a pair of black shoes with water droplets on them

How to Clean Shoes

Have you ever looked down at your favorite pair of shoes and thought, “Yikes! Those used to be white!” or “I wish I could bring back the shine in these”? Well, you’re in luck because we’re diving deep into the world of shoe cleaning today. We get it; life happens. Mud puddles appear out of nowhere, accidental spills at lunch, and just the everyday wear and tear. But there’s no need to worry, because knowing how to clean shoes properly can make all the difference.

In this article, we’ll walk (pun intended!) you through the ins and outs of getting those shoes of yours looking almost as good as new. And trust us, it’s not as tricky as you might think! From canvas sneakers to those cool leather boots, we’ve got tips and tricks for them all. Plus, clean shoes don’t just look great; they last longer and feel better. So, whether you’re a sneakerhead with a big collection or just someone who wants to take better care of the shoes you have, you’re in the right place. Ready? Let’s step into the world of shoe cleaning!

The Importance of Cleaning Shoes

When you learn how to clean shoes correctly, you’re not just doing your wardrobe a favor; you’re also taking steps to present yourself in the best light, giving your shoes a longer life, and looking out for your health. Let’s dig a little deeper into why keeping your shoes in tip-top shape is more essential than you might think.

Personal Presentation and First Impressions

Imagine this: You’re walking into a room for the first time, maybe it’s a new school, a friend’s party, or even a job interview. People do notice your shoes! They might not always mention it, but a clean pair of shoes can say a lot about a person. It sends a message that you pay attention to detail and take good care of your belongings.

Extending the Lifespan of Shoes

Shoes can be expensive, right? So it makes sense to want them to last as long as possible. Learning how to clean shoes can save you a lot of money in the long run. Dirt and grime can cause materials to break down faster, especially on those favorite sneakers or boots. By cleaning them regularly, you’re essentially giving them a longer, happier life!

Health Implications: Stepping Up to the Challenge

Avoiding Fungal Infections

Now, this might sound a bit gross, but damp and dirty shoes are like a party for fungi. No one wants that! Keeping your shoes clean and dry helps reduce the risk of those pesky infections like athlete’s foot.

Bidding Goodbye to Unpleasant Odors

Have you ever taken off your shoes and wished you hadn’t because of the smell? We’ve all been there! That odor is usually caused by bacteria thriving in the dampness and dirt. Cleaning your shoes regularly and letting them air out can make those awkward moments a thing of the past.

In conclusion, knowing how to clean shoes is more than just an aesthetic choice. It’s an investment in yourself, your belongings, and your health. So next time you see those scuff marks or feel that dirt inside, remember: clean shoes are happy shoes!

Gathering the Right Supplies

Before you dive into the process of how to clean shoes, it’s essential to have all the right tools and products at your fingertips. Think of it like a chef preparing to whip up a gourmet meal; the right ingredients make all the difference! Let’s explore the essential items you’ll need and some optional ones that can elevate your shoe cleaning game.

Bucket or Basin

First things first, grab a bucket or basin. This will be your main hub for dunking and scrubbing. Make sure it’s clean and spacious enough for your shoes to fit comfortably.

Brushes: The Trio of Cleaning

Soft Brush

This brush is the gentle touch your shoes sometimes need. It’s great for delicate materials and for giving a general once-over before deeper cleaning.

Hard Brush

Got some stubborn dirt or mud? The hard brush is your hero. It dives deep to get rid of those tough spots, especially on soles and rugged surfaces.

Old Toothbrush

You’d be surprised at how handy an old toothbrush can be! It’s perfect for reaching those nooks and crannies, like eyelets and intricate designs.

Clean Cloth or Rag

Once you’ve scrubbed away the dirt, you’ll need a cloth or rag to wipe down the shoe, removing any leftover residue or cleaner.

Specialized Shoe Cleaners vs. Household Items

While there are plenty of specialized shoe cleaners out there designed for specific materials, sometimes simple household items can do the trick! Mild soap and white vinegar can be effective cleaners for many types of shoes. But always be sure to test any product or household item on a small, inconspicuous area first.

