There may be nothing better than slipping into a new pair of sneakers. Your newfound sporty, stylish confidence can give you a pep in your step and set the tone for the rest of your outfit. But when you look down and see that your tennis shoes are scuffed, smudged, weather-worn, or dirty, panic sets in.
Some people avoid wearing their favorite shoes in the name of preservation. This is not only unnecessary but also not very fun. Wondering how to keep your fresh kicks, well… fresh? Vionic has you covered. Here’s how to clean your sneakers and keep them in tip-top shape.
Cleaning Tips by Sneaker Material
As a sneakerhead or footwear enthusiast, you know walking shoes for women and men come in a variety of materials. There’s mesh, canvas, suede, and leather, all of which have their own care instructions. Want to ensure your tennis shoes look on-point every time you wear them? Find tips for how to clean sneakers made of each material below.
How to Clean Mesh Sneakers
Mesh is a breathable material you’ll often see on the uppers of active sneakers, running shoes, and other types of sneakers. It’s usually combined with neoprene, nylon, or other synthetic fabrics designed to wick moisture and keep you cool while you move.
Since mesh is a knit material, it’s porous by design, meaning dirt, mud, spills, and sweat can seep into uppers, leaving visible marks.¹ But fear not, because mesh tennis shoes are actually relatively easy to clean. It’s even possible to clean white sneakers, too!
Here’s how to clean sneakers with mesh uppers:
- Fill a large bowl with warm water.
- Mix in a few drops of dish soap or laundry detergent.
- Grab a clean cloth or a microfiber towel and dip it into the warm, soapy water.
- Gently rub the uppers of your sneakers in circular motions using the damp cloth without oversaturating the material.
- Continue dipping the cloth into the soapy solution until you’ve cleaned all the mesh, focusing on any prominent stains.
- If dried mud or other muck is stuck in the knitting, try dipping a soft, clean toothbrush into the soapy solution and then gently working it into the material.
- Once all the marks appear to be gone, dampen another clean cloth with just warm water (no soap).
- Go over the entire uppers of your sneakers, wiping away the soapy residue.
- Allow your sneakers to air-dry.
How to Clean Canvas Sneakers
Canvas is a strong, plain-woven fabric typically made of cotton. You may have heard of people tossing their cloth sneakers in the washing machine, but this isn’t recommended, as it can end up shrinking the fabric.²
While it’s a naturally sourced material, the process of cleaning canvas shoes is very similar to that of cleaning mesh trainers.
Here’s how to clean sneakers with canvas uppers:
- You’ll need a warm, mildly soapy solution like we outlined above.
- Dip a clean dishcloth, small towel, or cloth napkin into the soapy water and rub it in all over the uppers of your canvas sneakers, focusing on spots and stains.
- Continue scrubbing gently until all the marks have been lifted.
- Since canvas isn’t prone to fraying or pilling, you can also go over the uppers with a soft, clean toothbrush if you run into any stubborn stains. This may be necessary with a white shoe or another light-colored sneaker.
- Run a clean, damp cloth over the material to remove all soapy residue.
- Let your sneakers air-dry.
How to Clean Suede Sneakers
A lot of casual sneakers, fashion trainers, and sporty streetwear shoes have suede or nubuck uppers. Made of lambskin or calfskin, the velvety leather material is soft, comfortable, and durable.
Although you can rely on suede shoes to last for years (and sometimes decades), the material is incredibly susceptible to stains and water damage. This makes cleaning suede and nubuck sneakers a little tricky. However, it’s totally doable—you just need the right supplies.
Here’s how to clean sneakers with suede uppers:
- You’ll need a suede brush, which you can get online and at many shoe stores. The best suede brushes have soft nylon bristles, though extra-soft toothbrushes can also work.
- Gently rub (or “brush”) the bristles on the uppers of your suede sneakers, focusing on dirt, muck, and stains. The first time around, go over your shoes without using any cleaning solutions, as dry-brushing can go a long way.
- If this doesn’t work, try a shoe-cleaning solution formulated specifically for suede. Be sure to follow the instructions carefully and use only a small amount of solution. Gently brushing a few drops of sneaker cleaner into the uppers will often do the trick.
