How to Get Tar off Shoes

How to Get Tar off Shoes

Tar: it’s a prevalent item that you probably see every day. If you drive a car to work or even to the store or a friend’s house, you are likely driving it on a structured road that professional constructed from tar.

When this substance is dry and has had time to set, it is entirely harmless to us. It has to be strong enough to sustain hundreds of thousands of cars driving over it every day.

But when this material is in its beginning stages, it takes the form of a sticky black liquid that comes from thick oil. Though it is a natural substance in most cases, this gooey stuff can be a real pain should you happen to get it on your shoes or clothing.

Because tar dries so hard, you may start to panic if you accidentally step on a freshly paved surface. Even a scorching day can cause tar to come loose. The question now is, what do you do if this happens to you?

Today we’re going to discuss how to get tar off shoes. If you have found yourself in this sticky situation, stick with us, and learn more.

How to Get Tar Off Shoes

There are a few different techniques that people have found to be successful in getting tar off of their shoes. We’re going to do you a solid here and list all of the most effective ones here in one place, so you don’t have to go searching around for various answers.

1. Dish Detergent and WD-40

Two main components that have proven to be an excellent solution to tar on your shoes: dish detergent and WD-40. Dish detergent is a ubiquitous household object that’s known for its cleaning abilities. It makes an ideal solution because there’s a very high chance that you already have some in your kitchen.

And WD-40 is known widely for its versatility. There are not many problems that you can’t solve with this stuff, so it should be no surprise that you can use WD-40 to remove tar from a shoe.

Dish Detergent and WD-40
Dish Detergent and WD-40

Along with your detergent and WD-40, you are also going to need some other supplies as well. Get an old toothbrush or scrubbing brush and a plastic knife or another blunt object.

To begin this process, take your knife or blunt object and use it to scrape off as much of the tar as you possibly can. Removing any excess at all at this point will help make the rest of the process easier, so do your best, but remember not to damage the sole or material of your shoe.

Once you have done as much as you think you can with the knife, switch over to the dish detergent. Mix a healthy amount with warm water, gently stirring the solution. Take your old toothbrush or scrubbing brush and dip it in the warm, soapy water.

Using a gentle scrubbing motion, work at the remaining tar to wash it away. The detergent should help to soften the asphalt, while the brush has an excellent texture for cleaning various surfaces. Note that you will have to clean and re-dip your brush several times during this part of the cleaning.

At this point, you should regularly be checking to see your progress. Depending on the amount of tar and how dry it got before you could clean it, you may be okay with the dish detergent. If you have a large amount of resin that has started to dry, you can begin to implement the WD-40 after the scrubbing seems to have reached its peak performance.

Take your WD-40 and shake the can thoroughly. Make sure your shoe is set on a solid surface. It’s a good idea to do this outside or a well-ventilated area to avoid taking in too many fumes.

Spray the WD-40 directly on the tar stain. Let the product sit and soak in for just a few minutes, allowing its components to soften and lubricate. Take your toothbrush once again and continue scrubbing the spot.

Once you have removed all of the tar, return to the detergent mix and use it to wash off the remaining residue from the WD-40. Wipe down the wet area with a dry washcloth or rag and set your shoe aside to dry further if needed.

2. Softeners

There are several different products and items that can serve as softeners to the tar on your shoe. You can probably find a lot of these items in your home already, making this solution a cost-effective and convenient one.


Some useful and conventional softeners you can use to remove tar from your shoes and prevent further damage are the following:

  • Olive Oil
  • Lard
  • Petroleum Jelly
  • Eucalyptus Oil
  • Mineral Oil
  • Vegetable Oil
  • Margarine
  • Peanut Butter

These softeners can help to soften the tar down a bit, making it easier to remove. You may still need to scrape and scrub, but you might have an easier time removing the tar if you apply one of the above products first and let it sit for about 10 minutes.

Then, you can try scraping it off with a spoon or a knife. If the tar still hasn’t softened, try leaving the product on for a little bit longer and then trying again.

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3. Solvents

Like the softeners we just talked about, you can also try using a solvent to melt down the tar and remove stains. We have already mentioned WD-40, which is a useful solvent that can break down harsh surfaces and make things like tar easier to remove.


Some harsh solvents that can help break down tar yet remain easy on your shoes include the following:

  • Kerosene
  • Turpentine
  • Gasoline
  • Light Fluid

Solvents are a little trickier to use because some are highly flammable and dangerous, and you’re less likely to have them lying around your house as you would with many of our softeners.

However, they are effective and can make removing tar from your shoes much more manageable.

Remember to try to get as much of the tar off as possible before you apply a solvent. Once you have done that, apply one of these solvents to the affected area and let it soak for a few minutes. Solvents are also excellent for reaching areas of your shoes, such as creases.

After you have allowed the solvent enough time to penetrate your shoe’s material and the tar, rinse it thoroughly with soap and water. For larger chunks of tar, you can additionally use a scrub brush, an old toothbrush, an old rag, or a plastic knife.

Because solvents are highly flammable, you must rinse all of the solvents out of your shoe. One spark from a campfire could ignite any remaining solvent, leaving you in a bit of an emergency.

4. Freeze the Tar

Many of you may have heard that ice and freezers work great in sticky situations involving gum, but did you know that you can try the same tick for removing tar as well?

In most methods involving softening or breaking down the tar using various products, experts and users will recommend getting to work as soon as possible before the resin dries and becomes hard and challenging to work with.

However, the freezer method draws strength from the hardening tar and takes it a step further.

Many people have found success in quite literally putting their shoes in the freezer. The best way to use this method is to take your shoe and place it in a plastic grocery bag. Make sure that the tar is pressed directly against the plastic.

