So you’re walking through your neighborhood and stop to chat with your neighbor — who happens to be painting their fence or some other weekend warrior project. They still hold the paintbrush in their hand, gesturing with their speech. One flick of the wrist and you have a glob of paint staining your shoes. Great.
Paint happens, but it’s annoying when it happens to your shoes. Below are the best ways to remove stubborn paint from your shoes.
Why Paint is So Hard to Get Off Shoes
Paint has dying agents in them, which is how the paint gets its particular color. When the paint reaches something that it’s not meant to, such as your shoes, they’ll stain that material as well.
However, different types of paints require different methods of removal. You might not know what kind of paint has stained your shoes, but here’s a quick guide to help you find out.
- Acrylic paint — It’s bold and vibrant. Thick when wet, it’s almost like a paste (depending on how the company hydrates its color). Acrylic is a water-based paint, but it’s water-resistant when dry. If this paint happens to stain your shoe, you can moisten it with water until the paint moistens then wash it away.
- Oil-based paint — They’re often runnier and thicker than acrylic paint. They’ll look chunky and perhaps have runny oil if they’re not appropriately mixed — like how natural peanut butter has oil separation. Your best bet at tackling oil-based paint stains is to use soap and water to get as much of the oil out.
Most paints will fall into these two categories. If you have an unidentifiable paint, though, your best bet would be to use a variety of the techniques below depending on what material the paint-stained.
How to Get Paint Off Canvas Shoes
Cut Away the Excess
First and foremost, you must cut away any excess paint. You can usually do this with a dull or sharp knife. If the paint is still wet, you should scrape away the paint without smearing it over the clean canvas. If the paint is dry, use elbow grease to crack off any extra paint as much as possible.
Removing extra paint is essential because it makes wetting and dabbing away the stains easier. Don’t skip out on this step.
Use a Wet Cloth
Use a wet cloth — not dripping — with warm tap water. Blot the area of paint gently. Dampening the area will soften the paint and facilitate removing the stain from the canvas.
Be sure to use lots of water to blot away the paint. The paint may look like it’s blemishing the surrounding areas, but that’s normal. The water keeps the canvas flexible and soft, which will make washing away the paint much more effective.
If the warm turns cold, heat another batch and keep blotting the area. Continue until you’re sure you’ve completely soaked through the paint and the canvas material with warm water, washing away as much of the stain as possible.
Using a clean sponge, add one part soap or detergent and one part water in a small bowl. Wet the sponge thoroughly, saturating it with the cleaning agent.
Once the soap is on the sponge, rub the detergent onto the canvas vigorously. You have to scrub away as much paint as possible, using the necessary force to get the cleaning solution deep into the paint.
Again, be sure you’re using warm water throughout this process. If the cleaning solution turns cold throughout use, have some hot water handy to increase the temperature again.
Double-check whether the sponge you’re using is getting stained by the paint. You should be scrubbing the shoe and rinsing the sponge in the clean soap solution frequently. If the paint stains the sponge, you could be spreading it around to other clean areas of the shoe.
Perform this task as often as necessary. Be sure to give yourself breaks to avoid arm fatigue. Let the shoe sit and dry for a little bit. See if some of the paint stains are gone after a while. If the stain is gone, you can wait for the shoes to dry completely before wearing them again.
If the stain is still there, you might want to consider repeating the rinsing and sponging process over again.
Just be sure you’re not damaging the canvas material in your scrubbing. Canvas is durable, but you could wear a hole in your shoe with enough force. Be sure you’re using the soft side of the sponge, not the bristly part, to get the paint off to avoid harming the shoe’s canvas.
Apply Nail Polish Remover
If, after all that rinsing and scrubbing, the paint is still there, you should consider using nail polish remover. It not only works on removing nail polish but other alcohol-based paints as well — and it could work on the paint afflicting your shoe.
