How to Properly Clean Sneakers: A Complete Guide

An in-depth guide on how to properly clean sneakers How to Properly Clean Sneakers: A Complete Guide

Tennis shoes, sneakers, whatever you call them, they are not just for athletes and tennis players. Everyone can have them and use them quite frequently. It doesn’t matter if you happen to need special shoes for any type of sport that you participate in, or if you are just a fan of them, they will all need to be cleaned every once in a while. The good news is that it is easy to clean this type of shoe and only takes a few steps. There are a few different ways to clean them too, and we will talk about some of them in the next few paragraphs.

Both fabric and leather tennis shoes are able to be washed right in your washing machine unless the manufacturer specifically warns you not to do this. When it comes to standard top loading washing machines, just put your shoes in with the next load of towels you wash. They will assist in keeping the machine balanced with the weight of the shoes. If you have a front loader or a high-efficiency top loading washing machine, there won’t be a huge need to balance it.

Remove Insoles and Laces

Most of the time, the dirtiest part of a shoe is the lace. Start your shoe cleaning project off right by taking the shoelaces out of the shoes. If you use any sort of removable inserts or insoles, take them out as well. You can put the laces into a mesh type laundry bag and then just throw them in with any load of laundry.

If you notice that the laces are worn out or really nasty, you might just want to replace them. This won’t be a huge cost.

Insoles need to be taken care of separately. Take them out of the shoes and then just wipe them down using a cloth that you have dipped in a solution of baking soda and warm water. This solution is easy to make too. Just add a tbsp of baking soda to a cup of warm water. Once you have wiped the insoles down with this solution, allow them to dry by themselves while you take care of the rest of the shoes.

Maybe you notice that your insoles are particularly odiferous. If this is the case, simply sprinkle them (as well as the inside of your shoes) with baking soda. This will absorb any excess moisture along with the odor. Do this on a regular basis, not just when you clean your shoes.

Wash the Shoes

Most of the time, sneakers will go through your washing machine without a problem. If you aren’t sure though, check the website of the manufacturer. Nearly all of them will give you instructions on cleaning their shoes.

Start by rinsing off the outside of your shoes using cool water. This should remove any of the loose soil and/or dirt.

When you get ready to wash them, put them into one of your mesh laundry bags and wash them with a heavy-duty detergent in warm water. Tide and Persil work well. Put them in with a load of towels that have similar coloring. If your washing machine has final speed spins that are adjustable, choose the lowest speed in order to keep the machine from getting unbalanced.

Maybe your shoes were a bit pricey and they are still new. If that is the case, it will be a bit gentler if you wash them by hand. To do this, you can use a brush with soft bristles, as well as a solution of warm water and a mild liquid detergent. You will need to scrub both the outside and the inside of each shoe. If there are scuff marks on shoes made from faux leather or leather, one of those Magic Erasers (Mr. Clean), can work wonderfully. Just use a soft touch and wipe any residue away with a damp cloth.

In the Dishwasher

When you are searching online for how to clean your tennis shoes, you might run across an article or two that will recommend using your dishwasher. The thing is, it really is possible to put things like shower shoes and athletic shoes into your dishwasher. Is this something that you should be doing? Not at all.

Yes, the mechanical spray action combined with the hot water will get rid of the soil, the detergents used in dishwashers can be too harsh for shoes though. They can cause synthetics and cottons to fade while ruining leather. Additionally, the high heat involved with the drying cycle can actually cause some shoes to shrink and melt parts of them. It is best if you skip this method of cleaning them.

Drying Your Shoes

Never put your sneakers into a clothes dryer on high heat. The heat can actually cause them to lose the shape while also having an affect on how they fit and support your foot. To dry the, put them in a space that is well-ventilated or use the dryer cycle that is just regular air.

If you want to retain the shape of the shoe and/or help to prevent any sort of color transfer, you might stuff them with white paper or white towels made from cotton. Do not use newspapers for this part because the next day after using the shoes, you will find ink from that newspaper on your socks.

If the shoes you are drying are made from leather, try not to put them in direct sunlight. This is because the heat from the sun can dry the leather too quick and make it crack. However, if you want to speed up the process of drying the shoes, you can use a circulating fan.

Sprucing Them Up

When the shoes are totally dry, you might want to use a bit of black, white, or other appropriately colored type of shoe polish in order to touch up any possible scuffs on leather parts. If you are in a pinch, you might even use a permanent marker to hide those issues.

