Ask LH: What’s the Best Way to Clean Your Shoes?

Ask LH: What’s the Best Way to Clean Your Shoes?
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Have you ever felt the pure ecstasy of getting a new pair of shoes and being able to show them off to the world? Have you then felt the pure despair of getting them dirty without knowing how to properly clean said shoes? Whether they are running shoes, white shoes or any shoe really, there are a few different ways you can (and should) clean them.

You may have found yourself in the middle of a muddy field wearing your beloved shoes, realising that the only way to get out of the said muddy field is to dirty them up. Or maybe your shoes are on the old side and need a bit of a TLC. Either way, while cleaning shoes is a pretty necessary life skill, it can seem like a pretty complex task.

Are you supposed to wash them in the washing machine? Will detergent destroy them?

It’s due to this complexity alone that I will only wear white sneakers when we have had a week of no rain so there’s no risk of mud and little chance of me having to clean them.

You can’t always be so lucky though, and as we should (hopefully) know by now, life happens, so it can be hard to avoid dirtying up shoes.

But don’t fret! Turns out there are many ways you can clean your shoes to make them look tip-top in no time.

I’m sure many of us think we can just chuck our shoes into the washing machine and hope for the best, but there’s a little bit more to it than that. Not every shoe can be machine-washed either.

This week’s Ask Lifehacker will give you all you need to know about how to clean your shoes correctly.

Hot tip: Take the soles out of your shoes before you clean them otherwise they will take a very long time to dry. You can just hand wash them separately.

How to clean white shoes

How to clean white shoes. Image: Getty

The first thing people will say to you when you get white shoes will most likely be, “Wow, they are gonna be so hard to keep clean!” And they are right.

So if you’ve found yourself with dirty white shoes, here’s how you can clean them in the washing machine, according to some great tips from Canstar Blue.

  1. First, take out the insoles and laces from your shoes. If you need/want to wash the laces, pop them into a secured garment bag to prevent them from getting thrashed by your washing machine.
  2. Before you chuck your shoes into the machine, clean off any loose dirt or bits of debris from the soles (don’t rub the dirt into the shoe). If any parts of your shoe are really dirty, you can use a toothbrush (preferably an old one) with some stain remover and scrub the stain pre-wash.
  3. Wash your shoes with some old towels or something similar to provide some cushioning so your shoes don’t go on a solo mission banging around your washing machine, which will not only damage your shoes but also the washing drum.
  4. Wash your white shoes in cold water only. Using warm or hot water might destroy the shape of your shoes.
  5. Don’t tumble dry them, leave them out in the sun to air-dry.

Perhaps your washing machine is full or you don’t want to risk having your shoes get ruined by all the tossing around. In that case, Canstar Blue also has a great little DIY solution for cleaning your white shoes.

Turns out the old faithful baking soda works a treat for tackling dirty shoes.

Here’s what you’ll need:

And here’s how to make the DIY cleaning solution:

  1. Add the baking soda with the hydrogen peroxide and water in a bowl and stir until the mixture thickens into a paste-like consistency
  2. Use the toothbrush to apply the paste directly onto the shoes. If there is any loose dirt, add a small amount of the paste to help brush it off before applying the rest of the past to coat each shoe
  3. Once your shoes are covered with paste, leave it in the sun to set for about four hours (or until the paste is dry and cracking)
  4. Wipe off any cracked pieces of paste and relace your good-as-new shoes

A common hack for cleaning white shoes is to use bleach. You can use the above method but substitute the baking soda and peroxide with one part bleach to four parts water. You can leave it out in the sun, too.

Some companies that are known for making white shoes, like Superga, actually have wash instructions on the shoes, so check that out before you do any form of cleaning.

How to clean running shoes

Your running shoes are probably the dirtiest of the bunch, for obvious reasons (running in the elements). If that’s the case, it’s probably best to give them a bit of a wash, but cleaning your running shoes is a little different to white shoes.

Most of the time, your running shoes will have specific wash instructions on them which you really need to read beforehand because the shoes are designed and made differently.

You can pop your running shoes into the washing machine with cold water and spin cycle but Adidas, Asics and Nike do not recommend cleaning your shoes that way.

Instead, they all suggest that you should clean your shoes manually with a mild detergent mixed with warm water rubbed on with a soft-bristled shoe brush.

They also recommended air drying your running shoes in the shade, not the sun, as that can lead to yellow staining and warping.

Both Adidas and Asics say you can wash your laces and insoles in a delicate bag in the washing machine, but Nike recommends hand washing them too.

Running shoes are more delicate than other shoes so it’s important you take your time cleaning them and please don’t scrub too hard, either. You can use a dry microfibre cloth to blot and lift the soapy moisture and dirt.

How to clean running shoes, sneakers. Image: Getty

How to clean canvas shoes

Getting canvas shoes dirty is a major pain, as they are much more prone to stains.

You can wash them in the machine, which a lot of people do, but that comes with the risk of tearing or ruining the canvas fabric.

Instead, Fantastic Cleaners recommend washing them yourself with this method:

  1. Use a toothbrush to remove any dirt or debris. Be gentle as you want to loosen the dirt, not rub it further into your shoe.
  2. Fill a bucket with warm water with a few drops of laundry detergent in it. Dip your brush into the soapy water and start scrubbing the outside of your shoes in small circular motions
  3. Use water to rinse the shoes off gently (without getting the interior wet)
  4. Ball up some paper towels and put them inside the shoes to help them maintain their shape until they dry (it also speeds up the drying process)

How to clean leather shoes

Leather shoes are probably the easiest to clean because they don’t tend to stain as easily as white, canvas or running shoes do.

All you have to do is mix some dish soap with some (warm, closer to cold) water and rub the shoes in a circular motion with a soft cloth. Then wipe it clean.

Don’t put your leather shoes in the sun, but do let them air dry.


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