If you have ever walked down a road or had to cross the street when there is maintenance going on, then it is likely that you have found tar stuck to your shoes.
Road tar is not the only kind of tar that can get stuck on your shoes, as there are also threats from beach tar, pine tar, black tar, and more, so you are always at risk of getting a stain of some kind. This is why learning how to get tar off shoes without damaging your footwear can be very useful, as you never know when it might next happen to you.
What You Need
- A stainless steel or plastic knife to scrape the tar
- Paper towels
- Washing up bowl or sink of hot water
- Clean cloth
- Scrub brush or toothbrush
How To Get Tar Off Shoes: An Overview
Whenever you search how to get rid of tar or a tar stain from shoes, the same way to clean comes up time and time again. This can be an effective process for some kinds of footwear, and it works with the most common kind of tar we deal with – tar from road maintenance.
Black tar is used as a primer for asphalt that is used in construction work, and it can easily stain your shoes. To get this kind of tar off, you need to have a bit of strength, as this process requires you to take a plastic knife to scrape away the tar off shoes.
Using the knife, you can get tar off shoes by gently scraping away at the sole. This is an effective method to get tar from the soles of your shoes, but it cannot be used on other parts of the shoe like the leather upper.
Nonetheless, using a knife is an effective way to remove large chunks of tar from shoes, which is why you will see this being offered as a top cleaning tip.
Scraping away tar is a good way to remove a lot of the substance at once, but you might see that there is still some left behind on your shoes. If this is the case, you can soften tar to get it off your shoes using one of the following treatments:
If the tar is solid and too tough to remove from shoes by scraping alone, you can apply vegetable oil, butter, olive oil, baby oil, or specialized boot conditioners to shoes.
Apply a thick layer of these substances to the sole of the shoe and leave them to soak overnight.
This should soften the tar and make it easy for you to scrub the remaining stains away using a plastic knife or an old toothbrush.
Using vegetable oil, olive oil, baby oil, or something similar can be safer than handling solvents or cleaning solutions, which are other options. With a thick layer of these conditioners and enough time to soak, it should be easy to scrape off as much tar as possible using an old toothbrush or scrubbing brush.
When dealing with tar stains or any other remaining tar in the tight spots of your shoe sole, you can use some solvents to remove it. A solvent like WD 40 can be applied to the shoe with a paper towel or cloth. Using this cloth, you can rub at a stain or large portions of tar remaining on the sole to get rid of it.
Some elbow grease may be required when removing tar this way. Use circular motions to get tar off the shoes, then go back over the same spots with a paper towel and warm water.
Now that you know what you need, we are going to be addressing the full process in more detail.
How To Get Tar off Shoes: The Extended Method
Step 1: Scrape The Tar
The first step to remove tar from the soles of the shoes is to scrape as much as you can using a plastic knife. Elbow grease will be needed to get as much of the tar off the shoe as possible, and the harder you work, the easier the rest of the process will be.
Take care to not press too hard into the shoe when you are using a knife to remove tar, as you could end up puncturing the sole.
As you scrape tar from the shoes, make sure to wipe the knife on a paper towel regularly as the tar can also get stuck to the blade just as easily as it does onto shoes. You want to make sure the blade is smooth and sharp to effectively scrape the tar from shoes.
Step 2: Prepare A Cleaning Bowl
Once you have removed as much of the tar as possible from shoes with a knife, it is time to prepare a washbowl to handle the remaining tar on your shoes.
When it comes to removing tar, you will likely need to have a couple of tries with several different cleaning methods because it can be hard to remove.
For this step, fill up a bowl with warm water and dish detergent, making sure to mix well. This will be used on the remaining tar and also clean any stain that may be on your shoe.
This mixture of soap and water can be used to remove most of the remaining tar from your shoe, but in some cases, you might require more. This is where the conditioners or solvents we mentioned earlier come in, and you can apply these to the shoe in the same way.
Step 3: Scrub The Tar
Using your solution of warm water and soap or another form of shoe cleaner, you can start working on removing the tar that is left over. Using an old toothbrush or scrubbing brush, gently scrub tar from the shoes.
When you are working with the sole, you can be a little more heavy-handed than if you are dealing with a stain on the upper or side of the shoe. We will be providing tips for cleaning the top and sides of shoes later in this article.
