How To Remove Stains from Leather Shoes

Investing in a pair of leather shoes is totally worth it. They’re beautiful and can last a long time with proper care. But here’s the thing – they require some specialized care. Have you ever tried to remove stains from your leather shoes?

How to Remove Stains from Leather Shoes
How to Remove Stains from Leather Shoes

As someone who collects them, let me tell you that removing tough stains from leather shoes can be challenging. Although leather doesn’t absorb stains like cloth, it’s still susceptible to unsightly marks from unexpected sources.

In the following sections, I’ll share with you various ways how to remove stains from leather shoes effectively. Plus, I’ll give you a few techniques that can help you protect your shoes in the future so that you won’t have to worry about stains anymore!

The Importance of Cleaning Leather Shoes and Boots

As someone who wears leather shoes and boots regularly, I know firsthand the importance of cleaning them. Not only does regular cleaning keep them looking their best, but it also helps to prolong their lifespan. Leather shoes are an investment, and taking care of them is essential to get the most out of that investment.

Leather shoes and boots are susceptible to various types of stains and damage, including water stains, salt stains, and scuff marks. Regular cleaning can prevent these stains from setting in and becoming more difficult to remove over time. It can also prevent scratches and other damage to the leather from accumulating and worsening.

Moreover, cleaning leather shoes and boots is essential for hygiene reasons. Shoes can harbor bacteria, fungi, and other microbes that can cause foot odor and other health issues. Cleaning and properly drying leather shoes after wearing them can help to prevent the growth of these microbes and keep your feet healthy and smelling fresh.

What Stains Leather Shoes?

Leather, as a material, is not as absorbent as cloth. As such, it’s not as likely to take on the color of a sudden spill unless it’s left to soak in. Additionally, since leather tends to be pre-dyed, it doesn’t take on dyes as quickly (fortunately for us).

How to Remove Stains from Leather Shoes
What Stains Leather Shoes?

Leather is a porous material, but it’s not a woven material like cloth. As such, while it’s permeable to water and other liquids, it doesn’t happen nearly as fast as the way fabric absorbs moisture. From my experience, as long as you wipe leather quickly, it tends to survive wet encounters reasonably well.

However, because of this same nature, getting stains out of leather that have set in can be twice as difficult. If you want to have any hope of getting set-in stains out of your leather shoes, you’ll need to know the most effective (and safest) ways to do it, as well as what culprits to watch out for.

The most common offenders of leather shoe stains are:

  • Water
  • Salt
  • Dirt
  • Oil or grease
  • Ink

Leather shoes are also very vulnerable to scuffs and scratches, but these imperfections require a different sort of approach.

As someone who wears leather shoes regularly, I’ve come to understand the type of stains that affect my shoes, which allows me to remove them more effectively. And so I shall tell you all about them.

1. Water Stains

From my experience, water stains are the bane of any leather shoe’s existence. I’ve been in situations where I’ve slept in too late, rushed to get to work, and trudged right through a puddle in my best leather shoes on my way into the office.

With no time to dry them off, I ran into work and sat down at my desk, only to find my best shoes sporting some new water stains.

Fortunately, most water stains on leather come out fairly quickly. In my case, it’s usually as simple as wetting the rest of the shoe and allowing it to dry all at once. Rather than trying to get the water stain out, it’s all about letting the entire shoe dry at the same time rather than in spots.

To prevent water spots from forming on your shoe in the first place, I’ve found that it’s a good idea to protect them with leather shoe polish or wax several times per year.

While wax won’t protect your shoes from damage if they’re submerged or dunked, the coating will make water bead up and roll off instead of absorbing into the leather in most cases. This is especially important for suede shoes, as these shoes can suffer permanent damage from water.

2. Salt Residue

In my opinion, the salt residue is the next most common culprit for leather shoe stains, but it can be a bit trickier to remove. From my own experience, this type of stain tends to collect on any shoe that I wear out and about in the wintertime, but the stains tend to be especially visible on leather and suede shoes.

On top of that, salt is already quite damaging to the leather itself. Salt tends to attract moisture, so it dehydrates most materials that it comes into contact with. Leather isn’t immune to this effect, of course. Salt contact can crack, dry out, and otherwise deteriorate your expensive leather shoes. Suede shoes, in particular, show salt stains very strongly.

