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No matter how hard you try to keep them clean, shoes get dirty. And the more you wear them, the dirtier they get. 

Do you run out and buy a new pair of kicks when your shoes start looking dirty? It’s time to try a different approach. There are actually lots of different ways to clean shoes, no matter what they’re made of.

Ready to learn how? Here’s how to wash shoes without ruining them.

What are Your Shoes Made Of?

How you wash your shoes all depends on what they’re made from. Leather, faux leather and suede shoes can be washed by hand, while cotton, canvas and fabric shoes can be thrown in the washer. 

Before you even consider trying to wash your shoes, look inside and see if there is a care label or washing instructions. 

Lots of shoes have care labels on the inside. If your shoes have one, follow those instructions closely. At the very least, check the label for the materials and fabrics used. You’ll need to know what your shoes are made of before you can figure out how to wash them.

Not sure what fabric your shoes are made from? Depending on the brand, you might be able to contact the manufacturer to see exactly what they’re made of. In some cases, the manufacturer might even sell a cleaning product specifically for those shoes. 

At the very least, they should be able to recommend a safe cleaning process.  

Here are some general guidelines for how to wash shoes made from different materials:

Leather, faux leather and PVC shoes can only be cleaned with a few specific products. Never attempt to throw these in the washing machine! Even if your shoes only have a little bit of leather trim, they cannot go in the washer.

Cotton, canvas, polyester, and nylon shoes can be cleaned in a variety of ways, including in the washing machine. Just make sure there is no leather trim! If they have leather trim, you’ll need to wash them by hand.

Suede shoes cannot get wet. There are a few specific ways to clean suede and none of them include using water, soap or chemicals of any kind! 

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Throw Them in the Washing Machine 

Shoes in delicate washable bag being put in washer.

If you have fabric shoes or sneakers made from cotton, canvas, poly or nylon, you can clean them in the washing machine

Keep in mind that many shoe manufacturers use glue in the construction of sneakers and fabric shoes. Machine washing can cause that glue to loosen, so make sure you take a good look at the inside of your shoes before throwing them in the wash. 

If your insoles are glued down, you’re better off using the hand-washing method. 

Here’s how to clean shoes in the washer:

Start by removing the insoles and laces. If you leave these in, they’ll become a twisted mess when they’re tumbling around the washbasin. 

Scrub off any excess dirt and remove any mud from the soles. The cleaner they are when you put them into the washer, the cleaner they’ll be at the end of the cycle. 

Don’t just toss a pair of sneakers into the washing machine. Put them inside a mesh sweater bag or laundry bag so that they don’t bang around while during the wash, rinse and spin cycles.

Wash them in cold water with liquid laundry detergent. Use a delicate cycle, a no-spin cycle if you have one, or a medium setting with a slow spin cycle. 

The less they spin, the better. 

Unless you want a massive headache while your shoes are in the wash, add a few towels to the load. Stick with white towels or older towels that you've washed many times before. New towels can bleed their color onto your sneakers, defeating the entire purpose of cleaning them in the first place.

Adding towels to the cycle will also prevent your shoes from throwing the washer off balance in mid-cycle.

Let them air dry

When the washing cycle is complete, remove your shoes from the mesh bag and set them on a drying rack. NEVER put them in the dryer. Even low heat can cause your shoes to shrink. 

The only efficient method for drying shoes is to let them air dry.

Placing dry towels inside your wet shoes will absorb excess moisture and help them dry faster. You can also speed up the drying process by placing them in the sun. Only dry them in the sun if your shoes are white, as sunlight can cause colors to fade. 

Clean your laces separately

If your shoes are dirty, your laces are probably dirty too. To clean shoelaces, soak them in a bowl of warm, soapy warm for about one hour. 

Rinse them off, blot off the excess water, and let them air dry alongside your shoes. 

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How to Wash Shoes by Hand

Person scrubbing pink boots in a blue wash basin.

Don’t want to throw your sneakers or fabric shoes into the washing machine? Wash them by hand instead.

Get ready to scrub

To hand wash your shoes, fill a sink basin or a bucket with warm soapy water. 

Like the machine washing method, remove the laces and insoles and clean off any excess mud or dirt from the sides or soles.

Submerge your shoes in the soapy water and use a toothbrush or a small scrub brush to scrub off the dirt. Make sure you rub in the same direction of the fabric grain; otherwise you might damage the fabric. 

Once you’ve scrubbed all the dirt off, rinse the shoes in clean water. Stuff towels inside them to help absorb moisture and soak up all that excess water. 

Let them air dry!  

Break out the baking soda

A combination of water, baking soda and laundry detergent also make for an effective hand-cleaning shoe solution. 

If your shoes are really dirty and soap and water alone doesn’t work, break out the breaking soda. 

