How to Clean and Care for Tennis and Athletic Shoes

Muddy sneakers
Pete Starman/Getty Images

Tennis shoes are not just for tennis players and athletes—they're for everyone. Whether you need specialty shoes for specific sports or you just like the look and feel of basic canvas sneakers, they all require cleaning every few months. Fortunately, washing most athletic shoes is easy and takes only a few simple steps.

Both leather and fabric tennis shoes can be washed in a washer. If you're not sure, check the manufacturer's website—almost all of them offer cleaning instructions. If you have a standard top loader, always clean the shoes with a load of towels to help balance the bulk of the shoes. In a high-efficiency top loader or front loader with no center agitator, there is less need to balance the load.

How to Wash Tennis Shoes
Detergent Heavy-duty
Water Temperature Warm
Cycle Type Regular
Dryer Cycle Type Air dry 
Special Treatments Wash with towels

Project Metrics

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.

Working Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: One day

Skill Level: Beginner

What You'll Need

Supplies

  • Heavy-duty detergent
  • Baking soda
  • Mesh laundry bag
  • Plain paper
  • Towels

Tools

  • Washing machine
  • Drying rack (optional)

Instructions

  1. Remove Laces

    Begin your tennis shoe cleaning project by removing the laces and putting them in a mesh laundry bag. Toss them in with a load of laundry or set them aside to wash with your shoes. If your laces are fraying and weak, it might be better to replace them.

  2. Clean Insoles

    Remove insoles from your shoes and wipe them down with a cloth dipped in a warm water and baking soda solution. One tablespoon of baking soda stirred into one cup of water works well. Set the insoles aside to air dry while you wash the rest of the shoe.

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

  3. Wash Your 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 and use warm water and a heavy-duty detergent (Persil and Tide are top performers) and 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.

    Tip

    If the shoes are expensive and new, hand washing is a bit more gentle. Use a soft-bristled brush and a solution of mild liquid detergent in warm water. Scrub the inside and outside of each shoe.

  4. Dry Your 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 paper to prevent color transfer and to 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 and cause them to lose their support.

    Tip

    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.

  5. Polish

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

How to wash sneakers
Illustration: Lara Antal. © The Spruce, 2019

Storing Tennis Shoes

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

Treating Stains and Scuff Marks on Tennis Shoes

For scuff marks on leather or faux leather shoes, a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser works wonders. Use a gentle touch and wipe away any residue with a damp cloth. If your canvas shoes come in contact with an oil or food stain, you can treat them before washing with an oxygen-based stain remover. For dark shoes, a permanent marker in a matching color can work wonders to hide scuffs and other blemishes.

Repairs

If the soles become detached, you can repair your tennis shoes with shoe glue and let them dry for at least 24 hours. Unfortunately, most rips or tears in shoes are difficult to fix, and usually, you'll need to replace them with a new pair.

Can You Wash Sneakers in the Dishwasher?

Using your dishwasher to wash tennis shoes can be done, but it's not recommended. While the machine will remove soil, dishwasher detergents are incredibly harsh and can ruin leather and cause fading. Plus, the high heat of the drying cycle can create shrinkage and even melt parts of the shoe.

Disinfecting Tennis Shoes

If you're concerned about bacteria and athlete's foot fungus, you can disinfect your shoes while washing them. Pine oil disinfectants, which work in hot and warm water, are safe to use with athletic shoes and they won't damage the fabric or leather. Brands like Pine-Sol, Spic-n-Span Pine, and Lysol Pine Action can be added at the beginning of the wash cycle.

Phenolic disinfectants, like Lysol, are also effective when used in warm or hot water and may be added to the wash or rinse cycle. If you add it to the rinse, be sure to set the water temperature to warm as many machines automatically use cold water for rinsing.

You can also wash socks and gym bags using these disinfecting products to help prevent the spread of any bacteria and fungus that can cause the problems to reoccur.