Fortunately, there’s no reason to keep your shoes salty and white-capped. I’ve learned that removing the leftover salt residue on my boots and shoes is easy to do. You will need several things, including:

  • Cold water
  • Diluted white wine vinegar solutions
  • A small towel
  • A mixing receptacle

To begin, fill your container with about a cup of cold water. Add one tablespoon of white wine vinegar to the water, then mix them thoroughly. Next, wet the towel with vinegar-water mixture and wipe the salt stains until they disappear. Let your shoes air-dry afterward. You may want to add some balled-up newspapers or towels to your boots as they dry to help them maintain their shape and dry quicker.

3. Caked-On Dirt

While dirt isn’t necessarily a “stain,” per se, it can still be a bane to your leather shoes. This is because the stitches and seams on your leather shoes are magnets for dirt and mud. Dirt and mud particles caught inside your shoes can cause them to wear out, cause scratches and scuffs, and, of course, make them look untidy and unprofessional.

A leather shoe brush is your best bet for routine dirt and dust removal from your shoes. However, if your shoes find their way into a muddy puddle, you may have to do a little extra work to remove the excess mud. If they’re not too dirty, you may be able to clean your shoes enough with some baby wipes.

If you have a bigger problem than baby wipes can handle, use a solution of warm water and mild dish soap to wash the shoes.  Use a clean cloth soaked in plain water to wipe away the soap, then let your shoe air dry. Again, I recommend stuffing your boots with towels or newspaper to help them dry and keep their shape.

4. Oil Stains

Oil stains are a bane on any material, not just leather. This is because oil, unlike water, doesn’t naturally evaporate out of the fabric and otherwise “dry.” If you get an oil stain on your clothing or shoes, it’s there until you otherwise take it out, and they tend to get worse as they set in, too.

To get stubborn oil out of your shoes, the best thing to do is to create a dry environment that the oil “likes” even more than your shoes! To do this, sprinkle baking soda or cornstarch on the stain and rub it in gently with a wet finger. Leave the powder on the oil stain overnight, then wipe it off with a soft cloth in the morning.

5. Ink Stains

Ink stains, like oil stains, tend to ruin almost any fabric or clothing material that they come into contact with. Fortunately, while challenging, removing ink marks from leather is possible. To do this, you’ll need several things:

  • (Non-acetone) nail polish remover or rubbing alcohol
  • Cotton balls or swabs
  • A clean, dry cloth

Start by dipping your cotton implement into the removal agent that you’ve gathered. Next, dab it over the ink stain until the ink begins to come out. Do not rub at the ink stain, as this can cause it to spread across your shoe! Continue doing this until the ink is visibly gone from your leather shoes. Make sure to wipe any remaining cleanser with a clean, dry cloth when you’re done.

How to Remove Stains from Leather Shoes

Leather shoe scuffs aren’t “stains,” per se, but since leather shoes are more prone to scratching and scuffing than standard cloth shoes, they’re a nuisance you’ll likely need to deal with over the lifetime of your shoes.

Many different products can remove scuffs from leather shoes, and you most likely already have the majority of them lying around at home.

I usually use these home remedies to remove stains from my favorite pair of leather shoes!

1. Petroleum Jelly

Petroleum jelly is a gentle cleanser and moisturizer for leather shoes that also works to help lift away scuff marks. If you’re wondering how to remove stains from leather shoes with petroleum jelly, just rub the jelly gently into the scuff marks, then buff it away with a clean, moist towel. The petroleum jelly should lift away most scuff marks without damaging your expensive leather shoes.

2. Pencil Erasers

Believe it or not, pencil erasers work to remove marks from a lot more than just paper. They can remove scuff marks from shoes, too! For this method, just rub the eraser against the scuffed area of your boots (gently) until the scuff mark diminishes. I recommend using a brand-new eraser, if you can, as a used eraser can run the risk of spreading pencil marks on the surface of your shoes.

3. Baking Soda

Baking soda is a versatile household product that can be used to remove stains on a wide variety of surfaces. To use it on shoes, mix one-part baking soda with one part water until you create a thick paste. Then, scrub the paste into the scuffs with a cloth or an old toothbrush. You can repeat this process as needed until the scuff marks recede, but be careful not to abrade the leather surfaces.

4. Dishwashing Detergent

Mild dishwashing detergent is another excellent household cleaner, and it can be just as effective on shoe scuffs as it can be on other household surfaces. All you need to do is add a few drops of gentle detergent to a moistened towel, then use it to wipe away the scuffs. Be sure to use only mild detergents and wash away any excess soap afterward.

