Dirty shoes? Don’t sweat it. Here’s your ultimate guide on how to wash all types of trainers – whether they are canvas, synthetic, wool, suede, or leather – either by hand or in the washing machine.
Trainers – particularly white trainers – are absolute magnets for dirt. Whether you’ve been jogging through muddy puddles, walking your dog along a mucky path, or just getting from A to B on a wet day, getting your favourite trainers dirty is an inevitable part of life.
Yet if you’re not sure how to wash your trainers, it can be tricky to keep them in good condition. And if your trainers aren’t in good condition, they’re more likely to be binned or relegated to the back of your wardrobe.
Given that the fashion industry is responsible for 10 % of annual global carbon emissions – more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined – buying fewer items and keeping the items we already have in good condition are key to making our wardrobes more sustainable.
Thankfully, there are lots of easy ways to make your favourite pair of trainers – no matter the fabric or colour – look brand-new again.
How To Wash Trainers To Make Them Look Like New
Whether you want to restore your white trainers to their former glory or brighten trainers that are looking dull and dingy, there are a few different techniques you can try.
If it all sounds like too much hard work, the good news is that in most cases you can use your washing machine. I’ll talk you through the techniques to know for the best results, and to avoid damaging your favourite shoes.
Use these links to skip to the section you need, or keep scrolling for all the tips:
- How To Wash Trainers In The Washing Machine
- How To Clean Leather Trainers By Hand
- How To Clean Suede Trainers By Hand
- How To Clean Wool Trainers By Hand
How To Wash Trainers In The Washing Machine
Cleaning your trainers sounds like hard work. The good news is that using the washing machine is the way to go for most pairs of trainers.
The general rule is that you can machine wash trainers made from synthetic materials or canvas – which are most trainers.
If you have trainers made from wool, leather or suede then generally these shouldn’t go in your washing machine. If in any doubt, do check out the laundry care label on your trainers for the manufacturer’s recommended advice.
For trainers that are safe to machine wash, here are the full steps to follow for the best results. There are quite a few no-nos that could sabotage your cleaning intentions, so be sure to read the guide fully to avoid any laundry mishaps.
1. Remove The Laces
Removing the laces before washing your shoes might seem like a faff. However, it’s a really important part of the laundry process.
Not convinced? Dirt collects around the eyelets of your laces. It’s an altogether unexpectedly grubby part of your trainers. Removing the laces also allows all of the laces to be properly cleaned. Otherwise the water and detergent can’t get in to do their thing, and your laces may come out of the wash still dirty.
So take your laces out. It’s worth it, I promise.
2. Pretreat Very Dirty Trainers
Mud sounds like it should be easy to remove from your trainers. It’s just wet dirt, after all.
However, the water that turns dirt into mud is formulated from 100% pure evil. This water pushes the dirt deep into the fabric of your trainers, making it harder to remove. As such, before you pop your muddy trainers in the washing machine, it’s important to pre-treat them.
Firstly, if the mud has dried, gently brush off any solid mud with a scrubbing brush reserved solely for cleaning shoes.
If the mud is wet, try to blot off what you can with a cloth. Avoid the urge to rub your trainers with the cloth. That only pushes the mud ever deeper into the fabric, making it even harder to remove.
Next, hold the shoe under a cold running tap or hose to rinse off as much mud as possible. Never ever use hot water. Hot water is not a friend of mud, and never the twain should meet.
The reason hot water and mud don’t make for good bedfellows is that soil is made up of decomposed organic matter. In other words, protein. Hot water cooks the protein component of mud into the fabric, causing the mud to set tightly and permanently in the fibres of the shoe’s fabric. In short, that mud stain is never coming out.
Think of it like Ghostbusters, where Egon warns that you should never cross the streams, but with mud and hot water.
Once rinsed with cold water, apply an enzymatic stain remover to your trainers to help lift mud stains. These are best for dealing with protein stains such as mud or blood. I find this Ecozone stain remover effective.
