Jan 07, 2024

How to Clean All Types of Shoes, According to Experts

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The cleaning tips you need to keep your favorite pair out of the trash.

Our shoes get dragged through the mud, grass and streets on a daily basis, so dirt buildup and stains are almost inevitable. But when you find a good pair of shoes that's comfy and stylish, a little routine maintenance is totally worth it.

Keeping your shoes squeaky clean doesn't have to be a big chore. Most of what you need to remove dirt and stains from shoes is already in your cleaning closet. If you’re going to invest in any new cleaners, prioritize protection. "When you apply a protection cream or conditioner to shoes it prevents stains, cuts down on cleaning time and helps them last longer," says Carolyn Forté, executive director of the Good Housekeeping Institute Home Care and Cleaning Lab.

When your shoes and their soles need a good cleansing, follow these steps and you can restore your sneakers, boots and heels to their original glory.

Durable, breathable and water resistant, leather is a natural choice for shoes of all styles. You’ll have them for the long haul if you follow these steps and remember to condition them regularly.

Expert tip: Use a soft cloth or cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol to safely and effectively remove ink stains or any dye transfer from denim or clothing.

White leather shoes can be whitened and brightened following the same leather shoe cleaning steps above. If you’re dealing with tough stains on white leather shoes, try this cleaning trick: Dip a wet soft-bristle brush or even your fingertip in baking soda and rub gently on the area. Wipe with a clean, wet cloth and let air dry.

Faux leather may not be as durable as genuine leather, but the synthetic surface is as easy to clean. Keep in mind that it is prone to cracking over time and can take on odors, so addressing stains and smells quickly will help your shoes last longer.

If you own a pair of white canvas sneakers, chances are they’re your go-tos, which also means you know how quickly they get dirty. While it's tempting to toss them in the washing machine, resist! Hand washing and air drying these shoes is the best cleaning method.

Expert tip: Don't clean white sneakers with bleach. It's too harsh for use on white sneakers and can create a yellow tint instead of restoring them to their original state. Read more tips for cleaning white shoes.

Dirt is usually the biggest culprit when it comes to mucking up your running and workout shoes. Besides compromising traction, which is important for safety reasons, stuck-on mud can leave messy footprints around your house. Avoid a floor-cleaning marathon with these simple steps.

Rinse clean with a warm well-wrung sponge. Frequently rinse the sponge as you work to remove any remaining dirt or soap.

Stuff with paper towels to dry. Keep the shoes indoors away from light and heat sources, which can cause discoloration or warping of the soles.

Spotting stains on suede gives most of us a case of the shoe scaries. But fear not! These tips will help you erase fresh stains and old stains from your new (or blue) suede shoes.

Expert tip: You can use an emery board to buff stains out of suede in a pinch. If the suede is matted, brush in the up direction to lift the fibers and the stain. Read more tips for cleaning suede shoes.

Patent leather shoes are magnets for unsightly streaks and scuff marks, and they’re usually not subtle. Take action at home (or on the go!) with these tips and tricks.

Buff dry with a clean, soft cloth.

Expert tip: You can shine up patent leather with a little petroleum jelly. Rub a dab on with a cloth and buff well with another dry cloth to remove any excess so it doesn't feel greasy.

Let's not forget about those grimy laces! You can place them in a mesh wash bag and then run them in the washing machine on a cold water cycle, or follow these steps to give them a quick refresh before threading them back through.

It's best to clean any shoes by hand, especially if they’re new. If you’re tight on time and want to refresh an old pair, you can try cleaning canvas sneakers in the washing machine but note they may shrink or lose their shape. Place them first in a mesh bag and add a few old towels to balance and buffer the load. Choose a delicate cycle with cold or warm water and a low or moderate spin speed. Stuff with paper towels to air dry away from heat and sunlight.

To remove dirt and odor, remove the insoles and place them in a mesh wash bag, then run in the washing machine on a cold water cycle. If you don't know if your insoles can be machine washed, you can also make a paste of baking soda and water and scrub them by hand with a soft-bristle brush or toothbrush, then rinse in cold water. Let air dry to prevent shrinking.

Make an at-home cleaner by combining equal parts white vinegar and water. Dip a cloth in the solution and dab the stained area of the shoes. Rinse with a water-dampened cloth and wipe with a dry towel. Let shoes air dry.

Taryn Mohrman is a freelance writer with over 15 years of experience writing for major consumer magazines, retailers and digital outlets, including buybuyBABY, Woman's Day, Parents and Redbook. She also specializes in content strategy and business development for B2Cs and startups, and has served as a consultant for companies in the home, fashion, beauty, tech, kids and gifts industries.

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What You’ll Need: Remove and clean the laces, if applicable. Brush off loose dust and dirt. Apply a mild soap or leather cleaner. Wipe clean with a damp paper towel. Clean rubber sides and trim. Buff dry. Condition the leather Expert tip: What You’ll Need: Scrub the bottoms and soles. Wipe down with soapy water. Follow with a clean, wet paper towel. Let air dry indoors. Condition to prevent cracking . Sprinkle on baking soda to remove odors. What You’ll Need: Remove and clean the shoelaces Brush away any loose dirt. Wash with soapy water and a soft brush Scrub out stains. Rinse in the sink . Clean the soles and sides. Stuff the sneakers with white paper towels Let the shoes air dry. Expert tip: What You’ll Need: Remove and clean the shoelaces. Brush away dirt, mud and grass. Scrub shoe uppers with soapy water. Rinse clean with a warm well-wrung sponge. Stuff with paper towels to dry What You’ll Need: Quickly treat new stains with baking soda. Brush or scrape away old stains If a stain still remains, use a suede cleaner. Gently brush the shoes to restore the suede nap. Clean rubber outsoles with a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. Apply a suede protector. Expert tip: What You’ll Need: Erase any streaks or marks. Remove stubborn spots with alcohol. Wash with soapy water to restore shine. Buff dry with a clean, soft cloth. Expert tip: What You’ll Need: Untie and remove laces from shoes. Soak in warm, soapy water. Scrub stubborn spots. Rinse with fresh water. Lay flat to dry.