How to Remove Stains from Leather Shoes

Ryan Brown
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What Stains Leather Shoes?

Leather is a durable material and hence most shoes these days are made from leather. For this reason alone, most stains on leather shoes are stubborn.

There are a variety of stains on leather shoes that are common like water, coffee, wine, mud, blood, etc. that different types of stains that you can expect to encounter based on your lifestyle.

For example, wine stains are common on shoes of restaurants and bars. Also, if you as a health care professional come in contact with bodily fluids on the job, you select shoes to protect your feet from the elements so restroom floors can become dirtier quickly.

And if your family expects you to greet them with a shoe shine every Sunday after church, how can you resist?

Water Stains

Water stains can be difficult to remove from high-quality leather shoes. They seep in through the tiny pores in the leather and can cause the leather to crack if not removed.

The best way to remove mild water stains is with leather conditioner. You can find leather conditioner in most stores that carry shoe supplies.

Simply apply a thin coating of conditioner to the spot and allow it to dry. This can take a few hours or overnight. When the leather is dry, the conditioner should be dry as well. Once dry, polish the shoe with a soft towel.

You can also try using saddle soap or leather cleaner if you prefer not to use conditioner. These will not damage the shoe as much as polishing compound or other harsh cleaners. It may take a few treatments to remove the stain.

You can use saddle soap or leather cleaner and a soft cloth to rub the spots. Try to avoid using the cloth on any other part of the shoe.

If you have a conditioner or cleaner that works well on the type of leather your shoe is made of, use the product.

Salt Residue

Not only do your shoes get wet, but the salt crystallizes and makes a mess. It can make a salt residue on the surface of your shoes.

These crustier portions on your leather shoes are very hard to clean and stains leave permanent marks.

The best way to remove salt residue stains is to clean the leather immediately. Be vigilante about this.

Just like sweat and food stains on clothing, a little salt stain left unattended for a little while can get much worse.

So, clean your shoes as soon as possible after an outing to the beach, post a workout where the shoes were sweaty or after getting a little too eager with the salt shaker at dinner.

If you wait too long, put the shoes in the freezer. Salt melts at the temperature equal to the freezing point of water, so freezing your shoes will remove most of the salt residue.

Now, let’s talk about the hard part and what you need to remove salt residue stains from your shoes when you are home.

One of the hardest stains to get out of anything is ketchup. It is gelatinous in consistency, so if you can’t get it out with a soak, a good scrubbing while submerged, which you can’t do with shoes, there is still hope.

Caked-On Dirt

Remove this by getting some isopropyl rubbing alcohol. Rubbing alcohol is denatured, which simply means that it doesn’t have enough ethanol to cause harm to you or the leather.

Rub the soiled area of your shoes with a paper towel soaked with rubbing alcohol. Allow this to sit for a few minutes, then wipe with a clean cloth or paper towel. The solvents in the rubbing alcohol will break down the solids in the dirt.

Repeat as necessary until the dirt is off. When you’re done, wipe the alcohol off with a clean, dry cloth.

Oil Stains

The first thing you want to do is put a clean cloth onto a clean, flat surface. You want to start by blotting the oily stain, because the more you get out, the less you have to scrub out later. So cover up your stain with a clean dry cloth and gently, but firmly press the towel onto the stain. This will push the oil in the cloth onto the leather. Continue holding the pressure for 30 seconds.

A warm iron over the leather briefly will heat the newly stained area and help lift the stain. You can also try applying some leather polish, but test it first on a hidden part to make sure the color blends in.

You can also use a wet paper towel, rub it over the stain, and then and wipe off the excess. Repeat this process with a clean, dry paper towel. Continue to paper towel and clean area until the oil has been removed.

Dab the stain with rubbing alcohol and allow to dry. Keep a white cloth handy with this method because you need to check regularly and clean off any stain remover that bleeds onto the leather.

If you notice a paint stain on leather, treat it just as you would for an oil stain. The only difference is that stain removers are alcohol based to dissolve the oil.