Waterproofing Sprays and Conditioners

After you’ve cleaned your shoes, why not give them some added protection? Waterproofing sprays can shield against unexpected rain, while conditioners (especially for leather shoes) ensure your footwear remains soft and supple.

With your supplies in hand, you’re now ready to embark on the journey of how to clean shoes. So gather up those tools and let’s make those shoes shine!

General Cleaning Steps

Once you’ve got all your supplies in order, it’s time to delve into the fundamental steps of how to clean shoes. These general guidelines apply to most shoes, but always remember to check the care instructions of your specific footwear before diving in. Ready? Let’s give those shoes a fresh start!

Removing Dirt and Debris

Before you introduce any water or cleaning solutions, brush off as much dirt and debris as possible. Using your soft brush, give your shoes a gentle sweep. If you encounter any stubborn spots, that’s where your hard brush comes in handy. This step ensures that you’re not just smearing dirt around during the washing phase.

Cleaning Laces Separately

Laces are often overlooked, but they can hold a lot of dirt! Remove them from your shoes and soak them in a mix of mild soap and water. Rub them together to rid them of grime, then rinse. If they’re exceptionally dirty or have stains, consider replacing them altogether.

Gentle Washing of the Shoe Exterior

Fill your bucket or basin with lukewarm water and a touch of mild soap. Using your cloth or rag, gently scrub the exterior of the shoe, working in sections. For any detailed areas or tight spots, the old toothbrush will be your best friend. Always be gentle to ensure you don’t damage the material.

Drying Shoes Correctly: The Art of Patience

Drying is where many people go wrong, but it’s crucial for maintaining the shape and integrity of your shoes.

Avoiding Direct Sunlight

While it might be tempting to place wet shoes under the sun, direct sunlight can cause some materials to fade or warp.

Steering Clear of Direct Heat

Never be tempted to use heaters, hairdryers, or toss your shoes in the dryer. These methods can warp the shape, shrink the shoe, or weaken the glue holding your footwear together. Instead, opt for air drying in a well-ventilated area. Stuffing your shoes with newspaper or white paper towels can help absorb moisture and maintain their shape.

By following these general cleaning steps, you’re well on your way to understanding how to clean shoes and ensuring they look their best for as long as possible. Next time they start looking a bit dull or dirty, you’ll know just what to do!

Material-specific Cleaning Methods

Mastering the basics of how to clean shoes is essential, but as we all know, not all shoes are made of the same material. Different materials call for unique care approaches. Let’s jump into the nitty-gritty of cleaning specific shoe types, ensuring they remain in top-notch condition.

Canvas Shoes

Gentle Scrubbing

Canvas shoes might look sturdy, but they require a gentle touch. Dip your soft brush into a mixture of lukewarm water and mild soap, then gently scrub the shoe’s surface in circular motions. This method helps to lift stains and restore the shoe’s original color without causing unnecessary wear.


Once washed, place your canvas shoes in a well-ventilated area away from direct sunlight. This method maintains their shape and color. You can also stuff them with white paper towels to help them dry faster and keep their form.

Leather Shoes

Conditioning After Cleaning

After cleaning leather shoes with a suitable leather cleaner, it’s vital to condition them. Conditioning helps maintain the shoe’s suppleness and prevents cracks. Use a quality leather conditioner, applying it evenly over the shoe.

Avoiding Water Saturation

Never soak leather shoes or expose them to a lot of water. Instead, wipe them down with a damp cloth and immediately dry them to prevent water stains or warping.

Suede Shoes

Special Suede Brushes

Suede is delicate and requires a special suede brush with soft bristles. Use it to brush off dirt and maintain the shoe’s nap. Brush in one direction for best results.

Addressing Water Stains

If your suede shoes get wet, blot away as much water as you can with a clean cloth. Then, let them air dry. Once dry, use your suede brush to gently restore the texture.


Addressing Odor

Given their frequent use, athletic shoes can sometimes develop a strong odor. Baking soda is a natural deodorizer. Sprinkle some inside the shoe and let it sit overnight. Shake out the excess the next day.

Insole Cleaning

Remove the insoles and clean them separately using a mild soap solution. Rinse thoroughly and let them air dry.

