Is there anything that screams “fresh” more than a crisp pair of white sneakers?
All-white shoes are the holy grail of street style—versatile, fashionable, and able to elevate any look—primed to make every other color in the outfit pop.
But here’s the catch with white sneakers: they’re locked in a perpetual showdown with their arch-nemeses, dirt and grime. Even the slightest splatter of mud or scuff on the toe box can sully their pristine appearance, causing the radiant white to lose its luster.
But don’t let the fear of dirty sneakers stop you from embracing this timeless look. Instead, check out this guide that will teach you how to keep white sneakers clean like a pro.
Should I Clean My Shoes in the Washing Machine or By Hand?
To machine wash or not to machine wash? That is the question many people face when it comes to cleaning their beloved white sneakers.
Indeed, the washing machine’s call can be alluring—it’s convenient, quick, and requires minimal effort. It’s an especially tempting option if you’re time-pressed, have a mountain of dirty sneakers to clean, or if the shoes in question are a “beater” pair rather than your newest near-and-dear favorites.
It’s true that many machines have a gentle cycle that you can run to prevent significant wear and tear on delicate items. However, it’s important to remember that not all clothing items are suitable for machine washing. Sure, you might throw a white T-shirt in the wash, but what about a delicate white silk blouse?
Put simply, frequent machine washing isn’t ideal for most shoes, especially for high-end shoes made of premium-quality materials. Doing so can cause the white to fade into gray, warp the shoe’s shape, fray the stitching, weaken adhesives in the sole, and even shrink or stretch the materials. Not to mention, it may be ineffective at tackling specific types of stains, such as oil or ink (or worse, cause them to set in further).
Given the potential risks and drawbacks associated with machine washing shoes, it’s generally recommended to clean sneakers by hand whenever possible. And, if you’re unsure, remember to check the care label attached to the inside tongue of the sneaker.
How to Clean White Sneakers At Home
If you want to know how to clean sneakers at home, handwashing allows for a more methodical approach, enabling you to focus on specific stains or dirt patches, using varying levels of pressure and different cleaning techniques as needed.
Of course, this tends to be the more time-consuming process, but it’s often the safer, more effective option. If you select handwashing as your chosen cleaning methodology, your first task will be to gather the necessary materials.
Assembling Your Cleaning Tools
Bringing white sneakers back to their original pristine state is like restoring a classic car to its former glory—it’s absolutely possible, but you’ll need patience, perseverance, and, of course, the right equipment.
Don’t think of the task of cleaning as a chore, but, rather, as a labor of love that rewards you with the sweet satisfaction of seeing your kicks gleam brilliantly once more.
So, what does a sneakerhead cleaning tool kit look like?
Naturally, the shoe’s materials, type, and current state will dictate how you approach the cleaning process. So, while this isn’t an exhaustive list, many of the items below will be useful to have on hand:
- Soft-bristle brushes – Use a black nylon, soft-bristle brush to clean the more delicate upper sections of the shoe as well as a soft-bristle toothbrush for the nooks and crannies. These brushes help dislodge trapped dust, dirt, or debris and can be used to thoroughly massage cleaning products into the shoe without leaving a scratch.
- Stiff-bristle brush – Use an almond bristle brush for scrubbing the rubber sides and soles of a white sneaker. Because rubber is a tougher material, the stiffer brushes let you scrub away at stubborn stains and caked-on grime.
- Mild dish soap or laundry detergent – If you need an everyday sneaker cleaner that’s safe for most white shoes, these common household staples are designed to effectively break down dirt and grime.
- Specialty shoe cleaner – Specialty shoe cleaners—be they in foam, spray, or gel form—are formulated with sneaker materials in mind. They’re expressly designed to tackle the grime that settles on leather, canvas, and synthetic shoes without damaging the materials. These cleaning solutions might be a bit pricier than your average soap, but remember, every penny spent is an investment in the longevity and vibrancy of your beloved kicks.
- Magic erasers – As the name suggests, these are your magic cleaning aids for stubborn stains and scuffs, especially on the rubber role. Melamine foam sponges are highly effective at removing dirt and grime.
- Microfiber cloths – The drying process is every bit as important as the cleaning itself. Absorbent, non-abrasive microfiber cloths are the unsung heroes in this process. Unlike regular towels, a microfiber cloth will allow you to perform the job without scratching the surface of your shoes.
