A spit shine is a high-gloss shoeshine, typically applied to military boots. A soldier is sometimes judged by the quality of the spit shine on his or her boots. Ideally, a spit shine results in a surface so shiny it becomes reflective. Giving ones boots a perfect spit shine is an involved process that takes hours. Though there are "quick fixes" that approximate the look of a spit shine, those used to inspecting uniforms can easily spot the difference.
The basic elements of a spit shine are shoe polish and a moistened cloth. Regular Kiwi polish or a similar brand will do the job. Other implements, such as cotton balls, a stiff-bristled brush, or a soft-bristled brush, may be helpful for certain parts of the process.
The first step in a spit shine is to make sure both the boots and the hands are thoroughly cleaned. The trick to a perfect spit shine is being thorough and taking one's time in every step. Every part of the boots must be cleaned: the soles, the laces, the tongues, and so on. Any dirt, dust, or old polish left on the boot will prevent one from achieving a perfect spit shine. A toothbrush or stiff-bristled cleaning brush may be used in this step.
Next, a thick layer of polish is applied to the boot and carefully buffed. The usual method is to stretch a slightly worn, but clean, cotton cloth over the index finger, making sure it is perfectly smooth across the fingertip and moist, but not dripping. Some people prefer cotton balls to cloth, but under no circumstances should polyester be used. Again, thoroughness is key. After the thick base layer is applied, thinner layers of polish are built up on top of each other and buffed until a perfect shine emerges.
The spit shine takes its name from the moisture required on the buffing cloth. This moisture repels the wax based polish, making sure it adheres to the boot rather than the cloth. While some people do use spit, others use water or rubbing alcohol. Some advise against using spit, while others swear by it. In any case, do not use spit to shine your shoes if you are drinking beer or soda or have recently eaten.
During a spit shine, the polish will first look milky will noticeable swirls before the high gloss appears. Patience and elbow grease are required. Once enough layers of shoe polish have been applied and the boot is polished to a mirror-like finish, the job can be finished off in a number of ways, such as an all over final buffing with a soft cloth or brush.
Combat boots with a beautiful spit shine are often the result of years of careful treatment. Touch-ups need not be as thorough as the first application, but at times, the boots may need to be completely stripped of old polish and the process must begin fresh. If the old polish has a scratch or major damage in only one area, it can be melted and smoothed with mineral oil and new polish can be applied in its place. In the United States military tradition, combat boots are regularly stripped of old polish, while in the United Kingdom and Australia, it is traditional for soldiers to allow the polish to build up over time.