How to Clean Shoes

Dirty blue sneakers.

People place a lot of emphasis on shoes. You know, what brand, what color, what style, etc. Probably too much emphasis. But whatever. In my opinion, shoes are that one finishing touch that brings a person all together. I’m not trying to Gump out on you here, but I do think you can tell a lot about a person by their shoes. Generally, you can get a pretty good idea about what kind of personality they have, what they do, and sometimes even how much cash they’re pullin’ in. Not that it matters a good God damn; I’m just sayin’. So, if you have dirty or stained shoes, what’s that saying about you?

Sometimes it ain’t saying a damn thing. You just happened to be wearing a particular pair of shoes on a particular day, were unlucky enough to step in dog shit, and now you need to know how to clean shoes. Probably it wasn’t actually doody you stepped in. More than likely, the shoes in question have just gotten dirty, scuffed up, or both through continued use and improper shoe care. This is where I come in. This article has been designed to be an overview for cleaning shoes of different types. For each type there will be a brief description for the specific shoe-cleaning methods involved. There will also be, or will soon be, a link that will guide you to a page containing a more in-depth guide for washing shoes of that particular variety.

How to Clean Your Shoes

  1. White Athletic ShoesHow to clean white shoes. For cleaning white shoes, or to clean tennis shoes or other white athletic shoes, often the only things you need are a rag, some warm water, detergent, an old soft toothbrush, and some whitening toothpaste. Start by removing the laces and soaking them in some warm water and laundry detergent. Next, grab a soft rag, dip it in some warm warm water mixed with detergent, squeeze out the excess, and start wiping. Re-dip often to rinse the dirt out of the rag. After that’s done, put a little whitening toothpaste on your old soft toothbrush and gently brush all of the white spots on your shoes in a circular motion. Do this for the soles as well as the uppers. When done, use a clean rag dipped in fresh water to wipe the toothpaste off with. Finally, remove your laces from the water/detergent mix, rinse them in the sink, allow them and the shoes to dry, re-lace, and enjoy.
  2. lady's leather shoesHow to clean leather shoes. Cleaning leather shoes that are smooth is really quite easy. If the shoes have laces, remove those first. Second, grab a soft shoe brush and use it to go over the entire surface of the shoe. This will help remove dust and dried-on dirt. After that, put about two cups of room temperature water into a bowl and add one good squirt of gentle pH-neutral hand soap like Method or Ecover. Gently stir in the soap. Grab a rag, dip it in the mixture, and squeeze out the excess so that it is only slightly damp. Next, re-dipping frequently and always using a clean section of rag, go over the entire outer surface of the shoe. Once it’s been completely wiped down, go over it again with a new rag dipped in straight fresh water to remove the soap. Using one more soft rag, wipe the shoes dry. Once dry, be certain to recondition the leather and, if desired, give it a good polishing.
  3. blue suede shoesHow to clean suede shoes. People, for no good reason, get nervous when it comes to cleaning suede shoes. It’s actually pretty easy. For general dirtiness or muddiness, let the shoes dry first and start with a clean towel or a suede brush, and go over the entire shoe with it. Make sure to run the towel or brush in one direction only. This will not only raise the nap, it will also help remove dirt. After brushing, go over any bad spots with a suede eraser. This will transfer most spots from the shoe to the eraser. For scuffs, rub back and forth over the scuff with your suede brush. If you’re trying to remove water marks, wet the entire shoe down with a damp rag, wipe any excess water off with a sponge, stuff the insides of the shoes with a shoehorn, white tissue, or blank newsprint so they retain their shape, allow the shoes to dry slowly in an area without sunlight or direct heat, and finally, once dry, brush them in one direction with a suede brush to restore the nap. Always apply suede protector to your shoes after cleaning.
  4. white canvas shoesHow to clean canvas shoes. A pair of canvas shoes is one of life’s little necessities. They’re cheap, comfortable, easy to care for, and easy to clean. For dirty canvas shoes, start by removing the laces and clapping the soles of the shoes together outside to remove excess dirt. Fill a 2-cup measuring cup with warm water, add about a teaspoon of mild dish soap (Seventh Generation), and drop the laces in for a good soak. Next, grab a soft-bristled brush like those used for cleaning suede, and brush every surface of you canvas shoes to remove surface dust. After that, rinse your shoes inside and out in the sink with warm water. Next, make a thick paste of baking soda and water (you will only need enough to fill a one-cup measuring cup) and mix in about a tablespoon of mild detergent. Use an old, soft toothbrush and your shoe cleaning solution to gently scrub at the canvas. Use plenty of the cleaner, and you’ll have more than enough. Once clean, rinse the shoes thoroughly in the sink with cool water. Stuff the shoes with white tissue or blank newsprint, and set them somewhere out of the sun and away from direct heat to dry. Finally, remove your laces from the soap and water, work as much of the dirt out of them as you can, rinse them, and lay them out to dry.
  5. high heeled satin shoesHow to clean satin shoes. Alright, I’m not gonna lie to you—cleaning satin shoes is dangerous business. Satin is an extremely delicate fabric that can be easily damaged by attempting to clean it by yourself. For this reason, I strongly recommend you get them cleaned professionally. However, if you want to wash shoes of satin yourself, I have some suggestions for you. First, grab a nylon stocking, put it on your hand, and wipe your shoes down with it in a circular motion to remove surface dust and dirt. If more cleaning is needed after this, spray your shoes down really well with seltzer water. Often this is enough. If, however, it is not, fill a large mixing bowl with cool water and gently mix in a couple tablespoons of gentle dish soap like Seventh Generation or Method, submerge the shoes one at a time, allow them to soak for five minutes, remove them, and scrub them down as gently as possible with the softest bristled brush you can find. Rinse the shoes with cool water to remove all the soap, stuff the insides with plain white tissues, paper towels, or blank newsprint so they’ll hold their shape, and set them somewhere out of the sun and away from direct heat to dry. Many people, rather than risking damage to their satin shoes, choose instead to have them dyed a darker color.
  6. Box of Baking PowderHow to clean smelly shoes. Regardless of what your shoes are made of, one thing is inevitable—eventually, they’re gonna stink. And, as everyone knows, stinky shoes are gross. If you don’t give a rip about learning how to wash shoes and just want to know how to deodorize those dogs, this is one of the simplest things you can do to care for shoes. First, locate your shoes. If you can’t find them, close your eyes and follow your nose. Second, find some baking soda. Third, pour a few tablespoons of baking soda into each shoe. Fourth, go outside and shake ’em up so the baking soda gets everywhere inside. Try hard to keep as much of the soda in the shoes as possible. Fifth, let them sit overnight with the baking soda in them. Sixth, go back outside and shake the baking soda out of them. Seventh, bask in the freshness that are your shoes.

