Whether it’s Stan Smiths or classic Converse, white sneakers are a wardrobe staple. Sadly, those sparkling kicks can turn dirty fast. But don’t worry—from the rundown on DIY remedies to tips on reviving your old shoelaces, our exhaustive guide to cleaning white sneakers is here to show you how to restore your shoes to (almost) pristine condition.
What can I use to clean white shoes?
Despite your best attempts to keep your white shoes sparkling, they’re going to attract dirt. Life happens—don’t panic! Give these methods a try to spiff up your trainers:
Try a dedicated shoe cleaner
If you’re serious about your sneakers, buying a designated shoe cleaner is your best bet. Retailers often sell their own versions (many of which conveniently come with brush applicators). Adrian Campana, the regional manager for Livestock footwear in Toronto (who is also the proud owner of at least 16 pairs of white sneakers) emphasizes that people should look for natural cleaners—he likes Jason Markk’s Premium Shoe Cleaner—so harsh chemicals don’t wear away your shoes.
Make a DIY shoe cleaning solution with vinegar and water
If you don’t want to shell out for shoe-cleaning products, Toronto shoe store Getoutside’s special request manager Giselle Ferguson recommends scrubbing dirt off with a solution of equal parts water and white vinegar. Apply the solution with a cloth, and gently scrub away. She says this method can work on any material (as long as the stain is newer and hasn’t had a chance to seep into the material yet) but that it works best on leather.
How to clean white sneakers with baking soda
Baking soda helps break up soil particles, which is why you can DIY an effective cleaner by making a paste out of baking soda and water and using it to scrub stains when you need to spot clean.
Toronto sneaker blogger Meredydd Hardie (who has over 29,900 followers on Instagram and what she says are more pairs of sneakers than she’d like to count) agrees that baking soda works. She cautions to use this method on white fabrics only, as baking soda can discolour non-white shoes.
Use shoe wipes for on-the-go messes
All our interviewees swear by individual quick wipes. They keep wipes handy in all their jackets and bags for footwear emergencies. Brand marketer and creator Anna Bediones, who has over a decade of experience making content about sneakers, sometimes even improvises with makeup wipes.
Use Mr. Clean Magic Erasers for a quick fix
For tougher-to-get-out stains, some people like using Mr. Clean Magic Erasers for cleaning all parts of their shoes. Campana says that they work really well, but cautions that any harsh cleaners can potentially turn shoes yellow over time.
Or, try a brush to get out tough shoe stains
After applying your chosen cleaning product to your shoes, brushes can help scrub out the stains better than an ordinary cloth. Hardie believes the key to shoe maintenance is using the right brush and cleaner. For example, toothbrushes are fine for the soles, but they might pill the upper part of your shoe. Campana recommends buying softer brushes for your uppers, such as the Jason Markk Premium Sneaker Brush, which is made of a gentler hog bristle.
What about the soles—how should I clean those?
Uppers (the top part of your shoe) and soles attract dirt differently, so it can be helpful to use a different product to clean them more thoroughly. Ferguson recommends Sneaker Rescue wipes, which are all-natural and work on all parts of your shoe but are particularly good at getting scuffs off soles. Alternatively, since soles are tougher than uppers, you can just scrub scuffs away with any kind of brush.
Can I just put my white running shoes in the washing machine?
This method is only recommended for fabric or flyknit shoes, and you should put them in a mesh laundry bag or pillowcase before running your shoes through a delicate cycle. Bediones removes the laces from her shoes first for a better clean, and Hardie suggests taking out any removable insoles first. Just as you can with any laundry load of whites, you can throw in a little baking soda to whiten your shoes even more. Bediones recommends washing a maximum of two or three pairs at a time.
While machine washing shoes is much easier than hand cleaning, it comes with caveats. Never put your shoes through the dryer, and always dry them indoors. “Sunlight is your enemy,” says Hardie, as white soles can turn yellow in the sun. Campana further warns that throwing your sneakers in the washing machine will greatly decrease their lifespan, so use that cleaning method sparingly.
How do you clean shoelaces?
No one wants to make their white shoes sparkle, only to pair them with dirty shoelaces. Bediones says laces are machine washable. (As with any small items, use a delicates bag so that your laces don’t get lost in the machine.) For a more thorough clean, Campana sometimes sprays his laces with stain remover and lets them soak in a bowl for a day before washing them.
How do I protect my white shoes from getting dirty in the first place?
Before you step outside, your best bet is to spray your shoes with a stain and liquid repellant, such as the popular Jason Markk Repel Spray. This is especially important if you have canvas shoes. These sprays build a protective layer between the world and your shoe, making spot cleaning easier.
Ferguson warns that without a barrier, dirt will seep into the surface and leave a stain. The spray generally lasts three to four weeks—when liquids no longer roll off your sneaks, it’s time to respray. Even if your shoes are protected, you’ll want to try to clean messes as soon as they happen to avoid leaving permanent stains.
Should I get white canvas sneakers, or white leather?
Classic canvas shoes will always be in style, but investing in leather sneakers might be a better option. According to Ferguson, not only does leather stretch to fit you better than canvas does, but leather shoes are also easier to clean (and thus, less likely to get stained).
Originally published in 2018, updated in 2023.
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