How to clean white shoes and get them looking like new again

A dirty pair of canvas shoes next to a clean pair on the grass to explain how to clean white shoes
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

If your fresh footwear are looking worse for wear, you'll need to know how to clean white shoes and keep them spotless, you've come to the right place. White shoes, whether made of canvas, leather or mesh, look great when new, but they soon build up with dirt and grime when worn. Cleaning these can be an intimidating task — some brands can be very expensive and the fear of causing damage puts many off the job. 

Although cleaning white shoes may seem tricky to do, it’s actually very straightforward with a few household products. Here, we will take you through exactly what to do step-by-step so you can get your white shoes gleaming again. Here’s how to clean white shoes.  

Dealing with sneakers? Be sure to check out how to clean sneakers for more detailed  guidance.

How to clean white shoes — Canvas 

What you'll need

Old toothbrush

Microfiber cloth

Dish soap/laundry detergent (optional)

Baking soda (optional)

Hydrogen peroxide (optional)

Bleach (optional)

Magic eraser/toothpaste (optional)

Some canvas shoes claim to be machine-washable, although this can damage them if you don’t follow the care label instructions exactly. If you do decide to go down this route, remove the laces and place them along with your shoes in a secure mesh bag.  

Follow the care label instructions, or use a cold wash on a gentle cycle. Pad out the drum with towels if you’re using a front-loading washing machine to prevent damage. Use a gentle detergent and only use a small amount. If your shoes are valuable, we don’t recommend machine-washing, follow these steps instead:

A pair of white canvas shoes being cleaned

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

1. Remove the shoelaces and brush away any obvious dry dirt. You can use an old toothbrush to get into the crevices on the sole, and a toothpick to shift any lodged stones. You can also try clapping the shoes together outside for a quick way to break away the dirt.

2. Hand wash your canvas shoes using one of the following methods:

  • Soap and water — First resort is good old fashioned soap and water. You can use either a mild laundry detergent or dish soap depending on what you have to hand. Mix a small amount of either with warm water and then apply directly with a clean toothbrush or microfiber cloth. 
  • Baking soda and hydrogen peroxide — Hydrogen peroxide will brighten your shoes as well as disinfect them. Mix one part hydrogen peroxide to two parts baking soda to make a paste (add water if needed). Apply that paste to the uppers as well as the soles. Then leave to dry for 30 minutes before the next step. 
  • Bleach — Bleach is the most powerful method if you really want to make your shoes shine. Simply mix one tablespoon of bleach with four tablespoons of water. Then, while wearing gloves, scrub the solution onto the shoes in a circular motion.  

3. Rinse your chosen solution from your shoes with a damp microfiber cloth

4. If the soles still look grubby, you can try using a magic eraser, such as Mr. Clean Magic Eraser ($12.10, Amazon (opens in new tab)) around the edges and on the underside. Simply wet the sponge and start to scrub. Then rinse again. Alternatively, toothpaste can also be used to clean the soles. 

5. Leave your shoes to dry completely. Place them in sunlight to brighten them even more.     

There you have it — your white canvas shoes should look like new again. 

How to clean white shoes — Leather 

A leather white shoe being brushed by a toothbrush in the sink

(Image credit: Future)
What you'll need

Soft-bristled toothbrush

Microfiber cloth

Paper towels

Dish soap (optional)

Leather cleaner (optional)

Baking soda (optional)

White vinegar (optional)

Micellar water (optional)

Magic eraser (optional)

Leather is a little more delicate, so you need to take care how you clean these. First of all, never machine wash, follow these steps instead: 

1. Follow the first step as for canvas shoes, removing the laces and removing any initial dry dirt.

2. Next, use a shoe tree to help them hold their shape as you clean, or alternatively you can just stuff each shoe with paper towels.

3. Then use one of the following cleaning methods to remove stains:

  • Soap and water — Again, soap and water is always a safe first bet. Mix a few drops of dish soap with some warm water and then apply to the leather with a soft-bristled toothbrush or a microfiber cloth. 
  • Leather cleaner — If you want to play it safe, you can always use a designated leather cleaner to remove the stains. We recommend Pink Miracle Shoe Cleaner ($18.97, Amazon (opens in new tab)). Simply follow the instructions of your chosen cleaner.
  • Baking soda and white vinegar — Is there anything baking soda and vinegar can’t clean? You can mix one tablespoon of baking soda with two tablespoons of white vinegar (be prepared for it to fizz), with one cup of water. Then apply with a soft-bristled toothbrush or microfiber cloth in a circular motion. 
  • Micellar water — If you have some micellar water to hand, you can also use it to shift stains on your leather shoes. Simply apply it directly using a microfiber cloth.    
  • Magic Eraser — You can also use a magic eraser on the leather upper and the soles. Be sure to test it on an inconspicuous area first though, as soft leather may scuff from this method. 

4. Rinse your solution away with a damp microfiber cloth.

5. Fill your leather shoes with fresh paper towels  to help absorb the moisture as they dry. 

6. Leave to dry completely before wearing again.  

How to clean white shoes — Mesh 

A pair of white mesh shoes next to a hand holding a brush

(Image credit: Shutterstock)
What you'll need

Soft-bristled toothbrush

Dish soap

Bleach pen (optional)

The thing to remember about mesh shoes is that they’re actually quite delicate. So you need to use softer cleaning tools and you shouldn’t scrub as harshly as you would on canvas.  

1. Remove the laces and gently brush away any excess dry dirt with a soft-bristled toothbrush.

2. Mix a few drops of dish soap with some warm water to create a soapy mixture. Then apply gently to the mesh shoes using a microfiber cloth. Gently wipe in a circular motion, rather than scrub, and move to fresh sections of the cloth to avoid spreading the dirt.   

3. If you’re dealing with stubborn stains, you can try gently scrubbing the soapy water solution in with a soft bristled toothbrush. You can also try using a bleach pen — we recommend OxiClean On The Go Stain Remover Pen ($8.99, Amazon (opens in new tab)).

4. Rinse with a clean, damp microfiber cloth.

5. Leave the shoes to dry completely before wearing them again. 

How to clean white shoes — Laces  

Don’t forget to give the laces a clean as well. You can wash these by hand with warm soapy water, or alternatively they can be machine-washed in a mesh bag, using a cold wash on a gentle cycle. Don’t put them through the dryer though as this can melt the plastic ends. Instead, leave to air dry. 

If you want to whiten them, you can also soak shoelaces in bleach. While wearing gloves, mix three tablespoons of bleach to one gallon of water. Secure your laces in a mesh lingerie bag, then submerge them in the water. You may need to pop something heavy on top to hold it down. After five minutes, chuck the mesh bag into the washing machine and run a cold wash on a gentle cycle. Alternatively, wash thoroughly by hand, then leave to air dry.

Katie Mortram
Homes Editor

Katie looks after everything homes-related, from kitchen appliances to gardening tools. She also covers smart home products too, so is the best point of contact for any household advice! She has tested and reviewed appliances for over 6 years, so she knows what to look for when finding the best. Her favorite thing to test has to be air purifiers, as the information provided and the difference between performances is extensive.