How to wash sneakers – the tricks professionals use for new-looking shoes

Of all the outdoorsy apparel, sneakers are the most likely to get mucky and muddy the quickest. Here’s the best way to clean them

Washing trainers in the washer
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Washing sneakers is way tougher than simply wiping down leather shoes – the mix of synthetic materials, textures and laces are magnets to dirt and so keeping them clean needs a bit more effort and care. 

Despite this, and unlike the rest of your shoes which are probably made of leather or suede, most sneakers can withstand the tumbling and battering of the washer. However, the first thing to do is to read the laundry symbols on the sneakers and perhaps look online to see what the brand recommends about how they should be washed. And, while you can often wash shoes in a washing machine, bear in mind that there are some which still require the tenderness of handwashing, depending on the exact material and the kind of dirt built up on your shoes. 

'Not all materials are safe for washing in the washing machine. For example, sneakers made from rubber, suede, or vinyl may not react well to the harshness of the washing machine or the laundry detergent,' says Sarah Dempsey cleaning expert at My Job Quote. 'Shoes made from nylon, cotton, and polyester are usually much more durable and won’t likely be affected by the washer.'

Here, we take you through the steps of washing trainers so yours can look as good as new.

Washing sneakers in the washing machine

If your sneakers don't include leather parts and can be machine-washed, this is what to do.

1. Wipe off as much mud as you can

Before plunging your dirty sneakers in the washing machine, make sure to remove any dirt and anything stuck to the soles first with a soft brush and then a damp cloth. This is to ensure that any unnecessary dirt or gravel doesn’t enter the washing machine.

2. Take out the insoles and laces

Take out parts that can be removed to ensure that the sneakers are properly cleaned inside the washer. This includes the laces, which should be soaked separately in a solution of Oxi Clean White Reviver, or put them in a wash that matches your lace color – using a mesh laundry bag to keep them together and untangled, and your washer protected. 

3. Put them in with some other clothes

You don’t want your sneakers or in fact even your washer to get damaged. Loading them with other items, such as old towels, will help protect both. Using mesh laundry bags like these from Amazon will keep your sneakers together in the washing machine, minimizing the potential for damage to either them or your washer. 

4. Wash sneakers with cold water

While it might be tempting to put sneakers on a hot wash, using cold water for the wash, or at least on the coolest setting, will ensure their colors don’t fade and that they don't shrink or shrivel. 

'Some washing machines come with a built-in mode specifically for washing shoes,' says cleaning expert Sarah Dempsey. 'If yours has this, make sure to select this appropriate washing option. Hot water can affect the shoes by distorting them or may make the colours fade, so you should always wash shoes on a cold wash.'

Using a liquid detergent is better than using powder, as the liquid will properly dissolved, while the powder can get stuck in the crevices of the shoes.

How to wash sneakers by hand

Washing trainers by hand in a bowl

(Image credit: Getty Images)

If your sneakers have leather parts to them, it's much safer to wash them by hand. 

1. Remove laces, wipe off mud

Remove the laces and insoles from the dirty sneakers before wiping away as much mud from the undersides and top as possible. 

2. Gently brush and wipe the outside of sneakers

Now put liquid detergent into warm water and use the solution to work at the synthetic parts of the sneakers with a soft brush – a toothbrush and soft cloth will do. Start on the least dirty areas of the sneakers before moving to the muddiest parts. 

Rinse the sneakers and repeat with clean water and more detergent as needed. Really stubborn stains can be worked on with Vanish Oxi Action Gel, then rinsed again. Mr Clean Magic Erasers can be used to remove scuffs on the rubber parts of the sneakers.

'For small scuff marks, particularly on suede or leather, we’d recommend borrowing your child’s eraser from their school bag. Using small circular movements, gently apply the eraser to the affected area to polish any scuff marks, rubbing away any debris with a clean cloth once completed,' says Luke Goodyear, Head of Operations at shoe cleaning and restoration service, Shoe Lab for Sports Direct.

