How To Wash Shoes in the Machine or By Hand

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Keep your favorite pair of shoes smelling fresh and looking new with these steps to wash your shoes in the machine or by hand.

A pair of dirty high top tennis shoes

Whether you run marathons or just meander around the mall, your shoes can get dirty and stained. Not only will they look shabby, but dirty shoes also track messes throughout your home and car. It’s not difficult to wash shoes in a washing machine or by hand, and you can easily keep them clean day-to-day, too.

What Shoes Can You Wash?

Most fabric athletic shoes, sneakers, house shoes, and slippers are washable. You can easily wash shoes made of cotton, nylon, canvas, and polyester. Do not put shoes made of leather or suede, shoes with embellishments like sequins or embroidery, high heels, or platform shoes in the washer.

Before You Begin

Whether you wash shoes by hand or in the machine, you need to budget time for them to air-dry. This can take up to 24 hours, so plan accordingly.


To remove mud from your shoes, scrape away as much loose dirt as possible using a rubber spatula or an old spoon. Let the rest of the mud dry, then knock the soles of your shoes together outside to dislodge more. You can spray the soles with water to loosen mud and scrub it with an old toothbrush, or go ahead and follow the steps to wash your shoes in the machine or by hand.

Spot-clean small spills on fabric shoe uppers using warm, soapy water and an old toothbrush. Once clean, wipe the spot with a damp cloth to remove any soap residue.

To get rid of dark scuffs on your shoes, use a damp toothbrush dipped in baking soda. Gently rub using a circular motion until the spot is gone, then wipe the area clean. A Magic Eraser works, too.

Materials You Need

A sink or basin
Liquid dish soap
Baking soda or white toothpaste (not gel)
Tea tree oil (optional)
An old toothbrush
Several clean towels

Steps to Wash Tennis Shoes or Sneakers

Step 1: Check the care label.

Most manufacturers recommend hand-washing shoes, even those made of canvas. If you do not want to wash them by hand or are uncertain, check the label and follow the manufacturer’s advice. You should always use cold water when washing shoes since heat can damage them.

Step 2: Remove laces and insoles.

Laces can get tangled in the wash and keep your shoes from opening fully to allow complete washing. Remove them as well as the insoles. If the insole does not come out easily, don’t force it: some are not removable. You can wash them in cold or warm water with a little liquid detergent or put them into a mesh bag or pillowcase and wash them in the machine.

Step 3: Treat stains.

Use an old toothbrush or scrub brush to remove excess dirt from the soles of your shoes. My homemade soft scrub is excellent for this. Or, you can use baking soda or white (not gel) toothpaste. Use the toothbrush to rub this onto the stain, wait for 5-10 minutes, and then wipe it away with a damp microfiber cloth.

Step 4: Washing methods.

Always wash shoes in cold water since hot water can melt the glue used to the parts of your shoes together. Use only liquid laundry detergent, not powdered. Do not add bleach or vinegar, which can damage the soles of your shoes. Also, do not add fabric softener since it leaves a coating that can attract more dirt and trap odors.

• To wash shoes in a washing machine (not recommended), put them in a mesh laundry bag or a pillowcase tied at the top if you like. Add a couple of old towels to the machine to keep the load balanced and to muffle the sounds of the shoes in the washer drum. Choose a small, delicate cycle so there is no spin at the end of the wash. Remove your shoes as soon as the wash cycle ends.

To wash shoes by hand, fill a sink or bucket with cold or lukewarm water and a few drops of liquid laundry detergent or dish soap. Sprinkle in a couple of drops of tea tree oil for added shoe deodorizing if you like. Submerge your shoes and use an old toothbrush to scrub them inside and out. Take care around the eyelets so you don’t get brush bristles caught in them. Remove your shoes from the bucket and dump out the soapy water. Rinse your shoes in cold water until all of the soap is gone.

Step 5: Blot and dry.

It’s best to air dry shoes since the dryer’s heat can damage or shrink them. Stuff your shoes with dry rags and gently squeeze them to absorb excess moisture and speed up the drying process. Remove the damp cloths and place them in a well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight and away from heater vents. If you washed your insoles separately, press them in a thick towel to absorb moisture, then let them dry next to your shoes. Repeat with the laces.

Shoes can take up to a day to dry, so plan this project ahead of time as needed. Do not attempt to speed things up by using a hair dryer since heat can warp your shoes. A fan is all right, though, so long as it does not emit heat.

Cleaning Leather or Suede Shoes

To clean leather shoes, wipe them with a cloth lightly dampened in equal parts of distilled white vinegar and cool water. Immediately buff them dry with a fresh cloth. Then, keep the leather polished to repel dirt and stains.

To clean suede shoes, use a soft-bristled toothbrush to remove dirt. Use a dry cleaning sponge to remove other messes, or try these tips to remove salt stains from suede shoes.

How Often Should You Wash Shoes?

Running shoes, gym shoes, and other footwear worn for athletics should be washed twice a month to control bacteria and odors. Shoes worn casually, like fashion sneakers, may only need to be washed every other month. Between washing, use a homemade shoe deodorizing spray or powder to keep them smelling fresh.


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