May 08, 2023

How to clean white shoes (yes, we mean sneakers)

By Zak Maoui

Ah white sneakers! The holy grail of the sneaker world! Everybody (you, me, Timothée Chalamet and Harry Styles) has ‘em and rocks ’em, whether that's a simple pair of Adidas Stan Smiths, New Balance 550s or Vans' Old Skool Slip-Ons. But how, exactly, do you clean white shoes?

Because they sure look damn good upon their virgin wear. But unlike their darker counterparts (an unsung hero, may we add), just one afternoon of white sneakers or shoes can mark and muddy them to no end. The illusion is shattered. Your sneakers are suddenly second-rate. We all lose.

But we want you to win! Hence, the failsafe GQ guide to cleaning trainers.

You've essentially got two options when cleaning white sneakers or shoes. You can go down the traditional hand wash route or you can chuck your sneaks into a washing machine. Either way, preparation is key and you'll need to ensure you're using the right products if you want success.

Firstly, machine washing might be second nature to you now, but when washing white sneakers, you need to be careful, because you might just fuck up your shoes even more. Before tossing them into the drum, you need to remove the laces and ensure that excess debris and loose dirt have been removed (a couple of taps of each shoe over a bin should do the trick).

Not only will this protect your machine from damage, but it will also ensure that the water in the drum remains as clean as possible for the washing process. Your laces? Chuck them in a little purpose-built bag and into the drum. This way they won't get tangled up with one another or get damaged during the spin.

Once your white shoes are ready to be washed, remember that the friction of the drum on a pair of sneakers can do more damage than good. So select gentle wash. This will subject the sneaks to a slower speed in both the wash and spin cycles. One way to combat this is by buffering the sneakers with old towels or bulky clothes. What's more, you'll want to select a cool water wash, as heat can do damage to the glue keeping your shoes intact.

Go easy on the detergent! Use the same amount you would use to wash your bed sheets for washing white sneakers. Laundry detergent might seem like it's only there to do good with those stubborn stains, but too much of it can make your shoes much worse.

Excess soapy stuff will leave residue behind on your sneakers, which will leave more stains post-drying, and your white shoes will be even worse than when they went in. All of that, and it can also leave your shoes stiff and incredibly difficult to get back into.

When it comes to drying, avoid the heat. Never tumble dry. Let Mother Nature do her thing. Once you remove them from the machine, your sneakers should only be damp anyway, as the final spin cycle does away with the majority of the excess water.

To clean your white sneakers easily by hand, you've probably already got the products you need lurking under the kitchen sink. You'll need a sponge, a toothbrush, a microfibre cloth, a bowl and a liquid soap (the sort of thing you'd use to give your dishes a good wipe).

Firstly, remove the laces, as these can be soaked separately. Plus dirt often builds up around the eyelets and you'll want to get in and around them for the best results.

Fill a bowl with lukewarm (like above, never hot) water and add one tablespoon of liquid soap to the bowl to form a medium-strength lather. Using a cloth or toothbrush, gently scrub the shoe until clean, wipe off any excess water and leave to air dry for several hours. Use a sponge or cloth to wipe the gum soles and underfoot clean.

Like with machine washing, you should avoid using heat to dry your white sneakers post-wash. Instead, you can dab dry with a towel, or simply leave them to air dry.

There are plenty of shoe cleaners out there, each of which promises to be better than the next. Crep Protect is a tried-and-tested (by us, no less) brand led by shoe-cleaning experts. While it has multiple products on offer (sprays, scuff erasers etc), Crep Protect's wipes are the ultimate on-the-go sneaker care product. Each Crep Protect Wipe is individually wrapped, locking in the potent cleaning solution that helps to clean dirt, marks and stains. A rough side tackles stubborn stains, while a smooth side wipes away excess grime.

"We would never suggest cleaning any shoes with bleach as harsh chemicals can damage materials," explains Mark Haddon, Global head of PR at Crep Protect. "The Cure Kit is the best option as you can concentrate the cleaning on specific areas. Use the Premium Brush with Cure and warm water for cleaning, with the Microfibre Cloth to help remove any excess water or foam from the sneakers."

Similarly, Adidas has its own range of shoe care gear. Its foam cleaning solution is an easy way to clean white trainers and works on all materials including leather, suede, nubuck, canvas, vinyl and nylon. It's water-based and fast acting – just shake, spray and scrub clean with one of the German brand's long-lasting brushes.

And there you have it. A simple guide to how to clean white trainers effectively. Our advice? Wash once a month to keep them prim and proper. Thank us later.