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How to clean sneakers so they look new again

Sick of seeing scuffs on your shoes? Then learn how to clean your sneakers the right way

Nothing makes you want to cry more than buying a new pair of shoes and scuffing them the first time you wear them. Few things ruin a great look worse than a scuffed or dirty pair of shoes. How on Earth are you supposed to enjoy your favorite sneakers while also keeping them as clean as the day you bought them? Aside from treating them like collectibles and keeping them in a pressure-controlled vault, there’s only one way to go about it - regular maintenance. Let us show you how to clean sneakers the right way so they'll always look new.




10 minutes

What You Need

  • Magic Eraser

  • White cloths

  • White vinegar

  • Old toothbrush

  • Ivory dish soap and water mixture

  • Mild detergent or shoe cleaner

  • Leather conditioner

  • Shoe brush

Yes, we hear your groans sneakerheads, but facts are facts. It’s important to consistently clean your shoes, but thankfully, it doesn’t have to be a huge chore. We’ve gathered surefire tips for sprucing up common sneaker materials (knit, leather, suede, and canvas) and tricks for assessing issues specific to different shoe parts, like the outsole, midsole, and tongue. So, let’s break out those brushes and magic erasers and learn how to clean sneakers.

Man with black gloves cleaning sneakers.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

3 general tips for cleaning sneakers

We know you don't always have the patience to spend extra time cleaning your shoes. So, before anyone starts deep cleaning specific sneaker materials, here are basic, easy tricks to spruce up your kicks in a jiffy. 

Step 1: First is to remove any visible dirt. Do this with a clean towel, toothbrush, or your hand if pressed for time. Wiping away dirt every time you take your shoes off will help prevent buildup, as well as curb more serious problems in the future.

Step 2: Next, you’ll want to rinse off the soles with a wet towel or hose. Even if you were walking on a relatively clean surface, you’d be surprised by what gets stuck on the bottoms of your shoes. This doesn’t have to be too involved but don't skip this step.

Step 3: Finally, spot clean any big stains. If the stain is large enough, remove it by quickly blotting it with a soap and water mixture. Spot cleaning up front will save you a lot of time later on.

White sneakers
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Cleaning knit sneakers

With their breathable, mesh-like exteriors, knit sneakers are cool, trendy, and susceptible to getting dirty. Unlike other types of fabrics, knit materials are porous by nature, so mud, dirt, sweat, and grime are prone to seep into their micro-grooves for a mess that seems impossible to remedy. Though knit shoes require more TLC than other sneakers, that doesn’t mean they can’t be coaxed back to perfection with a little patience and elbow grease.

Step 1: Fill a medium-sized bowl with warm water.

Step 2: Add a splash of mild detergent or shoe-specific cleaner to the bowl and mix gently.

Step 3: Once the solution is diluted, dip a clean towel into the bowl and apply liberally to the shoe’s surface stain. And don’t be afraid to really go for it here, as you’ll want to make sure you rub out as much of the stain as you can.

Step 4: If it seems like the mess has lifted, grab another damp cloth (this time wet with only water) and apply to the surface of the shoe, making sure to wipe away all the excess shoe cleaner.

Step 5: This should do the trick, but if there still appears to be grime stuck in the knit material, take a soft toothbrush to the shoe.

Step 6: Afterward, let the shoes air-dry.

A pair of leather shoes on the floor.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Cleaning leather shoes

While leather (or faux leather) is a fantastic sneaker material for those after an edgy look, it's sometimes a headache to clean. Leather stains easily and is also incredibly sensitive to abrasions of any kind, which warps the material’s natural patina.

Whitney Tinsley, brand ambassador for American Leather, said the most important thing to do is spot clean stains as soon as you see them. Let's go over how to do that.

Step 1: First, create a solution that’s three parts Ivory dish soap to one part distilled water.

Step 2: Apply the mixture to the stain with a white cloth and rub until the stain has been fully removed.

Step 3: If the mark is particularly stubborn, apply a leather conditioner with a clean cloth to the entire surface area of the shoe to even out the tone.

A person standing in water wearing suede shoes.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Cleaning suede sneakers

Another notoriously stubborn fabric is suede. Suede just may be the trickiest material to keep looking pristine. Lacking the protective outer layer of leather makes for a surface that’s velvety smooth, but one that's also vulnerable to problems.

Step 1: First things first: Invest in a suede brush. While you don’t want to rub it too aggressively on the surface of your suede sneaker, it’ll do wonders to alleviate any muck from the fibers.

Step 2: If the brush doesn’t cut it, tackle the stain with a suede eraser. Press the eraser against the stain with some force and manipulate it until the stain is gone. Take a clean cloth to the stain after you're finished to wipe off any residue.

