Pretty much every person I know owns at least one pair of white sneakers. And when I’m walking down the streets of New York City, dozens if not hundreds of white sneaks pass by me as I strut about in my own white Vans. But here’s the thing: Almost none of these white sneakers that I see all day everyday are actually white anymore.
Which means that the majority of white sneakers out there are actually a variety of off-white/cream/pale beige hues. That’s not to say you can’t rehabilitate them back to brand-spankin’ new white, though—there are plenty of cleaning hacks out there. You can use baking soda, a washing machine, or some elbow grease—but the easiest way to clean white sneakers is one I just learned about, and it involves something you definitely already have handy: dish soap.
It sounds weird, since your dish soap is typically used on, well, your dishes and not stuff in your wardrobe—but Maeve Richmond, founder of home organizational company Maeve’s Method, says it’s great for your white sneaks.
“Sure, dish soap seems like it should only be used for pots and pans, but it’s actually a great all-purpose cleaning tool for the home…including shoes,” she tells me. That’s because of the magical cleansing agents within it. “The primary active ingredient in dish soap is detergent, so when mixed with water, it creates light, foamy bubbles which are great for penetrating stains and breaking down oils.” AKA all that street-derived gunk from the street that dirty up your white sneakers.
So here’s how to use it to make them look fresh: “To make white sneakers look like new again, mix a small squirt—no more than a teaspoon—of dish soap into a cup of water and stir until it’s frothy,” says Richmond. “Then use a clean, damp sponge or toothbrush to gently rub the mixture on all surfaces, including the soles.”
To dry them up, she recommends using a dry, clean sponge or a paper towel to wipe them as you’re cleaning them. “It may take a few tries to pull dirt and stains from some areas, so be patient,” she says. Also, maybe opt to take those laces out before you work. “You may wish to remove any laces before you do,” adds Richmond. “And, if stains are stubborn, add a little white vinegar and baking soda into the mix for an added whitening effect. Just make sure not to saturate your sneaks as you go—just clean gently and do small areas at a time.”
Now who has the freshest white sneaks on the street?
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