Laundry

6 tips for cleaning your shoes and sneakers at home

There's hope for your trendiest kicks

Credit: Getty Images / Vladimir Sukhachev

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There’s nothing that makes a casual outfit more chic than a brand new pair of bright white sneakers. Try kicking around in Adidas’ Ultraboost shoe—in cloud white. Yes, please. You can almost feel your feet glowing.

Unfortunately, after a couple of runs, those trendy Adidas’ will no longer glow. Shoes go through a lot of everyday wear and tear, whether you’re a city dweller, a suburban resident, or a devotee of the great outdoors. When cloud white starts to look stormy, thanks to dirt, scuffs, and stains, it’s time to take action to preserve your shoes.

Here's a question: Can you clean shoes at home?

Indeed. Cleaning up your favorite cotton or canvas shoes, say Toms, and sneakers—white or otherwise—is easier than you may think.

Using a few common household items, including, potentially, your washing machine, you can get your shoes looking fresh and clean once again. Here's how to do it.

1. Check your shoe’s material before washing

Not all shoes are made equal, and this is important to keep in mind before going for a “one size fits all” cleaning approach.

If you’re unsure about what materials are used in your shoe or sneaker, double check on the brand’s website. In general, most sneakers and casual shoes are made from materials like canvas and mesh, which are easy to clean.

Leather and suede need a different type of TLC, especially if they’re suffering from salt stains. We’ve tested the best cleaning methods for safely recovering your shoes. UGG boots, for example, can be washed in a washing machine, while leather top-siders need special cleaning like a water and white vinegar mixture as a gentle cleaning agent.

To clean waterproof shoes, like rainboots, use specialized cleaners and even a DWR (durable water repellent) coating to refresh the waterproof material.

For the ultimate guide to fabrics and how to appropriately clean them, we’ve got you covered.

2. Pretreat and pre-clean

Pretreat
Credit: Getty Images / Maksym Azovtsev

When you pretreat your stained shoes before fully washing, you have a better chance of getting out stains for good.

If your canvas shoes or sneakers have noticeable dirt or stains, you’ll want to pretreat those spots before washing and drying them.

Beth McCallum, from Oh So Spotless cleaning blog, says you can pretreat shoes by spot cleaning them using any mild liquid detergent on the affected areas. Use a soft-bristled brush or soft cloth to gently rub the detergent into the stain. Then let it sit for 30 minutes before rinsing it off.

If you don’t mind the muscle, you can clean your sneakers or canvas shoes completely per this method. “You may find that this is enough to spruce up your shoes, saving you a trip to the washing machine,” McCallum says.

3. Treat your washing machine well

Before tossing your shoes into the washing machine, it’s important to ensure you know what settings to use and what tools to have on hand to avoid potentially damaging your shoes.

Use cold water and choose a gentle cycle. Also, add about four to six towels to the load. This helps balance the cycle, and it prevents the shoes from slamming and thumping against the inside of the washing machine drum.

You can also put your shoes in a mesh shoe bag to keep them from tumbling about.
Always remove shoelaces, if applicable. Loose laces in a washing machine can easily get tangled and damaged. McCallum advises to toss them in their own mesh bag in the wash cycle to keep them safe.

Pro tip: Even though you may be tempted to use warm water for a thorough clean, McCallum recommends against it. “Warm and hot water can warp the shoes and melt any glue that holds the shoes together,” she says. Warm water can also cause discoloration or color bleeding, especially if the shoes have not been washed previously.

4. Wash your insoles—carefully

Insoles
Credit: Getty Images / belchonock

Use a soft brush to clean the soles and insoles of your shoes by hand. Then let them air dry.

You can and should wash your removable insoles every now and then. Instead of throwing these into the washing machine with your shoes, wash these by hand to prevent any damage.

McCallum recommends mixing a small bowl of cold water and a drop of gentle laundry detergent for the cleaning solution. Then, you can use a soft toothbrush to gently scrub the surface of the insole.

5. Deodorizing is part of cleaning, too

Smelly shoes are part of wearing shoes, unfortunately. However, there are ways to temper a shoe’s odor, and we’ve tried several at-home remedies.

Baking soda is a common fix when it comes to smelly canvas shoes or sneakers. (Do not use this method on leather and suede materials).

Gently shake a pinch of baking soda into your freshly cleaned shoe. Wait at least eight hours before shaking the baking soda back out. You should notice a difference in smell.

McCallum recommends adding a few drops of your favorite essential oil to your shoes for an extra boost. We know from experience that this can almost nearly mask any stinky smell that lingers.

6. One big don’t: Never use your dryer

Dryer
Credit: Getty Images / Maksym Azovtsev

Hot water and dryer heat can easily damage or warp your favorite pair of shoes.

Heat can be your shoes’ worst enemy.

Always air dry your shoes to avoid warping or glue coming off. Plus, dryers can be rough with excessive tumbling, making your shoes more susceptible to damage.

If you’re in a pinch to get them dry ASAP, try using a stand-alone fan aimed at the shoes, which should speed up drying time.

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