Step 3: Is the shoe still not clean? Time to whip out the white vinegar! Place a dab on a clean cloth and slowly incorporate it into the stain. You shouldn’t need a lot, so apply gingerly. Once the stain is gone, rinse with a water-dampened towel and allow to dry.

A pair of tan canvas shoes sitting on a table.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Cleaning canvas shoes

Now that we’ve got the hard ones out of the way, let’s take a second to talk about sprucing up canvas shoes, which are a relatively simple fabric to clean. While you could technically throw canvas sneakers in the wash (preferably in a pillowcase on a delicate setting with bleach in the case of all-white shoes), the best way to clean them is by hand.

Step 1: Simply apply the same water and detergent mixture you made for the knit sneakers to the entire surface of the shoe.

Step 2: Scrub until the stains are lifted and then go over the entire surface area with an old toothbrush.

Step 3: Let the shoes dry for a few hours and they should be as good as new!

Man loading washing machine
Antonio Arcos / Getty Images

Cleaning your shoes in the washing machine

While it's better to clean your sneakers by hand, some can be cleaned in your washing machine. It's important to note, not all shoes should be thrown in the wash. According to washer manufacturer Whirlpool, leather, suede, vinyl, or rubber shoes should never go into a washer.

Step 1: Make sure the washer is at the proper setting.

While it's important to look at your shoes' washing instructions, a good rule of thumb is to wash them in cold water on a gentle cycle. This will prevent any damage to the shoes and also prevent any possible shrinkage that may occur in hot water.

Step 2: Put the shoes (without the laces and insoles) in either a pillowcase or a mesh bag designed to go into the washer.

This helps prevent damage to the washing machine by stopping your shoes from tumbling wildly around the machine during the wash cycle and potentially causing damage to your washer's drum. Whirlpool also recommends putting some old towels in with your shoes to help keep everything balanced, which will also help prevent damage to the machine.

Step 3: Keep it a no-spin zone.

Make sure the washer is set to a slow spin or a no-spin setting. Doing this will help keep your shoes from being damaged. Once again, it will also help protect your washer from damage as well.

A picture of all kinds of shoes in a circle within a circle pattern.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Cleaning different sneaker parts

Step 1: Clean the outsoles.

The outsoles, or bottoms, of your sneakers are going to get dirtier than almost any other part of the shoes. Why? Because they interact most directly with the outside world.

On a weekly basis, take a brush to your sneakers' soles. Once you wipe away the dirt, liberally apply the warm water and detergent mixture we discussed, and wipe things off with a clean cloth.

Step 2: Clean the midsoles.

This section of the sneakers is clearly visible and is usually intended to be bright white, so it’s important to clean it regularly. Even if the rest of your shoes is spotless, the yellowing of midsoles is enough to ruin the whole look of the shoes.

An easy solution is to take a Magic Eraser to them to enhance the color of a rubber soles and reduce grime along the edges.

Step 3: Clean the tongues.

Cleaning the tongues really amps up your shoes' overall appearance, so never skip it during maintenance. For the tongues, simply apply the fabric-specific techniques we discussed depending on material makeup: Suede tongues get the brush while canvas ones get the soap.

Step 4: Clean the interiors.

Just as important as cleaning up the exteriors is to knock out noxious odors from the interiors. Remove the insoles (if possible) and wash them with either a water and detergent mixture or one made with water and white vinegar. We find that detergent or shoe cleaner is better for general cleaning, while vinegar helps with odors.

Once you’ve given the interiors a thorough pass with your sponge or towel, make sure to let them air dry for a few hours before throwing your sneakers back on.

Step 5: And finally, don’t neglect the laces.

To clean these bad boys, simply take them off your shoes and throw them in the wash with your regular laundry. Afterward, they’ll be as good as new.

A shot looking down at someone wearing white sneakers.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

How to keep your sneakers clean

Now that you know how to clean your sneakers, let’s wrap up this guide with a few tricks on how to keep them clean

Step 1: Spot-check your shoes every time you get home. I know it may seem like a nuisance, but if you take stock of how your shoes are doing before you put them away, you’ll be able to keep the clean vibes going. 

Step 2: Clean stains in the moment. Dirt, gunk, and debris are easiest to remove right after they come in contact with your sneakers. Try to attack stains immediately, even if it’s just with a little soap and water. 

Step 3: And finally, apply protective coatings when appropriate. Not all sneaker materials need these kinds of sprays and rubs, but certain ones like leather and suede will certainly benefit from them.

And that does it! Not too hard, right? It seems like a lot, but we covered every style of shoe, every aspect that would need to be cleaned, every kind of fabric, and how to keep those shoes clean after all of your upkeep is done. You are ready to keep any kind of shoe looking as crisp as the day you brought them home.

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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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