5. Nail Polish Remover

Nail polish removers can also be useful for removing shoe scuffs, but be very careful not to use any acetone-based removers on your shoes! Acetone is supremely drying and damaging for leather shoes and should be avoided at all costs. For this method, just dip a Q-tip or cotton ball into the polish remover, then gently scrub away the scuff marks in question.

6. Toothpaste

Believe it or not, toothpaste can work well for removing scuff marks, too. This is mostly because of its gently-abrasive nature. Just as toothpaste can scrub away food and stains on your teeth, it can remove scuff marks on your shoes, as well. A toothbrush is an appropriate method of transfer for the toothpaste, and it pays to moisten the paste a bit, too.

Scrub the toothpaste and wet toothbrush against the scuffs until the paste foams up nicely. Rinse with water afterward and reapply as many times as needed to remove the scuffs. I do recommend using a soft, gentle toothbrush to minimize the chances that you’ll scratch your leather shoes.

Read Also: How to Remove Scratches from Leather Shoes

7. Shoe Polish

Shoe polish is the product most made for removing shoe scuffs, and it’s the best for your leather shoes, too. However, that doesn’t mean any of the other methods listed above work any less well! For commercial shoe polish, always follow the manufacturer’s directions included with the product.

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Tools and Supplies You Need for Cleaning Leather Footwear

How to Remove Stains from Leather Shoes
Tools and Supplies You Need for Cleaning Leather Footwear

Now that you’ve learned how to remove immediate stains, you may want to do a deep cleaning on your leather shoes! Here are some tools and supplies that you will need for cleaning leather footwear:

  • Soft-bristled brush: A soft-bristled brush is an essential tool for cleaning leather footwear. You can gently remove dirt and dust from the surface of the leather.
  • Microfiber cloth: A microfiber cloth is a gentle and effective way to clean leather without causing any scratches or damage.
  • Leather cleaner: A leather cleaner is specifically designed to clean and nourish the leather. Choose a cleaner that is gentle and formulated for the type of leather you are cleaning.
  • Leather conditioner: Leather conditioner is used to nourish and protect the leather. It helps to keep the leather soft, supple, and moisturized, preventing it from cracking and drying out.
  • Leather protector spray: Leather protector spray helps to protect the leather from water and stains. It creates a barrier that repels water and prevents stains from settling into the leather.
  • Shoe tree: A shoe tree is a device that is inserted into the shoe to help maintain its shape and prevent it from creasing. It also helps to absorb moisture from the leather, keeping it dry and preventing odors.

By using these tools and supplies, you can keep your leather footwear looking its best for years to come. I highly recommend that you invest in those tools and supplies, especially if you are planning to collect more expensive leather shoes in the future.

How to Clean Leather Shoes and Boots: Step-by-Step Guide

Here is how I usually clean my leather shoes! Follow these simple steps carefully and be gentle.

Step 1: Remove dirt and dust.

Insert your leather shoes inside the shoe tree. If there are laces, take them off first. Then, using a soft-bristled brush, gently remove any dirt and dust from the surface of the leather. Make sure to brush in the direction of the grain to avoid damaging the leather.

Step 2: Wipe with a microfiber cloth.

Using a clean microfiber cloth, wipe away any remaining dirt and grime from the leather. Be sure to use a gentle touch to avoid scratching the surface.

Step 3: Apply leather cleaner.

Apply a small amount of leather cleaner to another clean microfiber cloth. Gently rub the cleaner onto the leather in circular motions, paying extra attention to any stains or marks.

Step 4: Remove excess cleaner.

Using another clean microfiber cloth, wipe away any excess cleaner from the leather. Make sure to remove all of the cleaners to prevent any damage to the leather.

Step 5: Apply leather conditioner.

Apply a small amount of leather conditioner to a clean microfiber cloth. Gently rub the conditioner into the leather in circular motions, covering the entire surface of the shoe or boot. This helps to moisturize the leather, preventing it from drying out and cracking.

Step 6: Let it dry.

After applying the leather conditioner, let the shoes or boots dry completely before wearing them again. Let your shoes or boots air dry naturally at room temperature. Stuff the shoes with newspaper or a clean cloth to help them keep their shape while drying.

Step 7: Apply leather protector spray.

Finally, once the shoes or boots are dry, apply a leather protector spray to help prevent water and stains from damaging the leather. Make sure to follow the instructions on the spray bottle for the best results.

