How to Clean White Shoes: Canvas, Leather, Suede, and More

These home remedies can make your white shoes shine again—even without bleach

person spot cleaning a white leather shoe

The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 15 - 30 mins
  • Total Time: 5 - 6 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner

White shoes are everywhere in the fashion world: white canvas shoes, slippers, leather, vinyl, suede, and more. While they can be a statement piece, white shoes often begin to look dirty easily. Fortunately, there are some straightforward home remedies to make your white shoes white again and clean white shoes without messing them up. Here's everything you need to know about how to clean white shoes.

Before You Begin

You can clean white shoes without bleach by using other household products—namely baking soda and hydrogen peroxide. But for stubborn stains, bleach might be worth a try. Bleach can also be effective to brighten and clean white fabric shoes, such as canvas. Always spot-test on a small area first to make sure your shoes react well.

Diluted bleach is also a great cleaner to make your white shoes bright again. Mix one part bleach with five parts water, gently scrubbing it into the shoes with a soft-bristle brush before wiping them clean with water. If you use too much bleach, it can sometimes cause yellowing. If that happens, it's possible to clean white shoes that turned yellow by scrubbing with a salt and hot water solution.

How Often to Clean White Shoes

Ideally, all white shoes should be cleaned after every wear. Just give them a quick wipe with a damp cloth or brush with a soft-bristle brush to remove any surface soil and stains. Taking care of soil and stains when they are fresh is much easier than trying to remove an accumulation of dirt. A deeper cleaning should be done for severe staining or soil, as well as before storing white shoes for an extended period.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Small bowl
  • Garden hose (optional)
  • Sink or washing machine
  • Soft-bristle brush
  • Melamine sponge (optional)
  • Mesh laundry bag
  • White towels (for washing machine)
  • Microfiber cloths
  • Drying towel
  • Nylon mesh (optional)

Materials

  • Heavy-duty laundry detergent
  • Warm water
  • Baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, or bleach

Instructions

items for cleaning white shoes
The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 

How to Clean White Canvas Shoes

You can clean white fabric shoes in the washing machine or by hand, depending on whether the shoes have any delicate components.

  1. Decide Whether to Wash by Machine or Hand

    You can often clean white shoes in the washing machine, especially white canvas shoes. However, shoes with leather or suede trim, beading, or rope soles should be hand-cleaned. The agitation action of the washer is too harsh for embellished shoes and can cause glues used in construction to loosen.

  2. Remove Laces and Decorations

    Always remove shoelaces, removable insoles, and any decorations before you begin to clean. Laces should be placed in a small bowl of hot water with a teaspoon of heavy-duty laundry detergent and allowed to soak while the shoes are being washed. Insoles can be hand-washed or replaced.

    removing shoelaces from sneakers
    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 
  3. Rinse Before Placing in Washer

    If the shoes are muddy, rinse them off with a hose to prevent the dirt from clogging your washer. Pretreat any heavily stained areas by working a bit of laundry detergent directly into the canvas using a soft-bristle brush. Soles that are heavily soiled can be cleaned with a melamine sponge (like Mr. Clean Eraser).

    If you'll be spot-cleaning your shoes and not using the washer, move on to the next step. If you're using the washer, put the shoes in a mesh laundry bag. Then, take these steps to clean white shoes in the washing machine:

    • Wash shoes together with a load of white towels using your regular laundry detergent.
    • Use chlorine or oxygen-based bleach if the shoes need extra whitening. As an alternative, you can use baking soda or hydrogen peroxide.
    • Select warm water and the normal cycle, but chose a lower spin cycle speed to help keep your washer in balance.
    white shoes going into the washer
    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 
  4. Spot-Clean White Canvas Shoes

    For white canvas espadrilles and other shoes that cannot go in the washer, spot clean by mixing 1 teaspoon of laundry detergent in 1 quart of warm water. Dip a microfiber cloth in the solution, and scrub away the soil on the inside and outside of the shoes.

    Complete the cleaning process by dipping another cloth in plain water and wiping away any soapy residue.

    spot cleaning a non-canvas shoe
    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida  
  5. Dry White Canvas Shoes

    Shoes and laces should be air-dried away from direct sunlight and never dried in a tumble dryer on high heat. The heat can cause glues used in constructing the shoes to melt. Wipe down the shoes with a towel to absorb moisture and help speed drying.

    If you need to help the shoes retain their shape, stuff the toes with nylon mesh.

    letting canvas shoes air dry
    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 

How to Clean White Leather Shoes

Whether your white leather shoes are athletic sneakers or stiletto heels, you'll only need a few supplies to keep them clean. Although it's not essential, it can be good to clean white sneakers with baking soda to help remove stubborn marks.

Supplies

  • Castile, saddle, or mild soap
  • Water
  • Baking soda (optional)

Tools

  • Soft cotton or microfiber cloths
  • Melamine sponge
  1. Wipe Down With Plain Water

    Remove the laces, insoles, and embellishments. Dip a cotton or microfiber cloth in plain water, and wring to remove excess water. Then, wipe down the entire shoe, paying extra attention to seams and areas that have trapped dust and dirt. Move to a clean area of the cloth as the soil is transferred. Allow the shoes to dry for at least 15 minutes.

    wiping down white leather sneakers
    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 
  2. Clean the Soles

    Dampen the melamine sponge, and clean the edges of the soles. Do not use the sponge on the leather portions of the shoes because it can remove the top layer of the leather.

    using a magic eraser on the sole of a shoe
    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 
  3. Remove Dirt and Scuff Marks

    Wet a clean cloth, and add a bit of soap to create a lather. Clean the leather by working on a small section at a time with a gentle, circular motion. Begin at the toes, and continue working along the sides and heel.

