How to Wash Shoes for Longevity and Freshness: An Expert Guide

How to Wash Shoes for Longevity and Freshness: An Expert Guide

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How to Wash Shoes for Longevity and Freshness: An Expert Guide

Bring your footwear back to life with our simple cleaning tips. Whether you're spot-treating a single stain or going for a deep clean—we've got you covered.

Written by: Isabella Gallart
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Are you embarrassed to take your stinky shoes off at a friend's house? Is your shoe storage giving off a funky smell? Are your once-pristine white sneakers now camouflaged in dirt stains? If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, it might be time for a shoe cleaning intervention—and not just for the looks—as footwear builds up a lot of sweat, dirt, and bacteria over time.

Contrary to popular belief, washing your shoes does not always have to be a risky operation. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll equip you with all the tools necessary to bring your beloved sneakers and slides back to life with efficient, easy steps. 

Getting Started

Before delving into the shoe-cleaning process, it's vital to make sure that your footwear is machine-washable. Typically, shoes crafted from materials such as canvas, nylon, and cotton can withstand a spin in the washing machine, while those made of leather, suede, and specific synthetics require special care. You should also be cautious with glued shoes, as they often don't fare well in the washing machine.

When in doubt, one of the best ways to determine the washability of your shoes is to consult the care label. Similar to clothing, shoes are usually equipped with a care label, providing you with the proper cleaning instructions.

Step-by-Step Guide to Cleaning Shoes in a Washing Machine

Now that you have determined your shoes are machine-washable, you are ready to begin the cleaning process! Here is our five-step guide:

What You’ll Need

First things first: gather your materials. Even though washing shoes slightly differs from a typical laundry load, the right tools can make the process a breeze. Here's a list of everything you'll need:

  • Mesh Garment Bag: To protect the shoes and the washing machine during the wash cycle.
  • Soft Brush or Cloth: For pre-cleaning the soles and removing surface dirt.
  • Mild Detergent: HeySunday’s laundry detergent sheets are ideal for their gentle yet effective cleaning properties.
  • Baking Soda or Stain Remover: For pre-treating any tough shoe stains.
  • Antibacterial Soap: For sanitizing the soles of your shoes.
  • Clean Towels: For drying the shoes post-wash and helping to retain their shape.

Step 1: Remove Laces and Insoles

Take a look at your pair of shoes—do they contain any laces or insoles? If so, the first step is to remove these components. While it's possible to wash laces and insoles with the shoes, it can leave your shoes damp and unusable for days.

If your laces are torn or ragged, consider purchasing a replacement pair. If salvageable, either scrub them by hand or secure them inside a pillowcase or sheet during your next bedding wash to prevent tangling. 

As for your insoles, create a soapy mixture using HeySunday detergent (roughly 1/4 or 1/3 of a sheet) and warm water. Then, gently scrub them with a soft brush or rag and rinse thoroughly. Afterward, soak up any excess water with a towel and let them air dry. If your insoles still emit a ripe odor, place them in a plastic bag with baking powder, give the bag a good shake, and leave them in the bag to sit overnight.

Step 2: Pre-clean the Soles

The pre-cleaning process isn't over yet! Now, focus on giving the soles of your shoes a thorough pre-clean, as they are the dirtiest part of any shoe and carry harmful bacteria that can make you sick.

Apply the same solution you used for the insoles to a small scrub brush, a clean toothbrush, or a washcloth if you don't have a dedicated scrub brush. Scrub away any gunk and grime on the outsole and midsole, and add an extra round of cleaning with an antibacterial soap. Then, dry the bottom of your shoes with a soft cloth.

Don't hesitate to really get in there! For those hard-to-reach nooks and crannies, get creative with your cleaning tools. Toothpicks, cotton swabs, and Q-tips can be handy for reaching every single crevice.

Step 3: Use a Mesh Laundry Bag

Instead of tossing your shoes in the washing machine, first place them in mesh garment bags. Ideally, use one for each shoe. These mesh bags have multiple purposes. Not only do they keep your shoes from damaging your washer and vice versa, but they also allow water and detergent to permeate the bag for effective cleaning without damaging the fabric of your shoes.

Make sure to add two old towels to your washer alongside the mesh bags. These towels act as an additional cushion, reducing noise and providing extra protection between your shoes and the washer. Be cautious about towel selection—avoid brand-new, colored towels, as their dye may bleed onto your footwear and result in unwanted stains.

Lastly, double-check your mesh bags before placing them in the washer. Are they securely fastened? You don’t want your shoes to fly out once the wash cycle begins.

