How to Clean and Care for Tennis and Athletic Shoes

Someone wearing a pair of dirty athletic shoes

The Spruce / Fiona Campbell

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 15 - 30 mins
  • Total Time: 15 mins - 1 day
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $0-15

Athletic shoes with uppers made of fabric, including wool, typically can be cleaned in a washer every few months to keep them looking new. Before you start, check the manufacturer's instructions to verify that the shoes are washable. Never wash leather shoes in the washing machine unless you don't mind the leather cracking and fading, such as on an older pair of shoes. Leather athletic shoes have special care instructions.

If the shoes are washing machine-safe, you can use a warm-water setting, standard cycle, and any heavy-duty laundry detergent. Also, if you have a standard top-loading washing machine, always clean the shoes with a load of towels to help balance the machine. Once clean, air-dry the shoes or use the air-dry-only setting on your dryer. Drying with heat can melt the shoe glue, warp the soles, or cause them to fall apart prematurely.

If it's time for you to wash your athletic shoes, follow these general steps to get the job done right.

How to Wash Tennis and Athletic Shoes

The Spruce / Lara Antal

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Washing machine
  • Mesh laundry bag
  • Towels
  • Drying rack (Optional)
  • Vacuum (Optional)


  • Heavy-duty detergent
  • Baking soda
  • Clean cloth, soft paper towel, or tissue paper
  • Shoe polish and conditioner (Optional)
  • Fabric protective spray (Optional)


How to Wash Tennis and Athletic Shoes

Materials for cleaning athletic shoes
The Spruce / Fiona Campbell
How to Wash Tennis and Athletic Shoes
Detergent Heavy-duty
Water Temperature Warm
Cycle Type Regular
Dryer Cycle Type Air-dry 
Special Treatments Wash in a mesh bag; wash with towels
How Often to Clean Every three months (more frequently with heavy use or if they get soiled)
  1. Remove the Laces

    Begin your shoe-cleaning project by removing the shoelaces and putting them in a mesh laundry bag to keep them untangled. Toss them in with a load of laundry, or set them aside to wash with your shoes. If your laces are fraying and weak, replace them.


    Do not try to clean the laces by keeping them on the shoes. Remove them every time you think the shoelaces need cleaning. Besides not getting the laces fully clean, the ends of the shoe’s laces can easily get caught or tangled inside your washing machine. 

    Someone removing laces from sneakers
    The Spruce / Fiona Campbell 
  2. Clean the Insoles

    Remove the insoles from your shoes, and wipe them down with a clean cloth or paper towel dipped in a solution of 1 cup warm water and 1 tablespoon baking soda. Set the insoles aside to air-dry while you wash the rest of the shoe.

    If the insoles are smelly, sprinkle them with baking soda to absorb odor and moisture, or replace them. This method can be done frequently, even if you're not cleaning the rest of the shoe.

    Someone cleaning sneaker insoles
    The Spruce / Fiona Campbell
  3. Wash the Shoes

    Before you wash your shoes, you might want to vacuum them inside and out with a brush attachment to remove any loose dirt or stones from hard-to-reach crevices.

    Begin by rinsing the outside of the shoes with cool water to remove any loose dirt or soil. Next, place the shoes in a mesh laundry bag. Using warm water and a heavy-duty detergent like Persil or Tide, wash them with a load of similarly colored towels.


    Washing the sneakers with towels in the machine will help keep the machine balanced. The towels will also muffle the sound of the sneakers hitting the drum walls and will be gentler on your shoes. If you have a washer with adjustable final-spin speeds, select a lower speed to prevent the washer from becoming unbalanced.

    Someone rinsing shoes under a faucet
    The Spruce / Fiona Campbell
  4. Air-dry the Shoes

    Remove the shoes from the washer, and let any residual water drip away. Next, place them on a drying rack in a well-ventilated space to air-dry. Stuff your shoes loosely with white cotton towels or white tissue paper to prevent color transfer and help them retain their shape. Don't use newspaper because the ink might transfer and rub off on your socks.

