As I am sitting in my car, watching the rain fall on one of my favorite fjords in the world my mind drifts to the question of how to get tar off shoes.
It might sound like a strange thing to ponder, but the facts are these: it is one of those frustrating days when my one-year-old daughter just would not go to sleep, the rain has been pouring down since last night so I can’t push her around in her stroller, and the only other way she sleeps is when I drive her around.
Now that she has finally fallen asleep I parked the car on the edge of a beach where we often go in the summer, and I cannot but notice that the soles of her shoes are covered in tar steins from a week ago when we took a walk on this very beach.
How to Get Tar Off Shoes?
There are basically two techniques of getting tar off shoes: if the tar is stuck to the bottom of the shoes, you can go in with some more aggressive chemicals and brushes and scrub it off in a matter of minutes.
If the tar has attached itself to the sides of the shoes or the top part, then you first need to use patience and restraint and go in with different types of oil, soft brushes and my favorite type of cream mixture that I will talk about below.
Tackling the Bottom of the Shoe
Although the standard understanding of tar refers to a particular petroleum-based substance, usually used in the road construction, there are a bunch of other similarly sticky and gooey compositions that can come in contact with shoes.
The only good thing about this entire class of mess is that tar-like substances are usually dense enough that only the bottom of the shoe will be affected. However, because there are so many variations there are also different solutions for each situation, so let’s take them one by one.
How to get black tar off shoes
The most common type of tar that you will come in contact with is the black substance they use to fix smallish cracks in pavement. They also use it as a primer before laying down asphalt, and, if it is hot enough, the tar will seep up and around the edges of the recent pavement. Regardless of how your shoes get in contact with it the solution is fairly simple.
Start by using a hard-plastic scrape, or even a kitchen knife if your hand is steady enough not to poke the sole of the shoe. Have a paper towel handy because tar tends to just go from shoe to knife and back again easily.
Once you have removed the heavier stuff, just use a car tar remover spray. You should be able to find one in your local supermarket, particularly during the summer. Because I am a car enthusiast I have these wipes from Armor All that I order from Amazon in the spring as part of the preparations for summer.
It may take a while to clean up everything but, in the end, you should end up with a completely clean shoe bottom. On shoes with a softer sole, I finish with a dab of oil because I believe the chemicals in the wipes might dry up and harden the soles of the shoes, but that is more of a personal superstition than anything else.
How to get beach tar off shoes
Let’s be very clear about beach tar: the best way to remove it off shoes is to not be wearing any shoes. You are at the beach, why are you wearing shoes? Of course, I started this story by telling you about my daughter’s dirty shoes but that was because she is just now learning to walk and her feet are extremely sensitive; so she was the only one wearing shoes.
Beach tar is probably the most amusing type of tar in this list because having spent so much time in the water, it becomes saturated. The easiest way to remove it then is to simply put the shoes in the freezer for a couple of hours.
That should be more than enough for the water to freeze and then the tar becomes brittle and is easy to peel off. There will still be some stains left on the bottom of the shoes and you can hit those with the Armor All tar wipes I mentioned before or with a cloth damp with vegetable oil, but the wipes will work better.
How to get pine tar off shoes
If you take a walk through a pine forest you will inevitably get some pine tar stuck to your shoes. Those of you who were paying attention when you were scouts will know that pine tar is actually the resin of the tree that it uses to combat insect infestation and to heal cracks caused by animals rubbing against their bark.
Naturally, this type of tar has nothing to do with petroleum products and, therefore, will not come as easy off the shoes if you try to use the aforementioned wipes. The good thing about it is that it is actually much lighter in color so you may be happy with the bottom of your shoes after you just scrape it off.
However, if you absolutely must get every last speck off, I have another car care inspired solution. I like to use this Pine Resin Remover designed for cars because it is aimed at car enthusiasts so it has a fairly gentle formula designed to not attack the paint and the plastic in the bumper of cars.
As you might imagine, both bumper plastic and car paint are still petroleum-based products and so the pine tar remover attacks only the binding agent in tree sap. For that reason, I can afford to simply apply the remover using the application pad that comes in the box, leave it for anywhere between 5 and 10 minutes and then just come in with an old rag and just wipe everything off.
How to get bar tar off shoes
Finally, the most disgusting type of tar that you could run into is bar tar. Most bars today are fairly clean but ever so often, especially during the end of the night, you may come across a bar floor that is so dirty and sticky that you feel like a cat on a scratching pole.
That gunk is created by dozens of drinks, usually sweet drinks being accidentally spilled on the floor, getting mixed with all chewing gum and then spread around by so many bar patrons having a good time.
I am actually so disgusted by that stuff than I do not even try to scrape anything off and instead rely on spraying the soles of the shoes, several times with WD40 and just letting it drip off the shoes taking with it most of the dirt.
