shoe collection than your own. And that’s because shoe trees are an innovation of the past, patented in 1905 and popularized throughout the early 1900s. But don’t discount the underrated, old-school shoe necessity just yet. Shoe trees can completely revamp your much-loved shoe collection, increasing the lifespan of your favorite shoes.

If you’ve overlooked shoe trees for, well, your entire life, now may be the time to open up your mind (and your closet) to the wonders of the nifty gadget. Need a bit of education when it comes to this footwear must-have? Read on for the answers to all your burning shoe tree questions.

First things first: What are shoe trees?

For those unfamiliar with the term, shoe trees are foot-shaped blocks inserted into a shoe when it’s not being worn to help keep the shoe in shape. Shoe trees are often made of wood, most commonly cedar, though they can also be made of plastic. Some shoe trees, mainly those made of cedar, can also help with absorbing sweat-based moisture to prevent shoe rot and pesky odors.

While shoe trees are most commonly used to help maintain the integrity of pricey men’s dress shoes and loafers, shoe trees can also be used for heels, boots, and even sneakers.

How do shoe trees work?

Shoe trees feature a block-shaped toe and some sort of heel area—either a peg or a fully formed block heel. In between the toe block and heel portion of the gadget is a middle tube that is often spring-activated or otherwise adjustable for a precise fit. When you place the device in your shoe, the tube expands to fit the length of the shoe, smoothing out creases from the inside and keeping your shoe in shape until the next wear. Some shoe trees even come with adjustable toe areas to help gently widen the toe box of a shoe for those looking for extra wiggle room.

While plastic and wooden shoe trees both keep shoes in shape and can help lightly stretch shoes, shoe trees made of cedar come with some additional benefits. Due to the naturally porous material, cedar shoe trees can help remove moisture from your shoes, helping to prevent rot and odor from damaging your shoes. And no, moisture isn’t just a concern in inclement weather. As you wear shoes, your feet sweat—even if you swear they don’t and, yes, even if you wear socks as a barrier. That sweat gets absorbed into the lining of your shoe, which causes the shoe to deteriorate faster and leads to foul odors. If your shoes are made of leather, this moisture is especially a concern as leather is sensitive to moisture, cracking over time due to exposure. Not only do wooden shoe trees help absorb moisture to help nix odors and rot, but they also keep shoes in shape while drying, helping to preserve the original shoe shape and prevent shrinkage.

Which type of shoe tree should I pick?

Not all shoe trees are created equal—especially when it comes to material. Your specific needs and budget will likely dictate which shoe tree material is right for you.

Plastic shoe trees

plastic shoe trees, what is a shoe tree
CREDIT: Amazon

If you are on a budget, plastic shoe trees are likely the best option for you, like this option available on Amazon. With most plastic shoe trees clocking in at around $5, they’re a good option if you are only worried about shoe shape, not odor or shoe rot. If you are looking to smooth out creases in your Jordans, plastic shoe trees are your best bet for sneakers. They, however, are also a great option for narrow heels and most women’s shoes, as they are a little more forgiving width-wise than solid wood.

Wooden shoe trees

wooden shoe trees, pine, what is a shoe tree
CREDIT: Amazon

Wooden shoe trees are more expensive than plastic options but tend to be sturdier and last longer. Though the majority of wooden shoe trees are made of cedar, some are made of pine, beech, or natural wood materials, like these pine shoe trees by Cedar Elements. While non-cedar wood shoe trees help hold the shape of a shoe and release creasing, only cedar will help with odor and moisture absorption, due to the wood’s natural properties.

Cedar shoe trees

cedar shoe trees, allen edmonds, what is a shoe tree
Cedar shoe trees.
CREDIT: Nordstrom

Cedar shoe trees are the most effective type of shoe tree on the market—but they’re also the most expensive, like these $25 cedar shoe trees by Allen Edmonds. Not only do cedar shoe trees keep your shoe’s shape, but they also help nix odors and shoe rot by absorbing moisture. If you want to solve your swampy shoe woes, cedar shoe trees are your only option. Cedar is also the best option for shoes made of moisture-sensitive materials, like leather and suede.

When buying a cedar shoe tree, make sure the wood is not varnished, as the coating will block the wood’s natural absorption and freshening properties. A pair of well-made cedar shoe trees should last a lifetime, though many experts recommend lightly sanding the wood once a year or so to open up the grain.

What size should I buy?

Shoe tree sizing can be a bit tricky, as shoe trees most often come in sizes XS to XL rather than standard numeric shoe sizing. It’s best to check the specific sizing chart of the shoe tree you are going to buy. If you are between sizes on a size chart, it’s best to size up for a better result.

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