Why you should never polish your shoes after a pint
It may sound bizarre, but you should never polish your shoes while drinking alcohol. Some shoe polish can contain solvents such as nitrobenzene. Nitrobenzene is toxic, and some evidence suggests alcohol makes the situation worse.
The US Environmental Protection Agency records one case of a man who, six weeks after severe nitrobenzene poisoning, slipped into a coma after drinking just one beer.
What is Nitrobenzene?
Nitrobenzene is a suspected human carcinogen. It affects the central nervous system, producing fatigue, headache, vertigo, general weakness and, in some cases, severe depression, unconsciousness and, at extreme levels, coma. Shoe polish can also contain methylene chloride. Memory loss and liver and kidney damage are reported with chronic exposure. Methylene chloride is a known animal and suspected human carcinogen.
Although the mechanism is not clear, a number of reports indicate that alcohol intensifies the methaemoglobinaemia* and other toxic symptoms induced by **nitrobenzene and aniline, chemicals commonly found in shoe polish.
How do I know if my shoe polish contains nitrobenzene?
It normally has a distinctive almond smell.
*(Gosselin et al.,
**(Von Oettingen, 1941)