So, your once sparkling white sneakers have turned the color of dirty dishwater. Do you a. pretend they were always grey; b. chuck them; or c. consult our complete guide on how to clean white sneakers and effortlessly restore them to their former glory? (Hint: The correct answer is ‘c’.) We mined the wisdom of Patric Richardson, author of the audiobook Laundry Love and expert on the washing of all things, for some tips on spiffing up white sneaks. Read on for step-by-step instructions on how to get your kicks looking as good as new—whether they be leather, canvas or suede. (Psst: Yes, you can use the washing machine for some types of sneakers—more on that below.)
How to Clean White Sneakers: A Complete Guide
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How To Clean White Leather Sneakers
You wouldn’t dare throw your prized leather jacket in the washing machine and expect a good outcome. Well, friends, the same rules apply for your white leather sneakers. However, that doesn’t mean you have to live with dirty-looking (or, um, less than fresh-smelling) shoes—just follow these simple steps to safely clean your leather sneaks.
1. Remove and clean the laces. While you definitely don’t want to soak your leather sneakers in water, the laces will fare just fine after a quick dip. Take ‘em out and hand wash them in warm soapy water. Set aside to air dry.
2. Apply a small amount of oily soap to the outside of the sneakers. You can purchase a leather soap designed for the job (like this one from Pink Miracle) or simply use Murphy’s oil soap, which works just as well on leather as it does on wood.
3. Gently scrub the soaped-up shoe with a horsehair brush. The oil-based soap ensures that scuffs and dirt slide away easily, so you don’t need to use too much elbow grease here. (In fact, over-zealous scrubbing may damage the leather.)
4. Rinse the shoe with a damp microfiber cloth. The keyword here is damp: A sopping wet cloth will do the same damage as any soak—namely transforming your supple leather shoe into a brittle bummer when it dries.
5. Deodorize the inside with vodka. Yes, you read that right. It turns out that vodka works wonders when it comes to removing odors from just about anything, stinky insoles included. Best of all, vodka is a natural disinfectant that kills bacteria and fungi to boot. Simply pour some into a spray bottle (we suggest you opt for the bottom shelf stuff and save the good stuff for tonight’s martini), give the inside of your shoes a generous spritz and let them air dry.
6. Apply white polish, if needed. Richardson recommends touching up your kicks with a dab of white polish should any stubborn stains remain.
How To Clean White Canvas Sneakers
Good news: Unlike leather and suede, white canvas sneakers can handle a spin in the washing machine.
1. Remove the laces. No need to hand wash these, but they should be removed before you send the shoes in the machine to ensure a uniform washing.
2. Bag the shoes. For an extra layer of protection, Richardson recommends placing both the sneakers and the laces inside a mesh laundry bag before sending them into the machine.
3. Run the machine. Add a gentle detergent along with oxygen bleach (for extra brightening power) to the machine and wash the sneakers on a cold-water cycle.
4. Skip the dryer. There’s a considerable risk that your canvas sneaks will shrink in the dryer, so air drying is the way to go here.
How to Keep White Sneakers Clean
All types of footwear are magnets for dirt, but a well-loved pair of white sneakers is bound to take a particularly bad beating. As such, you’ll likely have to use the cleaning tips in this guide to restore your sneaks often. There are, however, some preventative measures you can take to ensure the cleaning process is both easy and successful.
When it comes to leather sneakers, Richardson recommends applying a high quality leather conditioner before you first wear your new shoes and again after every cleaning: “If you condition them well, a lot of things will wipe off with a damp cloth.”
For other materials, an all-purpose sneaker protector can help repel dirt, stains and water—just be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully to make sure the product is suitable for use on the material of your shoe.
How To Clean White Suede Sneakers
Leather is a little fussy, but suede takes the cake. On the bright side, the correct way to clean white suede shoes is also incredibly straightforward—once you invest in a suede cleaning kit, that is.
1. Scrub with a brass brush. These brushes are designed specifically for removing grime from suede. Richardson recommends you invest in a good one (we like this Shacke pick) and “go to town” on that filthy shoe. That’s right, you can put some muscle into this task without damaging the material, so roll up your sleeves and have at it.
2. Clean the soles. Once you’ve buffed away the dirt from your white suede sneakers, the filthy soles will likely stand out like a sore thumb. Address this problem by applying a small amount of soap to a damp towel and giving the soles a quick wipe down.
3. Treat any stains. Suede cleaning kits are pretty essential because not only do they include a brass brush, but they also come with something called a suede eraser. When used as you would a pencil eraser, this clever device will remove the stains that the brass brush didn’t banish (you know, like the evidence of that one time you accidentally sloshed a little red wine onto your own feet).