You can buy them from a craft store or shoe repair shop.

Ink Stains

Varieties of stains on leather shoes can make it look shabby. Ink stains are the most annoying of all because this is something that you’re always expected to be well-dressed enough to avoid.

We have a list of things that you can use to remove ink stains from leather shoes.

First, start off with plain paper towels and blot at the ink stains. This is to help absorb the ink on the leather.

Follow that up by rubbing a small amount of olive or vegetable oil on the affected area. Then use a clean, soft cloth to blot the area.

You’ll now see the ink has turned base on the paper towels. Rub it gently with the used oil-dipped cloth. Some of the ink will have disappeared, but the oil in your skin can sometimes alter the color of the area. So it’s a good idea to immediately wipe it away with a clean cloth moistened with water alone to remove the excess oil.

The water will help lift the remaining ink from the leather shoes. Continue rubbing the leather until all of the stain is gone.

After cleaning with a water-dampened cloth, let the leather shoes air dry. This could take an hour or so.

Cleaning Scuffs from Leather Shoes

For minor scuffs, you can use an ice cube. The water in the water freezes and removes the scuff.

To do this, take an ice cube from a tray and rub it over the scuff. The ice will harden the scuff and the mark will disappear!

If you want to clean your shoes correctly and effectively restore their newness, you will need to use two or three products.

You can use a leather cleaner and conditioner to soften and restore the leather, along with a suitable cleaner for the rubber soles.

Combine some old newspapers and a thick towel or a similar absorbent cloth to wipe them completely clean without direct contact.

Petroleum Jelly

I’m not sure how you look like after your ride home, but I rarely look forward to the daily commute after a ride. Especially not in the Summer!

On those ride home when I hit that traffic and it’s 100% sure I’ll spend the next half hour regretting the things I ever did, I always look for ways to make the journey more bearable.

While I keep a small water bottle in my bag to spray myself with on the hot days, I also keep a little tub of petroleum jelly in there as well. I apply a little of this stuff on my face and ears and let it absorb into my skin. It keeps you nicely moisturized and refreshed and is a fantastic alternative to the bottled water.

Petroleum Jelly in the Bag

Turns out, I’m not the only one who keeps petroleum jelly in my backpack. A friend of mine suggested I tried it on my boots. The leather of the boots becomes very stiff when you ride because of all the sweat and heat, so I doubted it was going to help much.

Pencil Erasers

Pencil erasers are something I always have at home. If you don’t want to use commercial cleaners there is a simple way to clean leather shoes with a pencil eraser.

Rub the eraser over the leather to remove deeply ingrained dirt or grease.

Gently erase off all the remnants of the dirt or grease from the shoes and make sure you don’t rub too hard as to scratch the leather.

For stubborn stains, you can also apply a spit solution (3 parts water, 1 part glycerin) and rub it on the stains. A mild buff with a soft cloth should readily remove the stain.

Baking Soda

Stains happen. Especially if you’re a man who wears white leather shoes.But you don’t have to worry if you go about fixing the stain in the right way.

White vinegar works well on its own, but personally, I like to use it together with baking soda and liquid hand soap.

Baking soda is a mild abrasive that helps to hide minor scratches on the shoes.

Liquid hand soap helps to break down the stain even further and will act as a water softener on leather.

Before you begin, take the soap and water solution in a spray bottle and spray the entire surface of the shoe. The goal is to completely dampen the leather surfaces and leave no dry spots.

Spray the baking soda on the surface of the shoes.

Set them aside for several hours to overnight. You will notice discoloration of the baking soda. When the baking soda is completely discolored, wipe the shoes with a rag soaked in a vinegar-water solution. Use cold water because hot water will cause the leather to shrink.

Using the solution of vinegar and soap, clean off the remainder of the baking soda.

You can also use toothpaste for this. Toothpaste has an abrasive property that can help to remove stains from leather shoes.

