How to Clean and Care for Tennis and Athletic Shoes

Someone wearing a pair of dirty athletic shoes

The Spruce / Fiona Campbell

Overview
  • Working Time: 15 - 30 mins
  • Total Time: 1 day
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Tennis and athletic shoes are designed to withstand rigorous wear and tear, but they can quickly become dirty. Luckily, both leather and fabric shoes can be cleaned in a washer. If you're not sure, check the manufacturer's website for cleaning instructions. If you have a standard top-loading washing machine, always clean the shoes with a load of towels to help balance the bulk of the shoes. In a high-efficiency, top-loading machine or front-loading machine with no center agitator, there's less need to balance the load.

How Often to Clean Tennis and Athletic Shoes

Tennis and athletic footwear requires cleaning every few months. Fortunately, washing most athletic shoes is easy and takes only a few simple steps. Before you wash your shoes, vacuum them inside and out with a brush attachment to remove any loose dirt or stones from hard-to-reach crevices. Expensive or new shoes should be hand-washed using a soft-bristled brush and a solution of mild liquid detergent and warm water. Scrub, and rinse with plain water.

Illustration for how to wash sneakers

The Spruce / Lara Antal

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Washing machine
  • Mesh laundry bag
  • Towels
  • Drying rack (optional)

Materials

  • Heavy-duty detergent
  • Baking soda
  • White tissue paper
  • Shoe polish and conditioner (optional)
  • Fabric protective spray (optional)

Instructions

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 mesh bag and with towels
  1. Remove the Laces

    Begin your shoe cleaning project by removing the laces 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.

    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 cloth 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

    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. 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. 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 may 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 an appropriately colored shoe polish to touch up any scuffs on leather shoes. 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

Storing Tennis and Athletic Shoes

If you don't think you'll be wearing your sneakers for a while, they can be packed away in a shoebox, plastic tub, or drawstring shoe bag. Always clean your sneakers before storing them, as residual dirt and oils can cause yellowing.

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.

Treating Stains and Scuff Marks on Tennis and Athletic Shoes

If your canvas shoes have an oil or food stain, follow guidelines for removing the specific stain. For scuff marks on leather or faux leather shoes that are too dark for shoe polish, clean 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. For dark shoes, a permanent marker in a matching color can work wonders to hide scuffs and other blemishes.

Tips for Washing Tennis and Athletic Shoes

  • Using your dishwasher to wash tennis shoes is not recommended. Dishwasher detergents are harsh and can ruin and fade leather, while the high heat can shrink and melt parts of the shoe.
  • If you're concerned about bacteria and athlete's foot fungus, disinfect your shoes while washing them. Pine oil disinfectants work in hot and warm water and won't damage fabric or leather. Brands like Pine-Sol, Spic and Span Pine, and Lysol Pine Action can be added at the beginning of the wash cycle.
  • Phenolic disinfectants, like Lysol, may be added to the wash or rinse cycle. Set the water temperature to warm if adding.
  • Avoid direct sunlight when drying leather tennis shoes because the heat can cause the leather to dry too quickly and crack. You can, however, use a circulating fan to help speed the drying process.