- White vinegar or baking soda – For the toughest of stains, you may need to whip out some additional household heavy hitters. Both white vinegar and baking soda have natural cleansing properties that can make quick work of stubborn marks. They can be applied directly to the stain or used to create a paste that’s more gentle on the fabric.
Cleaning and Care Tips for Various Shoe Materials
Understanding the nuances of the material you’re dealing with is key when it comes to cleaning white sneakers. Techniques suitable for one pair likely won’t be ideal for another.
Let’s break down the different methods according to their materials.
How to Clean White Canvas Sneakers
Canvas is one of the strongest types of cotton fabric, which is why it’s a popular material for white sneakers. We can’t get enough of our Beach Malibu Slip on Sneaker in canvas material for that very reason. Because the material is so sturdy, you may feel the temptation to just throw these shoes in the wash. However, canvas shoes have been known to shrink in the washing machine.
To clean them by hand, simply:
- Mix one part mild dish soap with three parts warm water in a large bowl or plastic bucket.
- Submerge a clean cloth in the soapy solution and wring it out slightly.
- Gently rub the damp cloth over the canvas, paying special attention to any stained or discolored areas.
- Re-dip the cloth in the soapy water as needed, continuing to work on your shoes until all marks have vanished.
- Complete the process by wiping the canvas with a damp, soap-free cloth.
- Leave your clean white shoes to air-dry naturally.
How to Clean White Mesh Sneakers
Mesh—a synthetic fabric noted for its breathability—is a material commonly used in the manufacturing of active footwear such as cross-trainers, walking shoes, and running shoes. Mesh shoes, like Vionic’s Arrival Sneaker, will often include other moisture-wicking materials like nylon and neoprene for better comfort and performance.
The mesh’s porous structure, while a benefit for breathability, does mean it’s somewhat of a dirt magnet. Fortunately, this same porous nature simplifies the cleaning process, allowing for easier manual scrubbing.
To clean your mesh sneakers, you’ll follow the same steps you would for white canvas sneakers.
How to Clean White Leather Sneakers
Leather makes for an elevated pair of white sneakers with enhanced style and formality (Have you seen the Zinah Slip on Sneaker and Winny Sneaker?). However, leather often requires special care, depending on the type and whether it’s been treated.
To clean leather shoes, you’ll follow the same procedure as is used for canvas or mesh shoes.
After cleaning, white leather sneakers may also need to be treated with a specialized shoe leather conditioner. To condition leather sneakers, follow these steps:
- Shake the bottle thoroughly before use.
- Test the conditioner on a small, inconspicuous area of the shoe to ensure it does not discolor the material.
- Dispense a small amount of conditioner onto a clean, slightly damp cloth.
- Rub the cloth gently on the leather in circular motions, ensuring an even coat.
- Wipe away any excess cleaner and moisture with a clean, dry cloth.
- Allow your white leather shoes to air-dry in a location without direct sunlight.
How to Clean White Suede Sneakers
Suede—a soft, velvety leather—requires extra care and attention, too. Take the Karmelle Sneaker for example, which is the perfect mix of suede, leather, and mesh. It may be daunting to clean this delicate material, but it’s quite manageable with the right tools and techniques.
To keep your suede shoes clean, follow these tips:
- Use a nylon bristle brush to lightly rub the upper portion of your shoes. Focus on areas with loose dirt or stains.
- If a dry brush doesn’t remove all the stains, apply a special cleaner. Start by applying a small amount and gently work it into the material. Add more cleaner as needed until the whole shoe has been treated.
- Remove any leftover cleaner and excess dampness with a dry cloth.
- Allow your shoes to air-dry in a cool location.
- Revive the suede using a specialty suede brush.
Vionic—White Sneakers for Every Setting
The beauty of white sneakers lies in their versatility. Once you learn how to wear white sneakers properly, they can be worn in practically any setting or paired with just about any type of outfit. But their pristine nature also makes them uniquely susceptible to dirt, stains, and scuffs.
Periodically cleaning your sneakers by hand is a smart way to protect your investment and keep them looking great. With a little elbow grease and patience, you can revitalize a pair of white shoes that were destined for the dumpster, empowering you to save money and still turn heads with your style statement.
Looking for your next pair of white sneakers?
You’ll find them at Vionic. Whether you prefer a mesh, canvas, leather, or suede look, we have the footwear and the specialty cleaning items you need to step out in style today, tomorrow, and long into the future.
Shop our shoes today.