Dishwashing Detergent

As I write this guide to removing stains from leather shoes, I have to confess that I’ve gone down this route before. I got the idea by accident when I was washing a dish by hand and suds from the soapy water dripped onto my shoes.

I rubbed in some dishwashing detergent on a corner of one of my shoes and came back after a few minutes with the lather already dried.

To my surprise, the stain was gone!

Dishwashing detergents can often be found in your kitchen. Just mix up some lather in warm water and rub it on the shoes. You can easily get into all the hard-to-reach fibers of the shoes if you hold the lather with your fingers for a couple of minutes.

I would recommend doing this on a part of your shoes that is not visible.

You will be able to see the results immediately. If the color lather is gone and the leather looks like new, move onto the next step: cleaning the shoes with a damp cloth.

Nail Polish Remover


Most stains are oil or water based but nail polish remover works on a very wide range. If you are not sure what the stain is made of, acetone is a safe bet.

It will however remove the color of your shoes, so use an old a pair of socks to apply it.

To use it, clean the stain with an old toothbrush or an old paint brush, dip a cotton ball in the nail polish remover and apply it to the shoe and let it dry.

You will have to repeat the process a few times until you can’t see the stain anymore. Once you are done, remove the remover with warm water and then apply leather conditioner to help it recover.


Use toothpaste to remove toothpaste stains from leather shoes.

Add a dab of toothpaste to an old toothbrush. Use a circular motion to rub the toothpaste into the stain.

Let it sit for ten minutes. Remove any excess toothpaste using a clean cloth.

Once the toothpaste dries, buff the toothpaste with a shoe polisher. Make sure to do this outside or in a well-ventilated area.

You can also use an eraser to remove the stain.

Place a piece of the same toothpaste on top of the stain.

Let it sit for 10 minutes.

Use a paper towel to remove the remainder of the toothpaste.

Shoe Polish

One of the stubborn stains that you may face on leather shoes is the one from shoe polish. It’s mostly concentrated alcohol that gradually makes the white leather darker and darker.

Just putting them on and off can add tiny ink dots, revealing the brown leather through sheer white color.

Try storing shoes in a dry place in order to prevent any prolonged contact with the outside moisture. If the stain is already there, do the following to remove it.

Tincture of benzoin is the best leather shoe polish remover that is gentle to shoes. It’s very easy to find in any grocery store. It should be kept in the dark place because it’s alcohol-based.

Apply the tincture of benzoin on the stain that you want to remove. You should rub it with a soft sponge. Then let it dry for about 10 minutes.

After letting it dry, wash the shoes with the baby shampoo. Use gentle circular motions for about 5 minutes, then rinse the shoes.

After rinsing, let it sit for about 10 minutes or so. Then, wipe the shoes again with a dry cloth.

As you do it, remember that the tincture of benzoin you’re using is alcohol-based. It can create more stains on the white leather if you are not careful.

Preventative Measures

Regular conditioning of leather shoes and boots with a good quality moisturizer not only improves their appearance, it extends their lifespan and preserves their natural beauty.

Apply leather moisturizer on the leather once every fortnight. If you find that your shoes are leaving marks on floors, get some rubber inlays to remove friction.

Keep your leather shoes dry and clean at all times to prevent dust and dirt from accumulating in them. Use a hand-held brush to clean the surface regularly.

If you don’t have shoe trees, make your own from socks or old t-shirts. This is mostly for long-term storage as the fresh fibers help keep the shape of the shoes.

Maintain a good distance between the leather shoes and other things that make clutter. As it gets dirty, it will attract more dirt.

As soon as you get home, brush your shoes unless you are sporting rough hikes. This helps to remove dust from the shoes.

Avoid dragging your leather shoes on rough surfaces. It takes away their natural luster and causes scratches.

Leather also has a tendency to dry out and crack if it is too close to the radiator or a fire, or heat source.

If you haven’t worn your leather shoes for some time, dust them first, before you put them on as it will make you sneeze later.

