It is no secret that white shoes are one of the go-to staples in a wardrobe. It can easily match a number of outfits. However, white leather can fade to a dingy and dull yellow over time and use.
White leather shoes turn yellow due to the natural oxidation process. In simpler words, the longer and the more often your shoes are exposed to natural elements such as rain, heat, and wind, the more quickly and likelier they are likely to turn yellow.
While there is no way to stop this from happening, there are steps that you can take to slow down the yellow stain formation process. Prevention is certainly better than cure in this case as the oxidation process is largely chemically an irreversible change.
In this guide, we address a 2-step process that you are able to use to treat existing yellow stains. They are as follows:
We’ll then address how yellow stains from in the first place, and the best practices that we can adopt to keep your shoes from yellowing in the first place.
1. Remove Surface Dirt and Stains with Cleaning Solution
You’ll first need to ensure that your white leather shoes are as clean as possible. This includes wiping them down, using a cleaning solution, and letting them dry. Below, you’ll find these steps in more detail.
Wipe Shoes Clean
Start by using a damp cleaning rag or paper towel to scrape off any visible dirt and mud from particles on the surface of your white leather shoes.
Prepare a Cleaning Solution
Although you can use any cleaning solution off the market, you are also able to make your own. To make a self-cleaning solution at your home, take a bowl and pour equal parts of distilled white vinegar and cold water into it. This mixture can also work efficiently in helping you remove winter salt stains.
Soak a piece of cloth in the solution and wring it gently. Now, use it to wipe the surface of your shoes. If you are looking to also clean the soles of your leather shoes, please ensure that you address that last. Rinse off the cleaning solution by wiping it with a damp clean cloth.
Dry Your Shoes
Once your white leather shoes are clean, you should wipe any remaining moisture off with a clean dry cloth and let them air dry for 15 to 20 minutes before proceeding to the next step.
2. Use Baking Soda To Treat Yellow Stains
In the world of cleaning, baking soda is referred to as a magical powder. To make a baking soda-based cleaning solution, all you need is:
- 1 Tablespoon of Borax
- 1 Tablespoon of Baking Soda
- 100 ml of Water
Start by adding Borax and baking soda to a bowl. Pour some water in and mix them well. Note that you can adjust the concentration of Borax and baking soda depending on the stain size and severity.
Now that your cleaning solution is ready, use a clean cloth or a sponge to apply the homemade solution to the white leather shoes. Gently apply the solution over the stained area. As you rub the leather, you might notice the yellow stains softening or dissipating.
When doing so, be careful not to scratch the leather surface by applying undue force. You can also use a soft-bristled toothbrush to clean inaccessible ridges of the shoes.
Once you are satisfied with the results, use a cloth damp with water to wipe across any part of the shoe that was exposed to the cleaning solution. Use a dry cloth next to wipe the shoe dry.
Things to Keep in Mind When Using Baking Soda
Overusing baking soda has its fair share of disadvantages. It can leave behind residue on the leather surface, which can react with specific types of leather, resulting in darkening the surface and damaging the quality of your shoe.
Be especially careful if you are looking to treat a high gloss finish with baking soda as you will likely deprecate the shine. In this case, you will need to make a decision on whether the trade-off of treating the yellow stain is worth the loss of your white leather shoes’ glossy finish.
What Causes Yellow Stains on White Leather Shoes?
As previously mentioned, the best way to keep your white leather shoes white is to prevent them from turning yellow in the first place. In the long run, this might not prove to be fully within your control.
We will now share with you some of the most common reasons why white leather shoes turn yellow. With this understanding, we hope you will be able to preserve the color of your white leather shoes for the foreseeable future.
Harsh & Improper Cleaning Solutions
Despite leather having a reputation for being sturdy, it is still vulnerable and susceptible to damage from harsh chemicals. Therefore it is essential to use a good and suitable cleaning solution to maintain the quality and condition of your leather shoes.
When buying a cleaning solution, try to ensure that it has a pH value of around 5. This will match the average PH value of leather. If you imbalance the pH value, you might end up stripping off essential nutrients and causing premature yellow staining of your leather shoes.
Reputable off-the-shelf cleaning solutions that are specialized for white or lighter shades of leather are your best bet in this regard.
Overexposure to Sun
Direct exposure to the sun can damage your white leather shoes, increasing the likelihood of yellow stain formations. It can also dry up the leather and develop cracks.
While we won’t recommend you to exclusively wear your white leather shoes at night, we recommend storing your shoes when not in use away from direct sunlight to minimize damage on this front as much as possible.
Natural Oxidation Process
The oxidation process changes natural leather fiber composition due to exposure to environmental conditions and elements. Oxidation is scientifically defined as the loss of electrons within your leather compounds. This can be accelerated via exposure to metals, a catalyst of the process.
You might therefore notice that white leather shoes with metal buckles are more prone to the oxidation process and thus turn yellow compared to laced-up versions.
How to Prevent Yellow Stains from Appearing on White Leather Shoes?
Though one cannot stop the natural oxidation process, you can take the following steps to slow it down.
Use a Suitable Cleaning Solutions
There are several DIY cleaning solutions that you can use to clean your white leather shoes. These include baking soda cleaner and a mixture of white vinegar and olive oil.
If possible, we certainly recommend purchasing a dedicated leather shoe cleaner that is formulated for white or lighter shades of leather. One of our favorite solutions is the Shoe Cleaner Kit For White Shoes from Shoe MGK.
Either way, you will not want to overwash your white leather shoes as you will likely end up stripping your leather shoes of their natural oils, causing them to stiffen and become brittle.
Condition Your White Leather Shoes
We, therefore, recommend that you condition your shoes after every wash cycle, to ensure that your leather remains supple as much as possible. As we are dealing with white leather shoes here, we want to ensure that any conditioner we use does not discolor the base leather material.
You should also purchase products specialized for purpose and do test the product on an inconspicuous area of your shoes first to monitor its potential effects. Upon not noticing undesirable effects, you can then proceed to condition the entire surface area of your white leather shoes.
Treat Stains Quickly
The longer you leave stains untreated, the higher are their chances of becoming permanent. Therefore, clean your shoes as soon as you see a yellow stain to prevent the stain from setting in further, reducing your chances of being able to effectively treat it.
Co-Founder, Editor-in-Chief & Writer At Leatherskill
I’m a leather enthusiast turned artisan. Apart from crafting leather products, I’m passionate about writing in-depth guides and reviews on all things leather!