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How to clean white sneakers, EVERYTHING you need to know

How to clean white sneakers, EVERYTHING you need to know

I’m just going to say it.  I never realized how bad dirty white sneakers looked until I was well into adulthood.  And now, I shutter at all those scuffed, cracked, and overall dismal sneakers thrown into the back of my closet without any attempt to be cleaned.

But, there is hope for all you dirty white sneaker collectors out there.   White sneakers are a classic staple to any wardrobe.  Whether you opt for a classic converse, an athletic mesh white sneaker, or a trendy pair of Airforce 1’s, your white sneakers deserve to be revived. 

Before we dive in… 

clean nike airforce 1's, how to protect your white sneakers

Let’s first start off with a metaphorical finger-wagging (myself included) that we all let our white sneakers get this bad! But, going forward,  I would be remiss if I didn’t mention you can also prevent this kind of thing. 

Prevent your shoes from dulling by using a stain and water repellant treatment before* you even wear them out.  I like this one. 

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How to clean white sneakers, your ULTIMATE guide

So how can I get my white shoes white again?

how to get shoes to be white again, hands scrubbing white converse in soapy water

There are several methods to bring white shoes/sneakers back to life again.  The first step is to remove any caked on debris, or mud using a soft brush*.  Next you want to remove the shoelaces and clean those separately.  Depending on the shoe, you can machine wash or hand wash your shoes.  Below are specific instructions for how to do each method. Most methods include creating a cleaning solution made from household items you most likely have on hand. Next you want to let your shoes air dry, do NOT put them in the dryer.

Can you put white sneakers in the washing machine?

Yes, you can put white sneakers in the washing machine. This should be avoided with Nike shoes or any shoes that have a stiffer structure.   Here is the best way to machine wash sneakers:
1. Clean off any debris or mud using a soft brush, like this one.
2. Remove shoelaces
3. Place your sneakers and separate shoelaces in a mesh laundry bag. This will prevent them from tangling. If you don’t have a mesh bag I highly recommend getting one or at a minimum using a pillowcase that is knotted at the top. This will also protect your washing machine.
4. Use a gentle liquid detergent, about half as much as you would use for a normal load.  Note- sneakers should be washed in a load on their own, or with something like towels.
5. Use a gentle cycle with cold water.  The delicate cycle on most washing machines will work well. 
6. Air dry in a well-ventilated location, do not put them in the dryer! 

how to clean white sneakers with baking soda, image of clean white sneakers on brick floor

How to clean white sneakers with baking soda:

This method works best for canvas shoes, and mesh shoes.  If you have some very stubborn stains like blood or coffee you may need to do more than one cleaning or use a spot cleaner, like this one (which should be applied and cleaned before you start the following method). 

what you need: 

  • small mixing bowl
  • baking soda
  • hydrogen peroxide (optional, but recommended especially if you have tough stains like blood, coffee, paint, etc.)
  • old toothbrush 
  • location to dry in the sun 
  1. Remove your shoelaces and any caked-on debris from your white sneakers.
  2. In your small mixing bowl, combine 1 tablespoon baking soda, 1/2 tablespoon hydrogen peroxide, and 1/2 tablespoon water.  If you do not add the hydrogen peroxide, add 1 full tablespoon of water instead. 
  3. Mix until it is an even consistency. 
  4. Use your old toothbrush to brush your baking soda mixture into the surface of the shoes. Paying special attention to the seam area and any stains. 
  5. Scrub the paste in a circular motion. 
  6. Let your baking soda solution dry.  The best way to do this is to find a clean, dry area that gets direct sunlight. You need to let your shoes sit for at least 30 minutes, but it is recommended you wait about 3 hours.  You want the baking soda to be cracking off by the end. 
  7. Using your (clean) shoe brush remove the excess paste. If you don’t have a brush, you can go outside and clap your shoes together to remove any of the excess paste.
  8. Use a damp rag or clean sponge to remove any stubborn paste spots, if necessary. Although, if you let the shoes dry long enough, this should not be required. 
  9. Repeat if necessary 
  10. Re-lace shoes, and go 

How can I whiten my shoes without bleach?

how to whiten sneakers without bleach, clean off-white sneaker kicking water

Another great technique to whiten shoe without bleach is to use a hand wash method with baking soda and white vinegar.  Not only are these items you probably have in your pantry, they also deliver fantastic results, sans the harsh chemicals in bleach. This also helps preserve the structure of the shoes.

what you need:

  • small mixing bowl
  • baking soda
  • white vinegar
  • measuring spoons and measuring cup
  • old toothbrush 
  1. Remove shoelaces and any caked-on debris from shoes. You can use a brush like this one.
  2. In your mixing bowl, combine 1 tablespoon baking soda with 2 tablespoons white vinegar, and a cup of water.  
  3. Mix together until a paste is formed.
  4. Use your old toothbrush to cake the entire shoe in the mixture.  Pay special attention to any stains.  Work the paste in using a circular motion. 
  5. Soak laces in any excess paste 
  6. Once the shoes are caked with your mixture, place them in direct sunlight for 3-4 hours. If you are in a hurry, you can put them out for 30 minutes minimum. 
  7. After that time, the paste should be fully dried and can be brushed off.  Or clap your shoes together to remove excess paste if you do not have a shoe brush.  You can also use another old (dry) toothbrush to remove the dried paste. 
  8. If any paste is still stuck on your sneakers, use a clean sponge or damp rag to remove it. 
  9. Repeat if any stains remain. 
  10. Re-lace shoes and show off your shiny white sneakers

How can I whiten my shoes with bleach?

