Removing Oil Stains from Leather Work Boots | Tips & Tricks

You love your work boots, and you want to take care of them and keep them looking good.

Work boots come in different styles to meet the most stringent demands of almost any work environment. There are work boots with special features like steel or composite toecaps to protect your toes from being damaged by impact or crushing, plates that protect your instep from being damaged by dropping something on it, and special soles and insoles that protect your feet from puncture injuries.

I believe that good work shoes are ranked in importance right up there with good tools. You spend most of your day on your feet, so you will appreciate the way that they deliver comfort, support, and safety. Most quality work boots are waterproof, too, to keep your feet dry. Some also offer protection against electrical hazards.

These days manufacturers also have their eyes on style, to make sure that their work boots look as good as they perform. Work boots can vary in quality based on the materials that are used and their performance characteristics. Virtually all of them, though, feature leather uppers and rubber outsoles.

You take pride in your work boots and strive to maintain them so that they can bring you years of service. Sure, you are going to walk through the muck, scrape them against all kinds of abrasive surfaces, subject them to every type of nasty weather, coat them with dust and dirt, and constantly abuse them – that’s all in a day’s work.

Let’s face it; you really care about those beat up warriors. Once they’re on the job they’ll never look as good as they did when you first took them out of the box, but there’s one thing that makes them look really bad, and that’s oil. Oil stains are unsightly and messy. There are ways to attack those unsightly oil stains on your leather work boots.


Oil stains may well be the greatest challenge you’ll face in maintaining the appearance of your leather work boots. You may discover that you can make progress, but never completely eliminate them.


Most work boots are subjected to a variety of elements that create challenges for performing any kind of maintenance. The first step is the simplest, and that’s to clean the boots thoroughly before taking a stab at tackling the challenge presented by those nasty oil stains.

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Follow these three simple steps to clean your work boots before attacking the oil stains:

  1. Start by removing the laces, so that they don’t get in the way as you clean all the nooks and crannies of your boots.
  2. Then use a stiff brush, like an everyday kitchen brush, to remove any surface dirt or debris. Make sure to hit all the seams, around the lace holes, and along the crevice at the bottom of the boot where the leather upper is attached to the rubber outsole.
  3. Use a wet cloth or a wet brush to remove any excess dirt or debris. If your boots are really dirty, you might want to mix a little dish detergent into the water. Another alternative is to use saddle soap, but everyday dish soap is good enough.
  4. Let the boots dry. You can tell when they are dry by looking at them or touching them.
  5. Give your dry boots another pass with a regular shoe brush.


You can often remove oil stains, but completely removing them requires good timing, a little luck, and patience.

The degree of difficulty you’ll encounter when trying to remove oil stains from your leather work boots will be influenced by how long the stains have been in the leather. Leather is porose, which means that oil can easily penetrate the material. The longer it sits there, the tougher it will be for you to remove the stain because leather soaks up oil like a sponge.

It’s always best to attack oil stains as soon as possible after the oil has spilled onto your leather work boots.


As I’ve mentioned earlier, oil stains can be tough. However, if the stain is very fresh, you may be lucky enough to be able to remove it by using some common household products. These remedies may be effective if the oil hasn’t had a chance to penetrate too deeply over a prolonged period of time.

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Baking soda or corn starch

These common and inexpensive products can work by absorbing the oil from your leather boots and drawing it to the surface so that you can wipe it off.

  1. Clean the boot.
  2. Sprinkle a coating of baking soda or corn starch over the stain.
  3. Use a damp cloth or your fingers to gently rub the baking soda or corn starch into the leather. It’s best if you use a soft, circular motion.
  4. Let the solution and leather sit for several hours, or perhaps overnight, which will allow the oil to be absorbed.
  5. When enough time has gone by and the solution is dry, simply wipe the residue off with a damp cloth.
  6. Pat your boot dry with a towel.
  7. Be patient and persistent. You may have to repeat this process several times for the best chance at removing the oil stain from your work boots.

Dish detergent

The detergent that you use to wash dishes may be an effective remedy for removing oil stains from your work boots, too. It’s less likely to be successful, but it’s worth a try if the stain hasn’t been there a long time.

  1. Clean the boot.
  2. Dip a damp cloth in liquid detergent, or simply wet your fingertips and dip them in the detergent.
  3. Dab your liquid detergent all over the oil stain. Be sure to gently dab rather than rub or press hard. You’re not scrubbing away the stain, just mixing the oil with your detergent.
  4. Rinse the treated stained area by soaking it with distilled water.
  5. Pat the boot dry with a towel.
  6. Let the leather dry for several hours.
  7. Again, patience and persistence are the orders of the day. You may have to repeat this process several times.

Feeling lucky? Here’s another possible home remedy.

It doesn’t happen often, but if you’re really lucky and if the oil stain is in a reachable, flexible area of your work boot, you may be able to grab the leather, stretch and bend it to open the pores, and then use a stiff brush to brush away the stain.


There are a number of leather cleaners and degreasers on the market, any of which may be effective to remove oil stains from your leather work boots. Each of these works a little differently, so you should read the label and follow the manufacturer’s direction. Here’s a brief overview of what you’ll find on the market.

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Aerosols are easy to use because all you have to do is spray the cleaner onto the stained area of your boot. As with all aerosol products, you might consider wearing a mask to avoid inhaling.

  1. Clean the boot.
  2. Spray the cleaner onto the stained area of the boot and let it sit for at least the amount of time that the manufacturer advises on the label. You might find that with some products it’s beneficial to let the product sit for as long as twenty-four hours because often it keeps pulling the oil out of the leather.
  3. Most aerosol products will form a coat of white or yellow powder over the stained area. Let the powder sit there so that it can do its job.
  4. Vacuum or gently wipe the powder away.
  5. Depending on the depth of the stain, you may have to repeat this process several times.


Liquid leather cleaning and degreasing products are more common than aerosols. They’re also easy to use.

  1. Clean the boot.
  2. Put the liquid cleaner on a clean cloth and apply it to the stained area of your boot by rubbing gently. Most liquid products should not be applied directly to the boot.
  3. When the cloth gets dirty as you’re applying the cleaner, switch to a clean cloth, and keep re-applying. The darkened cloth is the oil that has come out of the leather.
  4. Repeat this process until your cloth stops turning dark and you’re satisfied with the extent to which your stain has been removed.
  5. Wipe down the freshly-cleaned area with a clean, dry cloth.


You may want to first use an aerosol and then a liquid for really tough stains. It’s extra work, but it gets the job done.


Your leather work boots are very important tools. It’s very difficult, sometimes impossible, to remove oil stains from the leather uppers. The first step is to thoroughly clean your boots. You have a variety of home and commercial remedies for cleaning your leather work boots.