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How to remove shoe polish?

post #1 of 26
Thread Starter 
I polished my brown shoes with a slightly darker polish, hoping to darken them. Unfortunately, they didn't turn out as well as I'd like. I'd like to remove the wax and start over. What is the best way to do this?

From reading the threads, it seems that acetone would be overkill. Are there other options?
post #2 of 26
acetone. !luc
post #3 of 26
Wax polish has a mild solvent in it that (ironically) will remove wax polish. If you put some light brown polish on and wipe it off immediately before it dries, it will take most of the black with it. This is the best first step, anyway.
post #4 of 26
For those who are afraid of acetone or other solvents I suggest two 'mild' ways to remove old wax:
  1. Use a cloth with a slightly rough surface like an old towel, preferably washed without softener and rub the wax off. It takes a bit of ellbow grease but it removes about 90% of the wax you applied to the shoe.
  2. Use neutral shoe polish and the solvents it contains to remove the unwanted wax. This way the leather never gets 'dry' as the unwanted wax is partly replaced by the neutral wax.
Others suggest rubbing alcohol, but I am no friend of this idea. Alcohol is not a great solvent and behaves chemically in many regards like water. Often the rubbing alcohol is a mixture of propanol and water anyhow. Using wodka is even crazier, because we're talking of a mixture of 40% ethanol, 59.9% of water and 0.1% or less of unknown stuff that may or may not damage your shoes. I believe in potent solvents and am lucky to have found the perfect stuff. I'm done with acetone, as I consider it too mild. It takes too much work to remove old wax.
post #5 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Luc-Emmanuel
acetone.
NO!!! Acetone is far too harsh and aggressive and is just not needed for this. Ordinary drug-store rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol, 70% or 99%) does this job perfectly. Or you could purchase a leather cleaner like Neo-Cleaner, but ordinary alcohol works well. After applying alcohol and removing all the polish, it would be a good idea to moisturize the leather with a leather conditioner, since alcohol or any polish remover will likely dry the leather out.

But don't use acetone. It will remove more than the polish. Depending on the leather (and whether or not it is corrected-grain), acetone can remove the color as well, taking the leather right down to its original state. If one is contemplating attempting an antiquing job, acetone might be considered, but even in that context, I'd be careful. I have used acetone on a pair of inexpensive brogues on which I wanted to experiment with antiquing. The acetone actually dissolved the leather where it became very fine and thin around the extensive broguing, and it removed all the color.
post #6 of 26
Thread Starter 
Thank you for all the helpful responses. The leather is not corrected-grain, and it is actually one of my favorite pairs of shoes, so I'm slightly aghast that I did this. I'm going to attempt the towel/elbow grease and light brown polish route this evening, and report back on the results. I hope that it will resolved most of the issues.

I'll definitely avoid acetone for now. If need be, I'll step it up to rubbing alcohol, but hopefully the elbow grease/polish route will cure it.

thank you!
post #7 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Roger
NO!!! Acetone is far too harsh and aggressive and is just not needed for this. Ordinary drug-store rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol, 70% or 99%) does this job perfectly. Or you could purchase a leather cleaner like Neo-Cleaner, but ordinary alcohol works well. After applying alcohol and removing all the polish, it would be a good idea to moisturize the leather with a leather conditioner, since alcohol or any polish remover will likely dry the leather out. But don't use acetone. It will remove more than the polish. Depending on the leather (and whether or not it is corrected-grain), acetone can remove the color as well, taking the leather right down to its original state. If one is contemplating attempting an antiquing job, acetone might be considered, but even in that context, I'd be careful. I have used acetone on a pair of inexpensive brogues on which I wanted to experiment with antiquing. The acetone actually dissolved the leather where it became very fine and thin around the extensive broguing, and it removed all the color.
Sorry Roger, but I feel forced to point out that acetone does not dissolve leather. It just doesn't. The much more dangerous threat to the upper of shoes is physical damage. Some people want to reach the desired effect so badly that they get very impatient. They rub the leather so hard with whatever potion they fancy that it does indeed start to disintegrate. I have no idea what kind of shoes you tried the acetone on and how much physical force you used, but you would be surprised if you saw how little effect acetone has on the leather of the following brands:
  • John Lobb Paris
  • Edward Green
  • Vass
  • Crockett & Jones
I am so disappointed with its mediocre effect that I stopped using it. Acetone DOES de-grease the outermost surface of the leather, just as it does with your own skin. This pseudo lightening effect can instantly be remedied with a tiny amount of (e.g. neutral) wax. One word of warning though, and this is valid even for rubbing alcohol. Don't use too much - meaning don't soak the leather with acetone/alcohol/whatever! Soaked areas will leave a mark once the solvent has dried off.
post #8 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by sysdoc
Sorry Roger, but I feel forced to point out that acetone does not dissolve leather. It just doesn't.
Perhaps a little more detail would help. The shoes were a pair of corrected-grain Florsheims that I sacrificed to learn the nuances of antiquing after reading Andrew Harris's fine thread on that subject. They were full brogues, in which the leather between the punched holes was very thin in one portion of the toe. The acetone treatment not only removed all the color (which presumably it wouldn't on the makes you noted, since the color is dyed in, rather than rolled on under heat as it is with corrected-grain leather), but the leather actually broke or gave away in these ultra-fine areas, leaving just some shreds.