For tennis shoes made from real leather, using a leather conditioner on them can help the leather remain supple and keep it from cracking. If your shoes are made from canvas, a protective fabric spray, such as Scotch Guard, can assist in repelling dirt and possible stains from one cleaning to the next. Both of these products can be found online as well as at many shoe stores and grocery stores.

Disinfecting Them

If you have concerns regarding the fungus that causes athlete’s foot, or any sort of bacteria, disinfecting your shoes while you are cleaning them might be a good idea.

The pine oil type disinfectants, which can be extremely effective when combined with warm or hot water, are safe for use with tennis shoes, and they will not cause any damage to the leather or fabric. Just add them to the washing machine at the beginning of the washing cycle. If you want this to be extremely effective, use a product that has at least 80% of the pine oil.

Disinfectants that are phenolic, like Lysol, are also effective when combined with warm or hot water. You can add these either to the wash or rinse cycle. If you decide to add it during the rinse cycle, make sure that you set the temperature of the rinse water to warm.

Once you have finished cleaning your shoes, make sure that you also wash your gym bags and socks with the same products. This prevents spreading any sort of fungus or bacteria.



Ask anyone who knows, if you want to wear your tennis shoes and sneakers, you need to ensure that they are fresh and clean every time you wear them. That isn’t something that is necessarily easy. This is especially true if you wear them out during the night, where you can get drinks spilled on them, scuff the toes, or even just expose them to the typical grime and grit of dive bars or your favorite clubs.

That being said, you can also get them dirty by just walking to the corner store or around the block. This can test your determination to keep them looking great. Now, above, you saw directions on how to clean them in the washing machine. Not everyone agrees that this is a good way to clean them though.

If you don’t happen to be knowledgeable when it comes to cleaning sneakers, you can always just purchase a sneaker kit. Jason Markk is one brand of kit that will give you everything you need to keep your shoes pristine.

You might also follow a few hacks that take your normal household items and transform them into your shoes’ best friend. Face it, you might never have considered lighter fluid for uses other than getting your grill started, but the fact is, it can be used for many things. The same holds true for peanut butter. Keep reading.


Your shoelaces need just as much care as everything else. This is especially true if they are white. Just wash them in cold water. If you will be putting the laces in your washing machine, put them in either a wash bag such as what you would use for delicates, or a pillowcase.


This can arguably be the funkiest part of a shoe, and it needs a bit of love just like the rest of the shoe. At times, you might just need to air it out, but for especially ripe smells, take the insoles out and put them into a closed box along with some baking soda to get rid of the funk.


We all know that you shouldn’t get suede wet. However, since most of the time, tennis shoes are mass produced, suede on them can be easy to clean. For less than $10, you can get a suede brush and eraser at many shoe stores and online. You can rub the water spots and stains out with the eraser and then just brush the dust from the eraser away with the brush.


The outsoles are easy to clean. You can use a solution made from 30% water and 70% dish soap. First, wet them using a spray bottle and scrub them with a brush. Next, scrub them with the dish soap until they are clean. Spray the water on them again to get rid of the grime and dirt. Now, dry them with a towel. Remember to always brush in the same direction as the lines of the outsole.


You can use the same process for this part of the shoe as you did for the outsole. Just use a softer brush. Most shoes are not injection dyed. This means that if you use anything that can be too abrasive, the midsoles can crack. If your midsoles happen to be white and have excessive marks, try using one of the Mr. Clean erasers that we discussed above.

Excessive Creases

Everyone says that you need to wear those kicks, but sometimes the creasing can get to be a bit excessive. If you want to protect the toe boxes after you have worn them, you might put some cedar shoe trees in them combined with sneaker shields made from plastic. This allows the shoe to resettle as you store it.

Plastic Trim

Many people don’t know the true power of peanut butter. It contains oils that give plastic a shine that looks natural while being able to remove 99% of the chemical oxidation that can occur in plastic. You can use this on the plastic trim of your shoes as well as on the FuelBand. Just ensure that you are using creamy peanut butter.

Removing Gum or Paint

At times, you can get gum or stains on the mid- or outsoles that just won’t come off. You can try using lighter fluid for this but be extremely careful with it. Depending on the shoe, you can also remove the splatter paint used by the manufacturer. Only use this for extreme cases and only in an area that is well ventilated.

Keeping your shoes looking brand new, doesn’t need to be difficult as long as you don’t let them get too dirty in between cleanings. It just takes a bit of know-how and the determination to do it.


  1. YouTube, How to Clean Flyknit and Primeknit Sneakers
  2. Tips Bulletin, How to Clean Sneakers
  3. Esquire, Yes, You Can Machine wash Your Sneakers