Squeeze the air from the bag and tie it tightly shut to keep it in place. Put the entire shoe inside of the freezer, ensuring that the tar spot comes in direct contact with one of the walls or the bottom of the freezer.

This method works best when you are not in a time crunch because you will have to leave your shoe in the freezer overnight to let the tar harden and solidify.

The next day, take your shoe out of the freezer and remove it from the plastic bag. Use a butter knife or another blunt, sturdy object to pry the tar off of your shoe. The aim is to pop off the whole section of tar in one piece.

Read Also: How to Get Gum off Shoes

5. Special Cleaners

If you have tried these tactics and tips without seeing the success you desire, you can always try using a special cleaner made for removing tar from shoes. At the same time, some folks like to skip the risk, work, and potentially wasted time of a DIY trick and jump straight to the ideal professional solution.

While we won’t discuss specific tar cleaners today, you can check out a list of highly-rated cleaners here. These solutions are designed to remove tar from surfaces and are very simple to use.

6. Test Your Shoes

Before you try any of the tips and methods listed above, you should test your shoes to determine any potential damage that might occur while you’re trying to clean them. Shoes are made from all different types of materials, so one or several of the products we talked about today may have the potential to cause more damage than good.

To test your shoes, take a small amount of the softener or solvent you have chosen to use. Put it on a small surface of your shoe that is hidden from the public eye. For example, if the tar is on the sole of your shoe, test your product on the very bottom where no one will see any damage – should it occur.

Testing your shoe like this will ensure that you don’t accidentally hard the color, finish, or general look of your shoe. It wouldn’t do much good to remove the tar only to have a giant stain left in its place from the solvent you used.

Leave the product on the shoe for several minutes. You should only have to use this product for 10 to 20 minutes, so keep it on the surface of your shoe for at least that long. Rinse and clean the product off and let the shoe dry, inspecting for any damage or stains.

If there’s no damage done to your shoe, then you are free and clear to use that solvent or softener to remove the tar. Whenever you’re dealing with caustic solvents, always use caution, and keep an eye on your shoes throughout the process.

Is Tar Toxic?

Tar can be made from various materials, but some of the most popular ways to make it is considered to be very dangerous.

Coal tar is tar that is made from coal or petroleum. Because of its high levels of benzene, coal tar has been referred to as toxic and carcinogenic, meaning it can cause cancer. Any tar that is made from coal or petroleum is easy to recognize because of its strong odor.

Is Tar Toxic?
Is Tar Toxic?

In fact, coal tar is number 1,999 in the United Nations’ list of dangerous goods.

Experts advise that anyone who uses a coal tar product or comes into contact with liquid coal tar should watch for side effects like skin irritation, sun sensitivity, allergic reactions, and skin discoloration.

That being said, there is also tar that is made of other natural, organic materials that made it safer. For example, through destructive distillation, you can manufacture tar from wood, pine, and peat.

Wood tar is a tar substance that comes from wood and roots of pine plants. While it was initially used to repel water from boats, ships, and roofs, it is used today in a less practical sort of way. Wood tar is actually commonly used to flavor candy, alcohol, and other foods – making it evident that this type of tar is not toxic to humans.

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What is Tar Used For?

The earliest uses of tar involved repelling water and sealing off items from moisture. Tar has been used for centuries to seal ship hulls and boats as well as securing roofing shingles to keep the rain out of homes.

Though the majority of today’s ships and boats are made from synthetic materials that keep water out on their own, tar is still used to seal traditional wooden boats. The same goes for roofing; while many modern roof techniques do not require the use of tar, some more historic buildings need its help.

Tar has also been known to serve as a general disinfectant. Many industries use pine tar oil or wood tar oil in medicine, soap, and rubber. Wood tar has microbicidal properties, so it has been used in medicine to heal cuts and in oral treatments.

Some other uses for tar include flavoring, spices for foods like meat, scents for saunas, anti-dandruff shampoo, and cosmetics.

Coal tar, though thought by many to cause cancer, is also used in both industrial and medical environments. While it is a by-product of the production of coke and coal gas, it can also be applied to the skin to treat psoriasis along with dandruff – much like wood tar.

Coal tar has many antifungal, anti-inflammatory, anti-itch, and antiparasitic properties, which is why various everyday products commonly use it despite cautionary tales. It has also been used in combination with ultraviolet light therapy.

Of course, the most common uses of coal tar are to pave roads and preserve railway ties. Coal tar was the main component in the first-ever sealed roads that we see everywhere today. Though many road construction projects today use petroleum-based sealers, projects still use it in some parking lot seal coat products.

However, many areas of the United States, such as Washington D.C., Austin, Texas, and the state of Washington, have banned its use in seal coat products.

Because you never know which type of tar you stepped in, it’s essential to understand the risks that might be involved with coming into contact with the product. That being said, you should automatically take caution when working with the tar on your shoes.

Though dry tar is safer than wet tar, you should remain careful during removal. Try not to breathe in any dust that might come off of your shoe in the process. It is also a good idea to wear gloves while handling your shoes and brushing and scraping the affected area.

When you have finished removing tar from your shoes, make sure that you thoroughly clean all of the tools you used and then wash your hands thoroughly.

Tar is used everywhere in our world today, so it is not uncommon to find yourself stepping on a freshly coated parking lot or a newly paved road. Don’t beat yourself up about it – there are plenty of solutions that you can use to get your shoes back to good as new.

Always try to clean your shoes as soon as possible after stepping in tar, and remember to get off as much excess as you can before involving any cleaners, solvents, or softeners. Try out these techniques, and your shoes will be ready to wear at your next outing.