'For areas that have seen more damage, grab your baking soda from the kitchen and mix 1-2 tablespoons with enough warm water to create a paste consistency. Once the paste is ready, apply to a cloth and gently rub over the affected area. Once you’re happy with the surface, use a damp cloth to go over the area and remove any excess paste.'

For the leather areas of the sneakers, avoid getting them too wet. You can do this by swapping the brush for the soft cloth alone – a micro fiber cloth (these are the best value from Amazon) is ideal, but ensure you constantly refresh the warm water/non-biological detergent mix so that you are not working dirty water into the leather. 

Tackling velcro? 'Velcro fastenings can become gathered with dust, hair, string, grass and other fiddly items,' says Luke Goodyear. 'One way to remove these is to grab your tweezers and pick out the obvious pieces of dirt, before using a comb or old toothbrush to remove any further dust or debris. Alternatively use a small wire brush to rub dirt away from velcro.'

'If your shoes are made with suede, these need to be kept away from water. A suede brush is the best way to clean suede sneakers,' says Sarah Dempsey, cleaning expert. [Ed: this is Amazon's most highly rated suede brush.] 'This is a type of brush with very gentle bristles that help to remove dirt, scuff marks, and water spots without compromising the shoe. Gently brush your suede shoes with the suede brush in different directions until the stain is removed. Once you’ve finished cleaning the shoe, you will then need to brush all of the suede in one direction to help preserve the nap of the material.'

3. Clean the inside of the sneakers

'A lot of people tend to focus on the overall appearance of shoes and forget to clean the inside, which is crazy,' says Luke Goodyear of Shoe Lab.

'One way to tackle this is to apply a mild soap, such as washing up liquid, to a damp cloth and work it into the inner shoe. It’s important not to saturate the shoe when doing this, so make sure to ring out the cloth fully before starting and air dry the shoes for at least 24 hours before re-wearing.'

How to dry sneakers

Drying trainers on a line

(Image credit: Alamy)

1. Don’t dry them in the tumble dryer

Only ever air-dry sneakers. Put them in the tumble dryer and the heat could melt off some of the rubber parts and shrink the shoes.

'It is not recommended that you use the dryer to dry your sneakers as this can make them warp. It's always best to allow them to air dry,' says Sarah Dempsey, cleaning expert at My Job Quote. 'If you need your sneakers to dry in a hurry, wrap them up in old towels and place them in the dryer on a very delicate setting. This will help them dry quickly, and the towels will help to prevent them from becoming damaged.'

2. Don't dry them in sunlight

You can dry your sneakers outdoors but do so away from direct sunlight, otherwise any colored parts may fade. 

3. Don't let them stay damp for too long

Drying sneakers inside? Stuffing them with newspaper, and changing it when it begins to feel damp, is a good way to speed drying as the paper absorbs most of the excess water. Putting them on a high shelf in a room where there's a heated clothes dryer or dehumidifier will help dry them without damaging them. Or you could try our bedsheet trick that dries clothes quickly indoors.

Can I wash my Nikes in the washing machine?

As with any branded shoe, there is usually advice on the website with cleaning advice. Nike, along with other well-known brands, will not recommend cleaning sneakers in a washing machine, advising instead that you hand wash them and allow them to air dry.

How do you machine wash sneakers so they don't get ruined?

To machine wash sneakers so they don't get ruined, first check the wash label, which may simply advise you to hand wash them. If you are going to machine wash them, put them in a mesh laundry bag with other laundry to stop them being thrown around in the washer, potentially damaging both themselves and the drum. Use a delicate wash cycle and a cool or cold wash, and keep on a short cycle, too. Allow them to air dry.

Aimen Rehman
Contributing Editor

Aimen is a recent graduate in BA (Hons) in Journalism from Kingston University, where she served as deputy editor for her University’s newspaper, focusing on hyper-local news. She has previously worked as a travel and culture journalist for various publications. She's fond of curating indigenous handicrafts at her home, collected during her domestic and international travels. She is also constantly on the lookout for design inspiration and emerging trends.