If you opt for a bleach to whiten your shoes make sure you check the shoes’ label first.  Canvas shoes like vans or converse can be bleached, but synthetic leather shoes should not be bleached if you want them to last. Bleaching synthetic leather shoes will cause them to dry out and crack.  Follow the instructions below for the easiest way to bleach sneakers. 

Here’s how to bleach white sneakers:

You will want to hand wash your sneakers if you are using bleach to get the best results.  

  1. Choose a well-ventilated or outdoor area. 
  2. Remove laces and any caked-on debris. 
  3. Mix a solution of 1 part bleach to 5 parts water.  Stir to make sure it is mixed well
  4. Gently scrub your shoes with the mixture using an old toothbrush. Wear gloves to avoid any skin irritation!
  5. Soak laces in the mixture 
  6. Rinse shoes in warm water under the sink, making sure you thoroughly rinse out any leftover solution. Rinse laces. 
  7. Air dry them overnight. 
  8. Re-lace and put those bad boys back on!

How do I wash Nike Sneakers

how to clean nike sneakers

White Nikes look especially bad if they are dirty, probably because sneakerheads take such good care of them we have a higher expectation on how our Nikes should look.  So here’s how to clean your Nikes. 
1. Remove the laces and use a dry, soft brush to get off any debris or mud. 
2. Make a mild cleaning solution using 2 cups of water and a small amount of laundry detergent.  (less than a teaspoon). 
3. Mix the solution together
4. Massage the laces with the solution for about 2 minutes and then rinse them dry.  Air dry your laces. 
5. Use a soft-bristled brush and your solution to clean the soles of your Nike shoes. Blot dry with a soft cloth. 
6. Use an old toothbrush to gently scrub the main fabric of your Nike shoes.  Use a dry cloth to blot the excess solution off your shoes and lift any remaining soap.   You do not need to rinse your shoes, nor should you in order to keep their structure intact. 
7. Air dry at room temperature. 

When cleaning nikes it is best to avoid putting them in the washing machine or using bleach.  Because nikes have an internal structure to them (unlike vans or converse) machine washing and bleach can cause them to look older and hold their shape less. 

How can I whiten the soles of my shoes?

how to clean the soles of your sneakers, nike sole with red background

Sneakers like vans or converse usually have rubber soles that also get dingy with wear. Grab a cotton ball and some nail polish remover (with acetone) and gently wipe the rubber soles.  They will be bright white in no time. DO NOT use the acetone on the canvas or fabric portion of the shoe, this will cause discoloration.  
If you use any of the above cleaning methods, your soles will get clean during that process. This is a little hack for touching up your dingy soles if you don’t want to clean the entire shoe. 
You can also try a magic eraser* to get your rubber soles clean if you have one on hand. 

how to clean white sneakers, image of nikes with shoelaces draped on floor

How do I clean dirty shoelaces?

Most of the above techniques will work for your shoelaces as well.  However, if you want to clean your shoelaces separately you can follow this method: 
1. Remove shoelaces and brush off any debris
2. Put them inside a mesh bag (this is key to avoid them from getting tangled or messing up your washing machine).  You can also put them inside a pillowcase, and knot the pillowcase to keep it closed. 
3. Wash them in a regular laundry cycle and airdry them. 
You can add a small amount of bleach if they are white shoelaces. 

If you aren’t planning to do a load of laundry anytime soon you can hand wash your shoelaces like this:
1. Remove shoelaces, and brush off any debris
2. Combine 1 cup warm water, and a small splash of bleach (you don’t need a lot!!). Stir the water so they are mixed together
3. Let the laces soak for about 3 minutes. (avoid touching the mixture with your hands, and wear gloves to avoid any irritation). 
4. Add a few drops of laundry detergent to your mixture and stir with the brush.  Let the laces soak for an additional 10 minutes. 
5. Thoroughly rinse your shoelaces under running water. 
6. Air dry your laces.  You can hang them over a towel bar or on a drying rack for the quickest results. 
Note: bleach can weaken your shoelaces over time, so be sure not to do this too frequently.  

related: how to break in doc martens quickly (and painlessly)

And there you have it, you should have sparkling white sneakers again! Any other white sneaker queries leave them in the comments. You can now add those favorite sneakers back into your wardrobe rotation.

sign off, gabrielle arruda

You will DEFINITELY need to refer back to this list for all those white sneakers hiding in the back of your closet, so be sure to pin the below image for reference.

how to clean white sneakers so they look brand new, dirty and clean white sneaker next to eachother