How to Clean Your Shoes in 6 Easy Steps

Product Care

Periodic cleaning will keep shoes looking (and smelling) their best. Here's how to clean shoes without damaging them.

Last updated: 18 November 2022
6 min read
How to Clean Your Shoes in 6 Easy Steps
Time Required
30 min
Estimated Cost
US$20

Supplies

  • Washing-up Liquid
  • Bicarbonate of Soda
  • Household Magic Eraser (Optional)
  • Leather Conditioner (Optional)
  • White Vinegar (Optional)

Tools

  • Shoe Brush
  • Toothbrush
  • Soft Clean Cloth
  • Suede Brush (Optional)

It's tough to keep shoes pristine without regularly cleaning them. The minute those new sneakers come out of the box, you'll want to wear them outside—where they'll pick up dirt, mud, scuffs and stains.

To ensure peak performance of a pair of sneakers over time, it's important to give them proper care and maintenance, including cleaning. Before getting started, place the shoes in a shoe tree or fill them with crumpled newspapers to help retain their shape during cleaning. Then, get to work.

These tips will help keep any sneakers—including lifestyle, basketball and running shoes—fresh and clean in just a few easy steps.

How to Clean Your Shoes, Step by Step

  1. 1.Use a Dry Brush

    How to Clean Your Shoes in 6 Easy Steps

    Remove loose dirt from the outsole, midsole and uppers using a dry, soft-bristled shoe brush. No shoe brush? No problem. A clean, spare toothbrush works fine.

  2. 2.Make a Mild Cleaning Solution

    How to Clean Your Shoes in 6 Easy Steps

    Mix warm water with a small amount of mild laundry detergent or washing-up liquid.

    For white and light-coloured shoes, you can also make an effective cleaning paste by mixing bicarbonate of soda and water in equal parts.

    Note: When it comes to using washing-up liquid, it's important to use caution and dilute it with plenty of water. On certain materials, using a high concentration of washing-up liquid can cause discolouration or strip out natural oils in the material.

  3. 3.Hand-wash the Laces

    How to Clean Your Shoes in 6 Easy Steps

    Remove the shoelaces and apply a small amount of the mild cleaning solution to them. Massage the laces with your hands, rinse, then dab dry with a soft cloth.

    (Related: 3 Easy Ways to Clean Shoelaces)

  4. 4.Wash the Soles

    How to Clean Your Shoes in 6 Easy Steps

    Apply the mild cleaning solution to a soft-bristled brush, toothbrush or face cloth. Clean the outsole and midsole thoroughly, taking time to clean every part of the soles. Dry with a soft cloth.

    Note: If you need to wash the insoles, remove them first and clean them with the solution, making sure you give them time to dry before putting them back into the shoes.

  5. 5.Wash and Blot the Uppers

    How to Clean Your Shoes in 6 Easy Steps

    Apply the mild solution to a soft-bristled brush, toothbrush or damp cloth to clean the uppers. Brush gently to avoid damaging the material.

    Once satisfied with the look, use a dry microfibre towel or soft cloth to blot and lift as much soapy moisture and dirt from the surface as possible. Repeat if necessary. Try to avoid drying by rubbing as it can wear down the shoe fabric or spread any remaining small bits of dirt.

  6. 6.Air-dry

    How to Clean Your Shoes in 6 Easy Steps

    Air-dry the sneakers at room temperature. Always allow shoes to dry completely before wearing them for your next workout or activity. For many shoes, it can take at least 8 hours for them to dry fully.

How to Clean Your Shoes in 6 Easy Steps

Make sure you brush off loose dirt with a shoe brush or toothbrush before washing the shoe with a cleaning solution.

Special Considerations for Different Materials

Following these basic cleaning steps will help achieve a clean look for a pair of sneakers, but certain fabrics and materials may need a little extra TLC. Here's what you need to know about using cleaners for different types of shoes.

  1. How to Clean Leather Shoes

    Leather shoes can stain easily, so it's important to clean them regularly. In addition to using a dry brush and mild washing-up-liquid solution, you may want to use a household magic eraser or leather conditioner to remove stains. Avoid scrubbing the shoes too hard, or you could damage the leather.
  2. How to Clean Suede Shoes

    Suede is notoriously difficult to clean. If you notice water marks, scuff marks, dirt or stains, it's probably time to give your suede shoes a proper cleaning. Use these recommended tricks and special tools to get the job done.

    Use a suede brush or towel to wipe away surface debris, working in the same direction as the material (rather than going against the grain).

    Use a suede rubber or pencil rubber to rub away any marks on the surface of the shoe.

    For stubborn stains, use a cloth dipped in white vinegar to scrub the fabric in alternating directions.
  3. How to Clean Knit Shoes

    Nike Flyknit shoes provide flexible support and breathability in many different types of footwear. To properly clean Nike Flyknit or other knit or mesh shoes, create a mild, soapy-water solution with soap that doesn't contain chemicals. It's best not to use bleach or other harsh cleaning products, since they can damage the material.

    Use a shoe brush or clean toothbrush to rub the solution in the same direction as the knit. Wipe off the soap with a clean cloth and repeat as necessary. Let them air dry and avoid the dryer, since excess heat can damage the shoes.

Shoe-Cleaning FAQs

Can I Wash My Shoes in a Washing Machine?

Nike does not recommend washing shoes in the washing machine. Properly hand-washing shoes is the best way to ensure they won't be accidentally harmed in the process. Delicate shoe materials can be damaged in the washer, and the heat from the dryer can deform a pair of shoes. Plus, it's possible to damage your washing machine by washing bulky items like sneakers

(Related: Can You Put Sneakers in the Washing Machine? Here's the Best Way to Wash Your Nikes)

How Do I Clean My Insoles to Reduce Shoe Odour?

From time to time, it may be necessary to clean your insoles. To do so, remove the insoles and use the same cleaning steps as for the outside of your shoes. Make sure you air-dry them completely before putting them back in your shoes. If odour persists, you may want to replace the insoles. Replacement insoles are available at many sports and shoe shops.

What if My Shoes Are Still Dirty After Cleaning?

If shoes still look dirty after following and repeating the recommended cleaning steps, it might be time for a new pair of sneakers. Running shoes, for example, should be replaced every 300 to 500 miles.

How Often Should I Clean My Shoes?

Your cleaning schedule depends on how often you wear the shoes and where your feet take you. To keep them in top shape, aim to clean your shoes every two weeks or whenever they start to look dirty. Regular maintenance can help reduce cleaning time.

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