Combine one tablespoon of baking soda with ½ tablespoon of water and ½ tablespoon of laundry detergent. Mix it all up, dip a toothbrush in, and start scrubbing the dirt off your shoes. 

Get in all the nooks and crannies, including around the soles and around the grommets for the laces. Let your shoes sit overnight with this solution on. 

In the morning, wet that same toothbrush and scrub off the excess. Your shoes should look cleaner than ever!

As with all of the other cleaning methods, let your shoes air dry. DO NOT throw them in the dryer. 

How to Wash Leather Shoes

Person cleaning leather sandals.

While you can toss fabric shoes in the washer and clean them with ease, leather shoes require a bit more care. 

Never submerge leather shoes in water. Sure, you can use a dampened cloth to wipe off a spill or a fresh stain, but if you throw leather shoes into the washing machine you can be sure of one thing:

They’ll never fit your feet again.

It’s best to clean leather shoes with a leather polish. There are a lot of commercial products that you can buy to remove stains or buff worn-out shoes back to their natural shine. 

If you don’t have a leather cleaner on hand, you can use household ingredients. 

A combination of equal parts cold water and equal parts distilled white vinegar makes for an effective leather cleaner. This combination is especially useful on winter stains, such as snow marks and stains from rock salt. 

But there’s an even easier way to make your leather shoes look their best:

Protect them from stains before you ever wear them. 

The next time you buy a new pair of leather shoes, buy a leather protectant to go with them. Applying a leather protectant before you wear them can ward off all sorts of stains, spills, and scuffs. 

Related: How To Break In Boots [Complete Guide]

How to Clean Suede Shoes

Person cleaning brown suede shoes with a brush.

Who doesn’t love a pair of super-soft suede shoes? 

Suede shoes look and feel great; they’re also some of the hardest shoes to clean. 

Like leather, you can apply a suede protectant to your shoes before you wear them outdoors. Yet that’s no guarantee that stains won’t appear at some point.

Suede shoes cannot be cleaned with water. Instead, you’ll need to buy a soft-bristled brush to rub the stains away.

A soft brush is the best way to remove surface stains and dirt from suede shoes. If you own suede shoes that you wear on a regular basis, get in the habit of cleaning them after every wear. Brushing suede shoes regularly is a great way to prevent a buildup of dirt and stains.

Yet when you wear suede shoes, one thing is inevitable: you will spill something, drop something, or get caught in an unexpected downpour. And all it takes is a single drop of water to ruin a great pair of suede shoes. 

If your suede shoes have water stains, remove the excess water as quickly as possible. To do so, grab a dry cloth or towel and blot at the stain. 

Don’t rub it – that can make the stain spread even further! 

If you have oil stains on your shoes, you can remove it by using baby powder or cornstarch. Blotting your shoes with baby powder or cornstarch can absorb the stain and make it virtually invisible – if you catch it in time. 

Once you’re done blotting at the stain, rub gently with a dry towel or rub a soft bristle brush over the surface. 

Don’t have baby powder or cornstarch on hand? You can also use a suede eraser or even a pencil eraser to rub out a stain (if it’s small enough). 

Take Your Shoes to a Professional 

Professional cleaning shoes in shop.

Don’t think you can safely clean your own shoes at home? That’s okay – you don’t have to. 

When in doubt you can always take your shoes to a professional shoe repair service or a dry cleaner. They may not do the cleaning on-site, but they’ll know who to send your shoes to for a professional cleaning. 

Using a professional is a great idea, especially if you want to clean expensive shoes that you can’t afford to replace. 

And you certainly won’t be the first person to turn their kicks over to a pro for cleaning. Sneaker cleaning services are popping up in cities around the country. They know all of the best methods for removing dirt and stains off everything from canvas to leather to suede. 

Weekend Ritual in NYC, Sole Fresh in Jersey City and Jason Markk in Los Angeles are just a few of the premier sneaker cleaning services you’ll find on the east and west coasts. 

Don’t have a sneaker cleaning service in your town? Some shoe cleaning companies provide mail-in services. You can mail your shoes to them, they’ll clean them, and mail them back to you looking as good as new!

How Do You Wash Shoes?

How you clean your shoes all depends on what your shoes are made of.

If you have a cheap pair of canvas sneakers, throw them in the washing machine. Keep in mind, they’ll take some time to air dry. 

Need to clean leather or suede? There are a variety of DIY methods you can use. Just be careful that you only use products that are safe for use on leather or suede.

And if you have a pricey pair of kicks that you can’t easily replace, take them to a professional. From local dry cleaners to mail-in sneaker services, the professionals know how to clean all sorts of fabrics. 

A pro cleaning service will cost you, but if you want to bring your dirty sneakers back to pristine condition, it’s worth it! 

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Posted 
May 19, 2020
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