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  • Writer's pictureLaundry Care

How to Clean Your Sneakers

Blue athletic sneakers inside a washing machine

Sneakers are certainly not just for athletes - they're for everyone. But, whether you need specialty shoes for specific sports, fashion-or run-of-the-mill basics they all need to be cleaned now and then. Before you begin be sure to check the manufacturer's instructions/ recommendations to make sure they can be cleaned in the washer. You can usually find this info online with a quick google search.

Dirty unlaced sneakers with pink laces nearby

1. Take them Apart

Well, not literally. For extra clean and fresh sneakers, it’s important to clean the laces and insoles separately from the rest of the shoe.

Shoe laces are often the dirtiest part of the shoe. Begin your tennis shoe cleaning project by removing the laces as well as any removable insoles or inserts. The laces can be washed by putting them in a mesh laundry bag and tossed in with a load of laundry or replaced quite inexpensively.

The insoles should be handled separately. Remove them from the shoes, wipe down with a cloth dipped in a warm water and baking soda solution and allow them to air while you are cleaning. If they are particularly smelly, sprinkle the insole and the inside of the shoe with baking soda to absorb odor and moisture. This should be done frequently even if you are not cleaning the rest of the shoe.

Now, rinse the outside of the shoes with cool water to remove any loose dirt or soil.

White sneakers in zippered mesh bag ready to wash

2. Rub-a-Dub-Dub

When it's time to wash, place the shoes in a mesh laundry bag select a warm water and a heavy duty detergent such as Tide Sport. Put 2-3 similar colored bath towels to “cushion” the sneakers and protect them from damage during the spin cycle. The towels will also help keep the washer drum balanced and reduce the potential for the loud banging noise the shoes inevitably make as they whirl and twirl. If you have a washer with adjustable final spin speeds, select a lower speed to prevent the washer from becoming unbalanced.

If the shoes are really pricey and new, hand washing is a bit more gentle. Use a soft bristled brush and a solution of mild liquid detergent in warm water. Scrub the inside and outside of each shoe. For scuff marks on leather or faux leather shoes, a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser works wonders. Use a gentle touch and wipe away residue with a damp cloth.

Optional: Disinfection

If you are concerned about bacteria and athlete's foot fungus, the shoes will need to be disinfected. Pine oil disinfectants, which are effective in hot and warm water, are safe to use with athletic shoes without damaging the fabric or leather.

Some brands include Pine Sol, Spic-n-Span Pine and Lysol Pine Action. They should be added at the beginning of the wash cycle. To be effective, the product must contain 80 percent pine oil.

Disinfectants are also effective in hot and warm water. Lysol brand disinfectant is a phenolic disinfectant and is available in most areas. Disinfectants may be added to the wash or rinse water. If adding to the rinse cycle, be sure to set the rinse water temperature to warm as many machines automatically use cold water for rinsing.

When you finish cleaning the sneakers, be sure to carefully wash socks and gym bags using the same products to prevent the spread of any bacteria and fungus that can cause problems to occur again.


Prefer to leave the sneaker cleaning to the pros? We can help!

Unlaced white sneakers with bright pink soles

3. Time to Dry

We recommend air-drying your sneakers if whenever possible. This method does take time but it's by far the best option to keep your shoes in tip top shape. Just set them on a folded towel (to collect any drips and excess moisture) in a well ventilated area. Non-leather sneakers can dry outside in the sun to expedite the drying process. When drying leather sneakers however, it's best to avoid direct sunlight because the heat can cause the leather to dry too quickly and crack. Instead, use a circulating fan to help speed the drying process.

If you really need your shoes to dry faster, the dryer is the next best option. We suggest using a mesh bag that you can strap to the dryer door to prevent damage.

Never put your sneakers in a high heat clothes dryer. High heat can cause them to lose their shape and that will affect their support. Instead, put them in a well ventilated space or, if you must, use the air only dryer cycle. Stuff them loosely with microfiber cloths or plain wash cloths to prevent to help them retain their shape.

Close up of bright white leather sneakers being cleaned with leather cleaning solution

4. Final Touches

When your shoes are completely dry, you can use white or black or appropriately colored shoe polish to touch up any scuffs on leather and faux leather. In a pinch, a permanent marker works wonders to hide problems!

For real leather sneakers, a leather conditioner will help keep your shoe leather supple and prevent cracking. For canvas shoes, a fabric protective spray will help repel dirt and stains between cleanings. Both products can be purchased in most grocery stores or online from

Do NOT Use the Dishwasher!

If you Google for instructions on how to wash sneakers, you may find a story about how to wash them in the dishwasher. Yes, you can put your athletic shoes and shower shoes in the dishwasher. Should you? We don’t recommend this method!! While the hot water and spray mechanical action of the water will remove soil, dishwasher detergents are extremely harsh and can ruin leather and cause fading in cotton and some synthetics. Plus the high heat of the drying cycle can cause shrinkage and even melting. And let's be you really want your dirty shoes to be in the same place you clean the dishes and utensils you eat off off. No thank you! Save the dishwasher for your dishes.


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