    Remove tough scuff marks using baking soda, which is a gentle abrasive cleaner. Sprinkle baking soda on a damp cloth, and gently rub the mark until it disappears.

    using baking soda to clean a white sneaker
    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 
  4. Rinse and Dry

    Wipe away any soapy residue with a clean cloth dipped in plain water. Wring out the cloth, so it's not too wet. Then, allow the shoes to air-dry away from direct sunlight.

    If the shoes are not as white as you would like, repeat the steps.

    letting shoes air dry
    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 

How to Clean White Suede or Nubuck Shoes

Suede and nubuck shoes are not usually bright white—they are more ecru—but they still need to be cleaned carefully.

Supplies

  • Cornstarch or talcum powder
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Paper towels

Tools

  • Soft-bristle brush
  • Cotton or microfiber cloths
  • Art gum eraser
  • Suede brush
  1. Brush Away Soil

    Begin by brushing the entire shoe with a soft-bristle brush to remove loose and embedded dirt.

    Small soft-bristled brush removing loose dirt from white nubuck shoes

    The Spruce / Heidi Kolsky

  2. Tackle Stains

    Sprinkle oily stains with cornstarch or talcum powder to absorb the oil. Leave it on the stain for at least one hour, and repeat as needed.

    Gently rub away any scuff marks and stains with the art gum eraser. Do not scrub, and work slowly to remove the stains in layers.

    If the eraser doesn't remove the stains, dip a cloth in distilled vinegar and gently rub the stained areas. Blot the treated area with a paper towel to absorb the moisture.

    Cornstarch sprinkled on top of white nubuck shoes to remove stains

    The Spruce / Heidi Kolsky

  3. Dry and Buff

    Allow the suede to dry completely after cleaning, and use a suede brush to buff the shoes to lift any matted nap.

    White nubuck laid in sunlight to air dry

    The Spruce / Heidi Kolsky

How to Clean White Patent Leather or Vinyl Shoes

Patent leather is real leather that has been treated to achieve its glossy finish. The same cleaning techniques that work with patent leather also work with vinyl or man-made shoe finishes.

Supplies

  • Water
  • Acetone-based nail polish remover
  • Cotton ball or swab
  • Baking soda
  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Petroleum jelly

Tools

  • Soft cleaning cloths
  • Old toothbrush
  1. Wipe Down With Water

    Dip a soft cleaning cloth in plain water, and wipe down the shoes well to remove surface soil.

    White patent leather shoes wiped white cloth and water

    The Spruce / Heidi Kolsky

  2. Remove Scuffs and Stains

    Place a bit of acetone-based nail polish remover on a cotton ball, and gently rub any scuffed or discolored areas. You can make a paste of 1 tablespoon of baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon water to gently rub away scuffs and stains. Use a clean cloth damped with plain water as a final rinse.

    Cotton ball wiping top of white patent leather shoes with mail polish remover

    The Spruce / Heidi Kolsky

  3. Clean Fabric Edges

    Many patent leather shoes have edges finished with grosgrain ribbon that can become soiled. Mix a solution of 1 teaspoon dishwashing liquid and 1 cup of warm water. Dip an old toothbrush into the solution, and scrub the fabric edges. Finish by wiping down with a clean damp cloth to remove any soapy residue.

    Toothbrush scrubbing edges of white patent leather shoes for cleaning

    The Spruce / Heidi Kolsky

  4. Restore the Shine

    If the finish is looking a bit dull, wipe the shoes with a tiny dab of petroleum jelly on a soft cloth. Finish by buffing to a high shine with a soft, dry cloth.

    Side of white patent leather shoes wiped with petroleum jelly and white cloth

    The Spruce / Heidi Kolsky

Tips to Keep Your White Shoes Clean Longer

  • Consider spraying shoes with a protector that's also water-repellant. Upholstery protector can work for white canvas or fabric shoes.
  • Opt for a tiny drop of white shoe polish for hard-to-remove stains.
  • Store white shoes in fabric bags because they can collect dirt from places like closets.
  • If you have shoes with mesh, scrub gently or the mesh will wear out quickly.
  • Use a dab of white toothpaste on white leather shoes when you need to quickly remove a stain and don't have anything else on hand.
  • To clean white rubber on shoes, you can use a soft-bristle brush to scrub with a mixture of 1 part baking soda to 1 part dish soap or laundry detergent. Be sure to brush or wipe off any loose dirt first.
  • While melamine foam sponges can remove the outer coating of leather if used excessively, they really don't cause damage if used gently and sometimes, they can be the only thing that saves a truly scuffed up pair of sneakers from the dustbin. Sometimes, it is better to use the melamine foam to remove the ground-in grime and scuffs and follow up with a bit of shoe polish.