How to Clean Leather Sneakers
Patent and full-grain leather trainers are stylish and comfortable. The material is even slightly naturally resistant to stains, and it can usually be wiped clean with a damp cloth. If that doesn’t cut it, though, just a few more steps will get your dirty sneakers looking like new again.
Here’s how to clean sneakers with leather uppers:
- Mix three parts mild dish soap with one part warm water.
- Dip a clean white cloth into the solution and gently rub any stains until they disappear from the material.
- If you run into any stubborn spots or discoloration, you might want to get a leather conditioner. Cover the entire uppers of your sneakers with a thin layer, and then work it into the material in circular motions. This should even out the tone of the leather.
Keeping Your Leather Kicks Fresh
Leather is wipeable, but it’s also prone to little scratches and abrasions. Also, white leather shoes and other light-colored sneakers are often more likely to stain. The best thing you can do is wipe them off regularly with a clean, dry cotton cloth to remove dirt and dust. If you can do this after every wear, that’s great. But wiping them off every few times will go a long way in preserving the material.
Also, keep your sneakers away from direct heat, as this can dry out the leather. If they ever get wet, allow them to air-dry in a cool, dry place.
Additionally, avoid cleaners with acids or detergents, as they can prematurely age leather shoes. If you do purchase a shoe-cleaning solution, be sure to test it out on a discrete area of the leather and allow it to dry completely before applying it to your entire shoe. This will ensure it doesn’t damage or discolor the material.
What About the Soles?
Sneaker outsoles are usually made of rubber, and they’re generally easier to clean than uppers. There are a few products and techniques you can use to freshen them up.
To clean the soles of your sneakers, try:
- Baking soda, detergent, and a toothbrush
- Baking soda, vinegar, and an old cloth
- Whitening toothpaste and a toothbrush
- Micellar water and a clean cloth
- A foam cleaning pad, like Mr. Clean Magic Eraser
As you can see, there’s a good chance you can clean your sneakers with products you already have lying around your home. Rubber is a resilient material and much less susceptible to damage than leather, suede, mesh, and canvas. Use any of these products or mixtures to gently polish out any scuffs, stains, and discoloration.³
Don’t Forget the Laces!
Though washing sneakers in a washing machine isn’t recommended, you should be able to toss your laces in the wash without any issues.⁴ And if you can’t get the stains or eyelet marks out, you can always buy a new pair for a few dollars.
Shoe Care Products from Vionic
The best way to keep your sneakers looking crisp is with preventative maintenance. With this in mind, Vionic carries a line of gentle yet effective shoe-care products.
Rain & Stain can be applied to leather and suede sneakers. It delivers a breathable, protective barrier that repels liquids, stains, and grime while resisting other outdoor elements. Then we’ve got our Leather Cleaner & Conditioner, which removes stains and dirt while conditioning your shoes with natural oils. Lastly, Vionic’s Footbed Cleaner helps keep your footbeds and supportive inserts fresh.
The orthotic shoes from Vionic include casual sneakers and athletic trainers for men and women. Our on-trend styles are not only the most comfortable sneakers but also easy to clean and maintain. Additionally, we carry moisture-resistant and waterproof footwear designed to hold up year-round, no matter the weather.
Shop our styles today! For more sneaker tips, check out our blog on how to wear sneakers fashionably.
1. Isadora Baum. “Here’s How to Clean Sneakers Depending on the Material”. Self. Feb 17, 2019, https://www.self.com/story/how-to-clean-sneakers-depending-on-material
2. Cody Gohl. “How to Clean Sneakers and Keep Your Feet Lookin’ Fresh”. The Manual. Aug 13, 2021, https://www.themanual.com/fashion/how-to-clean-sneakers/
3. Laura Barry. “6 hacks to make your white shoes look new again”. Better Homes and Gardens. https://www.bhg.com.au/clean-white-shoes
4. “Now is the perfect time to clean your sneaker collection”. Higsnobiety. https://www.highsnobiety.com/p/how-to-clean-your-sneakers-guide/