Sandals and Flip-Flops

Dealing with Foot Imprints

Foot imprints on sandals can be tackled with a mix of baking soda and water. Create a paste and apply it to the imprint area, letting it sit for a few hours. Rinse off and dry.

Strappy Sandals Nuances

For sandals with straps, it’s essential to clean between the straps using an old toothbrush, ensuring no dirt or grime is left behind.

In conclusion, understanding how to clean shoes based on their material ensures they not only look good but also last longer. By giving each pair the specific care it deserves, your shoes will always be ready to step out in style!

Tips for Dealing with Stubborn Stains and Problems

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, accidents happen. Shoes get stained, and some stains can be more stubborn than others. But don’t fret! When you’re equipped with the knowledge of how to clean shoes, even the most daunting marks can be tackled. Let’s explore solutions for some of the most common shoe stains.

Ink Stains

Ink stains can be a real headache, but with a bit of patience, they can be managed.

Quick Action

The sooner you tackle an ink stain, the better. Blot the stain with a clean cloth to absorb as much as possible without spreading it.

Alcohol Solution

Rubbing alcohol can be a savior. Dab a bit on a cotton ball and gently blot the ink stain, working from the outside in. Wipe away with a clean cloth and let dry.

Oil and Grease

These stains can be tricky due to their slick nature, but they aren’t invincible.

Absorb with Cornstarch or Talcum Powder

Sprinkle either cornstarch or talcum powder over the stain, pressing it gently onto the stain. Let it sit for a few hours. The powder will absorb the oil or grease. Brush off the residue with a clean brush.


Mud can be messy, but it’s also one of the easier stains to handle if you know the right steps.

Let it Dry

It might seem counterintuitive, but let the mud dry completely. Once dry, it’s easier to brush off.

Brush and Wash

Once the dried mud is brushed off, clean the area with a mild soap solution to remove any remnants.

Scuff Marks

Whether it’s from dancing the night away or just everyday wear, scuff marks are inevitable.

Eraser Magic

For rubber soles or light scuffs on leather, an eraser can work wonders. Gently rub the scuff mark with the eraser until it lifts.

Baking Soda Solution

For more stubborn scuffs, especially on canvas or white shoes, a paste of baking soda and water can be effective. Apply the paste to the scuff, gently scrub, then wipe away with a damp cloth.

In the vast world of how to clean shoes, these stain solutions can be lifesavers. With these tips in your back pocket, you’ll be ready to tackle almost any shoe dilemma that comes your way. Remember, the key is to act quickly and use the right method for the specific stain. Happy cleaning!

Maintaining Freshness After Cleaning

So, you’ve mastered how to clean shoes, but what about keeping them fresh after the cleaning? That’s an equally vital part of shoe care. Just as you wouldn’t wear freshly laundered clothes and neglect deodorant, your newly cleaned shoes deserve to stay fresh and odor-free. Let’s dive into the practices that’ll ensure your shoes remain as fresh as they look.

Using Deodorizing Sprays or Powders

Why Use Them?

Sweat and moisture trapped in shoes can lead to unpleasant odors. Deodorizing sprays or powders act as a barrier, absorbing moisture and leaving a pleasant scent behind.

Application Tips

Always make sure your shoes are dry before applying any deodorant product. For sprays, hold the can a few inches away and give a quick spritz inside the shoe. For powders, sprinkle a little into each shoe and shake it to spread evenly. Remember, a little goes a long way!

Cedar Shoe Inserts or Shoe Trees

The Magic of Cedar

Cedar is a wonder material when it comes to shoes. It naturally absorbs moisture and neutralizes odors, leaving behind a subtle, pleasant scent.

How to Use Them

After wearing your shoes for the day, insert the cedar shoe inserts or shoe trees. They’ll maintain the shape of your shoes while working their magic overnight. They’re especially beneficial for leather shoes, preventing creases and extending the footwear’s lifespan.

The Benefits of Rotating Shoes to Let Them Breathe

Why Rotate?

Just like us, shoes need a break! Constant wear can degrade shoes faster and intensify odors, as they don’t have ample time to air out.

