How to Clean 5 Types of Shoes Properly

pairs of shoes and scrub brush

The Spruce / Taylor Nebrija 

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 30 mins - 1 hr
  • Total Time: 45 mins - 1 hr, 15 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $25

Take a look at your shoes scattered about on the floor or stored in neat rows in your closet. If you're like most, there are probably lots of different materials, finishes, and colors—all of which can make caring for and cleaning each pair of shoes a complicated puzzle.

Here's the good news: With just a few supplies and some easy steps, you can clean every type of shoe, even slippers. Many of the steps are the same for each, but there are some unique differences that are important to do properly so each of your favorite pairs carries you through many years to come.

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. 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.

What You'll Need

Instructions

How to Clean Fabric Shoes

person cleaning canvas shoes

The Spruce / Taylor Nebrija 

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 washers' cycles can be aggressive and the force of the agitator or tumbler—combined with the 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 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.

Dry Shoes

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

person cleaning leather boots

The Spruce / Taylor Nebrija 

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 an ammonia- and alcohol-free glass cleaner and buff with a soft cloth.

How to Clean Suede, NuBuck, and Sheepskin Shoes

person cleaning a nubuck shoes

The Spruce / Taylor Nebrija  

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 Stins

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

person cleaning espadrilles

The Spruce / Taylor Nebrija  

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 four cups of warm water, one-fourth cup of distilled white vinegar, and one teaspoon of dishwashing 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

person tossing sneakers into the washer

The Spruce / Taylor Nebrija 

Most athletic and tennis shoes can simply be tossed in the washing machine on the gentle or delicate cycle and cleaned with a good, heavy-duty laundry detergent like Persil or Tide. 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. 

FAQ
  • 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.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Rashid T, VonVille HM, Hasan I, Garey KW. Shoe soles as a potential vector for pathogen transmission: a systematic review. J Appl Microbiol. 2016;121(5):1223-1231. doi:10.1111/jam.13250