Regular Shoe Cleaning

You can keep your leather shoes looking bright and new with regular cleaning and conditioning.

If your shoes get soaked in rain, apply shoe cream with a cotton or flannel cloth and wipe dry with a clean, soft cloth.

If your shoes are already broken in, just apply a shoe cream to brighten the leather. It will clean and moisturize your shoes at the same time.

If your shoes are brand new, apply a moisturizing cream and let them rest overnight.

And if your shoes need a thorough cleaning, apply a leather cleaning product and let them rest overnight.

In the morning, remove any residue with a clean, wet cloth. Then, brush the shoes with a brush to make the surface of the shoes smooth.

Shoe Sprays

Use shoe-specific cleaners to effectively remove the dirt and oils from your leather shoes. Such cleaning products can either be sprays or creams.

To apply a spray:

Make sure to test the spray on a small hidden area to make sure it will not damage the leather.

Spray the cleaning product straight onto the stains and allow it to sit for 2-3 minutes to ensure all the dirt and oils are removed.

Wipe the shoe using a damp cloth and reshape the leather.

If you are going to use a cream cleaner, make sure to apply it on a soft cloth and rub it directly onto the leather.

Let the cream sit for 5-10 minutes and then buff it until the leather is restored.

Repeat this process until all the dirt and oils are gone.

After using the products, make sure to test the shoe for colorfastness by spraying it with a spray bottle.

Leather Shoe Polish

Proper care and cleaning of leather shoes will keep them looking nice and prolong their life.

One of the best ways to preserve your leather shoes is to use leather polish regularly.

Unlike synthetic leather, which can be cleaned with a damp cloth or high pressure washer, real leather requires special care and attention to maintain its supple texture and keep it from cracking.

Costly repair work on leather shoes is not uncommon; therefore it’s in your best interest to keep them nice and clean.

Applying leather polish regularly is the easiest way to keep your shoes looking their best.

Regular polish will also help to keep them clean since it repels water and oils your shoes as well. It also acts as a protectant against stains and premature wear.


Beeswax is the best leather polish. This is because it is completely natural and contains no dyes, chemicals, petroleum byproducts, or odors. It also contains no abrasives that wear down the leather and by itself is safe to use on all types of leathers.

Couple the natural wax with the countless polishes and conditioners that can be applied with beeswax and you have no need for anything else when it comes to buffing and shining your leathers.

Beeswax is the only wax I would use on my leather shoes, rather than the myriad of other waxes specially designed for leather, because it is the only wax that is completely natural, non-toxic, and non-irritating to both you and your leather.

Simply rub it in a circular motion onto your shoes and use a dry cloth to buff it in. This will create a protective barrier and give you that freshly-shined appearance without having to pay for it.

Use the wax sparingly because you don’t need to use much. There are a number of commercial waxes out there that are great, so it is understandable if you choose to use them instead, but the best way to protect your shoes is to protect the leather itself.

Leather Conditioner

  • Canvas
  • Boat shoes
  • Crepe
  • Suede
  • Nubuck
  • Oil tanned leather
  • Buffing
  • Wiping
  • Sanitizing
  • Conditioning
  • Protection

There are basically two kinds of leather to choose from, aniline and pigmented.

Aniline leather often looks dull, but the beauty is in the longevity of this leather. The leather tannery dips the animal skin, or hides, in an undyed, non-tinted, and non-treated "bloom." The skin absorbs and reflects light differently, which makes each hide look unique.

After the hides are tanned, they are cleaned and then dyed and pigment is applied to hide stains and blemishes.

That is when it is bonded to a foundation of cotton fibers and a core of natural latex. The cotton fibers and natural latex give the leather durability and shape. The leather is then buffed to take out the scratches.

Nowadays suede is usually dyed, but in older times, undyed leather was used. Today's suede is more durable because it is put through an additional polishing process.

Leather is prone to stains from all kinds of substances. It is important to know how to clean leather stains because you never know when you might leave a stain.