It will usually take about 3 applications before I will even consider using the Armor All wipes and going in with some elbow grease. The one important caveat I make about using WD40 is that on soft textured shoes like suede shoes or canvas shoes, I like to use a little painter’s duck tape around the edges of the shoes to protect the leather from the heavier chemicals.
The Sides or Top of the Shoe
In my experience, it is only black tar that is so ubiquitous that it will eventually make its way above the line of the sole. Often enough it will get mixed with the ever-present dust on the side of the road and you will start noticing that your shoes get covered in a black, sticky dust.
If that is the case, just ignore the scraping off step that I will insist upon below. However, even when talking about a single type of tar, because we are talking about the tops of the shoes, there are differences to be made regarding the fabric used. I have ordered the categories below in order of how easy it is to remove tar off them, starting with the easiest.
How to get tar off leather shoes
Proper leather shoes are the easiest to clean of all shoes because of the natural sheen of leather. More importantly, everyone understands the importance of using shoe shine cream at least in the beginning of owning a pair of leather shoes. That means the most important step in getting tar of shoes has already been taken care of: the leather is covered in a protective, sacrificial layer.
Regardless of whether you have that extra layer or not, the natural sturdiness of leather means you can comfortably use the Armor All tar remover wipes.
As always, start by removing the bigger chunks of tar with a plastic scraper. Make sure you do not get greedy at this step. It is better to leave a thin layer of tar that will be handled by the tar remover wipes rather than put an actual scratch in the leather.
The trick here is to take it easy and put in the effort required to do the job properly. Once you have removed all the tar make sure to clean off any left-over chemicals using a soft paper towel and then give the shoes a new coating of shoe shining cream.
How to get tar off suede shoes
Suede shoes present an interesting challenge because they will usually get darker and darker in color due to the fact that they attract, and trap dust particles covered in tar.
This type of problem is easy to solve provided you have used a water-repellent spray as soon as you bought them. For my family, I use a more traditional spray, the Nanoman, but for my own shoes I use the same stuff I use in the car, the Chemical Guys Leather Cleaner and Conditioner.
Truth be told, I don’t have a really good reason why I do it like that, but my reasoning is that the automotive market is a much more competitive area, and I really did my homework when I chose the Chemical Guys products a while back.
However, I may be wrong, which is why I am hedging my bet. So far, I can’t say that I have noticed a real difference. My shoes stay cleaner for longer but that is because the kids never pay attention to puddles and dirt; sometimes they seek them out.
However, let’s say you were so excited about your new suede shoes that you never sprayed them with anything. Provided you haven’t bought the cheapest pair you could find, the factory already gave them a coating.
Start by scraping as much of the tar with a plastic scraper. Next, move down to a hard-bristled brush. Suede can take quite a lot abuse from a brush, just like hair. It will not like it, but it is definitely better to remove as much of the dirt as possible without using any lubricant.
Ultimately though, you will need to use some sort of liquid to really get the last parts of the tar off of those bristles. I have my trusty Chemical Guys Cleaner, but if you do not feel like buying it, I hear oil is a good, neutral substance than some people use on their own dogs.
I would spray as little oil as possible and go in with the brush. The reason I would take it easy with the oil is that later you will need to get rid of the oil so you don’t want to fix one mess by creating an even bigger mess.
Once I am done with my brand cleaner, I just spray a new layer of protection and I am done. However, if you are going with the oil I would spray a little warm water with shampoo to get rid of the oil. All that time, make sure you use a brush and not a towel. Once you are done let the shoes dry thoroughly and then go in with a new layer of protection.
How to get tar off canvas shoes
Some people argue that canvas shoes are the most difficult to clean of tar, but I would argue that they are the easiest. The reason for that is that you can always through in the canvas shoes with a load of laundry and you can have the perfect finish.
In fact, I believe that is why canvas shoes have such a bad rap: people expect that they can just wash tar off like any other type of dirt and when that doesn’t work, they start complaining.
What you need to do is to clean the tar off just like with any other shoe. First, use a plastic scraper, remove as much of the gunk as possible, next use some lubricant and a towel and really clean as much of the dirt as possible.
For canvas shoes, I would use dish detergent with warm water and I would spray it on, leave it for a few minutes and then go in with the towel. Do not use any type of brush as that may actually affect the material.
Once you have removed all the tar, through the shoes in with the laundry. Be sure to do it right after you are done cleaning because as the remaining soapy water and dirt that is deep in the fabric my stain the shoes if it gets a chance to dry. And if you are lucky enough to be working with a pair of white canvas shoes, add some Oxi Clean.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have not had to clean canvas shoes, but, as I was reading on forums about how other people deal with their tared shoes, I came across canvas shoes and this seems to be the best way.