Step 4: Washer Settings and Detergent

Your shoes have finally reached the inside of the washer! Now, it's time to choose the right settings. To achieve optimal results, select a cold and delicate cycle. A delicate cycle not only ensures a gentle wash for your shoes but also features a slower spin cycle, reducing noise during the cleaning process.

When it comes to water temperature, choose the coldest setting available. Contrary to common belief, cold water can be just as effective as warm water in cleaning and eliminating odors (and better for the environment). The reason for this? The best laundry detergents contain powerful enzymes and surfactants that work efficiently regardless of water temperature. 

Before starting your cycle, toss a HeySunday detergent sheet alongside your mesh bags and towels. These innovative laundry strips dissolve instantly in cold and hot water, providing a fast, convenient, and effective solution for your shoe-cleaning needs. In general, it's best to avoid powder detergent, as it can get stuck in your shoes.

Step 5: Drying Shoes After Washing

Once your wash cycle is complete, remove your shoes from the mesh bags. However, resist the impulse to toss them into the dryer. The high heat of a dryer can have an impact on a variety of temperature-sensitive materials found in footwear, such as glue, rubber, and foam. To keep the integrity of your shoes intact, you’ll want to opt for an air-drying approach. 

Find a well-ventilated area within your home to facilitate the drying process. Locating an area with airflow and sunlight is crucial to prevent your shoes from staying damp and developing mildew, which could undo all your cleaning efforts.

Consider placing them on the ledge of an open window or positioning them in front of a fan (or with a dehumidifier on) for the most efficient and thorough drying experience. To ensure that the integrity of your shoes remains intact, you can even stuff your shoes with paper towels or a towel to help them hold their shape. 

After your shoes have dried completely, you can reassemble them and reinsert your insoles and laces. 

How to Hand Wash Shoes: A Gentle Alternative

Whether you're a dedicated sneaker aficionado with a prized collection or simply cautious about tossing a $200 pair of shoes into the washing machine, some individuals prefer the personalized touch of hand washing. If you fall into this category, fear not—we've got the answers.

Step 1: Create a Cleaning Solution

Begin the shoe-cleaning process by concocting a simple yet effective blend. For this mixture, you'll only need two key ingredients: warm water and a modest amount of laundry detergent. You can also use a small amount of baking soda and water to spot-treat tough stains.

Step 2: Gently Scrub and Rinse

Dip a soft brush or cloth into your cleaning solution and gently scrub your shoes. Try to brush softly, as doing so will minimize the risk of scratching or damaging the material.

Once satisfied with your footwear's overall appearance, switch to a dry towel or soft cloth to remove excess liquid from the exterior. Continue until your shoes are relatively dry. Be cautious during this stage; avoid drying vigorously to prevent potential wear on the shoe fabric or the unintentional spread of any remaining bits of dirt.

Step 3: Allow Shoes to Air Dry

The final step in the hand-washing method remains the same: allow your shoes to air dry. Make sure they're placed in a well-ventilated room to prevent any potential mildew growth. If you want to expedite the drying process, position your shoes next to a window or in front of a fan.

Washing Shoes with Special Materials

In the shoe care world, certain pairs demand extra attention and specialized techniques. When it comes to spiffing up your suede, leather, or athletic shoes, rest assured—we've got you covered.

Suede shoes

Everyone who has owned a pair of suede shoes knows how easily they can get ruined (especially if you wear them in the rain). The key to taking care of anything suede is to treat them like cats—keep them away from water at all costs. When suede comes in contact with water, the small leather hairs that make up the nap of suede become stiff and brittle. If the hairs break off, the damage to the suede is irreversible. 

Depending on the issue you are facing with your suede shoes, there are several cleaning approaches:

  • Spot Cleaning: To remove any loose dirt, light stains, or scuff marks, carefully clean your shoes with a suede brush. 
  • Dry Method: If you get caught in an unexpected downpour, blot out any excess water with a clean towel. Stuff your shoes with paper towels and allow them to dry overnight. Never use a blow dryer or set them by a radiator, as excessive heat can cause suede to shrink, fade, or warp. 
  • Professional Care: Sometimes, you have to call in the experts. If the damage to your suede shoes is excessive or your other methods have failed, call your shoe repair shop and ask if they can help you clean and restore your footwear. 

