How to remove stains from leather shoes and boots (6 easy steps)
by Albert Varkki updated 01-05-2023
We all know that feeling when you’ve just bought a brand new pair of leather boots and within no time at all, they’re ruined by a stain or scuff. When this happens, most people would be tempted to go out and buy a new pair. You might even have one or two classic shoes lying around that you’d love to restore back to perfect condition.
In this post, we’ll walk you through the process of cleaning your most precious leather shoes step by step. Follow this guide and you’ll no longer lose your cool when your leather loses its fine looks.
Leather is used for footwear because it’s durable, weather resistant and beautiful. Cleaning leather helps to preserve its integrity and allows the material to last longer.
Once you've learned how to give your leather shoes a good clean, you’ll be able to take good care of the majority of leather shoes and trainers you’re bound to purchase over the course of your life. The sharper you keep them, the longer they’ll serve you.
Let’s get started!
1. First, remove the laces
You want to be working on a surface that’s all leather, so lose the laces before you do anything else. If the laces are dirty, you can throw them in the washing machine or replace them with a brand new pair.
2. Next, clean excess dirt and debris
You can’t jump straight into rubbing treatments into the leather while it’s covered in muck. Use a soft cloth or brush to remove any dirt on the shoes that’ll rub off by touch. The cloth doesn't need to be soaking wet at this point.
3. Apply soap
The first solution you should use to clean the leather should be a simple mix of warm water and dish cleaning detergent. Soak your cloth in this solution, wring it so it’s not leaking, then wipe away as much dirt from the leather as possible. Having the water warm makes it easier to work with, it also helps to remove stains and scuff marks.
4. Wipe away the soap water
Use a completely clean cloth to wipe away the soap solution. The clean cloth can be damp if you find this helps. Once all of the soap is removed, dry the leather gently with a clean towel.
5. Apply conditioner to the leather
Leather conditioner does two key things. Firstly, it helps protect the surface from new stains. Secondly, conditioner restores leather to its former strength and adds a shine to make it look brand new. You can go out and buy commercial leather conditioner at a shoe store or some supermarkets or you can make your own.
The mix for a DIY leather conditioner consists of 1 part vinegar to 2 parts linseed oil. Apply this treatment to the surface of the leather and allow it to sit for about 15 minutes before giving it a good buffer with a soft cloth. You’ll know it’s done when the leather has a great shine.
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6. Allow the leather to dry naturally
Your shoes or boots should then be left in a cool shaded place with plenty of ventilation. Don’t be tempted to dry them with any sort of machinery or place them in direct sunlight, this can severely damage the color and even cause cracking.
Got a really bad stain that won't budge?
Here are some quick guides on removing some of the toughest stains that can utterly ruin leather shoes:
Sprinkle baking soda or cornstarch on the stain. Rub the baking soda into the stain gently with a damp cloth. You then need to let the agent do its work so place it somewhere for a few hours or leave it overnight for even better results. The agent will absorb the oil that has seeped into the leather and remove the material within the stain. Once the powder has done its work, you can wipe it away with a clean cloth.
For ink, you’ll need to apply polish remover or rubbing alcohol. Blot the stain (dab with the agent), don't rub on it! The ink stain could be spread even more if you rub it. Keep blotting until the stain is removed. Wipe away the residue with a clean and damp cloth before drying the surface gently with a towel.
Read a full guide: How to remove ink and pen stains from leather.
Toothpaste is a handy agent for cleaning leather. It needs to be the non-gel kind for best results. Place some on the scuffed area and rub the mark away with a soft cloth.
Another simple solution you could use is made with equal parts of lemon juice mixed with cream of tartar. This solution has a gentle bleaching effect, so it’s only suitable for light-colored leather! The combination makes a paste that you can apply to a wide range of stains. Let the solution sit on the surface for at least 30 mins before using a damp cloth to wipe away the paste.That’s it! These are our quick step by step guides for the best ways to clean dirty leather and remove common stains. The better you look after your leather, the best chance it has of staying in great shape for long into the future.
We hope the above ideas bring you perfect results!
You can also read about full grain leather here.
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