With just a few supplies and some easy steps, you can clean every type of shoe, even slippers. Many steps are the same for every material, from fabric and leather to synthetics and sneakers. Pay special attention to the unique differences when following these step-by-step guides for cleaning your shoes. Proper care of your favorite pairs will extend the life of your shoes.
How Often to Clean Your Shoes
How often to clean your shoes is a personal preference, but if you want them to look brand-new at all times, it's a good idea to clean your shoes at least once a month. Shoes you wear only on occasion can be cleaned on an as-needed basis. You should also take care to properly clean or dry your shoes any time they're subjected to poor weather, like rain, mud, or snow and salt.
Before You Begin
When faced with dirty shoes, especially fabric shoes, the instinct might be to throw them in the washing machine. But generally speaking, this is not a good idea, because the long soaking and rough handling of the agitator can damage them and loosen the glues that hold the parts together.
And be realistic in your expectations, no matter what cleaning method you use. With shoes made of delicate materials, or shoes that are very heavily stained, it's virtually impossible to restore them to like-new condition. But with the methods described below, there's every reason to think you'll be able to make your shoes presentable again and get extra life from your footwear.
Equipment / Tools
- Old toothbrush
- Paper towels
- Soft cloth
- Dishwashing detergent
- Distilled white vinegar
- Baking soda
- Glass cleaner (ammonia and alcohol-free)
How to Clean Fabric Shoes
Fabric shoes can be strappy sandals, sneakers, pumps or flats. No matter the style, the fabric will eventually get dirty. You may find some hacks online about tossing fabric shoes in the washer, but this can actually be a bad idea. Your washer's cycles can be aggressive and the force of the agitator or tumbler—combined with the temperature and friction of the moving water—can warp or tear at the shoe. Instead, clean fabric shoe surfaces by hand with just some dishwashing detergent, warm water, an old toothbrush, and paper towels.
Brush Off Excess Dirt
Wipe down the shoe fabric with a dry paper towel to remove any loose surface soil, dirt, or debris.
Make a Cleaning Solution
In a small bowl, mix one teaspoon of dishwashing liquid into two cups of warm water. Stir well until combined.
Scrub Shoes Clean
Working on a small section at a time, dip the toothbrush in the soapy solution and lightly scrub the fabric. Do not over-wet the fabric. Work with the grain of the fabric, moving all around the shoe to keep the color consistent and prevent spotting.
Remove Soapy Residue
Wipe the entire shoe with a paper towel moistened with clear water. You may need several towels to "rinse" the entire shoe.
Blot the fabric with a dry paper towel and allow the shoes to air dry away from direct heat and sunlight. To help some shoes hold their shape, stuff dry paper towels into the toes or heels until the shoe is completely dry.
How to Clean Leather, Patent Leather, and Faux Leather Shoes
When it comes to cleaning leather, patent leather, or faux leather shoes, you will be dealing with two signs of wear and age—dirt and scuffs or fading. You'll want to take care of both with your "cleaning" in order to ensure your shoes stay looking their best.
Wipe Off Excess Dirt
Start by brushing off any soil with a cloth dipped in a solution of equal parts cool water and distilled white vinegar. This works particularly well to remove any winter salt stains. Allow the shoes to air dry completely.
Polish Out Scuffs
For scuffs on real leather shoes, use a commercial polish and follow the package directions. If you don't have a polish that matches white athletic shoes or today's rainbow of colors, wet a soft cloth with water and dip it in a bit of baking soda. Gently rub the scuffed area and wipe away the residue with a clean cloth. Allow to dry and then buff again with a clean cloth.
For scuffs on patent leather and faux leather shoes, rub the marks with a dab of petroleum jelly and buff with a soft cloth. Restore the shine with a spritz of ammonia-and alcohol-free glass cleaner and buff with a soft cloth.
How to Clean Suede, NuBuck, and Sheepskin Shoes
The key to keeping suede or any napped surface shoe looking its best is regular care. The surfaces should be kept as dry as possible and cleaned with a soft-bristled brush after every wearing to remove loose dust and soil. Treat stains as quickly as possible.
Remove Marks and Scuffs
Using a pencil eraser, gently rub any marks or scuffs until they disappear, then brush with a shoe brush to restore the nap of the shoe.
Treat Any Oil Stains
Sprinkle any stains with baby powder or cornstarch to absorb the oil. Let the powder sit on the stain for at least an hour, then brush away. Repeat until all of the oil is absorbed and then brush to lift the nap.
Treat Any Wet Stains
Blot wet stains as soon as possible with a paper towel or cloth to absorb moisture. Allow the shoes to air dry completely away from direct heat. Brush to smooth the nap.
Wipe the Interior of the Shoe
Shoes like sheepskin boots often have shearling linings that get even dirtier than the outside. To keep fungus and odor under control, regularly wipe down the inside of the boots with a cloth dipped in a solution of wool shampoo and water, followed by a 50:50 vinegar-water rinse. Allow the boots to air dry for at least 24 hours before wearing.
How to Clean Rope or Cork Wedges
Because they're made of natural fibers, cork and rope shoes take a little extra TLC when they're being cared for. After you've cleaned the upper fabric or leather part of a wedge shoe (using the methods above), it's time to tackle the rope or cork-covered sole.
Mix and Apply a Cleaning Solution
Mix a solution of 2 cups of warm water, one-half cup of distilled white vinegar, and 5 or so drops of non-toxic detergent. Work in a small area at a time and use an old toothbrush or cloth to clean the surfaces. For rope soles, work in only one direction to keep the rope from fraying.
Wipe Off Solution and Let Dry
When everything is clean, wipe down with a cloth dipped in plain water to rinse away soapy residue and allow the shoes to air dry.
How to Clean Athletic Shoes in a Washing Machine
Although it's generally not advised to wash any shoes in the washing machine, an exception can be made for fabric athletic sneakers and tennis shoes, including those with wool uppers like the styles from Woolloomooloo. Athletic shoes have sturdy construction that can generally stand up to a few machine washings. Simply toss them into the washing machine on the gentle or delicate cycle and clean with a good, heavy-duty laundry detergent like Persil or Tide. Before washing, remove any inner soles and the laces and wash the laces separately. To control odor and fungus, wipe down the inner soles with a 50:50 vinegar-water solution before placing them back in shoes or replace with new liners.
However, this is not a good method for athletic shoes with uppers containing leather. These should be treated in the same way as leather street shoes (see above).
How frequently should you clean your shoes?
If your shoes are ones you wear on a daily basis then you should clean them at least once a month. If they look dirty, then go ahead and clean them sooner.
Can you spray shoes to make them waterproof?
You can protect your shoes from the elements by using a waterproofing product. It will not only make them water-repellent but will also provide them with stain resistance.
Are there germs on the bottom of shoes?
Studies have shown that bacteria and other germs are carried on the bottom of shoes, making it a wise decision to leave your shoes at the door when entering your home or as a guest in someone else's home.
Can I clean shoes with OxiClean™?
OxiClean™ falls into a category of laundry cleaners containing dried hydrogen peroxide plus ordinary washing soda. And it can be helpful for pretreating fabric shoes that are especially dirty or smelly. Mix a scoop of the detergent with a gallon of water, soak the fabric shoes in the solution for 1 to 6 hours, then wash the shoes in a machine. This can be especially effective with white sneakers, which are notoriously hard to get white again.
Rashid T, VonVille HM, Hasan I, Garey KW. Shoe soles as a potential vector for pathogen transmission: a systematic review. J Appl Microbiol., vol. 121, no. 5, pp. 1223-1231, 2016. doi:10.1111/jam.13250