How to Clean Shoes

how to clean shoes

Written by Sonia Su

I have a peculiar relationship with my shoes.

Unlike most people who rotate through their footwear, I wear mine until they literally fall apart. This habit of mine has actually taught me a lot about shoe care and maintenance.

Through years of wearing shoes to their absolute limit, I’ve learned how to clean and take care of them in ways that extend their lifespan and keep them looking presentable, even when they’re on their last legs.

In this article, I share my tips on how to clean your shoes with tried and true cleaning methods for tough stains or just your routine cleaning process for scuff marks and dirt.


Why Regularly Clean Your Shoes?

This article shouldn't be a reference just for emergency cleaning situations. Regularly cleaning shoes is crucial for several reasons.

Maintains Their Appearance

Shoes inevitably accumulate dirt, dust, and grime from daily use, and cleaning them regularly helps keep them looking fresh and presentable. This is especially important for formal or professional settings where a polished appearance matters.

leather shoes

Extends the Lifespan of Your Shoes

Dirt and debris can cause the materials to break down faster, especially if not removed promptly. For instance, mud left on leather shoes can dry out the leather, causing cracks and reducing the shoe's durability. Keeping your shoes clean, you help preserve their materials and structure, allowing you to wear them longer.

Prevents Odor and Bacteria Build-Up

Shoes can become breeding grounds for bacteria and fungi, especially if worn frequently and not allowed to dry out properly. Regular cleaning and airing out your shoes can help keep them hygienic and reduce shoe odor, which in turn reduces the risk of foot infections and unpleasant smells.

Allows You to Inspect Your Shoes for Signs of Damage

By routinely handling your shoes, you can spot issues like loose stitching, worn-out soles, or developing holes early on. This allows you to address minor problems before they become major repairs or lead to the shoes becoming unusable.

Reflects Personal Responsibility and Pride in Your Belongings

It demonstrates attention to detail and a proactive approach to maintenance, qualities that can translate to other areas of life.

Bottom Line of Cleaning Your Shoes

Regularly cleaning shoes is essential for maintaining their appearance, extending their lifespan, ensuring hygiene, identifying early signs of damage, and showcasing personal responsibility. It's a small effort that yields significant benefits, making it a worthwhile habit to cultivate.


How to Clean Suede Shoes

1. Brush Off Dirt: Use a suede brush to gently remove any surface dirt or stains. Brush in one direction to lift the nap and restore the texture.

suede shoes

2. Treat Stains: For tougher stains, use a white eraser or a special suede eraser to gently rub the stain. If the stain persists, you can use a small amount of white vinegar or rubbing alcohol on a clean, soft cloth, gently dabbing the stained area.

3. Restore Nap: After cleaning with the suede eraser, use the suede brush again to lift the nap and restore the shoe's texture. Brush in multiple directions for even coverage.

4. Apply Suede Protector: Once the shoes are clean and dry, apply a suede protector spray to help prevent future stains and water damage. Let the shoes dry completely before wearing them.


How to Clean White Shoes

1. Remove Laces and Insoles: Take out the laces and insoles from the shoes. You can wash the laces separately and clean the insoles by hand.

2. Pre-Treat Stains: Use a soft brush or soft cloth to gently scrub away loose dirt. Apply a mixture of baking soda and water or a mild detergent to any stains, letting it sit for a few minutes.

white boat shoes

3. Clean Shoes: For canvas or fabric shoes, you can place them in a mesh laundry bag and wash them in the washing machine on a gentle cycle with cold water and mild detergent. For leather or suede shoes, use a damp cloth and a small amount of mild soap to gently clean the surface.

4. Dry Shoes: Air dry the shoes by stuffing them with paper towels or clean cloths to help retain their shape. Avoid direct sunlight or heat sources, as they can cause the shoes to warp or discolor.

5. Clean Laces and Insoles: Wash the laces by hand or in a laundry bag in the washing machine. Clean the insoles with a mild detergent and water, then let them air dry completely before reinserting them into the shoes.


How to Clean Leather Shoes

1. Remove Dirt and Debris: Use a soft-bristled brush or cloth to gently remove any dirt, dust, or debris from the surface of the leather shoes.

2. Apply Leather Cleaner: Dampen a clean cloth with a small amount of leather shoe cleaner or a mixture of water and mild soap. Gently rub the cleaner onto the shoes in circular motions.

3. Wipe Off Cleaner: Use another damp clean cloth to wipe away the cleaner and any dirt that was lifted. Avoid soaking the leather.

how to clean leather shoes

4. Dry the Shoes: Let the shoes air dry naturally away from direct heat or sunlight, which can cause the leather to crack or fade.

5. Condition the Leather: Once dry, apply a leather shoe conditioner using a soft cloth to keep the leather supple and prevent it from drying out.

6. Polish (Optional): For added shine after the leather conditioner, apply a small amount of leather polish in a matching color, and buff with a clean cloth.


How to Clean Canvas Shoes

1. Remove Laces and Insoles: Take out the shoelaces and insoles. These can be washed separately or replaced if needed.

2. Brush Off Dirt: Use a soft brush to remove loose dirt and debris from the shoes.

3. Prepare Cleaning Solution: Mix warm water with a small amount of mild detergent or baking soda.

4. Scrub Shoes: Dip a cloth or brush into the cleaning solution and gently scrub the canvas shoes, focusing on stained areas.