More Tips for Washing Shoes

  • Saddle soap, which generally contains a mild soap plus lanolin, beeswax, glycerin, and neatsfoot oil is frequently and highly recommended to clean and condition shoes of leather.
  • For really stubborn stains on suede shoes, rubbing gently with super fine grit sandpaper will often remove them. Keep in mind that this will probably leave a lighter-colored patch on your shoes. Also keep in mind that a light patch is often preferable to a stain.
  • Apply a weather-proofing spray before wearing leather or suede shoes and every time after cleaning.
  • Never put shoes in the dryer. The heat can damage shoe adhesive, and the tumbling, while generally safe for cats, can scuff and damage your shoes.
  • While I do not recommend it, since it can damage the adhesives that hold shoes together, many people will wash tennis shoes and canvas shoes in the washer. If you feel you must, wash them along with a load of laundry (sheets, towels) and encase them in their own pillowcase or mesh bag.
  • A 50/50 solution of white vinegar and salt is commonly used for washing shoes. It can be dabbed gently onto suede or canvas with a soft rag, cotton ball, or cotton swab to remove stains. After spot washing, rinse the area by dipping a clean white rag in distilled water, ringing out most of the water, and gently wiping the spot.
  • DO NOT use oven cleaner, drain cleaner, toilet cleaner, or bleach to clean shoes with. These are highly caustic chemicals that will break down fabrics and adhesives, and seriously diminish the life span of your shoes.
  • Baby wipes work very well for cleaning the soles of shoes.
  • Never dry shoes in the sun. It can cause fading, over drying, and cracking.

Clean My Shoes . . . Naturally

bottle of olive oilOlive oil. After washing leather shoes or boots, polish them with olive oil. Pour a little on a rag, wipe it into the leather, and buff it with a clean, dry rag or chamois. Olive oil shines and moisturizes leather without the use of petroleum distillates and other nasties.

bag of wonder breadWhite bread. A rolled-up ball of cheap-ass white bread can be used in place of a suede eraser for cleaning spots and stains on suede, canvas, and even satin shoes. After the dirt has transferred from the shoe to the bread, apply a little jelly and enjoy.

jar of mink oilMink oil. Although kinda gross (it’s actually made from rendered mink fat) this stuff is great for cleaning, weatherproofing, and conditioning leather. Use it straight or, as with SofSole Mink Oil (sold on Amazon), mixed with beeswax and tallow.