    If you must use a dryer, select the air-only cycle. Never use a hot setting. High heat can warp the shoes, melt glue, and cause them to fall apart.

    A pair of sneakers stuffed with towels and drying
    The Spruce / Fiona Campbell
  5. Polish and Protect

    When your shoes are completely dry, you can use white, black, or appropriately colored shoe polish to touch up any scuffs on leather shoes. Be careful, though, because the polish will stain. Then, use a leather conditioner to keep the exterior supple and prevent cracking. For canvas shoes, a fabric protective spray will help repel dirt and stains between cleanings.

    Someone polishing white sneakers
    The Spruce / Fiona Campbell

Treating Stains and Scuff Marks on Tennis and Athletic Shoes

If your canvas shoes have a particular oil or food stain, follow the guidelines for removing the specific stain. In general, clean the stain as soon as you can for the best success with stain removal. Avoid allowing a stain the time to set; those stains are tougher to remove.

Mud and dirt should be brushed off—spot clean dirt and mud stains with laundry detergent before washing. Grass stains are more complex than dirt, usually requiring spot treatment with a toothbrush and diluted distilled water vinegar, alcohol, or a baking soda paste.

Diluted distilled white vinegar is also helpful for removing drips from coffee or other drinks and snow and road salt stains common during wintery days.

For scuff marks on leather or faux leather shoes that are too dark for shoe polish, clean them with a paste of baking soda and a bit of water. Dip a cloth in the paste and gently wipe away the scuff mark. Wipe away any residue with a damp cloth.

A permanent marker or colored shoe polish in a matching color can work wonders for dark shoes to hide scuffs and other blemishes.

Care and Repairs

If the soles become detached, repair your tennis shoes with shoe glue, and let them dry for at least 24 hours.

Unfortunately, most rips or tears in tennis and athletic shoes are difficult to fix. Usually, you'll need to replace them.

Storing Tennis and Athletic Shoes

If you don't think you'll be wearing your sneakers for a while, pack them away in a shoebox, plastic tub, or drawstring shoe bag. These storage methods protect your shoes from dust buildup. Always clean your sneakers before storing them, as residual dirt and oils can cause yellowing.

How Often to Wash Tennis and Athletic Shoes

Fortunately, washing most athletic shoes is easy and takes only a few simple steps. Tennis and athletic footwear generally require cleaning every few months, depending on the frequency of use. You might need to clean them sooner if they are visibly dirty or if they are your primary pair of shoes worn daily.

Tips for Washing Tennis and Athletic Shoes

  • Do not use your dishwasher to wash tennis shoes or athletic shoes. The high-heat drying cycle can shrink and melt shoe parts. The dishwasher is also not safe for leather. Dishwasher detergents can also ruin and fade leather.
  • If you're concerned about bacteria and athlete's foot fungus, disinfect your shoes while washing them. Pine oil disinfectants (Pine-Sol, Spic and Span Pine, and Lysol Pine Action) work in hot and warm water and won't damage the fabric. Add the disinfectant at the beginning of the wash cycle.
  • Phenolic disinfectants, such as Lysol, can be added to the wash or rinse cycle. Set the water temperature to warm if adding.
  • To speed up the air-drying process, use a circulating fan.
  • Should sneakers or tennis shoes be cleaned in the washing machine?

    Do not wash any types of leather athletic shoes in the washing machine; hand-clean leather. But you can wash canvas, synthetic leather, or nylon mesh athletic shoes in a washing machine.

  • How do you dry shoes after washing them?

    To absorb the water in the shoe, put an absorbent towel inside the shoe and replace it once it's moist. Place the shoe in a well-ventilated, dry area. Keep the shoes out of direct sunlight, which can sometimes discolor the material. It can take up to 12 hours for a pair of shoes to dry (longer if the air is humid).

  • How do you remove odor from shoes?

    Baking soda is your best option for removing shoe odors. The smelly culprit is usually the insole. You can try to treat the stink by lining the insole with a layer of baking soda powder. Let it sit overnight. If that is not strong enough, consider removing and replacing the insoles.