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Wash Your Workout Sneakers With These 2 Easy Cleaning Routines

Sneakers and running shoes are classic standbys, great for everything from working out to dressing down an outfit. If you've been wearing yours ragged, chances are it might be starting to show: Dirty heels, tattered laces, and smelly soles are all signs of a shoe well worn.

Here's how to wash your sneaks to achieve that crisp, clean look with and without a washing machine.

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How to wash your sneakers by hand

Hand-washing is your best bet for preserving the integrity of the shoe and its materials. And luckily, it's not hard to do. Here's a cleaning step-by-step from Jenn Lifford, creator of Clean and Scentsible:

Materials:

  • A soft shoe brush or toothbrush dedicated to cleaning
  • Dish soap
  • Laundry detergent or your stain remover of choice
  • Hot water
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Process:

  1. Dry brush your shoes with a brush or toothbrush to get rid of as much dirt and debris as possible.
  2. Mix warm water with a bit of detergent or your stain remover of choice in a large bucket, sink, or bathtub. Make sure there is enough in there to fully submerge your shoe.
  3. Use your brush to scrub the mixture into stains, rinsing off all the residue with clean water afterward.
  4. For deep stains, you may need to repeat this process a couple of times or add a drop of dish soap to the mix. Pro tip: If you have white shoes, a dollop of whitening toothpaste could help too.
  5. If your sneakers have removable insoles, take them out and give those a scrub with your soapy water.
  6. Allow your shoes to air dry completely before wearing again. Dry them in the sun if you can (it's fast and can help with odors!), or put some crumpled up newspaper inside to help speed up the process.

As for the proper soap-to-water ratio, Lifford says it depends on the job, and you can adjust the strength of the mixture depending on how dirty your shoes are.

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How to wash your sneakers in the wash

Many shoes will fare just fine in the washing machine. In fact, Lifford says she typically does use the machine for canvas and mesh shoes. Here's how it's done:

Materials:

  • Washing machine
  • A soft shoe brush or toothbrush dedicated to cleaning
  • Laundry detergent
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Process:

  1. Before you get the washer going, it's a good idea to do that same dry-brushing technique to remove dirt and debris.
  2. If you're dealing with significant stains, spot-clean with the aforementioned stain-removing solution prior to washing.
  3. Once you're ready to wash, remove the laces and place them, along with your shoes, in a pillowcase or mesh laundry bag. ("This will prevent the drum from getting marked up if the shoes don't have a white sole," Lifford says.) You can also throw some towels in, to help balance out the weight in the machine.
  4. Fill the machine with laundry detergent. Enough for a small load should do if you're using a few towels alongside the shoes. If your shoes are extra smelly, add a cup of vinegar to your detergent dispenser to help eliminate odors.
  5. Run the machine on a normal setting using cold water.
  6. Allow your shoes to air dry completely before wearing again.

Does the shoe's material matter?

By and large, most sneakers are a combination of canvas, leather, and sometimes mesh material.

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Leather and suede care tips:

You'll want to be careful when cleaning leather shoes, as they can be damaged in water. You definitely don't want to put leather or suede shoes in the washing machine—and letting them air dry in the sun isn't good for the material either. Instead, hand-wash the shoes and spot-clean as you go. Lifford notes it's best to do this using a cleaning solution specifically made for leather.

Canvas care tips:

Canvas or other fabric shoes are much more forgiving and can handle a deeper clean. You can either wash these by hand or in the machine. When in doubt about which method to choose, check to see if the manufacturer has any cleaning guidelines for the particular brand or style of shoe.

The takeaway

Squeaky clean sneakers are a simple pleasure that can make your outfit feel that much fresher. Every so often, be sure to give these wardrobe staples the good cleaning they deserve (and might need).