How to Wash Tennis Shoes like a Pro

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Good shoes are an investment, so you may be wondering how to wash your tennis shoes to keep them looking new. I get it. Mine endure everything from muddy morning walks with my dog to sweaty afternoons doing yard work. Inevitably, they start looking shabby when I know they’ve got plenty of life left.

So, I wash my tennis shoes to keep them looking their best. Usually, I opt for hand-washing tennis shoes as I show in the above video, but sometimes only machine washing will do. If you’re ready to get your favorite pair looking spiffy again, here are the steps and tips I follow. I’m confident they’ll help get your tennis shoes back in peak condition, too.

Should You Wash Your Sneakers?

Shoes are daily warriors, enduring everything from running errands to morning jogs. Exposed to dirt, sweat and wear, they can harbor bacteria, which leads to shoe odors and even skin infections. So, washing your tennis shoes isn’t merely about aesthetics—it’s a step towards healthier feet and longer-lasting shoes.

Step-by-Step Guide to Hand-Washing Tennis Shoes

Washing your tennis shoes by hand isn’t much different from washing anything else. You’ll pre-treat stains, soak and gently scrub your shoes, then rinse them clean and let them dry.

  1. Pre-clean the soles: Use a soft brush to remove any dirt from the soles of your tennis shoes. I dip the brush in homemade soft scrub to clean scuff marks on the shoe sidewalls, too.
  2. Get a wash basin ready: Fill a sink or basin with lukewarm water and add a couple drops of mild liquid dish soap or detergent. (I personally prefer Dawn for this.)
  3. Remove laces and insoles: Wash the laces and insoles in the soapy water. Add a couple drops of tea tree oil to eliminate odors and germs if you like. Rinse everything under the tap, blot it in a towel and set it aside.
  4. Soak your shoes: Dump and refill the basin with more lukewarm water and detergent. Add your shoes and let them soak for a couple of minutes.
  5. Scrub: Use a soft brush to gently scrub your shoes, focusing on stained or dirty areas.
  6. Rinse: Fill the basin with clean water. You can add a little baking soda and tea tree oil at this point to eliminate odors. Rinse away the soap but don’t wring your shoes.
  7. Dry: Blot your shoes dry inside and out with clean towels to remove excess moisture. Let them air dry away from heat and direct sunlight. This can take up to 24 hours. Make sure they’re completely dry before you wear them again.

Why Hand-Washing is Best

Machine washing may seem convenient, but it can damage the structure and material of your shoes. Hand washing, on the other hand (pun intended), only takes 10 minutes and lets you focus attention on the dirtiest areas. As I demonstrate in the video, it’s an easy process and gentle on your shoes.

How to wash shoes in the machine or by handPin

Machine Washing Tennis Shoes: What to Do

Some types of shoes like those made of canvas, nylon or polyester can handle the rough and tumble of a machine washing more easily than others. You might also prefer machine-washing your sneakers is if you’ve stepped in something gross. Always check the care label first, though.

  1. Remove laces and insoles: Remove your tennis shoes’ laces and insoles and add them to a mesh bag. If the insoles don’t slip out easily, don’t force them.
  2. Put your sneakers in separate bags: Put each tennis shoe in a separate mesh laundry bag or pillowcase tied at the top. This protects your washer drum as well as your shoes from abrasion.
  3. Add towels: If you have a top-loading washer, add an old towel to the machine to balance the load.
  4. Use a delicate cycle: Choose the cold water setting and use the delicate cycle so there’s no vigorous agitation or spin.
  5. Do not use additives: Use only a mild laundry detergent to wash your tennis shoes in the machine. Do not add bleach, vinegar, or fabric softener as these can damage your shoes.
  6. Blot and air dry: Remove your shoes as soon as the wash cycle ends and blot them with clean, dry towels. Let you shoes air dry away from direct heat and light.

When to Skip Washing

While most tennis shoes are washable, there are three times you should skip it:

  • Leather: Requires special care. Leather cleaners and conditioners are essential. Avoid water as it can stain.
  • Suede: Even trickier than leather. A suede brush and cleaner are your best friends for cleaning suede shoes.
  • Embellishments: If your shoes have sequins, metal studs, or rope trim around the sole, avoid washing them. These kinds of decorative items are held in place by adhesives which water can damage. Spot clean stains on the upper instead.

Spot Cleaning and Stain Treatments

Accidents happen. Whether it’s splatters of mud or splashes of coffee, spot cleaning can keep a small mess from becoming a permanent stain. Here’s what I’ve found:

  • Mud: Let it dry then brush off as much as you can. Spot clean the area with a soapy cloth if you’re not ready to wash your tennis shoes just yet.
  • Ink: Use rubbing alcohol on a cloth to get rid of pen marks and ink on your shoes. In a pinch, you can use hand sanitizer and a tissue.
  • Coffee: Blot, don’t rub. Then use cold water and a small amount of dish soap.

How Often Should You Wash Tennis Shoes?

If you’re wearing tennis shoes for athletics or workouts, wash them every two weeks to manage bacteria and odors. For casual wear, every couple of months should suffice. Since I’m hard on my shoes and wear them for both purposes, I use homemade powders and sprays to deodorize my smelly shoes between washings. Check them out!

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