5. Rinse: Wipe the shoes with a damp clean cloth to remove soap residue.

6. Air Dry: Stuff the shoes with paper towels to help them maintain their shape and let them air dry away from direct sunlight.

canvas shoes

7. Clean Laces and Insoles: Wash the laces and insoles separately by hand or in a mesh laundry bag in the washer. Let them air dry.


The Best Cleaning Products for Shoes

Choosing the best cleaning products for shoes depends on the type of material your shoes are made of. Here are some top recommendations for different types of shoe materials:

Leather Shoes

lexol shoe cleaner

Suede and Nubuck Shoes

  • Suede Brush and Eraser: A good suede brush, like the Kiwi Suede and Nubuck Kit, helps remove dirt and restore the nap of the suede. The eraser can remove scuffs and stains.
  • Suede Cleaner: Products like Jason Markk Suede Cleaner are specifically formulated to clean suede without damaging it.

Jason Markk Suede Cleaner

Canvas Shoes

  • Mild Detergent: A mild detergent mixed with water is often sufficient for cleaning canvas shoes. Just use a soft brush or cloth to scrub the dirt away.
  • Stain Remover: For tougher stains, use a product like OxiClean Versatile Stain Remover.

Athletic Shoes (Sneakers)

crep shoe cleaner

Patent Leather Shoes


Hi Gloss Brilliant Patent Leather Finish


General Shoe Cleaning Tools

1. Soft Brushes

Soft-bristled brushes, such as those from Reshoevn8r or Jason Markk, are essential for removing dirt and grime without damaging the shoe material.

2. Microfiber Cloths

Microfiber cloths are great for wiping down shoes and applying cleaners without scratching the surface.

3. Protective Sprays

After cleaning, use a protective spray like Crep Protect Spray or Scotchgard to repel water and stains.


Tips for Effective Cleaning

  • Always test a small, inconspicuous area first to ensure the cleaner does not damage the material.
  • Follow the manufacturer's instructions for each product.
  • Regularly clean and condition your shoes to maintain their appearance and extend their lifespan.


Can You Put Shoes in the Washer?

Whether you can put shoes in the washer depends on the type of shoes and their material. Here are some guidelines to help you decide if and how you should wash your shoes in the washing machine:

Shoes Suitable for Machine Washing

  • Canvas Shoes: Canvas shoes, such as Converse or Vans, are generally safe to wash in the machine.
  • Athletic Shoes: Most athletic shoes, including running shoes and sneakers made from mesh, nylon, or polyester, can be washed in the machine.

Shoes Not Suitable for Machine Washing

  • Leather Shoes: Leather, suede, and nubuck shoes should not be machine washed as the water and agitation can damage the material.
  • Dress Shoes: Formal shoes, such as those made of leather or patent leather, should be cleaned by hand or taken to a professional cleaner.
  • Shoes with Delicate Decorations: Shoes with sequins, embroidery, or other delicate decorations are not suitable for machine washing.

Steps for Washing Shoes in the Washer

  1. Remove Laces and Insoles: Take out the laces and insoles to prevent tangling and ensure a thorough clean. Laces can be washed separately in a mesh bag.
  2. Pre-treat Stains: Use a stain remover or a small amount of detergent to pre-treat any visible stains.
  3. Use a Mesh Bag: Place the shoes in a mesh laundry bag to protect them and the washing machine drum.
  4. Add Towels: Add a few old towels to the machine to balance the load and cushion the shoes during the wash cycle.
  5. Choose the Right Settings: Use a gentle cycle with cold water to prevent damage. Avoid using hot water as it can weaken the glue that holds the shoes together.
  6. Use Mild Detergent: Add a small amount of mild detergent. Avoid using bleach or harsh chemicals.
  7. Air Dry: After washing, let the shoe air dry. Do not put them in the dryer as the heat can damage the shoes. Stuff the shoes with newspaper or a towel to help them retain their shape and absorb excess moisture.

Additional Tips

  • Check Manufacturer’s Instructions: Always check the care label or the manufacturer's website for specific cleaning instructions for your shoes.
  • Spot Clean: For minor dirt or stains, consider spot cleaning with a damp cloth and mild detergent instead of machine washing.

For more on shoes, check out our guides on the best boat shoes and men's slip-on shoes.

Frequently Asked Questions about How to Clean Shoes

What is the best way to clean a shoe?

The best way to clean a shoe is to first remove any loose dirt or debris using a soft brush or cloth. Then, use a mixture of mild soap or dish soap and warm water to scrub the shoe gently, focusing on stained or dirty areas. For delicate materials, use appropriate cleaners and follow specific care instructions.

How to wash shoes without ruining them?

To wash shoes without ruining them, remove the laces and insoles, then use a soft brush to scrub off dirt. Hand wash with mild soap or dish soap and water, rinse thoroughly, and air dry away from direct heat sources. Avoid machine washing or drying as it can damage the shoes.

How do you clean dirty shoes without washing them?

To clean dirty shoes without washing them, start by brushing off loose dirt and debris with a soft-bristled brush or cloth. Then, use a damp sponge or cloth with a small amount of mild detergent or vinegar solution to gently wipe down the surface, followed by a dry cloth to remove any remaining moisture.

Can you put shoes in the washer?

Yes, you can put some shoes in the washer, but it's best to check the manufacturer's care instructions first. Generally, canvas or synthetic shoes can be washed on a gentle cycle with cold water and mild detergent, while leather or suede shoes should be cleaned by hand.

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