How To Remove Shoe Polish

It’s early morning, you’re in a rush to get to work, and you realise your shoes need a quick polish. You grab the first pot that comes to hand, whip out the polishing rag and get started – only to discover that you’re polishing your beautiful tan Loake brogues with the kids’ black school shoe polish! What do you do now?

You can’t go about with a great black smear on one shoe, nor can you bring yourself to just do the same to the other one and be done with it. There is no need to throw away your lovely shoes though; there are ways that you can fix this mistake and restore your light leather to its former glory. Read on…

Remove as much of the accidental polish as you can

Your very first step, once you have realised your mistake, is to remove as much of the accidental polish as you can. Wipe away the excess with a clean cloth, and then quickly get on with the job of removing it completely. You will get the best results if you do not let the polish dry, meaning that it seeps into the leather and is harder to remove.


The first instinct may be to grab something, anything, to get the polish off, but be careful with this. Acetate is a popular choice for removing stains and unwanted marks, but it is a very harsh substance that can damage the leather if it is slathered on too thickly. It has been said that it can even damage the leather – certainly not something you want to experiment with on your favourite pair of shoes!

Rubbing alcohol

You can use rubbing alcohol if you want something that may be slightly less abrasive, but again, do not be too heavy handed with the application. If you do go down this route of how to remove shoe polish, you should treat your shoes to a coat of some really good leather conditioner afterwards, to moisturise them and restore suppleness.

Elbow grease

One of the best solutions is good, old fashioned elbow grease. Take a clean towel that has a rough texture, and simply rub away at the offending patch. It is best to use a towel that has not been washed in fabric softener for this purpose, but be absolutely sure that it is clean – you do not want to be rubbing new stains into shoes that are already stained! This method is best used as soon as you realise you want to remove the polish, before it soaks into the leather and becomes absorbed.

Neutral coloured shoe polish

Another good way of removing unwanted shoe polish is to use a neutral coloured shoe polish, apply it to the patch you want to remove, then rub vigorously – the new polish will help to pick up the old polish and clean it off. It may seem a silly idea to use a different polish to remove an unwanted polish, but trust us that it really works!

The solvents in the wax will help to remove the offending polish, and it is a simple answer to the problem – and cheaper than buying a new pair of shoes. You will need to rub quite hard at the leather to get rid of the original polish, but it should work like a dream.

Saddle soap

If you happen to have any saddle soap lying around the house, you can clean off undesirable polish quickly and easily. Saddle soap is basically detergent for leather, and is used for cleaning horse tack so it needs to be pretty heavy duty! It is designed for leather though, so it won’t damage your best brogues.

You simply dampen a cloth or sponge and rub it over the surface of the soap until you have worked up a bit of a lather. Next, work this lather into your shoes, following a circular motion to make sure it is fully absorbed. You should see the old polish coming off on your sponge – with the added bonus that this treatment is very good for leather.

What if the excess polish is very old?

If you’re looking for a fix for a pair of shoes that have years and years of built up grime and excess polish, you may wish to go for a more involved clean up operation. This involves a few props such as a heat gun (if you don’t have one of these to hand a hairdryer on a high heat should do just as well), a shoe brush and a good strong rag. Here is a little video that shows you just how to do this, if you’re interested:

Do bear in mind that whatever method you use to remove the wrong type of shoe polish may upset the balance of your shoes, and they may need a little TLC afterwards, Invest in a really good leather conditioner, to treat the leather and keep it soft and supple and it will reward you by lasting for years to come.

Applying the wrong type of polish to a pair of shoes needn’t sound their death knell. Simply follow a few simple steps and you can have your favourite walking shoes back to looking as good as new in no time at all (well, that’s a bit of a fib – it will take a little time!)

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