I have to ask why you would prefer acetone over alcohol for merely removing polish when the former is considerably more aggressive than the latter, yet the latter removes polish completely. Wouldn't the most prudent course of action be that which is the least likely to harm at the same time as getting the job done?
post #9 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Roger
But don't use acetone. It will remove more than the polish. Depending on the leather (and whether or not it is corrected-grain), acetone can remove the color as well, taking the leather right down to its original state. If one is contemplating attempting an antiquing job, acetone might be considered, but even in that context, I'd be careful. I have used acetone on a pair of inexpensive brogues on which I wanted to experiment with antiquing. The acetone actually dissolved the leather where it became very fine and thin around the extensive broguing, and it removed all the color.
Well, I never had any problems using acetone on the toe cap of my shoes, it does remove excess polish and cream. It dries the leather if you insist, but nothing you can't rehydrat with a little shoe cream.

!luc
post #10 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Roger
Perhaps a little more detail would help. The shoes were a pair of corrected-grain Florsheims that I sacrificed to learn the nuances of antiquing after reading Andrew Harris's fine thread on that subject. They were full brogues, in which the leather between the punched holes was very thin in one portion of the toe. The acetone treatment not only removed all the color (which presumably it wouldn't on the makes you noted, since the color is dyed in, rather than rolled on under heat as it is with corrected-grain leather), but the leather actually broke or gave away in these ultra-fine areas, leaving just some shreds. I have to ask why you would prefer acetone over alcohol for merely removing polish when the former is considerably more aggressive than the latter, yet the latter removes polish completely. Wouldn't the most prudent course of action be that which is the least likely to harm at the same time as getting the job done?
Hey Roger, I agree 100%! That's why I made the two suggestions above that work completely without any dangerous concoctions! Acetone is absolutely not the be-all/end-all of shoe polish removal. I can't be bothered with it anymore. I only tried to point out that it ain't the work of the devil either. I never used acetone on grain corrected leather and I am terrified imagining your experience. However, I have not experienced any ill effect of acetone on any of my full grain shoes of the previously mentioned shoe brands. I am happy to say it once more: Either rub the wax off with an old towel or remove it with the aid of neutral wax. Both methods are reasonably fool proof. Acetone isn't!
post #11 of 26
Then again ... ... you could throw the shoes in a bucket of lukewarm bleach ... ... that'll remove the polish alright ...
post #12 of 26
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by sysdoc
Then again ... ... you could throw the shoes in a bucket of lukewarm bleach ... ... that'll remove the polish alright ...
Oh, I've lurked long enough to know not to repeat the ... ahem ... experiments of others. Down that road lies madness. I'll try the neutral wax/towel recipe and report back. I like foolproof.
post #13 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by wpeters
Oh, I've lurked long enough to know not to repeat the ... ahem ... experiments of others. Down that road lies madness. I'll try the neutral wax/towel recipe and report back. I like foolproof.
The right choice you have made, young Padawan ... Good luck!
post #14 of 26
Based on what I have read on the forum, I tried vodka--cheap vodka--as a means of removing excess polish. It certainly worked to my satisfaction, and unlike rubbing alcohol or acetone, you can tipple on it as you work on your shoes!
post #15 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by JLibourel
Based on what I have read on the forum, I tried vodka--cheap vodka--as a means of removing excess polish. It certainly worked to my satisfaction, and unlike rubbing alcohol or acetone, you can tipple on it as you work on your shoes!
Shake with ice:

1oz. Vodka
1oz. Acetone
1oz. Chlorine Bleach

Strain into glass. Garnish with John Lobb Vintage 2003. Serve immediately.
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