There’s a Right Way to Clean Your Sneakers — Here’s How

Updated: Apr. 29, 2024

Contrary to popular belief, you can put your sneakers in the washing machine!

You know how to care for your leather boots. You know how to polish your bright white shoes. But do you know how to properly clean your sneakers?

Melissa Pateras (@melissadilkespateras), a Laundrytok influencer, and Andrea Barnes of Wirecutter provide their straightforward methods to revive those dusty kicks. Here, we combine their advice to create our guide to cleaning sneakers, including how to wash and dry them and ensure they stay stink-free.

@yourmorningctv This is amazing! Have you ever wondered how to properly clean a pair of sneakers? @Laundrytok | Melissa Pateras has the answer! #shoes #sneakers #cleaningtok #hacks #hack #runners #laundry #laundrytok ♬ original sound – CTV Your Morning

Step 1: Ensure Your Sneakers Are Machine-Safe

“Most athletic or canvas shoes can go into the machine,” Pateras told CTV Your Morning recently. However, Barnes notes an important exception: “Certain shoes should never make it into a washing machine. Leather sneakers are more popular than ever, but you should spot-clean those Veja or Golden Goose shoes instead.”

So if you own fabric-based sneakers like New Balances, Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars or Nike Blazers, it’s time to power up your washer.

Step 2: Scrub Your Sneakers

“Start by getting [your sneakers] a little bit wet,” Pateras says. Then use liquid detergent or a spray detergent, as well as a dish brush or toothbrush, to scrub the main body of the sneakers.

Pateras says while you can remove the laces of your shoes, she prefers to “give them an extra scrub.” Be sure to get in the grooves of your soles, too, Barnes says.

To clean the non-fabric parts — the soles, toes and heels — Barnes suggests using a small amount of abrasive all-purpose cleaner, like Soft Scrub. Pateras likes a classic Magic Eraser. You can even use toothpaste!

Step 3: Put Your Sneakers in the Washing Machine

Now, it’s time to toss your sneakers into the machine. Before you do, remove the insoles if they aren’t glued down. Barnes likes to put the insoles, laces and sneakers into a mesh garment bag to keep them together; Pateras just throws the whole shoe in as-is. Either is fine.

Next, add a towel or two with the sneakers. Pateras says this helps with “scrubbing as well as noise reduction.” If your shoes are extra stinky, Barnes also recommends adding a tablespoon of oxygenated bleach, like this one from Dirty Labs.

Finally, set the machine to a delicate cycle with cold water. Barnes recommends adding a liquid laundry detergent now, as opposed to a powdered one. Powders, she says, don’t always dissolve fully in cold water.

Step 4: Gently Dry Your Sneakers

Ideally, let your sneakers air dry. “The glues, rubber, and foam used to make shoes are likely temperature-sensitive,” Barnes says, “and a dryer’s heat could ruin them.”

To air-dry properly, place them somewhere with lots of light and air flow — say, outside or near an open window. This will prevent mildew and unwelcome odors from developing while they’re drying. Additionally, keep the laces and insoles separate so they can dry properly, too.

If you don’t have “the time and patience” to air-dry your sneakers, Pateras says you can put them in the dryer. She recommends using a dryer rack. If you don’t have one, she says, “tie the laces together, you can hook them on the door, [and] shut the door.” This way, they’ll dry without banging around. Then set your dryer to the lowest heat possible and wait.

Step 5 (Optional): Buff Your Sneakers

Once your sneakers are dry, you can reassemble them, store them or wear them around.

If you’re feeling fancy, you can even give them a quick buff, Pateras says. To do so, use a suede brush and a gentle circular motion. Whether you buff them or not, they will look, feel and smell like new! Learn how to wash shoes in the washing machine.