Lots of people use the washing machine to clean their dirty sneakers, but just about every shoe manufacturer will advise against it. Yes, you can damage both your shoes and your washer if you do it incorrectly, but it is possible to do safely, and with good results. Here’s how:
When NOT to Wash Your Shoes in the Washing Machine
- If your shoes contain any fabrics which are not machine washable – suede, leather, silk, fur, etc.
- If they are made of anything which should not be exposed to water (suede, some leathers)
- If they are dress shoes or boots. Sneakers are generally ok to wash this way but the dressier shoes can easily become distorted and bent out of shape.
- If they have any delicate features or designs such as thin, easily-broken straps, heels, or embellishments.
Search the Web for Other People’s Experiences
Before washing them, perform a few Google searches first using the shoe’s brand and model name along with the keywords “Washing Machine” to see how other people with the same sneakers have fared putting theirs into the washer. Here’s a sample search to get you started, click on it to open the search in a new window and replace the relevant keywords with the make and model of the shoes you want to wash.
This search example is for Nike Air Max sneakers.
How to Clean Your Kicks in the Washer
- First, remove everything that is removable, especially the insoles. Some people have good results leaving their laces on, but we always advise caution and suggest removing the laces.
- Scrub as much of dirt off as possible – chunks of mud on your shoes will be chunks of mud in your washing machine. This can clog the drain and cause other issues if not addressed. Use a stiff brush and some soapy water to scrub the shoes and the soles.
- Place the shoes into mesh bags or pillow cases. One shoe per bag. If using pillow cases, tie off the end to keep them in there. If you’re feeling industrious, and have some old terry-cloth towels, you can cut them into 1-2 inch squares and throw a bunch into each bag with the shoes. These scraps will ‘scrub’ the shoes that otherwise would only be making contact with the bag or pillow case.
- The laces can be placed in one of the bags with the shoes, or in their own bag. Do not just throw them into the machine or they will get tangled up with everything (especially if you have an agitator)
- Add your regular LIQUID detergent to the washing machine and allow it to fill with water prior to adding the shoes. (ignore this step for side-load washers) Powdered detergents can become lodged in parts of the shoe and be a mess to clean out.
- Add the shoes along with some old towels or sheets to cushion the load. Without this precaution it is possible to damage the shoes and dent your washer’s drum.
- Wash using COLD water only and remove them before the spin cycle. Excessive heat can degrade the glues used to hold newer shoes together, causing the uppers to separate from the soles. Heat will also speed material degradation and increase the chance of deformation. Heat can also cause certain fabrics to shrink. If the shoes are especially smelly, add some white vinegar as well.
How to Dry your Shoes
You can safely use your dryer to dry your shoes IF your dryer has a shoe rack AND you dry them with NO heat. As mentioned above, heat can cause glue to fail, fabrics to shrink, and destroy the shape of your shoe. We recommend drying them outside of the dryer using the following process:
- Stuff the shoes with crumpled-up newspaper, both to absorb moisture and to retain their shape.
- Place them someplace warm and dry out of the sun, preferably with a fan blowing air over them. Replace the newspaper every few hours until they are dry.
- If they still smell, dump some baking soda into them and allow them to sit for a night or two before knocking/vacuuming it out.
Washing the Insoles
We recommend hand-washing insoles as some are very delicate. It is a simple process and can be done in the sink. Just scrub them really well using dish soap and a clean sponge or brush. If they are especially stinky, spray them afterward with white vinegar, let them sit until dry, and then toss them into a bag with enough baking soda to saturate them and leave them for a few days until the smell has dissipated.
- Cleaning Plain and Simple by Donna Smallin