Apply leather protector spray
Apply Leather Protector Spray

You will notice that I do not recommend using water in the cleaning method. As I’ve mentioned before, water is the bane of leather shoes. It can cause water stains.

When cleaning my leather shoes, I prefer to use a leather cleaner that is specifically formulated for use on leather footwear. I make sure to test the cleaner on a small, inconspicuous area of the shoe first to avoid any damage or discoloration.

If I do choose to use water to clean my shoes, I make sure to use it sparingly and with caution. I use a wet cloth or sponge to clean the surface of the leather, being careful not to saturate it with water.

Cleaning Leather Shoes with Water

As someone who has cleaned my fair share of leather shoes, I have found that using water can be an effective way to remove dirt and stains. One advantage of using water is that it is a natural and non-toxic cleaner, which is important if you are concerned about using harsh chemicals on your shoes.

However, there are some potential drawbacks to using water to clean leather shoes. First, excessive exposure to water can damage some types of leather, particularly those that are not treated to be water-resistant. Additionally, water can cause the leather to lose its natural oils and become dry and brittle over time.

It’s important to note that not all types of leather shoes can be safely cleaned with water. Shoes made from suede or nubuck leather should not be cleaned with water, as it can cause the material to become discolored and permanently damaged.

If you do choose to clean your leather shoes with water, it’s important to be careful when drying them. Rather than soaking them, it’s best to simply wipe them with a damp cloth and then allow them to air dry at room temperature. Avoid using heat sources like hairdryers or radiators, as this can cause the leather to crack and become damaged.

Preventative Measures for Leather Shoes

In the future, there are plenty of things you can do to prevent the accumulation of stains and scuffs on your shoes. After all, if you take steps to prevent the formation of stains in the first place, you’ll have much less work to do later on. Among the things you can do to protect your leather shoes are:

  • Regular shoe cleanings
  • Shoe-protectant sprays
  • Shoe polish
  • Beeswax
  • Leather conditioner

1. Regular Shoe Cleaning

Regular shoe cleaning is the most important thing you can do to maintain your leather shoes! Not only will your shoes appreciate it when you clean them frequently, but stains will be easier to clean, too. It makes logical sense that small, frequent cleanings will be easier than large, infrequent scrubbings.

While your leather shoes may not always be stained, watch for building dirt, scuffs, and salt build-up on your leather shoes. As I’ve mentioned earlier, the seams and stitches in leather shoes can be especially vulnerable to dirt build-up. This dirt will be easier to take care of (and will cause less damage) if you remove it frequently instead of letting it accumulate too much.

The same goes for salt and scuffs, too. The longer you go without cleaning your shoes, the more layered the imperfections will become. Too much dirt and accumulation can even damage your shoes by rubbing against vital components, also.

2. Shoe Sprays

Several different varieties of leather-protecting sprays exist formulated explicitly to protect your shoes from damage. These sprays serve a variety of purposes, too, from repelling water to preventing scuffs and keeping away dirt and salt.

Each spray is formulated differently, and each serves a different purpose. As such, you should take plenty of time to determine which one is best for you, what your shoes need protecting from most, and what formulations will be most comfortable on your shoe. Things like cost, toxicity, and composition should be taken into account, too.

3. Leather Shoe Polish

Leather shoe polish isn’t only a way to remove stains and scuffs from leather shoes; it can be used to protect them, too. Like leather-protecting sprays, shoe polish comes in many different formulations, types, and functions. For example, leather shoe polishes can come in both creams and waxes.

Shoe polish creams and waxes serve entirely different purposes. While creams are intended to restore the color and vibrancy of your leather shoes, polishes are for shining and protecting your shoes.

Shoe polish creams are excellent for re-dying scratches, scrapes, and faded areas in your leather shoes. Over time, your shoes might lose some color, suffer damage, or otherwise fade from vibrancy. Shoe polish works to restore this vibrancy while also conditioning your boots.

Shoe polishes with wax, on the other hand, should be used regularly to protect your shoes from water, scuffing, and other damage. Wax is water repellent, so it will protect your leather shoes from water stains, among other things.

4. Beeswax

Beeswax is an alternative to shoe polish for protecting your shoes. Some prefer to use wax because it’s a more natural, non-toxic alternative. However, it has some distinct disadvantages over shoe polish and shoe sprays.