Nail polish remover is transparent and non-staining, so there should be minimal risk in using it on your shoe. Dab a small amount on a rag and apply it to the footwear. Rinse with warm water, and keep the process going until you don’t think the process is working anymore.
Using nail polish remover is a great way to get small amounts of paint off your shoes. But if you have more significant stains on your canvas shoes, you’ll have to employ bigger solutions.
Run the Shoes Through the Washer
If hand-washing the shoes didn’t get the stain out, running your shoes through the washer and dryer could be the quickest and most effective solution at getting the stain out. Washers are designed to get deep stains out of a variety of material with their combination of hot water, lots of soap, and constant agitation.
Since your shoes are made from canvas and rubber, they should be able to withstand the washing machine’s force. Double-check with the company’s website to see if your shoes are washer safe. Some companies don’t recommend it, such as Converse, but washing machines can help you out if you’re in a pinch.
How to Safely Put Shoes Through the Washing Machine
Follow these tips before popping your shoes in the washing machine to get the paint off.
- Prepare your shoes by removing the laces and scrubbing away any loose dirt that could be on them. If you have any extra accessories adorning your shoes, take those off as well.
- Place your shoes in a mesh or cloth bag to prevent them from banging around your washing machine. The force of the spinning machine, along with the hard rubber sole of most canvas sneakers, could damage your machine. Not only that, but the noise would be loud to listen to.
Canvas or mesh bags facilitate washing your shoes without noise or harm done to you or the machine. If you don’t have either bag, an old pillowcase will do.
- Use cold water to wash your shoes. The high heat could damage the dye and make it fade faster. Cold water will still be useful in attacking the paint on your shoes without hurting the shoes themselves.
- Air dry your shoes once they come out of the wash. High heat, found in a drying machine, could damage the dye in the canvas or the glue holding the shoe together.
Slip out the shoe’s tongue to allow air to flow to the sole. Then, place the shoe in a warm environment. Don’t put the footwear in direct sunlight, as the sun can cause the shoe’s color to fade. Placing them outside on a hot day, though, will help your shoes dry out faster than if you kept them inside.
Stain still there? There is perhaps one last option you could employ if you got paint on white canvas shoes.
Bleach the Paint Away
If all the washing in the world couldn’t get the paint off your shoes, bleach is the last chance you have to restore your shoes to their former glory.
You’ll need a small bowl, bleach, paint, and gloves. Bleach is a toxic material that releases hazardous fumes. Take your shoes and your materials outside or in a well-ventilated area when working for maximum safety. Wear eye protection as well, such as goggles, to protect your eyes.
Be sure you’re wearing old clothes as well. Since bleach is a staining agent, you don’t want to risk staining clothes you actually like and plan to wear in public functions.
- For every one part of bleach, use five parts of water to dilute the material properly. If you skimp out on the water, the undiluted bleach can turn your white canvas sneakers a pale yellow color. You can use dye-free bleach to minimize the chances of yellowing your shoes over time.
- Dip a sponge or a toothbrush in the bleach solution, coating the tool thoroughly. Scrub the stain gently yet firmly. Be sure to avoid any colored dyes on your shoes — only using the bleach on the white parts instead.
- Once you feel you’ve comprehensively attacked the stain, rinse the bleach out with cold water. Inspect the shoes to see how much of the stain is left. If you still see paint stains, repeat the process until the stain is gone.
How to Get Paint Off Leather
Leather is a bit trickier to get paint off of. Since the material is so porous, it seems like paint penetrates the leather more rooted than it does with canvas. Leather is also a notoriously finicky textile, so working to get the stain off the leather can damage it.
Here are gentle ways to get paint of leather. Go gently, ensuring you’re not applying too much pressure or too vigorous a motion to damage your leather shoes.
Cooking, vegetable, or baby oil will do. As long as it is non-staining and not made from animal fat, the oil should help remove stains while mitigating damage to the leather.
