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Birkenstock and more: How to keep your leather sandals looking fresh and clean

Tips for maintaining your summer leather footwear

How do you upgrade your footwear when you are wearing sandals? You put the foam thongs and rubber footbeds in the closet and invest in a great pair of leather sandals. Of course, if you are upgrading to a pair of leather sandals, there are some other things to keep in mind.

The first is the maintenance for a pair of leather sandals, which requires much more attention and focus than any other sandals. While we will go through how to clean sandals throughout this article, the other consideration is that you can and should wear these sandals differently. So before we dive into how to maintain these new leather additions, let's talk briefly on how to wear them.

Difficulty

Easy

Duration

10 minutes

What You Need

  • Old toothbrush

  • Rag or old towel

  • Small bowl

  • Baking soda

  • Dish detergent

  • Warm water

How to wear leather sandals

Ok, let's get this first part out of the way. While it is trendy right now to wear white socks with your rubber sandals and/or your Crocs, leather sandals should always be the holdout. Once you have accepted that you must manicure your feet, you can focus on what to wear with the sandals.

Shorts - This will be your most casual look and you can pair this with a T-shirt or polo, depending on the level of dress you aspire to.

Jeans - Whether you wear your sandals with a T-shirt or polo in this scenario, consider cuffing your jeans to show off some ankle.

Chinos - The best way to approach this is to wear them similarly to your jeans, but add a button-up to level up the outfit's look and keep the chinos a slimmer cut.

Tailored pieces - While you can get away with a linen suit with leather sandals in some environments, it's best to stick to summer-weight sportscoats and casual dress pants and chinos in more elevated situations.

Black leather sandals
Mike Bird/Pexels

Scrub the footbeds and sides

The dirtiest part of your sandals will always be the footbed so that is the best place to start cleaning. Whether your footbed is made of leather or another material like cork, the cleaning process will be the same.

This step will do most of the work toward removing any smells as well.

Step 1: Create a cleaning solution by combining 1 part baking soda and 2 parts warm water into a small bowl. Then add a small squirt of dish detergent. You will probably need 1 tablespoon of baking soda per sandal, so 2 tablespoons for a pair, 4 tablespoons for two pairs, and so on.

Step 2: If the straps or uppers of your sandals open then open them up for better access to the footbeds. If they do not, don't worry, it will still work.

Step 3: Using an old toothbrush, scrub the beds thoroughly. Then work your way around the outsides of the footbeds. Make sure you are building up a lather and covering the entire area with baking soda.

Step 4: Give the footbeds a few minutes to dry, then wipe them down with a damp towel to remove all excess baking soda.

Brown leather sandals
Denis Liendo/Pexels

Cleaning the leather uppers and hardware

The leather uppers of your sandals are the most visible part so you want to make sure the leather stays clean and in good condition. The same kind of leather cleaning product that you would use for cleaning leather boots or shoes should be used for the leather on your sandals.

Step 1: Take an old towel or rag and dampen it slightly in warm water. Then rub it in the saddle soap to create a slight lather. If you are using a liquid leather cleaner then you can apply it directly to the towel or rag.

Step 2: Rub the cleaning product onto the leather in a small, quick, circular motion. Add more cleaning product as necessary, you will be able to tell when the leather doesn't darken as you go over it. Repeat this process until you have covered all the leather on the sandal's upper and along the sides.

Step 3: If your sandals have metal hardware, scrub it with a clean, dry brush. An old toothbrush works perfectly.

Condition leather footbeds (if neccesary)

If your sandals have leather footbeds then you will want to use the same leather cleaning product that you used on the uppers to condition the footbeds. This will add an extra layer of protection to the footbeds and keep them from cracking and creasing.

Step 1: Take an old towel or rag and dampen it slightly in warm water. Then rub it in the saddle soap to create a slight lather. If you are using a liquid leather cleaner then you can apply it directly to the towel or rag.

Step 2: Rub the cleaning product all over the footbeds in a small, quick, circular motion. Apply more product as needed. Repeat until the entire footbed, including the outside edge and any stitching.

Your favorite pair of leather sandals can be your go-to footwear all summer long because they go with practically everything. However, you will need to put a little elbow grease in to keep them looking fresh. Follow this guide and your sandals will not only look better but they will last longer and smell better. You can take all the credit when your toes thank you for it.

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Mark McKee
Mark is a full-time freelance writer and men's coach. He spent time as a style consultant and bespoke suit salesman before…
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