How to clean sneakers in 4 easy steps — with or without a washing machine

A pair of white sneakers next to a scrubbing brush, cloth and cleaning solution
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Knowing how to clean sneakers can make your favorite footwear last that much longer. Even if you own one of the best washing machines, we tend to be uneasy when it comes to cleaning sneakers. We worry that we could damage them in the process, particularly where the washing machine is involved. The trouble is, a damp cloth alone is not likely to cut it when removing stains from sneakers. From caked on dirt to mystery scuffs, all kinds of marks will appear here. 

What you'll need

Scrubbing brush

Dish soap

Laundry detergent


Microfiber cloth

Mesh laundry bag

Luckily, there are ways to thoroughly clean sneakers, without damaging them. Here, we will take you through the best methods and products you can use, whether you’d prefer to use the washing machine or stick to washing by hand. We will also provide tips on how to remove stubborn odors as well as protect your sneakers from stains in the future. By the time you’re finished, your sneakers will gleam as good as new again.

Dealing with canvas, leather, or mesh white shoes? Here’s how to clean white shoes and get them looking like new again.

How to clean sneakers by hand

1. Brush off excess dirt

Scrubbing sneaker sole

Scrubbing sneaker sole (Image credit: Shutterstock)

First, brush off any excess dirt or debris on your sneakers with a small scrub brush. Ensure any clumps of mud, grass or dirt are removed before cleaning. It’s best to do this over a trashcan or outside to keep your floor mess-free. 

2. Remove shoelaces

Putting laces into washing machine

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

If you laces are grimy, remove the shoelaces to wash. You can either wash by hand with warm soapy water to remove dirt, or machine-wash on a cold, gentle cycle in a mesh bag. Avoid putting them through the dryer as this can melt the plastic ends. Instead, leave them to air dry. 

If they are fraying however, it’s probably time to replace them with new laces. Just be sure to measure your existing ones to check the correct length before buying. 

3. Create a soapy cleaning mixture

Cleaning sneakers in soapy water

Cleaning sneakers in soapy water (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Then, mix warm water with 1 to 2 tablespoons of laundry detergent in a large bucket, sink, or tub that is wide enough to submerge your sneakers. Dip an old toothbrush or small brush in the water and scrub around the eyelets to remove any dirt or grime. Wipe clean with a damp sponge or cloth. For sneakers with removable insoles, take them out and scrub clean with the soapy water. 

4. Scrub the sneakers with a brush

Brushing dirt off sneaker

Scrubbing dirt off sneaker (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Next, use your brush to scrub your sneakers with the soapy water until all the dirt has been removed. Apply the soapy mixture into the soles with a clean toothbrush. Scrub the soles, taking care to get all the sides and the bottoms of the shoes. For stubborn stains or marks, you may need to repeat this process, or add a few more drops of dish soap to the solution. Once all clean, rinse off the residue well, before allowing your sneakers to air dry completely. Lace them back up if necessary.  

How to clean sneakers in the washing machine

1. Check label and brush off dirt

Scrubbing sneaker sole

Scrubbing sneaker sole (Image credit: Shutterstock)

First, check the label of your sneakers to make sure they can be put in the washing machine. Usually, it’s fine to machine-wash canvas and mesh shoes. If so, brush off any excess dirt and debris into the trash can or outside, before putting them in the washing machine.  

2. Put sneakers in a mesh laundry bag

White sneakers in mesh bag

White sneakers in mesh bag (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Next, place your sneakers inside a mesh laundry bag, to prevent the sneakers from marking up the drum. If your laces are particularly grimy, remove them and put them inside the same laundry bag. You can easily find shoe washing bags like this Vivifying Shoe Washing Bag ($9, Amazon), to protect them. 

Another tip is to wash sneakers alongside towels to prevent the shoes from banging around in the washing machine.

3. Wash on a cool cycle

A washing machine being programmed via the control panel

A washing machine being programmed via the control panel (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Next, run a gentle cycle with cool water, using the same amount of detergent as normal. Avoid using hot water as this may damage the sneaker. Never put them through the dryer — always let the sneakers air dry. If you put them in front of any heat source, this may cause plastics to warp or ruin the shape of your favorite sneakers. Also, remove any insoles to dry separately, before wearing again.  

How do I get rid of odors in sneakers?

If you have smelly sneakers, the best way to get rid of odors is to sprinkle some baking soda over the insides, and leave overnight. Then, simply shake out the excess baking soda before putting them on the next day. Baking soda has a mild alkaline pH, and is a natural deodorizer and cleaning agent.

If you want to know more about the benefits of baking soda, read our useful guide on what makes baking soda and vinegar so good at cleaning. Just avoid these 7 things you should never clean with baking soda to prevent surface damage.  

How to prevent stains on sneakers 

A white sneaker with a protection solution being sprayed on

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

If you want to prevent stains in the future, there are products you can use. Protective aerosols are widely available which you spray directly onto your sneakers to coat them with an invisible barrier. This protects your sneakers from picking up stains so easily. As a bonus, this solution tends to be waterproof as well, protecting your sneakers from rainfall, and backsplash from puddles. 

An example of this type of product would be Crep Protect Shoe Protector Spray ($15, Amazon). Just make sure the spray you choose is suitable for your sneaker’s material. Apply your aerosol in a well-ventilated space, and remember that the coating will need to be reapplied every so often — follow your product’s instructions for guidance.

Otherwise, to keep white sneakers looking white, pay attention to the weather forecast before you put them on. If rainfall is likely or has recently fallen, your sneakers can pick up stains quickly, not just from rainfall, but from passing puddles. In such conditions, opt for footwear which is more water-resistant and easier to clean. Consider where you’re planning to go for the day as well — walking around the park is a great day out, but this is much more likely to muddy your sneakers versus walking around the shops. Be selective where and when you wear your sneakers; they will stay cleaner for longer as a consequence. 

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Cynthia Lawrence
Content Editor, Homes

As the Homes Content Editor, Cynthia Lawrence covers all things homes, interior decorating, and garden-related. She has a wealth of editorial experience testing the latest, ‘must-have’ home appliances, writing buying guides and the handy ‘how to’ features. 

Her work has been published in various titles including, T3, Top Ten Reviews, Ideal Home, Real Homes, Livingetc. and House Beautiful, amongst many.

With a rather unhealthy obsession for all things homes and interiors, she also has an interior design blog for style inspiration and savvy storage solutions (get rid of that clutter!). When she’s not testing cool products, she’ll be searching online for more decor ideas to spruce up her family home or looking for a great bargain!

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