Let that sit for ten minutes, before placing both the trainers and laces in a mesh laundry bag or pillowcase. You can then pop that in your washing machine.
3. Pick The Right Cycle
Before you hit start on your regular wash cycle, hold up. You might want to run a hot wash with lots of detergent – those trainers are very dirty after all – but that’s not the right approach.
First, add your regular amount of laundry detergent. Resist the urge to use more detergent, as all that does is make your trainers – particularly white ones – look dingy.
You can also add a little white vinegar to the fabric conditioner compartment. This will help remove any excess detergent during the rinse cycle and help tackle any bad smells.
At this stage, you may also want to add a couple of towels to the drum. This softens the impact of the trainers hitting the drum, making it less likely for the washing machine to cause any damage to your best kicks.
Finally, no matter how dirty your shoes are, always run your machine on a cold water wash. It is tempting to run a hot wash to try to shift any dirt. Yet as we’ve just learned, all that does is set the stain. Stick with cold. Never cross those streams!
4. Air Dry
Once done, remove your trainers from the washing machine and set them away from direct heat to dry. No matter how much of a hurry you are in, don’t put your trainers in the tumble drier. The heat from your drier can shrink or warp the sole of your shoes, making them potentially unwearable.
For dark shoes, you can stuff the toe box with scrunched-up newspaper to help absorb moisture. For white trainers, I would always use a scrunched-up cotton cloth, to help avoid getting any newsprint on your newly cleaned shoes. If you can, also flip the tongue of your shoe down, so that air can circulate.
Once dry, pop the laces back in and you’re good to go!
Cleaning Trainers By Hand
As I mentioned, the washing machine isn’t the best option when it comes to wool, leather or suede trainers. Here you want to spot-treat any stains or marks. Here’s the full how-to:
Cleaning Leather Trainers By Hand
Believe it or not, washing-up liquid and an old brush is all you need to clean leather trainers.
To revive your leather trainers, add a little washing-up liquid to a bowl of cold water. Remove the laces, and scrub with an old soft toothbrush or scrubbing brush to remove stains. Once done, wipe with a damp cloth to remove any excess soap, and leave to dry away from direct heat.
Cleaning Suede Trainers By Hand
For suede trainers, avoid the use of water. Instead, your friend here is a brush. In particular, a suede brush works dust and dirt off your trainers, whilst restoring the suede’s nap.
For more stubborn dirt, a brass suede brush gets deeper into the suede to get your trainers clean. And if you want to get your trainers really clean, a crepe brush drags dirt and stains out of the suede. You can use these brushes in conjunction with a suede cleaner block. Just rub the block on – without wetting your shoe – to eliminate stains.
Cleaning Wool Trainers By Hand
Whilst suede trainers require quite a degree of work to clean, it’s knitted wool trainers that are, in my opinion, the hardest to clean. It’s not the best idea to machine wash them, and you can’t use a brush, as it can snag the wool.
Instead, you need to blot these pernickety trainers with a cloth. Take a bowl of cold water, with a little washing-up liquid added to it. Pop your cloth in the solution, wring it out, and then gently blot your trainers with the cloth. It can take a little while, but it is your best bet at removing marks without damaging your precious trainers.
Once you’re done, rinse your cloth and wipe your shoes down to remove any washing-up liquid. Then, allow them to air dry – again, away from direct heat. Similar to drying other types of trainers, it’s best to pop a cloth in the toe box to help your trainers keep their shape and absorb excess moisture.
Think About Storage
Once your trainers are looking shiny and new again thanks to all that careful cleaning, it’s a good idea to think about storage. After all, you don’t have to be wearing trainers to get them dirty.
Throwing them in a basket or leaving your shoes in a pile beside your door is a surefire way for your freshly cleaned trainers to get dirty by proximity to other dirty shoes.
If you can devote a small amount of space, a shoe storage rack is ideal. This helps to prevent damage to your trainers while they aren’t on your feet, and helps to cut down on cleaning your shoes. A win win if ever there was one!