You know the story: You splurge on an amazing pair of shoes online. They arrive after weeks of anticipation, and then . . . they’re too tight (damn you, size chart!!). Or maybe your feet are naturally two different sizes. Or perhaps you just HAD to have those heels from the clearance rack even though they're a half-size too small. Typically shoes loosen up naturally as you wear them from place to place, but that entire process could take weeks of tiptoeing around with crunched toes and blooming blisters.
But walking in shoes that pinch is something you can totally avoid. If you did buy shoes that are too snug, there are some at-home tips you can follow to stretch shoes for a more comfortable fit. In general, stretching your shoes can add a quarter- to a half-size in space, David Mesquita, owner of The Leather Spa, a leather repair boutique in New York City, tells SELF. The stretching process also typically happens in width, not length, as the outsole (or the bottommost part of a shoe that comes in direct contact with the ground) can’t be stretched that much—so please don’t buy those Jimmy Choo pointy stilettos in a size 7 if you’re really a size 8. (That is, unless one foot is larger than the other—in that case, experts advise to fit for the larger foot and then add an insert!)
Don't worry about creasing the skin of your new shoes, either. Mesquita says this is a normal byproduct of the stretching process—something that would happen regardless of when you start to break in your new shoes. If the lining is synthetic, the shoe stretcher can stick and leave a mark. Leather-lined shoes will give a more supple finish, he adds.
Convinced you can DIY this? Here are a few quick—and painless—ways to stretch shoes at home.
Method 1: Stretch with a blowdryer.
You can speed up the stretching process for leather shoes using thick socks and a blowdryer. The heat loosens up the leather, so it can mold to your foot.
Cover your feet with one or two pair of socks (The thicker, the better!)
Then put on your shoes and blast them on medium heat for 30 seconds—you want to move the nozzle to different spots on your shoes to avoid overheating any particular area and cracking the leather. Repeat this process until your feet slip in comfortably.
I tested this on a pair of suede booties that were a little tight around the balls of my feet. After rotating the dryer around the front of the shoe for about two minutes, there was definitely more room. I was able to walk in them easily with just one pair of socks—success! Make sure to apply a leather or suede conditioner afterwards, as the heat can dry out leather.
Best for: Leather or suede oxfords and boots
Method 2: Use the freezer method.
Put your shoes in the freezer? Yes, really! (Quick science lesson: When water turns to ice, it expands. This is what stretches your shoes slightly.)
Fill a sandwich-size Ziploc bag one-third of the way with water. Secure tightly, leaving a little room at the top. Squeeze the bag to make sure there aren't any invisible holes (I got a few drops in my shoes after my initial test). Place the bag in the shoe. Make sure to mold the bag down into the toe area, where shoes tend to feel especially tight. Put the shoes in the freezer until the water becomes ice. Once the ice has formed, you can take out your shoes to thaw for about 20 minutes. Repeat this method multiple times until you reach the size you need.
I first attempted this ice method on a pair of leather oxfords, but I found it's tough to get the bag down into the instep area. So, in my experience, the blowdryer is a much better method for closed shoes, but I did pull off a half-size stretch on a pair of pointed-toe kitten heels. The corners of the Ziploc slid right into the structured tips, and now my toes are no longer squeezed on top of each other.
Best for: Peep-toe or pointed-toe heels, sneakers, and other non-leather shoes
Method 3: Buy a shoe stretcher.
Chances are, you've probably seen a shoe stretcher in your dad's closet before. Using this simple tool is definitely the least risky method (you won't have to worry about ruining the shine of your shoes with heat or damaging sneakers with water). A stretcher like the FootFitter Premium Professional 2-Way Shoe Stretcher, $40, can max out the length and width of a shoe. It comes in different sizes to fit both women's and men's styles. This particular one even has little nubs you can add in the toe area if the shoe is scraping one particular spot wrong.
Best for: Leather shoes, flats, and oxfords
Precautionary steps to take before buying shoes that are too small:
Shoes should never be too tight, or too loose, Suzanne Levine, M.D., board-certified podiatric surgeon, and author of My Feet are Killing Me, tells SELF. Your shoe should have about 1 centimeter of space—about the width of your index finger—in front of your longest toe (usually the same foot as your dominant hand) so your toes have room to move, Levine says.
She also recommends shopping for shoes towards the end of the day, because your feet will be slightly larger. Then walk around the store with the new shoes on for a few minutes. If they hurt or press, don’t buy them. Likewise, if either foot is swimming in the shoe so that walking is awkward, don’t buy them.
After purchasing new shoes, you can walk on carpet in your home for a few hours to make even more sure of the fit—the carpet will prevent wear to the sole of the shoe. “Especially with athletic footwear, wearing two pairs of socks can reduce the chance of abrasions, irritations, blisters,” Levine says. Cushioning pads in pressure areas, like your heel or the side of your big toe, can help.
How to treat a painful blister from new shoes:
If the blister is closed, wash it gently with mild soap and warm water, then dry gently. Cover the blister with a Band-Aid, or an appropriately-shaped pad (usually U- or O- shaped) to reduce the chance of infection, Levine says.