How to Wash Shoes?

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Your shoes are your great buddy on your daily walk. Whether you go to work, to school, on a hangout, or on a date, your shoes are there to complement your fashion and comfort your feet.

As time passes by, your shoes must have looked tired and unpleasing compared to the first time you’ve used them. While it is normal, you might not want to go on your journey with a dirty buddy. Hence, here is an article full of tips on how to wash your shoes in the correct way. You will also read some preventive tips and amazing hacks to let your shoes live longer.

If you have white shoes, we have another article on how to clean white shoes. This article is purposely made for all shoes in general albeit the variety of color, design, fabric, etc.

How to Wash Shoes

Preventive care tips after purchasing your shoes

Sometimes we get too excited about wearing our new shoes. Often we use it without any preventive care methods applied. Though this is not basically a tip for washing your shoes, this will help you in the long run. You might want to deal with stains that are easier to remove than stubborn ones. Also, you might want to deal with a lesser variety of stains than a wide variety which leads to confusion on how to clean it well. The moment you read this, you must inculcate a practice of preventive care methods before using your awesome new shoes.

First, it is always better to purchase protective sprays after your purchase your shoes. Protective sprays act as a thin layer that blocks stains, spills, and dirt from penetrating the fabric of your shoes. It comes in different faces for different shoe fabrics. Different fabrics need different care which leads to different formulations needed to optimize protective coating. For instance, leather protectants are available for leather shoes. Suede sealants are also available for suede shoes. Lastly, stain repellents are available for the other fabrics.

There are some shoes designed with different types of fabrics. For example, you might have purchased shoes with both suede fabric and leather fabric. In situations like this, use both suede repellant and leather protectant and apply it on the fabric respectively.

In case you have suede shoes, it’s better to purchase a suede brush. Use it before and after applying suede sealants.

Hand wash vs. machine wash

There has been a common dilemma about the efficiency and advantage between hand washing and machine washing. In some cases, handwashing works best since you can thoroughly investigate and clean the stains and dirt. Alternatively, machine washing works best in terms of effort and time.

Again, different fabrics need different care. Even in washing, this principle still applies. While most fabrics are generally good for handwashing, some fabrics are advised to avoid machine washing. Sometimes the manufacturer includes a safety precaution on how to clean your shoes.

While it is your responsibility to ask your manufacturer, animal-based fabrics, such as leathers and suedes, deems risky for machine washing. These materials are prone to damage from water. So there’s a specified cleaning procedure for it.

While suede shoes are totally not advisable for machine washing, some users have methods to effectively machine wash their leather shoes. Thus, machine washing depends on your preference. Machine wash your shoes at your own risk!

Most shoes are made with cotton, nylon, and polyester. These materials can be safely handled on water. Thus, you may opt between hand washing and machine washing for these common fabrics.

In case your shoes have satin and silk fabric, we recommend you not to totally wash it at all. It is best for a specialist to clean these types of shoes.

Essential materials for manual washing

Manual washing is so beneficial. You only need to use materials found in your home. There’s no need to totally invest in a special cleaner. Here is a list of materials which is generally effective and essential for your handwashing needs.

  • Old Toothbrush
  • Soft Cloth or Sponge
  • Detergent Powder

General hand wash procedures

As a precaution, please read the label if you can fully wash your shoes.

  1. Remove the laces of your shoes
    • A lot of dirt and grime is accumulated on the eyelets of your shoes. It will be hardly removed if you won’t remove the shoelaces.
  2. Remove the insoles of your shoes if it is removable
    • It is best to separately clean your insoles if you want to reduce the odor of your shoes.
    • Use the same steps below to clean your insoles
  3. Remove loose dirt on the outsoles using an old toothbrush
  4. Create a slightly soapy mixture
    • Mix detergent powder with water
  5. Dip your soft cloth or sponge into the soapy mixture
  6. Rub the cloth or sponge against the dirty areas of your shoes
  7. Soak another soft cloth or sponge in a water
  8. Use the water-soaked cloth or sponge to remove excess detergent
  9. Repeat steps 4 to 7 for stubborn stains
  10. Air-dry or sun-dry your shoelaces
  • Dry separately iff the insoles of your shoes are removable.
  • Flip the tongue out over the shoes’ toe box to thoroughly dry up the interiors of your shoes.

Essential materials for machine washing

Machine washing saves your time a lot. While there is an optional material to make your machine washing more efficient, there are materials that you can still find at home. Here is a list of materials which is generally effective and essential for your machine washing needs.

  • Mesh Bag
  • Detergent Powder
  • Old Toothbrush
  • Used Towels

General machine wash procedures

As a precaution, please read the label if you can fully wash your shoes.

