How to remove shoe polish?

  1. Question (originally posted by @wpeters): 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?

    Answer 1 (posted by @sysdoc): 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 elbow 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 vodka 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.

    Answer 2 (posted by @Roger): 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.

    Answer 3 (posted by @Roger Everett): DO NOT USE ACETONE OR LAQUER THINNER. It will very likely remove or dull the dye on the shoe, and leave the leather somewhat dried out.
    All shoe polish is either petroleum or oil (generally mink oil) based. Although when you apply a new coat it melts in to the old coat, it won't loosen it up enough to completely remove the darker color. To remove the polish/ wax, wipe down with paint thinner (mineral sprits), it will remove the wax/ polish, without damaging the shoe or leather. If you have a shoe with broguing or similar, you can lightly scrub with a new wax applying brush or a soft tooth brush (wetted with the paint thinner)-- dabbing or wiping off with rag as you go. When you get it where you want it, let it dry ( won't take long ), apply conditioner and fresh polish/wax. I would give it 2 coats, buffing between.
    Now if you have a build up of heel & sole paint (it is like a water based paint, at least the AE I use is). It can be removed or cut down with lacquer thinner, being careful not to get on upper. Then redo.
    I have done all of the above with no problem.

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    For more threads and articles on shoe care, go here:
    Shoe Care
    Shoe Care Products
    Leather Care

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