How To Wash Sneakers So They Look Brand-New: Tips for Machine & Hand Washing

Photo: Getty Images/Aleksandr Zubkov

Keeping a pair sneakers clean is no easy task. And if you're not sure how to wash your sneakers, it can be even more difficult to keep them in good condition and generally extend their wearability. You don't have to be a sneakerhead to understand the ins and outs of proper shoe maintenance. There are more than a few easy ways to make your favorite pair of sneakers—no matter the color—look brand-new again.

Whether you need to restore your formerly fresh white sneakers or you're hoping to make dull colors pop on your exercise shoes again, all it really takes to get the job done is a few different materials you might already own. And get this: There's even a way to use your washing machinehello, timesaver—without causing any damage to your beloved sneaks. When you're ready to give your kicks a serious makeover, here's how to wash sneakers at home.

Experts In This Article
  • Jamie Hyam, associate product manager at The Sole Supplier
  • Shawn Ashby, former laundry brand manager at Whirlpool

How to wash you shoes in the washing machine

1. Check the material of your shoes and the manufacturer's care instructions when possible

According to Shawn Ashby, former laundry brand manager at Whirlpool, not all shoes are safe to toss in the washer. Canvas-style kicks and athletic sneakers made with materials like nylon, cotton and polyester are naturally more durable and shouldn’t be affected by laundry detergent. However, styles made of suede, rubber and or vinyl will most likely need to be hand washed.

2. Remove laces and/or insoles

This helps ensure that your laces and insoles won’t get “tangled up or wrapped around other moving parts” in your laundry, Ashby says.

3. Put the shoes in a mesh garment bag

The last thing you want is your shoes wildly tumbling about in the washing machine. Putting them in a bag helps prevent your kicks from getting damaged and allows them to be safely cleaned with other articles of clothing.

4. Pre-clean your shoes

If your laces and insoles are exceptionally dirty, give them a good scrub down beforehand. For this step, Ashby recommends using Swash Laundry Detergent ($16) and a soft brush to scrub away the excess dirt and filth before washing.

5. Place your washer settings on the delicate, cold water cycle

Hot water can potentially distort the shape of your shoes and cause the colors on your kicks to fade. That said, it’s best to wash your shoes in cold water and select a slow spin or no-spin option. This not only protects your shoes from getting banged up in the machine, but it also allows for a more even wash all around.

6. Let them air dry

“Using a dryer is not recommended unless you have a dryer rack, as the heat and tumbling can damage or warp your shoes,” Ashby says. However, if you need to get your shoes dry ASAP,  Ashby recommends “wrapping your shoes in old towels” and setting your dryer to a "delicate or air fluff setting.” This helps them dry quickly and protects them from potential damage. Please note, it can take more than 24 hours for your shoes to finish drying. To help speed things up, stuff a piece of cloth or a few paper towels inside your sneaks to absorb any excess moisture.

How to clean shoes with baking soda and a toothbrush

If your white sneakers could use a refresher, you can easily make a DIY solution to remove dirt and stains. This includes a mix of baking soda, white vinegar, and warm water, says Jamie Hyam, associate product manager at The Sole Supplier. Use this to together with a toothbrush or any brush with medium firm bristles to help lift stains and erase scuff marks on your shoes. Hyman explains the process below:

"Start by brushing some of the surface level dirt off of your shoes. Then, dip your brush into the water, apply a small amount of the solution to your brush and then quickly dip it back into the water. Brush the shoe in a circular motion similar to brushing your teeth to create a lather with the solution. A particular focus should be placed on the midsole of the shoe, as this can be a little tougher to get clean. Once you are finished, wipe clean and repeat as needed."

How to hand wash your sneakers

Not so sure about throwing your precious sneakers in the washing machine? There's a simple way to hand wash them, too. Fill up your sink with warm water and some laundry detergent, then soak your shoes. According to Reddit users, using a toothbrush can help remove any dirt that's built up. Then after they look squeaky-clean, set them out to air-dry.

At the same time, different materials require different cleaning techniques. For example, suede shoes should be in contact with as little water as possible. According Hyam, using a suede brush ($7) or eraser is the best way to clean these styles. The brush has a unique set of bristles that help gently remove dirt, water spots, and scruff marks without messing up the shoe's natural design.

"When using the suede brush, gently brush the suede material in different directions until you remove the stain," Hyam explains. "Once it's looking how you want it, you need to make sure you brush all the suede back in one direction to preserve the nap of the material."

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