  1. Remove the laces
    • A lot of dirt and grime is accumulated on the eyelets of your shoes. It will be hardly removed if you won’t remove the shoelaces.
  2. Use a toothbrush to scrub loose dirt from the surface of the shoes
  3. For stubborn stains, expose the surface with stubborn stains beneath a running faucet
  4. Use a mesh bag to protect your shoes and your shoelaces separately
    • You may use an empty pillowcase as an alternative for a mesh bag.
  5. If you’re irritated with too much washing noise, use towels as a buffer.
    • The towels prevent the banging of your shoes towards the washing machine.
    • Do not use brand new towels and white towels as a buffer.
  6. Set your machine to a cold washing temperature
    • Warm wash causes fading and discoloration
    • This is advisable for PU (polyurethane) and PVC (polyvinyl chloride) fabrics.
  7. Set your machine on a normal washing cycle
    • Your shoes need gentle handling. Less friction means less stress towards your shoes.
  8. Use half of the needed detergent
    • Your washing machine will not wash a full load. Use half of the detergent recommended for a normal washing cycle.
    • Too much detergent leaves soap residue on your shoes. It may lead to staining. Worst, your shoes may become stiff.
    • There’s no need to use any special detergents. A regular detergent will still do its job.
  9. Air-dry or sun-dry your shoes and shoelaces
    • If your shoes have removable insoles, dry them separately.
    • Flip the tongue out over the toe box of your shoes to thoroughly dry up the interiors of your shoes.
  10. Reinsert the insoles and re-lace the shoes when completely dry

Air dry vs. sundry

If you can observe, the procedures above can be a bit ambiguous when it comes to drying. We leave you the choice between air drying and sun drying. Hence, here’s a run-through of the two drying methods.

Sun drying is good for you if you are just in your house the whole day, or if there’s someone you can tap to remove your shoes away from sunlight. Also, it is good if you need to use your shoes within the day – that is afternoon if you will wash your shoes in the morning, and evening if you will wash them in the afternoon. Sun-drying takes more or less 3 hours to dry, which is obviously less compared to air drying. However, overexposure to sunlight may cause quality degradation, color fading, and texture changes to your shoes. Fabrics like suedes are totally not advised to be exposed to the sun. Thus, it is really important to remove your shoes if it is totally dried.

Alternatively, air drying is good for you if you can’t catch the sunlight after cleaning. Don’t worry! Air drying is generally safe for all types of fabrics. Obviously, it takes a longer time to dry with this method – up to an overnight drying. With this method, you prevent the risk of overexposure to sunlight. The moment you wake up, your shoes is completely dried and ready to use. Some users leave the shoes in a cool dry place without any blowers. Some users prefer to let the shoes sit in front of a fan or any machine with air blowers to speed up the drying process. It still depends on your preference. But leaving the shoes without blowers ensures more evenly-dried shoes.

Shoe hacks and tips

Quickly clean your shoes anytime anywhere

This tip seems to be a hassle. But if you seem to be easily annoyed with just a little spot of dirt on your shoes, it is best to bring tissues with you anywhere you go. By the time you spot a stain or dirt on your shoes, immediately wipe a tissue before the stain dries or becomes stubborn in the worst case.

Establish a general cleaning schedule

You can generally clean your shoes weekly, biweekly, monthly, or bimonthly. It all depends on your availability. Just keep this in mind: on a longer duration, your shoes must have accumulated a lot of stains and dirt where some of which may become stubborn already.

Do a small cleaning when you get home

Stains and dirt become harder to remove if it is left in your shoes for a long time. Stubborn stains sometimes become a headache on your general cleaning schedule. To avoid a lot of stubborn stains, do a quick clean-up when you get home. You must get a damp cloth and wipe it on the surface of your shoes. Wipe it on both stained and unstained parts of your shoes. Aside from removing small dirt, your shoes will have a lesser risk of damage from wear and tear.

Scrub the brush in a circular motion

When the stain is found on open surfaces, it is best to scrub in a circular motion. You may also try to wipe the cloth in a circular motion. This prevents strain on your hands and at the same time, it is an optimum motion for the removal of dirt. However, linear motion is still recommended for creases and contour lines.

Air Drying Hacks

In a worst-case scenario, you might wake up with damp shoes or unevenly dried shoes. If you need to use your shoes on the next day, you must stick paper towels or tissues around your shoes during the air-drying process. Towels and tissues help absorb the moisture from your shoes and keep your shoes in shape at the same time.

Do not try sticking newspapers, magazines, and used papers when air drying. While it absorbs moisture, the ink may bleed and dye on the surface of your shoes!

Conceal Scratches with Nail Polish

Scratches would be awful in your shoes. This might be tricky, but you can cover up those scratches with nail polish. Just apply it like how you use nail polish on your nails. But you need to carefully consider the color of your nail polish. You might not want to end up with uneven-colored shoes.

Apply protective sprays again after cleaning

Protective sprays will not work like a miracle protecting your shoes for a lifetime. It only optimally works for at least a month. When cleaning, you also reduce the usability of protective sprays. Thus, it is best to apply protective sprays after you clean your shoes.


Washing your shoes might be a little exhausting, but it is worthwhile when you see the result. It’s great to see your shoes come back to life again!

You can totally remember what your shoes look like at the moment you bought them. For sure, you want your shoes to retain their appearance for the rest of your life. Sadly, there’s a life span tied to your shoes. But the decision is yours if you want your shoes to age well or to age poorly!

Pamela Couch

I am a designer, shoe-obsessed lifestyle expert, and founder of, a shoe boutique located in Downtown Atlanta. I love shoes and I love being able to share my passion for them with others.