For a few months, I’ve been on a mission to declutter and elevate my wardrobe by replacing all of my cheap accessories with nicer versions—my own spin on the “one in, one out” cleaning method. Since I’m not made of money and largely stick to buying pre-owned luxury goods, it’s extra sustainable, which makes me feel good about the whole thing.
The problem with buying pre-owned stuff, though, is that it’s usually pre-worn—like, really worn. I don’t blame my items’ previous caretakers when I get shoes, a bag, sunglasses, or a scarf that looks like it’s seen some horrors in its prime; if I spent top dollar on something, I’d run it into the ground, too. Part of the reason I get such a good deal on these items is that I have to do some maintenance when I get them, so it’s a fine trade-off. Last week, though, I got a pair of white sneakers that were so dirty I wasn’t sure if I would be able to fix them up. I did, of course. I’m a woman of perseverance and life hacks. Here’s what worked to make my busted old shoes clean again (and what didn’t).
Sneaker cleaning solution 1: Vinegar
Seemingly every day, I investigate a household hack that involves using vinegar in place of more intense or expensive cleaners and products. You can clean a steamer, clean your humidifier, unclog a sink, descale your coffee maker, and—according to some how-tos I watched—clean old sneakers. I decided to give it a shot. Here’s what I was working with when I set out on the mission:
Credit: Lindsey Ellefson
We got scuffs. We got yellow stains. We got brown stains. Baby, we got it all. Would vinegar fix any of it? As it turns out, no! I started by using an old toothbrush to work vinegar into the stains. As I suspected, not much happened, but I was surprised when adding baking soda to the mix also produced zero results. That usually bubbles stains and grime out, but it did nothing.
Sneaker cleaning solution 2: Nail polish remover
After fruitlessly scrubbing at the scuffs with my toothbrush and vinegar-and-baking-soda combo, I recalled that I tested out a hack for removing scuffs from patent leather using nail polish remover a few months ago. I decided to give that a shot.
It took some major elbow grease, but the scuffs all came off after a bunch of scrubbing with the remover and a paper towel. I even dabbed some onto the stains on the body of the shoes and saw a slight improvement, but I wanted to hit those with a different approach, so I switched gears.
Sneaker cleaning solution 3: Melamine sponge
Somewhere between vinegar and nail polish remover, I went back to the drawing board and started Googling additional ways to clean up old shoes. I saw Mr. Clean Magic erasers being heralded as a solid option (even on this fine website), so I went out and got some.
They worked ridiculously well. I’ve never used melamine sponges to clean fabrics before and wasn’t sure what to expect, but I really don’t like the idea of fully submerging my shoes in water, so this spot-treating technique was my last hope before filling the sink. The yellow stains came away almost instantly with a little rubbing and the Magic Eraser even snatched up some remaining scuff marks that my nail polish left behind.
Overall thoughts on cleaning white sneakers
Credit: Lindsey Ellefson
The Magic Eraser and nail polish remover helped me in my quest to avoid dunking the shoes in soapy water, so I recommend them wholeheartedly. There was a stain on the back of one shoe that I could not remove with anything, including all-purpose cleaner or laundry detergent. I’m going to have to think more about what to do about it and probably end up bleaching it, but overall, the shoes look way better now and I’m fine wearing them in public as-is. The necessary implements cost less than $5 total and blew me away with how effective they were.
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