HOW TO WASH OLD SNEAKERS—WITH OR WITHOUT A WASHING MACHINE
Don’t ditch your favorite trainers over a little dirt. These tips will get your go-to sneakers looking brand new.
Part of the joy of being a sneakerhead is showing off your favorite pairs and wearing them regularly, teamed with everything from wild prints to a varsity-style jacket. Buying a fresh pair of sneakers to only keep them pristine in their box? Sorry, we don’t know her.
Which is why your go-to sneaks have probably seen better days (especially if you’re wearing them in winter weather conditions or putting them through the grind of a daily run). But cleaning your favorite pair without ruining them can feel intimidating and washing your shoes if you don’t have a washing machine might be a bit of a head-scratcher.
Not to worry. You can get your sneakers back to their original shade of white with a few expert tricks and pointers. Here’s how to wash your shoes using sneakerhead-approved strategies, so you can keep working your favorite look long into the new year.
CLEANING SNEAKERS IN A WASHING MACHINE
If you have easy access to a washing machine, your sneaker maintenance will be pretty simple for almost all types of materials. (One major caveat¬ is that your favorite leather or suede shoes should never go in the washer, since water can damage them.)
For canvas and mesh sneakers, start by using a brush or toothbrush to dry-brush any dirt or debris off the shoe surface. If the material is stained, spot clean it at this time. Next, remove the laces and insoles from your shoes. Insoles deteriorate faster if they’re washed in the washing machine, so avoid it when possible. Place your shoes in a mesh laundry bag, toss it in the machine and wash them in cold water with regular laundry soap on medium spin speed. For extra-stinky shoes, adding a cup of vinegar will help neutralize odors.
While you wait for your shoes to finish their cycle, soak the insoles and laces in warm, soapy water in a sink or bathtub. Rinse and let them air dry alongside your shoes. If the weather cooperates, let your non-leather and non-suede shoes air-dry in the sun, which can speed up the drying process and help neutralize any odors (the sun can damage or discolor leather and suede shoes, though, so beware). To further speed up the drying process, stuff your sneakers with white paper towels while they sit.
CLEANING SNEAKERS WITHOUT A WASHING MACHINE
Believe it or not, washing your shoes without a machine is less time-intensive than you probably think. Even better, cleaning your shoes by hand is safe no matter the material. Let’s break down your options.
How to wash suede shoes: The ultimate cleaning hack is using a simple pencil eraser. A gum eraser can usually remove any dirt particles or small marks on suede. Certain brushes may damage suede, so proceed with caution if you use a toothbrush. For tougher stains, dampen a microfiber cloth with white vinegar (less is more here; soaking your shoe in vinegar could damage it permanently) and press it into the stain. Let the stain dry fully, and repeat as necessary. Consider spraying your suede shoes with a suede protectant spray to keep them stain-free between cleaning sessions.
How to wash leather shoes: Cleaning leather shoes by hand is a must, since soaking them with water is a surefire way to ruin them. You don’t need a fancy shoe-cleaning kit to get the results you want—all you need are a few household items to get the job done.
To start, combine a quarter cup of hot water with a spoonful each of baking soda, dish soap and hydrogen peroxide in a medium bowl. Use a toothbrush to dip into the mixture, then scrub the shoe. Wipe it down with a damp paper towel when you’re finished. For extra-dingy shoes, let the cleaning mixture sit on your shoes overnight before wiping them off. For more cleaning details, check out how to clean Classic Leather shoes, here.
How to wash canvas shoes: Your favorite white canvas sneakers are pretty tough, so you don’t have to worry as much about damaging them while you clean them. To make your cleaning paste, mix three tablespoons of baking soda and one tablespoon of white vinegar together in a small bowl. Dip a toothbrush into the paste then scrub the canvas gently to remove dirt or stains, letting the paste dry and harden on your shoes. Once the paste is completely dry, wipe it off using a soft cloth or paper towel.
To tackle extra-tough stains (like grass stains), use a bleach pen and let it the solution sit on the canvas for about five minutes. Wash it off with hot water and dishwashing detergent.
How to wash mesh shoes: Mesh is a delicate material that can snag if handled roughly. Also, mesh shoes can lose their shape if they’re totally submerged in water, so don’t douse them.
Dip a soft cloth into a cleaning mixture of a quarter cup of liquid laundry detergent combined with a cup of warm water. Gently move the cloth in circular motions to clean your shoes, taking care to rinse the cloth regularly so stains don’t spread. (A bleach pen can help with stain spot treatments.) Use a fresh damp cloth to “rinse” your shoes, then stuff the insides with white paper towels to help the shoes retain their shape while they air dry.
Whatever they’re made from and however long you’ve had them, even the most-loved pair of sneakers will look a million times better with a little bit of care and attention. Make washing your shoes a regular part of your routine to keep them looking fresh.
/ FEBRUARY 2022
KRISTEN GEIL, REEBOK CONTRIBUTOR