How to Clean Birkenstocks

Birkenstocks on the sand.

Haley Truong / Unsplash

Overview
  • Working Time: 20 mins
  • Total Time: 80 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Sold in more than 90 countries, Birkenstock has been crafting shoes since 1774. Konrad Birkenstock introduced the first flexible footbed insoles in 1892 and in 1902 added the arch support that continues to make these shoes so comfortable and beloved.

Today's Birkenstocks come in a variety of styles from clogs to sandals to shoes and boots. All of the styles feature the best quality cork, natural latex, copper, brass, wool felt, suede, and smooth leathers. The longer you wear Birkenstocks, the more comfortable they become as they begin to mold to your feet. But this also means, they become rather soiled. With just a few products that you probably have on hand, you can keep Birkenstocks clean for seasons to come.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Suede brush
  • Microfiber cloths
  • Art gum eraser or pencil eraser
  • Blunt-edged knife or old credit card
  • Small bowl
  • Old toothbrush or small soft-bristled brush

Materials

  • Cornstarch or baby powder
  • Paper towels
  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Commercial shoe polish
  • Leather conditioner
  • Petroleum jelly
  • Commercial glass cleaner
  • Commercial laundry stain remover
  • Commercial cork sealant

Instructions

How to Clean Suede and Nubuck Leather Birkenstocks

Regular cleaning—at least weekly—is the best way to keep the surface of suede and nubuck leathers looking clean.

  1. Brush Away Surface Soil

    Use a soft microfiber cloth to brush away surface dust and soil after each wearing. Follow up with a quick brushing with a suede brush to lift the material.

  2. Rub Away Dried Stains

    If you spill food or get mud on the suede, blot away as much liquid as possible but do not rub. Wiping away wet stains often drives them deeper into the suede and makes them more difficult to remove. Allow the stained area to dry completely before cleaning. Once the stain is dry, loosen and brush away the dried matter and use an art gum eraser or pencil eraser to rub away the stain before giving the suede a good brushing to lift the fabric.

  3. Absorb Oily Stains

    For oily drips on suede, cover the stain as soon as possible with cornstarch or baby powder to absorb the oil. Allow the cornstarch to remain on the stain for at least four hours before brushing it away. You may need to repeat the treatment several times to absorb all of the oil.

  4. Scrape Away Gum and Tar

    If anything sticky lands on the suede, don't grab a commercial glue/goo remover right away. The products can change the color of the suede. Use them only as a last resort. Instead, place an ice cube in a plastic bag and place it directly on the sticky mess. Allow the gum or tar to harden so you can gently pry it away from the suede. Use a blunt knife or the edge of an old credit card to scrape away the hardened goo. Repeat the ice treatment as necessary. When the solid pieces are gone, use an art gum eraser to remove any final traces of the stain and a suede brush to lift the fibers of the material.

How to Clean Cork Soles on Birkenstocks

Once you have the uppers cleaned, it's time to tackle the cork soles and footbed. If you have worn the shoes for extended periods without socks, the soles will develop a shadow of your footprint on the insoles from the oils and soil on your feet. This is nearly impossible to remove.

  1. Mix a Cleaning Solution

    In a small bowl, mix two cups of warm water, two tablespoons of distilled white vinegar, and one-half teaspoon of dishwashing liquid.

  2. Gently Scrub

    Dip an old toothbrush or a small soft-bristled brush in the solution. Working in a small area at a time, gently scrub the cork sole.

  3. Rinse and Dry

    When the soles are clean, wipe down the entire cork area with a cloth dipped in plain water. This will rinse away any soapy residue. Allow the shoes to air-dry away from direct sunlight and heat.

  4. Condition the Cork

    The cork soles of Birkenstocks are coated with a sealant to keep them flexible. If the cork is beginning to look dry, treat it with a new coat of cork sealant. The product is available in shoe repair shops, home hardware stores, and online.

How to Clean Leather Birkenstocks

Whether the upper part of the shoe is natural leather or patent leather, they should be cleaned and conditioned often.

  1. Wipe Away Surface Soil

    Use a slightly damp soft cloth to wipe away surface dust and soil after each wearing.

    Tip

    If your Birkenstocks have winter salt stains, dip a soft cloth in equal parts water and distilled white vinegar. Wring out the cloth and wipe down the shoe, then allow to air-dry away from heat or sunlight.

  2. Polish and Condition Leather

    To restore and condition natural and oiled leather uppers, use a commercial shoe polish in a matching color. This will remove most scuffs. To keep the leather pliable, use a leather conditioner following product directions. This is especially important if your shoes have been rain-soaked.

  3. Brighten Any Patent Leather

    The film coating that gives patent leather its shiny finish can usually be restored by simply wiping down the shoes with a damp cloth. If the leather is really dull, use a bit of glass cleaner on a soft cloth to restore the shine. To remove scuffs, use a dab of petroleum jelly on a soft cloth and buff away the marks.

    Tip

    Use the same techniques for patent leather to clean latex uppers on Birkenstocks.

How to Clean Fabric Birkenstocks

Birkenstocks are available with linen canvas, microfiber, and wool felt uppers.

  1. Brush Away Surface Soil

    Use a soft dry cloth or soft-bristled brush to brush away dust and surface soil before spot-cleaning fabric shoes.

  2. Mix a Cleaning Solution

    In a small bowl, mix two cups of warm water and one-half teaspoon of dishwashing liquid.

  3. Spot Clean Stained Areas

    Dip a small cloth into the cleaning solution and gently rub stained areas. Do not over-saturate the fabric. Work in the direction of the fabric grain.

  4. Tackle Tough Stains

    For tough-to-remove stains, use a commercial laundry stain remover and gently scrub the area with an old toothbrush.

  5. Rinse and Dry

    Rinse by dipping a clean cloth in plain water. Wring it out well and wipe down the entire fabric part of the shoe to remove any remaining soapy residue. Blot the fabric with paper towels to remove as much moisture as possible. Air-dry the shoes away from direct heat.

    Tip

    Stuff the shoes with clean paper towels or white socks to help them hold their shape while they dry.

Tips to Keep Your Birkenstocks Looking Great Longer

  • Keep Birkenstocks away from extreme temperature changes that can cause materials to deteriorate.
  • Most Birkenstocks are not water-friendly. Over-saturation can cause glues to loosen.
  • Always allow the shoes to dry completely away from direct heat and sunlight between wearings.