How to Remove Oil From Leather Shoes

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A man using a rag to clean his leather boots.
A man using a rag to clean his leather boots. (Image: lofilolo/iStock/Getty Images)

Getting oil on leather shoes can be a bit of a hassle, but with the right cleaning tools and quick action, you can clean it off. No matter what type of oil you're dealing with -- lighter types, like olive oil, or heavier ones, like motor oil -- the key is to get another substance to soak up the oil before the leather does. It takes time and patience, but most oil stains can be removed.

Break Out the Cornstarch

Cornstarch helps to remove oil stains from leather shoes, whether smooth, polished leather or more suede-like Nubuck leather. Simply pour the cornstarch onto the stain, and rub it in quickly with your fingers until you feel heat from the friction of the rubbing. Then wipe off the cornstarch. Pour more cornstarch onto the stain, and repeat until the stain is gone.

Opt for Alternatives

If you don't have cornstarch, other household staples may work. Try talcum powder in the absence of cornstarch. Apply it to oil-stained leather shoes the same way you would apply the cornstarch; then rub, wipe and repeat. Leather degreaser is another option for heavy oil stains on Nubuck leather; follow with a Nubuck leather cleansing agent, then with a protective spray.

Hands Off

You may want to take oil-stained leather shoes to a dry cleaner for proper cleaning as soon as possible, rather than trying any do-it-yourself techniques. American Leather states that if left alone, the stain may "dissipate into the leather," and if not, your shoes should be taken to a professional to prevent further damage.

Definite Don'ts

According to American Leather, certain products should be off-limits for treating stains on leather. The list includes abrasive cleaners, ammonia products, cleaning solvents, detergent soaps, other oils, saddle soaps and varnish. Any product with wax or silicone may break down the leather's natural oils. Never use water to remove an oil stain, because this may push the stain further into the surface of the leather.

Prevention Is Key

Try using a protective spray on leather shoes to prevent future stains of all types. Spray your polished or Nubuck leather shoes as soon as possible after buying them. Apply protective spray to polished leather every three months, followed by an application of leather lotion; for Nubuck leather, respray every six months.

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