Candle wax is a problematic stain to get on clothes and shoes, as it tends to stick to the surface and can be a real pain to remove completely. With the right methods you should be able to solve it though, at least on regular leather shoes. Here’s a guide on how to rescue shoes from stearin.
The shoes showed in this article are a pair of bespoke Maftei seamless wholecuts, which I had a few years ago. During an evening event, I accidentally kicked a pitch torch, and both shoes had gotten quite a bit of candle wax on them (also the trousers had a lot of stains). When I got home later that evening, of course, it had solidified and was looking rather nasty.
For shoes and leather, it’s not easy to find information on how to remove candle wax, but there are plenty of tips and information on how to remove it from clothes and textiles. Most of them deal in different ways with either freezing the garment and breaking off the stearin, or heating it with an iron with, for example, a coffee filter in between that absorbs the melting candle wax (the method I used with good results on the trousers). As most people will understand, neither of these are recommended for leather shoes.
What you should use, however, is the same technique as the last mentioned with heat to melt the candle wax, but with a different tool: a hair dryer. You put it on medium heat (if you notice that it doesn’t melt the wax, you can turn it up) and heat a small area of the candle wax on the shoe until it softens, then wipe it off with paper towels. Then you move on to the next part of the shoe, methodically working your way over the entire footwear until you’ve removed all of the stearin. As most people know, heat is not a very good thing for leather, but if you’re careful, it’s not a problem, as you’re heating for such a short time and the heat is not that high. You will notice after a while how much heat is needed for the candle wax to melt, it can be good to be on the cautious side in the beginning as it’s easy to just heat a bit more if it doesn’t come off when you go over with the paper towel. Also remember to change the paper for each new surface you wipe clean, so you’re not just rubbing around the stearin. The heat will also dissolve the shoe cream and polish, so be prepared for a lot of that to go too.
However, there will usually be some grease stains left from the candle wax, as it is basically fatty acid. Most candles today are made from a mixture of stearin and paraffin, and one agent that dissolves both is pure heptane (can be bought in hardware stores or even larger grocery stores). Therefore, it’s a good idea to wipe surfaces that have had candle wax on them gently with a cloth dampened with pure heptane. The shoe should then be completely clean. Then it’s important to care for and moisturise it properly (I ran steps 2-4 in my shoe care guide). The shoes were then completely restored, not a trace of the candle wax was visible. Worth noting is that one of the reasons that these shoes survived this accident without any issues, is that they were properly cared for with shoe cream and wax polish. This did a lot to protect the leather from the harsh ingredients of the candle wax, likely less treated shoes would have permanent spots from the fatty acid going into the grain of the leather, not possible to get rid off. So it’s always worth caring for your shoes in a good way, also as a preventive measure.
Should the same mishap occur with suede, I really don’t know how one best would go about it. I have no experience with this, likely it can be difficult to get all the stearin out of the suede fibers after you heat it. But possible that the same method works fine there too. Anyone who has personal experience with candle wax on suede please feel free to share.
Worth saying too is that if you feel unsure about doing a treatment as above, it’s better to hand them in to a good cobbler and let them take it from there.