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Dirty Secrets: How to Wash Sneakers


Want to make those worn out sneakers look (and smell) like they’ve just come out of the box instead of out of a muddy park? Follow these laundry tips on how to clean sneakers for an instant footwear overhaul. 


How to Wash Sneaker Laces

First, remove the laces and give them a good scrub with a soapy toothbrush on a washboard or draining board. If you are putting them in the washing machine with the rest of your wash, pin them into a bag, or pocket first so they don’t get lost. You may have noticed that white laces are the first thing to show the dirt, so just washing this part (or switching them for a darker colour) is going to be a big step in bringing those trainers back to life.  


Preparations for Washing Sneakers

As for the shoes, before taking them near any water area, carefully brush off any surface dirt. You know – all the sand from the sandpit, dust from the playground, mud from the football pitch, the chewing gum they accidentally stepped in… Be really thorough. Use a toothpick, cotton bud or pin to get into all the nooks and crannies. Getting rid of as much dirt as possible to begin with will prevent any of it seeping further into the fabric or making your washing water too muddy.  


How to Clean Sneakers with a Sponge

Using a soft cloth or sponge, warm water and a small amount of Surf excel Liquid Detergent carefully clean the waterproof parts of the shoe such as the sole, reflective panels or leather detailing. Already the shoes should be starting to look better. Now to tackle the trickier fabric areas. These can be gently cleaned with a sponge, soft cloth or brush and a fresh batch of soapy water. For tougher stains, dab on some neat Surf excel Liquid Detergent and leave for about 15 minutes. When the shoes look clean, or as clean as you think you can get them given what your child’s been up to in them, wipe away any detergent with clean water and a fresh cloth.  


Can I Put Sneakers in the Washing Machine?

Many modern sneakers are sturdy enough to withstand a machine wash (but always check the manufacturer’s instructions first). We recommend putting shoes in a mesh bag or pillow case for protection, along with their detached laces, then washing with Surf excel – Liquid Detergent for front loaders or Matic Top Load for top loaders ­– in cold water, which will help prevent the colours from fading. Washing at the same time as their swimming towels, dirty jeans or smelly PE kit should soften any blows your shoes might give to the washing machine drum.  


Drying Your Clean Sneakers

Dry sneakers outdoors, if you can – but away from direct sunlight as this could fade the colours. Otherwise, find somewhere warm and dry with a good air current (on a windowsill, near a fan or air conditioning unit or in the airing cupboard). Stuffing shoes with newspaper, and changing it when it begins to feel damp, is a good way to speed drying as the paper absorbs some of the excess water (this is also a handy tip for all your shoes, especially in monsoon season when you’ve been out in the rain or if the kids have been splashing in puddles.)
You can also accelerate the process by removing the insoles and washing and drying them separately. Resist the temptation to put them in the tumble dryer though as this could add to the wear and tear of them. Depending on the weather, it could take several hours, or even a couple of days for the trainers to dry, so you may need to plan ahead. Washing the kids’ sneakers the night before they need them for Sports Day, might be cutting it fine.  


An Even Quicker Fix for Washing Sneakers

If the trainers only need a quick freshen up, or you don’t have time for a potentially lengthy drying process, just washing the laces, the insoles and wiping down the soles is a fast-track way to an immediate impact. For more expert laundry tips, visit our stain removal tips section.