- Grab some cotton swabs or a small cloth. Pour a little bit of oil into a small bowl.
- Dip the cotton swab or cloth into the oil, saturating a small tip.
- Apply the oil onto the paint and let the oil seep into it. Wait a few minutes for this process to occur. The oil is loosening and hydrating the paint. You may have to swirl the cotton swab or cloth into the paint to properly get the oil in there.
- With the paint hydrated, use your nail or a dull knife to peel away the paint.
- Repeat the process as necessary until the paint is gone from the shoe.
- Wash away the excess oil with soap and water. Recondition the shoe with a leather conditioner.
Soap and Water
Another good option to help clean paint off your leather shoes is to use basic soap and water. Since you can’t apply bleach and other strong chemicals to leather without damaging it, ample soap and water and thoroughly clean your shoe.
- Dip a small cloth or sponge into warm water. Make sure the water isn’t too hot (such as approaching boiling temperatures), as you can damage the leather shoe.
- Work the soap into the sponge to create a lather. Creating a full sudsy sponge could be too much, but a watery sponge is not enough. Find the right consistency to work into the paint.
- Apply a small amount of water onto the paint to hydrate it. Wait for the paint to moisten.
- When the paint is wet, gently work the sponge over the wet paint. Scrub as much as the leather will allow, working diligently to remove the paint from the leather.
- If possible, use a soft bristle brush to get deep into the leather and to remove the stain. Use swiping, forward motions to get the paint off. Circular motions could only work the paint deeper into the material.
- Dip, scrub, and swipe until the paint is gone.
- Let the leather shoe dry. Don’t place it in direct sunlight or heat, but in a warm, well-ventilated environment.
- Apply leather conditioner onto the shoe to revitalize the material. All that water and soap did a number on the leather, so use a high-quality leather conditioner to return it to its former health.
You can use hand soap to wash the paint off the leather, but some detergent, such as wet or dry laundry detergent, would also suffice. As long as you use a good soap of some sort and moisten the paint as much as possible, you should be able to remove a considerable amount of paint from your leather shoes.
The Vaseline Method
Vaseline is another household item that removes paint from leather — and you probably have around the house.
- Prepare the shoes, petroleum jelly, and a rag you’ll use to get the jelly off the footwear.
- Lightly smear the petroleum jelly onto the paint, letting its oil soak into it.
- Wait a few minutes for this to occur.
- If possible, see if you can slip your fingernail or a dull knife underneath the edge of the paint. If not, let the petroleum jelly soak into the paint for a little longer.
- When you can, peel the paint off the shoe with whatever apparatus is around. Scrape away the rest of the paint from the leather.
- Wipe away the excess petroleum jelly with the rag, ensuring you’re not spreading it around to the rest of the shoe.
- Repeat the process as much as necessary to remove all the paint from your shoe.
- Wash where you applied the petroleum jelly with soap and warm water. Use another clean rag to dap the petroleum jelly away.
- Apply leather conditioner onto the shoe to stop it from drying out.
Tips for Getting Paint Off Shoes
Moisten Paint As Much As Possible
Wet paint is a lot easier to get off of shoes than dry paint. However, depending on what material the paint landed on, it can stain your shoes on some textiles more than others.
Wet paint on canvas shoes is immediately going to stain it, as damp paint will seep into the cotton fibers and dye it. There’s not much you can do to remove the color from within the canvas fibers other than to re-dye them, whereas you can wipe off wet paint from canvas shoes. Moisten paint as much as possible to make the removal process easier
Rushing through the paint removal process can damage your shoes. If you scrub your shoes too hard, you can risk unsightly holes in the canvas or scratch the finish on the leather. Use soft, slow movements to get as much paint off the shoes as you can without hurting them.
Getting a paint stain on your shoes is annoying — no matter how you get them. However, you don’t have to throw your favorite shoes in the trash. Follow these tips, and it will be like the paint never touched your shoes at all.