Leather Shoes

When it comes to leather, a cautious approach to water is key. Preserving the quality and appearance of leather requires gentle cleaning methods. Here are a few effective approaches for cleaning your leather shoes:

  • Gentle Wiping: For minor dirt stains, a soft, damp cloth can work wonders. Opt for a soft bristle brush to prevent scratching your shoes.
  • Conditioning: Regular conditioning is crucial for maintaining the longevity of your leather shoes. Invest in a high-quality leather protector conditioner to ensure your shoes remain soft and supple long-term.
  • Avoid Soaking: Never immerse your entire leather shoe in water. However, a safe alternative is dipping paper towels in a mild solution of warm water and dish soap for a gentle yet effective clean.

Athletic Shoes and Mixed Materials

Dealing with athletic shoes or those with mixed materials may call for a hybrid cleaning approach, combining hand and machine-washing techniques. If you want to wash sneakers or running shoes, follow the tips and tricks outlined below:

  • Pre-Cleaning: Kickstart the process by giving your sneakers a thorough pre-cleaning. Use a shoe brush to scrape off any excess dirt. 
  • Machine Washing: Place your athletic shoes individually into separate mesh laundry bags. Drop these mesh bags, along with some old towels and a HeySunday detergent sheet, into your washing machine. Opt for a cold and delicate wash cycle.
  • Air Dry: Post-wash, find a well-ventilated spot in your home for the shoes to air dry completely. Avoid placing them under a radiator or using a blow dryer, as excessive heat may warp the shoes.

Shoe Cleaning: Key Considerations

Beyond the washing process, there are crucial factors to keep in mind for effective shoe care. Here are some essential considerations:

Regular Spot Treating and Tough Stains

From ketchup mishaps to coffee spills, shoe stains are inevitable. Here are some best practices for spot-treating your shoes:

  • Take Immediate Action: Act promptly to prevent stains from embedding into the fabric of your shoes. The sooner you treat them, the better the outcome.
  • Gentle Cleansing: Choose an appropriate cleaning agent depending on your shoe material. For instance, leather shoes benefit best from a leather conditioner for stain removal.
  • Soft Brush or Cloth: For spot-treating suede shoes, employ a soft-bristled brush or cloth. This ensures gentle cleaning of the stained area without causing damage to the shoe.
  • Stain Removal: For persistent stains, consider using a targeted stain remover. However, always take the shoe's material into account before application. Conduct a small test on a discreet area before applying the remover generously to prevent unintended damage.

Proper Shoe Storage

While it might seem like a minor detail, where you store your shoes plays a pivotal role in maintaining their longevity. Consider these tips for effective shoe storage:

  • Ventilation Is Key: Place your shoes in an area of your home with good airflow to prevent excess moisture build-up, odors, and mildew—this is particularly crucial for running shoes and no-sock varieties.
  • Avoid Stacking: Treat your shoes with care! Instead of casually tossing them on the floor or stacking them haphazardly, lay them carefully side-by-side. This simple practice preserves the integrity of each shoe, preventing deformities or damage.
  • Embrace Shoe Trees: Opt for shoe trees, especially for special leather or suede shoes that require extra care. Not only do they help maintain the shoe's shape, but they are a space-efficient storage solution.

Dealing with Odors

Shoes get stinky—it’s unavoidable. However, there are effective ways to keep the funky fragrances, as well as stubborn stains, to a minimum:

  • Take Preventative Measures: Make sure you wear socks to wick away sweat and odor and take the time to air out your shoes regularly. These small preventative measures can help delay the need for a deep clean.
  • Odor Remedies: To avoid frequent washing and still keep odors in check, utilize various tools like baking soda, charcoal inserts, and specially designed shoe deodorizers. These remedies are effective odor absorbers, ensuring your shoes stay fresh between washes.
  • Deep Cleaning: While frequent washing may not be necessary, there are times when a deep clean becomes essential. Depending on the shoe material, you can choose between machine or hand washing, following the step-by-step guides above.

Key Takeaways

Whether you're a devoted shoe enthusiast or just want to keep your footwear in good condition, proper care is essential. Not only is it financially and environmentally responsible, but it also protects those shoes you love to wear again and again.

Choosing the right cleaning agent is imperative, and HeySunday stands out as a premium choice. Compatible with all washing machines, versatile for hand washing, and ideal for on-the-go scenarios, these gentle laundry detergent sheets take the hassle out of shoe care. 

Our pre-measured formula ensures precise usage, easily dissolving in hot or cold water. There are many benefits to using laundry detergent sheets. Not only do they contribute to reduced waste and plastic usage, but HeySunday takes it a step further with an eco-friendly formula, prioritizing safer ingredients for your shoes and the planet.

Written by Isabella Gallart — Updated on Feb. 07, 2024

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