A method to detect optical modes from vertical InGaAs nanowires (NWs) using cross-polarization microscopy is presented. Light scattered from the optical modes in the NWs is detected by filtering out the polarized direct reflection with a crossed polarizer. A spectral peak and a valley were seen to red-shift with increasing NW diameter in the measured spectra. The peak was assigned to scattering from the TE01 optical mode and the valley was an indication of the HE11 mode, based on finite-element and scattering matrix method simulations. The cross-polarization method can be used to experimentally determine the spectral positions of the TE01 and HE11 optical modes. The modes are significantly more visible in comparison to conventional reflectance measurements. The method can be beneficial in the characterization of NW solar cells, light-emitting diodes and lasers where precise mode control is required.