How To Get Tar Off Your Shoes? Creative Ways To Remove It Without Hassle

Tar is infamous for being sticky stuff. In a famous Joel Chandler Harris tale of Br’er Rabbit, said rabbit is tricked into getting into fisticuffs with a figure made of tar and turpentine. Every time Br’er rabbit strikes out at the tar baby, the more entangled he becomes, making it easy for Br’er Fox to catch him.

If you get tar on your clothes or shoes it may seem like you’ll never get it off. You may feel a bit like Br’er Rabbit just getting dirtier and stickier the more he fights the tar. You may feel like throwing your shoes into the briar patch! Do not despair! It is possible to get tar off your shoes.

how to get tar off shoes

What is Tar?

Tar is a thick black carbon-based liquid. It can be produced from peat, petroleum, wood, or coal. Tar and pitch are the same things. Asphalt is often called “mineral tar”. It can be manmade or found naturally in tar pits.

Tar has practical uses. It can be used to seal roofing shingles. For years, tar was used as a waterproof sealant in shipbuilding. Modern technologies have reduced the need for tar in shipbuilding but in modern road construction, nothing surpasses tar’s ability to repair paved roads.

Another antiquated use of tar was for the cruel punishment of tarring and feathering. Many works of fiction depict this as merely humiliating, but no worse than a fraternity hazing.

The truth was much harsher. The burn scars from hot tar could be permanent. Removing the tar could further aggravate the wounds. Sometimes, the victim could even die from the ordeal.

How To Get Tar Off Shoes

If your shoes have cleats on them, such as golf shoes, that adds yet another layer of difficulty. It can be done! You will need some of that dish liquid with a name that is another word for sunrise.

It’s often used to clean animals that have been caught up in oil slicks, so it should be able to cut through tar with warm water and a dash of elbow grease. You will also need a plastic knife, some WD-40 and an old toothbrush. Follow the simple instructions below.

  • First, use the plastic knife to scrape off as much of the tar as you can. Try not to gouge the sole or doing any damage to the spikes.
  • Next, mix your detergent with some warm water.
  • You may then dip an old toothbrush into this solution. Use it to scrub the remaining tar away. Repeat as needed.
  • If the tar is being stubborn, you can loosen it up with a bit of the WD-40. Spray some into the stain and allow it to set a few minutes. Use the old toothbrush to continue scrubbing.
  • Once all the tar is gone, wash the shoes with the detergent and water to remove the WD-40 residue.

If this does not work, there are specialized products sold in automotive stores that may help. If you don’t have WD-40, baby oil makes a passable lubricant. Freezing the shoes can make the tar easy to scrape off.

Gasoline has been suggested, but it will make your shoes not only smelly but highly flammable. You may have to put in some time and effort, but it can be done.

Other Things You Can Use

You can get tar off beach shoes using lacquer thinner, old towels, and a screwdriver. However, take care to protect yourself and your clothes first by wearing an apron and rubber or plastic gloves.

You can try an oil-based substance to soften the tar to prevent damaging your shoes. This can include such various things as peanut butter, petroleum jelly, mineral oil, eucalyptus oil, vegetable oil, olive oil, margarine, or lard.

Make sure this will not stain your shoes further first by spot treating. Spoon the softener onto the stain and give it time to set. Tar can be melted with kerosene or lighter fluid, but like gasoline, this will make your shoes flammable.

Another good tip to remember is to clean the tar off as soon as you can. Tar is harder to remove the longer it stays on the shoes. Remember not to spray or wash the stain with nothing but water. This will only spread the stain and make it harder to remove. Don’t forget to rinse the shoes off when you are done cleaning them.

Did the Tar Get on the Carpet

If the tar gets on your shoes, it can very easily get onto your carpet. That can be hard to clean but not impossible. You will need warm water and detergent, cold water, paper towels, and a vacuum cleaner. Once you have all of that, follow these easy instructions.

  • Just as soon as you discover the tar stain, make sure that you remove as much of the stain as you possibly can. Blotting the stain can aid further in the removable of any tar residue.
  • Vacuum the tar stain to take care of any lingering particles.
  • To make a cleaning solution, mix warm water with a quarter cup of liquid dish soap.
  • Affix the cleaning solution right on top of the tar stain. Slowly and carefully work from the outside of the tar stain towards the center. See that you move slowly inward. In this way, you will not spread the stain any further into the carpet.
  • Rinse out the tar stain using very cold water. and repeat steps Repeat the above-listed process until the stain is completely gone.
  • Should the stain not be completely gone, you may have to seriously consider professional carpet cleaning. This uses special stain removal equipment.
  • If you are indeed able to utilize this method to completely remove tar from carpet, put a dry paper towel precisely onto the area that was affected Weigh the paper towels down and let them soak away any dampness from the carpet. Leave it to dry overnight.
  • Vacuum the area to finish the cleaning process.

If the stain is still being stubborn, you can loosen it up with some WD-40. The steps above are a good place to start when trying to get tar stains out of a carpet. If all else fails, you may need to bring in a professional.

Important Safety Precautions

If you are using something volatile or flammable, caution must be taken. Do not breathe the fumes of these chemicals. Use in an area that is not enclosed. Consider wearing a mask. Do not use these chemicals near an open flame or heat source.

Kerosene is not only highly flammable but the smell will be difficult to remove even after several washings. The same can be said of gasoline and similar chemicals.

Do not expose the fabric to heat until the stain has been removed completely. Otherwise, the stain may set. Only use cool air to dry until you are sure the stain is gone.

Suede, leather, fur, and leatherette should be professionally cleaned and treated. Sometimes, only a professional can get the job done. It might not cost as much as replacing the item.

To avoid more damage, read the care tag about cleaning care. It will tell you the type of cleaning process and temperature recommended.

If it says “no bleach” do not use bleach and perhaps think twice about anything else you use to clean stains. If it says “dry clean only” then you need to let the professionals handle it.

Remember to keep yourself safe. Wash your hands after handling chemicals before eating so you don’t accidentally poison yourself. Even with a plastic knife, you should cut away from yourself.


Tar is infamously difficult stuff to get rid of. It has historically been used by someone who wanted something to stick somewhere and stay there. However, it is possible to clean tar out of shoes. It may require some chemicals and of course old-fashioned soap and water. Freezing the tar first helps sometimes but you can also soften it up frost with an oil-based substance.

Of course, elbow grease might be the order of the day. You may have to exercise a good deal of patience and repeat the steps as necessary. It is not always easy to avoid tar. If you get some tar on your shoes, the above tips should help you get it out and wear your shoes longer.  If you need some additional tips to deal with stepping in gum, check out our six ways to remove gum from your shoes.


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