How I wash shoes in a washing machine – and restore those that seem ruined

My bad habit of picking the wrong shoes on a rainy day isn’t a problem anymore

Two pairs of white shoes in a shiny white and metal washing machine
(Image credit: Alamy)

I am forever picking the wrong footwear for the job. Whether I am going out on a walk and wearing my canvas sneakers when I should really have picked my boots so the sneakers end up covered in mud, or wearing bright white shoes on a day when it is raining and dirty puddles splash up from the sidewalk, my shoes are never kept in the best condition for long. 

So when I learned that I could wash shoes in a washing machine it was a game changer. I had taught myself how to wash sneakers long ago by hand, but throwing my grimy shoes into the machine made the task far quicker – and encouraged me to actually get my white shoes white once again. 

Here, I explain how I wash shoes in a washing machine so that you can save your shoes, too.

How I wash shoes in a washing machine

White utility room with washing machine

(Image credit: Paul Raeside)

Washing my shoes in a washing machine was a turning point for me, keeping them looking good as new for a whole lot longer – and I think it will be for you!

1. Check the shoe material

Luckily I have never ruined a pair of shoes yet, but I see how it can be easily done. I always make sure to check what materials the shoes are made of before submitting them to the inside of my washing machine. 

Since I learned my grandmother's laundry lessons, I have finally discovered exactly what different laundry symbols mean. This is vital to not ruining your favorite pair of shoes. 

I find that canvas shoes, most sneakers, and polyester or cotton shoes wash really well, but I would never put my leather shoes in the wash. I would always use specialized leather cleaners such as this highly-rated duo on Amazon for that job. 

2. Prep shoes for the wash

Although the washing machine does most of the work for me, I always use an old toothbrush or gentle scrubbing brush to work most of the loose dirt and mud off my shoes first. Yes, I know this is still cleaning the shoes partially by hand, but it’s much better for the washing machine. 

There are a lot of surprising things you can clean in a washing machine, but thick mud isn’t something that should go in there. Taking this initial step is annoying, yes, but it makes the washing cycle more efficient. 

I also take out the laces then put the shoes in this mesh washing bag from Amazon. These little bags work wonders for my other washing, too, keeping all of my socks together so I am never left with an odd pair.

3. Pad out the washing machine

My washing machine is pretty durable. My ears, on the other hand? Not so much. 

Washing shoes in a washing machine is not a quiet task so padding out the drum well with towels or plenty of clothes like jumpers helps to keep the sound to a minimum, protecting my ears and avoiding complaints from others about noise. 

While this is not necessarily the recommended way of washing towels to keep them fluffy, it is a great way to extend the life of your machine.

4. Wash on a cool wash 

I always run my shoes on a cold, delicate wash to prevent the color from running and fading and to prevent them from becoming too banged up. 

I have also started cutting down on laundry detergent, using only liquid detergents over powders to clean my shoes to avoid them gathering a buildup of waxy soap. 

I have used both laundry powder and laundry detergent when washing my shoes before and found that the powder can often fail to dissolve, clinging to the shoe in places like the eyelets and making them feel disgusting to touch.

5. Always opt to air dry 

Shoes are one of many things to clean in hot weather wherever possible as I find that the combination of hot weather and sun helps to dry the shoes quickly. Having said this, however, it is usually the wintertime when I am getting my shoes the dirtiest. 

If it is cold outside, I still never succumb to the temptation to shove the shoes in the tumble dryer. The heat causes the glue inside the shoe to melt which is great if you want your shoes clean enough to fall apart, but not so great if you want to wear them again anytime soon. 

I don't read the newspaper anymore, but I find collecting it for use around my house essential. Balling some up and placing it inside the shoe helps to absorb moisture and dry the shoes quicker. Also, try removing any removable insoles and popping them on a radiator or drying rack to help dry out the foam. 

Putting my shoes on a turned-on radiator, on the top rack of my electric airer helps get the material dry quickly in the winter.  

Is it safe to put shoes in a washing machine?

Whether or not it is safe to put shoes in the washing machine depends on the type of shoe it is. Canvas shoes may fare better than real leather, for example, so it is always worth checking the label before putting your footwear in the wash. 

How many shoes can I put in the washing machine?

It is not advisable to put more than two, maybe three, pairs of shoes in the washing machine at one time due to their weight and the damage they can do to your washing machine’s drum. 

Use common sense when washing footwear. For example, if you have a larger pair of trainers, only add one pair to the machine, but smaller children's shoes could be washed together depending on the capacity of your machine. 

Chiana Dickson
Content Editor

Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for two years, having started her journey in interior journalism as part of the graduate program. She spends most of her time producing content for the Solved section of the website, helping readers get the most out of their homes through clever decluttering, cleaning, and tidying tips – many of which she tests and reviews herself in her home in Lancaster to ensure they will consistently deliver for her readers and dabbles in the latest design trends. She also has a first-class degree in Literature from Lancaster University.