When hand sanitisers are used to a much larger extent than pre-covid, we now see an increasing amount of shoes being damaged by these strong liquids, which end up creating serious stains on the leather. Tips on how to avoid this and how to fix stains if they occur in today’s article.


It’s obviously a good thing that we use hand sanitisers a lot these days, both carry them with us and that there’s often a bottle placed when we enter stores, restaurants etc. It have likely had a big impact in reducing an even worse spread of the coronavirus. However, accidents do happen when a splash of hand sanitisers end up on our leather shoes and create serious stains. The high alcohol concentration immediately breaks the finish on smooth leather, dissolves dyes and in worst cases even damage the actual grain. To avoid getting hand sanitiser on your shoes, be careful especially when you use bottles with pumps in stores etc. that you don’t know how loose it is in consistency and how strong the pump is, and always make sure to keep your feet not immediately under your hands when you apply the sanitiser.

Small stains from drips of hand sanitiser. Picture (also top image): Reddit

If you still happen to get hand sanitiser on your shoes, you may try to wipe off with a damp cloth or napkin, but usually it’s too late since the sanitiser is so strong and also quickly dissolves itself. If you have well-polished shoes which regularly get thin layers of cream and wax applied, you have much better protection from harmful substances like hand sanitisers (one big pro of caring for your shoes properly, not only that it makes them look good, it offers important protection), and the stain is likely to be less severe to the leather. Depending on type of leather and how deep the stain has penetrates, it can vary a bit how to best remove it, and how well the end result will be.

First, treat the area with the stain with a strong cleaner, like Saphir Renomat or maybe even acetone, you want to remove the layers of cream and polish also around the stain to be able to bring back an even look to the leather, if you only try to cover it the stain will absorb the products totally differently and you’ll have a very hard time making it non-visible. After the stain and area around it is properly cleaned and stripped, let it dry and then condition it with several thin layers (let dry and then brush of in between) of a good, nourishing leather lotion or conditioner. Now you are ready to cover the area with colour again.

A very bad stain on a Carlos Santos patina shoe.

Hopefully, and in most cases, a few layers of a highly pigmented shoe cream in similar colour as the shoes will be enough to cover the stain and bring back an even shade of the shoe. If the shoe is lighter in colour, haven’t had that much cream and wax protecting it, were a bit sensitive, or an extra large and strong splash of sanitiser ended up on the shoe, this might still not be enough. In these cases a stronger colouring product, like Saphir Juvacuir, or even leather dye might be necessary to manage to get the colour back. And in worst case, as mentioned, the actual grain of the shoe is damaged and it doesn’t absorb the products as it should, if so it might be hard to get the stain to go away completely, but in most cases it should be possible to make the shoes look much better and especially with time and more coloured cream and polish and use it will be less visible.
If the shoes are in suede and you get a stain, clean the area with a suede cleaner/shampoo and apply pigmented waterproofing spray.

The Carlos Santos shoe above after a professional restoration by “MbShoeDoc”. Seems like he needed to use some extra with dark dye here (at the outside right shoe is where the stain was), but since they had a patina it isn’t really visible at all. Pictures: Michael Baldinger/Mbshoedoc