Making Rotation Work

If possible, avoid wearing the same pair of shoes two days in a row. By rotating them, each pair gets a chance to breathe, reducing moisture buildup and wear and tear. This practice not only ensures your shoes last longer but also significantly reduces odor accumulation.

Mastering the art of how to clean shoes is just the beginning. Maintaining that post-cleaning freshness ensures your shoes are always ready for action, be it a casual stroll or a night on the town. With these practices in your shoe care toolkit, every step will feel and smell as fresh as the last. Happy walking!

Preventive Care

As the old adage goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This holds especially true for shoes. While understanding how to clean shoes is invaluable, practicing preventive care can often minimize the need for deep cleaning. Here’s how to stay a step ahead and keep your shoes in pristine condition from the get-go.

Using Protective Sprays

The Shield for Your Shoes

Protective sprays act as a barrier, repelling water, dirt, and other potential stain-causing elements. They’re particularly useful for materials like suede, which are more susceptible to water damage.

How and When to Apply

Always apply protective sprays to clean and dry shoes. Hold the spray a few inches away and coat the shoes evenly. Allow them to dry thoroughly before wearing. Reapply periodically, especially after cleaning or if the shoes get heavily soaked.

Storing Shoes in a Cool, Dry Place

The Ideal Shoe Environment

Shoes thrive in cool, dry environments. Excess humidity can promote mold growth and cause materials to degrade faster, while extreme temperatures can warp shoe shape and weaken adhesives.

Tips for Proper Storage

Avoid piling shoes on top of each other, as this can deform their shape. Shoe racks or individual boxes allow for organized storage. For leather or special occasion shoes, consider using cloth bags to protect them from dust while allowing them to breathe.

Using Shoe Horns to Prevent Heel Damage

The Savior of Shoe Backs

A shoe horn helps guide your foot into the shoe without crunching down the back. Over time, repeatedly forcing your foot into a shoe without one can lead to heel damage and shorten the shoe’s lifespan.

Making It a Habit

Keep a shoe horn by your entryway or wherever you typically put on shoes. With consistent use, it’ll become second nature, and your shoes will thank you for it!

In the journey of how to clean shoes, preventive care is like laying down a path before you even take a step. By adopting these practices, you’re not only preserving the appearance of your shoes but also extending their lifespan. Remember, it’s easier to prevent damage than to repair it, so give your shoes the proactive love they deserve!

In Conclusion: Walking Forward with Confidence

Taking care of our shoes is more than just a routine or a chore—it’s a reflection of our personal pride and an investment in our style and comfort. By understanding the ins and outs of how to clean shoes, from the nitty-gritty of stain removal to the art of preventive care, we equip ourselves with the tools to put our best foot forward, every day. After all, shoes do more than just complement our outfits; they carry us through life’s journeys. By giving them the attention and care they deserve, we not only ensure a longer lifespan for our favorite pairs but also walk with an added spring in our step. So, whether you’re stepping out for a casual walk or a momentous occasion, may your shoes shine, your strides be confident, and your journeys be memorable. Happy stepping!


A: The faster, the better! Fresh ink stains are easier to remove compared to those that have dried and set into the fabric. It’s recommended to treat the stain as soon as you notice it.

A: While bleach can be effective on some ink stains, it’s essential to use it cautiously. It can harm colored fabrics and certain materials. Always check the garment’s care label and do a patch test in an inconspicuous area before using bleach.

A: Some methods can be harsh on delicate fabrics. Always check the fabric care label, and when in doubt, test any treatment on an unseen area of the garment first.

A: While heat can set some stains, making them harder to remove, it’s not necessarily too late. You might need to treat and launder the garment multiple times to see results.

A: Both commercial stain removers and household remedies have their merits. Commercial removers are formulated for stain removal, but household remedies can be more accessible and eco-friendly. It often depends on the stain’s nature and personal preference.

A: While many ink stains can be effectively treated, some might be stubborn, especially if they’ve set for a long time or if they’re from permanent ink. However, with patience and the right techniques, most stains can be significantly reduced, if not entirely removed.

A: Air drying allows you to inspect the treated area in natural light and ensure the stain is entirely gone. Machine drying with heat can set any remnants of the stain, making it permanent.