For one, raw beeswax tends to be hard at room temperature. If you’re to use wax on your leather shoes, it requires several phases of melting and re-melting to achieve an attractive finish. It also tends to dry cloudy and requires a good bit of buffing after the waxing process.

However, beeswax specifically made for leather shoes also exists. These shoe polishes are formulated around the use of wax, and they’re much easier to use, too. However, they do tend to be more expensive than raw beeswax.

5. Leather Conditioner

Leather conditioner is the secret to keeping healthy, flexible, and attractive leather shoes. Your leather shoes should be conditioned frequently to stay sturdy and flexible. Leather shoes tend to dry and crack over time, but unlike live skin, it has no way of moistening or replenishing themselves. As such, if you want it to stay nice and healthy-looking, it requires regular shoe care with a moisturizing agent like a leather conditioner.

Common Types of Leather and Their Care Needs

Here is a brief explanation about types of leathers and their care needs! I’ve compiled them into a table for your ease of reading.

Leather TypesCharacteristicsCare Needs
Full-grain leather Durable, develops a patina over time, expensiveKeep clean and conditioned, protect from moisture, and polish with a wax-based polish
Top-grain leather
Smoother and more flexible, it resists moisture and stainsClean regularly, use conditioner, and polish with a cream-based polish
Suede leatherSoft and supple, prone to staining and scuffingUse a suede brush or eraser to remove dirt and stains, avoid water exposure
Nubuck leatherSimilar to suede, but with a finer texture, prone to staining and scuffingUse a nubuck brush or eraser to remove dirt and stains, avoid water exposure
Patent leatherShiny and waterproof, easy to clean Wipe clean with a damp cloth, use a patent leather cleaner or conditioner for deeper cleaning, and avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasives
Synthetic leatherDurable and affordable, lacks natural texture and patinaRegular cleaning and conditioning, and avoid direct sunlight and heat
Exotic leather (e.g., snakeskin, alligator)Unique texture and pattern, expensive and delicateUse a soft cloth to remove dirt and stains, avoid water exposure and excessive bending
Distressed leatherVintage or worn look, prone to fading and crackingUse a leather conditioner to restore moisture, avoid water exposure and excessive heat
Pull-up leatherFades and darkens over time, develops a patinaRegular cleaning and conditioning, and avoid direct sunlight and heat
Oiled leatherWater-resistant and durable, prone to darkening and discolorationUse a leather conditioner to restore moisture, avoid excessive exposure to water and heat

Do’s and Don’ts of Cleaning Leather Footwear

Use a soft-bristled brush to remove dirtDo not use bleach or ammonia-based cleaners
Wipe down with a damp clothDo not use hot water
Use a leather cleaner or mild soapy waterDo not soak leather shoes in water
Apply a leather conditioner after cleaningDo not dry leather shoes with heat
Allow shoes to air dry completelyDo not expose shoes to direct sunlight
Use a waterproofing spray for protectionDo not use strong vinegar or alcohol-based cleaners


To wrap up, I sincerely hope that this article on “How to Remove Stains from Leather Shoes” has provided you with the information and guidance you need to keep your leather shoes looking their best. As the writer of this article, I know firsthand the frustration of stains on leather shoes and the importance of knowing how to remove them effectively.

By sharing my knowledge and tips, I hope to have helped you successfully tackle a variety of stains, including water stains, oil stains, and ink stains. Moreover, my goal is to inspire you to take preventative measures to avoid future stains and to make caring for your leather shoes a regular part of your routine.

With a little bit of effort and maintenance, your leather shoes can continue to look stylish and last for years to come!

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Frequently Asked Questions

How often should you clean and condition leather shoes and boots?

Typically, I aim to clean my shoes and boots at least once every two weeks or more frequently if I notice any visible dirt or stains. I also try to condition them every month or so to keep the leather supple and prevent cracking.

Of course, the frequency of cleaning and conditioning will vary depending on how often you wear your leather footwear and the conditions you subject them to.

What to do if stains won’t come out of your leather shoes?

If stains won’t come out of my leather shoes, I would first try to identify the type of stain and what caused it. This can help me determine the best approach for removing it. If I have to deal with stubborn stains, I might try using a specialized leather cleaner or taking my shoes to a professional cleaning service.

It’s important to avoid using harsh chemicals or scrubbing too aggressively, as this can damage the leather. In some cases, it may not be possible to completely remove the stain, but I can still take steps to minimize its appearances, such as covering it with shoe polish or strategically placing accessories like laces or shoe clips.