Best Way to Wash Shoes (Without Ruining Them): To Use The Washing Machine Or Not?

Best Way to Wash Shoes

Let’s just face the cold, hard, ugly truth.  Your favorite shoes, no matter how great they look, to begin with and how well you treat them, are going to get dirty over time.  That is if you’re wearing them.  There’s really no reason to have shoes you can’t wear, right?  So, what do you do when you want to wash those said shoes?  Today, we are going to take a look at that to make sure you not only get them back to looking like they originally did but also so that you protect them from any and all damage.

To Use The Washing Machine Or Not

The biggest, most prevalent question when you search Google for washing shoes has to do, unsurprisingly, with whether not you can do so via the use of a washing machine.  This is literally everywhere.  And you can safely assume that “can I wash (insert type of material) with a washing machine” is in there, too.  This issue is huge and is one you have to be very careful and tiptoe around.  Not all shoes are cut out for the washing machine.  Yes, it does a tremendous job at taking away dirt and scuffs, but it’s far from the only tool, and it’s most certainly not always the safest way to go about the whole ordeal.  First, what you have to do is make doubly sure you can wash your shoes in the washing machine.  Consult any materials that may have came with your shoes and do a search on it via Google.  Don’t take just one answer wholeheartedly; do your college best to get a level, expansive understanding.  That way you are not influenced by anyone publication or site and are less likely to end up with problems arising.  Just as a helpful note, washing leather is definitely not recommended.  The same goes for suede as well, as each soaks up water and stretch too much.  Not all materials besides them, however, should be put into the washer!

If You Do Use the Washing Machine…

If you decide you are indeed going to use the washer, then you need to make sure you take a few steps first just to be safe.  Just throwing the shoes in and letting the machine go to work is a good work of ruining them.  First, take out the laces.  This is simple and will ensure you can get to the insoles, which also have to be taken out.  Insoles are the comfy- most of the time- bits that we sit our feet on top of.  This is usually the worst part to get dry for shoes, so that’s why you are very much encouraged to take these out.  Some will NEVER get dry, or will at least feel as if they never will, so it’s a bright idea to take them out.  After this, you should put your washer on one of the more gentle settings and use normal, light detergent or soap.  When you are finished with this process, take them out and let them dry via the air.  Never put shoes in the dryer.  This will cause them to shrivel up, whether you notice it or not.  The support could be totally lost if you do this, so airing them out is the way to go.  You can also put them in front of a fan if you like.  With the laces, you set aside, simply put them in warm water mixed with a bit of soap and let them sit for an hour or so before allowing them to also air dry as well.

Cleaning the Soles and Midsoles

Cleaning the outer edges of your shoes is something that is going to be needed from time to time as well.  Just washing off the uppers or laces is only going to do so much.  The unfortunate truth is that sometimes the soles are very difficult to get to looking brand new again.  It may be impossible for them to get all the way clean again, especially if they were white.  With that said, there are grooves that get dirt and the like into them, so this needs to be cleaned out.  Midsoles today also have grooves, so you can use the same method on the outer portion of the shoes.  To do this, use a toothbrush and either some baking soda or a rag that has some water to it.  Baking soda is a little bit better, but you can also use water to dampen the area.  It is arduous work that requires some elbow grease and patience, but you can grind your way through it all eventually.  If you stepped in something unplanned, this is the best way to deal with it sometimes, instead of just washing the whole thing.  It would be like having a storm come through that knocked over trees in one area of the property only to clean it all up.  A little unnecessary though not awful by any means.

Cleaning The Uppers

If you don’t want to put them through the washer, no matter the reason, you can still clean the uppers without much of a problem.  This, too, will be manual, much like above.  You can even use this technique with the soles and midsoles if you like, such as the success rate of it.  For really, really bad stains, though, such as black marks from the pavement or grass stains, just know that it’s going to be extremely tough to rediscover the full white looks.  At any rate, you can hand wash these using a damp rag that has been moistened with warm water.  You don’t even need any soap or detergent here, you can just get right into it.  It takes some work and some patience, once again, but it’s satisfying when you see those scuffs fade away from your shoes and you start to see the looks they once had.  If you like, you could even use a toothbrush and the above method here as well, especially if there are some prickly areas that are harder to reach due to the designs and the such of the shoes.


We talked about how insoles needed to be taken out of the shoes earlier, but what about after that?  You don’t want to just leave them sitting there and not clean them, right?  That’s correct.  Remember, this is the smelliest part because it comes into constant contact with your feet.  Hopefully, you have socks on, but even if not, it’s easy to see how it gets to have odor attached to it.  When you get the chance, you should take soap and warm water and then scrub them with either a soft brush or a rag.  This won’t eliminate odors, but it will go a long way to keeping them clean, which will help get rid of some of it.  If you have a very bad odor, you might want to look at purchasing a deodorizer or getting some foot spray.  Before you are done, make sure to use a sponge or even some paper towels to soak up any remaining residual water that may be on them.  These also should be aired out, just like the uppers and the laces were.

Leather Dress Shoes

We talked earlier about how leather shoes are not so good for the washer.  In fact, leather is a whole other beast entirely.  Some of us hate dress shoes enough as it is, but we particularly don’t like it when they get dirty.  The way you deal with this is to use a natural polish or wax.  But only after you have taken some soap and water mixture and wiped away the dust and grime before doing so.  You don’t want to embed this stuff in with the polish, so you need to eradicate using this method.

How About Suede?

What about suede, then?  Suede is pretty easy to deal with in all actuality.  Canvas can be wiped away, and much like that, with suede you just need to take a brush, as if you were grooming a dog, and wipe away the dirt and stains.  Using suede protector every so often is also very helpful in helping them hold up for as long as you can.


All in all, cleaning and washing your shoes is good, old, basic common sense.  Unfortunately, many of us don’t have a whole lot of time anymore, so we end up doing things on the spur of the moment with a whole lot of thought being put into them.  Rather than take this potentially dangerous approach, you can stick to some of the methods above to find your shoes in a better state than what you currently find them in.  As always, make sure to stick to suggestions from the manufacturers for their shoes.  They are the people who made them, after all, so it’s wise to follow them since they know very well what materials were used and how they react to various agents.  If you are ever unsure of what to do, go the safe route and do it by hand.  This will save you money in the long run, as will keeping your shoes nice and squeaky clean!

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