You love your running shoes and they have faithfully served you well. Yet you find yourself somehow discontented. Maybe they have taken on a not so fresh odor, or the whites just aren’t so white anymore.
You want to keep your tennis shoes looking their best, but you do not want to ruin them because they are expensive to replace.
How can you clean tennis shoes safely without causing damage or warping?
Many suggest throwing them in the washing machine, but others disagree, and some manufacturers warn against it. Before you try and accept any of these techniques as the best way to clean tennis shoes, make sure they are not contrary to the manufacturers instructions.
Let’s take a look at how you can keep your sneakers shiny and new.
- 2 Levels of Clean
- 1. Outside Surface Clean for Appearances
- 2. The Full Enchilada Wash
- Other unverifiable, Novel inserts
- Worst Case Scenario
2 Levels of Clean
There are, in my book at least, 2 levels of clean. There is that touch up and spot clean the surface type of clean, and then there is the deep, thorough, get rid of odor type of clean.
1. Outside Surface Clean for Appearances
Restoring the White Sole
If the sole of your sneaker is white, or you have other white rubber areas on your shoe that are not so white anymore, here is how your get them back. Mix one teaspoon of baking soda and one teaspoon of liquid laundry detergent, in a clear color if you have it.
Take an old toothbrush and gently scrub the white rubber, one small area at a time. Use a damp cloth to wipe off the solution and the area will be sparkly new.
Be careful not to get the solution on the fabric upper. It probably will not harm the upper, but you would need more water to rinse it off.
White School Eraser
Get a big white square gummy style eraser and rub on the sole where you want to remove dirt. This is better for spot cleaning, not when you want to clean the entire outsole of the shoe. It is great for touchups and keeping your shoes looking great.
Baby wipes work on the rubber sole and for small stains on the upper. The cleaner used in baby wipes is very mild and gentle and should not harm the shoe. Plus, baby wipes are inexpensive and really easy to get your hands on. You might even have some at your place if you have children.
Tennis Shoe White Stuff
Some folks like to use the shoe white paint like product manufactured by shoe cleaner companies. It works ok on rubber, but it leaves a chalk like film behind and takes several applications. It does not work on leather as it can cause leather to disfigure.
It also may be more work than simply cleaning.
2. The Full Enchilada Wash
Sometimes you need more than a touch up, if your shoes are smelly from all the hours you put in at the tennis court, its likely you sweat in your shoes. It is totally normal to have some odor, but that does not mean you have to suffer with the stink.
If you really need to give your tennis shoes a thorough cleaning, here are a few methods to try.
The Minimal Water Wash for the Upper
Mix 1 teaspoon laundry detergent with 1 cup water. Use an old toothbrush to dip in the solution and work one area at a time to clean the upper and dab it with a dry cloth.
The idea here is to clean without saturating the shoe. It’s important to work in small areas so you can dry the area quickly and keep the shoes from getting too wet.
While I do not necessarily recommend it, some folks swear by using the laundry machine, on delicate cycle, with a gentle detergent (more on this later). Just do not put them in the dryer!
The dryer can ruin shoes. Also, if you put shoes that contain canvas in the wash, they will shrink because canvas is made from cotton. Air dry the shoe if you wash it this way. No Dryers!
Remove insoles and wash them separately. If they’ve taken on a special odor, or are too dirty to get clean, buy new ones.
Once you use either of the above methods to wash the shoe, you need to air dry the shoe. Do not place in the dryer or near any heat source as this can warp, damage or shrink the shoe.
Crumple some newspaper and stuff the shoe. This removes moisture and helps the shoe retain its shape while drying. You can replace the newspaper periodically to help the shoe dry faster.
Be sure the shoe is very dry, any moisture will grow bacteria.
You can hand wash the laces with the detergent solution mentioned above, and hang dry. If the laces are particularly dirty you can pre-treat them with liquid laundry detergent and let them sit for a while before hand washing them.
If your shoes are new, or you just cleaned them, these maintenance steps will help them stay fresh longer.
- Always wear your shoes with clean socks. But you knew that already.
- Foot powder – use an anti-fungal foot powder after wearing the shoe. Sprinkle some in the interior and on your feet before you put on socks pre-workout.
- Baking soda – if you want a natural remedy you can sprinkle baking powder in the shoe, which absorbs odors. Just shake the shoe out before wearing it again.
- Post workout stuff damp shoes with newspaper to draw out the moisture.
- If you really want to get serious about removing moisture, take an old (but clean) gym sock and fill it with kitty litter (also clean, but you knew that). Tie the sock shut at the end, and place it in the shoe post court time and that will draw out moisture and odor.
- Always let your shoes dry completely before using again. It is a good idea to alternate between a few pair of tennis shoes if you work out or play tennis every day.
- When you buy a new pair of shoes, treat them with a stain and water repellant to prevent stains.
Other unverifiable, Novel inserts
Just for fun we share some items people have used to keep their shoes ‘fresh’
- A bar of Irish spring in each shoe post workout
- Dryer sheets
- Cedar moth balls
- Freezing the shoes in the freezer
- Lysol spray
- Tea bags
- Essential oils
We can’t vouch for these novel ideas, but we do know there are some creative pioneers out there in the fight against foot odor.
Worst Case Scenario
In the event you are dealing with a seriously dirty code red, gross pair of shoes, like you ran through a muddy river, or they are your sons shoes which he has worn for a week straight without socks, there are a few things you can do.
Keep in mind, this is not our first recommendation for the best way to wash tennis shoes, and you should only do this on shoes where it is OK if they are ruined or warped.
You can wash the shoe in the washing machine. Gentle cycle if that makes you feel better. No bleach, just detergent.
Another alternative to the washing machine is to use a soak. These soaks use all natural, bacteria killing ingredients.
Soak 1: 2 cups white vinegar and two gallons of water
Soak 2: 2 gallons of water and ¼ cup of salt.
How to Use the Soak
Get a bucket and fill it with the soak, or use the sink. Place shoes, upper side facing down in the soak. Let the shoes sit for a few hours to soak. Just remember, a soak may be gentler on shoes, but it can still warp or damage shoes.
Then, you can air dry in direct sunlight.
I do not recommend you set shoes you love, or that are not that dirty, in direct sunlight. However, for these special case shoes, some tough love is needed.
Setting them in the sun to dry allows the sun’s UV rays to fry odor causing bacteria and completely dry the shoes, preventing growth of more bacteria.
For your information, too much sun yellows the rubber and can fade the upper, so use as needed.
As a warning, if the shoes do not dry all the way, you will have a worse stink problem on your hands.
Make sure they get dry as fast as possible. Some folks let the shoe take a ride in the washing machines spin cycle to extract as much water as possible. While this may be hard on the shoe, it will help it dry faster.
This process may fade, warp, fray or wear the shoes, but if it is your last resort before tossing the tennis, so be it.
We hope you have found some useful tips and ideas here to keep your tennis shoes looking new. If all else fails, you can use it as an excuse to buy a new pair. After all, some tennis players need to replace the shoe every 6 months or even sooner. Maybe today is your day.