We've all done it: dropped, dripped, stepped in or bumped into something and ruined a pair of brand new sneakers. Whether it was a puddle, pothole, beer or a burger (damn you, ketchup), there's no reason to overreact. Most stains come out with simple cleaners and others are worth the work to remove — simply put, you can probably get them out. No, they won't be as good as new, but you'll surely save yourself some precious dough; cleaning your sneakers is cheaper than buying new kicks, that's for sure.
To start, grab a few items you probably already own: a toothbrush, white toothpaste, towels and a bowl of warm water. But, that doesn't cut it for all kinds of stains or sneakers. There are loads of cleaning solutions and kits out there. Most come equipped with some sort of soap, a brush and perhaps a few wipes. Spot cleaners exist, too, and prove capable of eliminating recent and even rubbed-in blemishes. Some of these products proclaim universality, but how you clean leather differs from the ways you can wash canvas. (Hint: mesh ones can quite literally go in the wash.)
Here are the best tips and tools for refreshing footwear.
How to Clean Leather Sneakers
- Using a paper or coarse cotton towel, wipe any loose debris off your sneakers. Skipping this step could damage your sneaker. All of that crusted dirt could clump and scratch the exterior during subsequent scrubbing steps.
- Wet the soft bristle brush and gently scrub the upper, mid and outsole. This could loosen some stains, but don't fret — you're not done yet. You'll soon add soap
- Use your magic eraser for any concentrated or rubbed in blemishes.
- Apply a bit of your sneaker cleansing solution. We've picked Jason Markk's formulation for its extensive testing. Yes, you could use the dish soap you've stored under your sink, but there's no telling what the chemicals within it might do to your shoe.
- Scrub the shoe in a circular motion, lathering the mix until cleanliness peeks through. Use noticeable scuffs or stains as markers. Once they start lifting, you're on your way.
- Scrub until clean. Use the toothbrush for any isolated or hard-to-reach spots.
- Wipe the sneaker dry with a paper or cotton towel. Let it air dry if soaked.
What You Need
How to Clean Suede Sneakers
- Before we begin, we have to remind you that suede sneakers should remain dry throughout the entire cleaning process. No exceptions! Except, well, for the soles.
- Let's start there. Apply a bit of cleaning solution to the sole.
- Scrub the soles using a magic eraser, toothbrush or paper towel depending on the extent of the stain or scuff.
- Immediately wipe the soap off and dry the sole, all while being sure not to swipe excess soap onto the suede material.
- Next, gently brush any stained or scuffed suede with your suede brush. Doing so will remove most surface-level issues. Again, Jason Markk's suede kit comes with one we're confident in.
- For deeper dings, use a crepe block eraser. Rub in a linear motion until the stain fades.
- Lastly, use a softer eraser like the Nubuck Nap Restorer below. This is what will refresh the sort of lush appearance suede sometimes has. If you like a more matte look or are fine with a worn-in aesthetic, skip this step.
- Suede is the least capable material on this list at withstanding water. As such, waterproofing your kicks is a surefire way to reduce how often you'll need to clean them. Opt for something sprayable — and safe for suede and delicates — so you can manage the moisture levels. Again, never use so much that you dampen the suede.
What You Need
How to Clean Fabric (Canvas, Mesh, Wool) Sneakers
- Fabric sneakers composed of canvas, mesh and wool are made for quick cleaning (in most circumstances). Yes, mesh is the most delicate on this list, and perhaps wool the most unruly, there are expert-tested steps you can take to remove most stains and scuffs.
- First, use a cleansing wipe on the sole and any other rubber elements.
- Next, use a foaming cleanser for the uppers. This step, however, should be saved for soiled shoes — the kinds you're not confident can be returned to new without serious work. An ultra-soft bristle brush should be used to avoid snags and paper or cotton towels should be placed inside the shoe before you lather. (That's an added bonus, but they'll be quick to dry if you do.)
- Next, place your mesh, canvas or wool sneakers in a washable mesh bag. (Yes, your sneakers — unless the brand explicitly mentions otherwise — can go in the washing machine! Allbirds encourages it, but Nike says to avoid it, if possible.) Choose delicate, cold water settings only. Never put performance shoes like running or basketball sneakers in as the cycle, no matter how delicate, could alter its abilities or misshape certain safety features.
- Once the cycle has finished remove your shoes and place them on a dry towel. Always let them air dry.
- Let the shoes sit for at least 24 hours. Once they've reached a sort of "halfway" point, place non-scented deodorizers inside. These will suck up lingering moisture and the remnants of any odors the wash didn't completely rid them of.
What You'll Need
How to Clean White Sneakers
- First, figure out what your shoes are made from. This will inform how you clean your white sneakers.
- Next, follow the steps for your given material. If they’re leather, follow the leather instructions. If they’re fabric, refer to those instructions.
- Let your shoes dry. You won’t be able to tell how clean you got them while they’re still wet.
- Once they’re dry, decide whether they need another round of cleaning or not. If they do, jump to step 5A. If not, go to 5B.
5A: Grab a bottle of SneakErasers Overnight Soak, which can extract stains from white rubber, canvas or leather sneakers. For this method you don’t scrub; you simply fill a bucket, bin or your sink with warm water and one scoop — there’s a scooper inside the packaging — of SneakErasers. Let the shoes soak for at least eight hours. Remove them once the time has passed and let them air dry.
5B: Take the cap off Kiwi’s Shoe Whitener. The formula has an agent within it that can cover even yellowed or stained white sneakers, so be careful about getting it on your hands or other objects. Press the sponge tip to the sneaker to release some suds. Simply stroke it like a paint brush overtop the shoe, ensuring you’re doing so evenly all over. This will work on leather, canvas and mesh, but, per usual, avoid using this product on suede sneakers. Once finished, let it dry to be sure you covered every spot.