How to Clean White Shoes

person spot cleaning a white leather shoe

The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 

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

White shoes are everywhere in the fashion world. There are white slippers, white fabric shoes, patent leather, vinyl, and suede shoes available during every season, and white leather and canvas sneakers are chosen for both style and comfort. While they can be a statement piece, white shoes can be difficult to clean and hard to keep that way.

How Often to Clean White Shoes

Ideally, all white shoes should be cleaned after every wearing. This is usually just a quick wipe down with a damp cloth or brush with a soft-bristled brush to remove surface soil and any stains. Taking care of stains when they are fresh is much easier than trying to remove an accumulation of soil. A deeper cleaning should be done when shoes become soiled or before storing white shoes for an extended period.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Sink or washing machine
  • Soft-bristled brush
  • Small bowl
  • Microfiber cloth
  • White towels
  • Hose (optional)

Materials

  • Heavy-duty laundry detergent
  • Oxygen-based bleach
  • Warm water
  • Mesh laundry bag (optional)
  • Disinfectant (optional)
  • Melamine sponge (optional)
  • Nylon mesh (optional)

Instructions

items for cleaning white shoes
The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 

How to Clean White Canvas Shoes

  1. Decide Whether to Wash by Machine or Hand

    Many white canvas shoes can be washed in a washing machine. 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-bristled brush. Soles that are heavily soiled can be cleaned with a melamine sponge (like Mr. Clean Eraser).

    After rinsing and pretreating stains, put shoes in a mesh laundry bag. Then take these steps when using a washing machine to clean white canvas shoes:

    • 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.
    • 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 or shoes that cannot go in the washer, spot clean by mixing one teaspoon of laundry detergent in one 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 to speed drying.

    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 smooth leather shoes are athletic sneakers or stiletto heels, you'll only need a few supplies to keep them clean.

Supplies

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

Tools

  • Soft cotton or microfiber cloths
materals for cleaning white leather shoes
The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 
  1. Wipe Down With Plain Water

    Remove laces, insoles, and embellishments. Dip a cotton or microfiber cloth in plain water and wring to remove excess water. 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 rub it over the 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 cleaning 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. 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

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

Tools

  • Cotton or microfiber cloth
  • Art gum eraser
  • Suede brush or soft-bristled brush
  1. Brush Away Soil

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

  2. Tackle Stains

    Sprinkle oily stains with cornstarch or talcum powder to absorb the oil. Leave 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.

  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.

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.

  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 one 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.

  3. Clean Fabric Edges

    Many patent leather shoes have edges finished with grosgrain ribbon which can become soiled. Mix a solution of one teaspoon dishwashing liquid and one 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.

  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.

Tips to Keep Your White Shoes Clean Longer

  • Consider spraying shoes with a protector that's also water-repellant. Upholstery protector may work for white canvas or fabric shoes.
  • Opt for a tiny drop of white shoe polish for impossible to remove stains.
  • Store white shoes in fabric bags because they can even collect dirt from places like closets.
  • If you have shoes with a bit of 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.