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.

Pair of dirty red high top tennis shoes that need to be washed

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. Care tips for those shoes are further down.

How to Wash Tennis Shoes or Sneakers

Shoes can take a full day or more to dry after washing, so plan to wear other footwear in the meantime.

Step 1: Check the care label.

Look inside the shoe for the manufacturer’s care instructions and see if they warn against laundering or recommend a specific temperature setting. Follow the manufacturer’s advice in those regards to protect your shoes.

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. Put the laces and insoles into a mesh bag or add them to a pillowcase and tie the top in a knot. Put those in the machine.

Step 3: Treat stains.

Use an old toothbrush or scrub brush to remove excess dirt from the soles of your shoes. Next, treat stains with a mixture of 2 tablespoons baking soda, 2-3 drops of liquid dish detergent, and just enough water to form a paste. 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.

Whether you wash shoes in the machine or by hand, use cold or warm 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, 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 and proceed to drying.

To wash shoes by hand, fill a sink or bucket with cold or lukewarm water and a few drops of liquid laundry powder or dish detergent. 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 one at a time under cold running water, squeezing them gently 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 moisture and speed up the drying process. Remove the damp cloths and place your shoes 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. You can aim a fan at them to speed up this process.

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 brush to remove dirt. Use a dry cleaning sponge to remove other messes, or try these tips to remove salt stains from suede shoes.

Tips to Keep Shoes Clean

Wearing shoes in your home tracks in a lot of dirt, dust, and allergens. You’ll be surprised at how much cleaner your home stays if you get in the habit of removing your shoes at the door and wiping off their soles. Use a warm, soapy rag or a homemade disinfecting wipe then switch to house-only shoes or slippers while your other pair dries.

To remove mud from your shoes, scrape away as much fresh mud 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.

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