In this step, you can spray WD 40 or a similar detergent to the shoe before getting out the plastic knife again if necessary to remove tougher stains. This cleaning method should only be used on durable soles of footwear, not on materials like suede, as it can cause damage to the shoe.
Step 4: Rinse With Water
Once you have removed tar from the bottom of your shoe, you can now rinse it with warm water to ensure there is no detergent or sticky residue left.
This is the final step in removing tar from the shoe, and rinsing off the cleaning solution can be a good way to see how well you have cleaned your footwear.
Use a gentle cloth to wipe off the water and cleaning detergent residue before leaving the shoes to air dry. If you have noticed that there is still some kind of stain left on the shoe, you can repeat the process once more or try to use another form of cleaning solution.
What Is The Best Way To Remove Different Tars?
While the above measure is the best way to remove tar that has come from road construction, not all tar can be scraped off. Scraping the shoes is also not something you can do when dealing with materials like suede, which is why we have some more tips to share.
If you are dealing with delicate materials like suede leather, then using a knife might not be the best option.
This is where soaking the shoes in some kind of conditioner, like vegetable oil or baby oil, can be useful, but there are other methods to try too. Along with the material of your shoe, the kind of tar that is causing a stain can also impact the best cleaning method.
While tar used as a primer for asphalt is the most common issue, there are other kinds of tar you might have to deal with, so figure out what it is first before cleaning. It could be:
The best method for dealing with beach tar is to put the shoes in the freezer. This is not suitable for all kinds of shoes, such as those made from suede leather, but it is unlikely you will be wearing your best footwear in the sand anyway.
Leave the shoes in the freezer for a couple of hours until the beach tar has become brittle. This will make it easier to peel off the tar from the shoe, which should be all you need to do to remove the tar this way. Stains and marks can be gently cleaned using warm water and detergent.
If you like to go for a hike in the forest, then it is likely you will have to deal with pine tar at some point. This is a form of resin that can be very sticky, so it can attach itself to the sole of shoes very well.
Using solvents like WD 40 is not a good solution for this sticky substance, and instead, a specialized cleaner wipe will be required. You can try to spray a tough cleaner, such as the kind used on cars, onto the soles of your shoes and let it sit for a few minutes.
Then using a cloth, you can wipe off the sticky residue from your shoes. Pine tar is much lighter in color than other kinds, so it should be easier to remove.
Unlike pine tar, when you are forced to deal with bar tar, you likely care about the shoes you have been wearing. Bar tar, as the name suggests, is a build-up of substances and drinks found on bar floors that can create a strange, thick tar that coats the soles of your shoes.
This can be another sticky substance, and it might leave a stain, so it is a good idea to tackle it as soon as you can. Soap and water can be used to remove this kind of damage, along with using a spray cleaner and a cloth.
While tar might be commonly found on the bottom of your shoes, stains may appear in other areas. To prevent damage when handling the upper or sides of your shoes, only clean a small portion at a time.
How To Clean The Rest Of Shoes
While cleaning the soles of your footwear might be your first step, it is likely not going to be your only issue. Dealing with the part of the shoe that has seen the most damage should be your first step, but the upper of your shoes can also be damaged by road construction tar or the other substances we have mentioned in this article.
If this is the case, using a plastic knife to scrape off the tar should not be a step you do. This is because, when dealing with the upper or sides of your shoes, the materials are more delicate.
Typically shoes can be made using suede leather or similar material, which can get damaged very easily, which is why using a knife is not a good idea on any other part of your shoe.
Instead of using a plastic knife to scrape stains, use a cloth or gentle scrubbing brush to remove tar. To clean the tops of shoes, you should use a specialized leather oil or shoe cleaner, which you can spray directly onto the stain you are wanting to remove.
In some cases, you can apply a small amount of dish soap to clean tar. However, this cleaning method is not recommended for suede leather shoes as it can cause more damage to the material.
With a gentle dish cloth or scrubbing brush, you can tackle the tar damage in a small portion at a time.
If you are dealing with a particularly tough stain, spray on the shoe cleaner and leave it to sink in for around 30 minutes. This should loosen the tar and make it easier to remove with a brush or cloth.
Expert Tip by Alexis DeSalva Kahler
The tougher the stain, the more effort it requires. If using a spray cleaner, let it set in for 30 minutes, and if a process doesn’t work, it can be repeated.