How to wash shoes by hand and save yourself some serious moolah

Rescue your fave splurges with this step-by-step guide

A pair of beige leather mules on a white background with a glass of water and sliced oranges
(Image credit: @shopwinnoh)

I'm not even being dramatic when I say this: these shoes had been hit by a car before I cleaned them. 

Thanks to a little bit of forgetfulness after a family dog walk, my husband's month-old pair of Adidas sneakers found themselves in the middle of the road after flying off his parents' car rooftop last weekend. We realized the shoes were missing about eight hours later, and luckily they were still lying on the countryside road when we drove by late at night. 

This pair of sneakers had been thrown around by a day's worth of traffic, and it showed. There were scuffs, dirt spots, and potential tire marks all over them. Since their design includes leather and suede materials, putting them in the washing machine was an absolute no-no, but let's be real. These shoes were at rock bottom, and the only way was up. So after some convincing, my husband finally agreed to let me test this hand-washing method on his pricey pair of sneakers. Even if your situation is slightly different, here is how to wash shoes by hand and get them back to looking brand new.

A pair of dirty neutral sneakers

(Image credit: Future)

Good to know

Time: 1–2 hours, plus air drying time (I find my shoes are usually dry by the next morning)

Difficulty: Intermediate/Advanced

Helpful hints: Set yourself up a comfy space to work on the floor. This takes some serious time and patience, so grab your favorite drink, some throw cushions, and your comfiest outfit for this project. And when in doubt, check the labels within your shoes, on the shoe box, or see what the brand's website has to say about what materials they're made of.

Here's what you'll need

How to wash shoes by hand

Step 1: Mix your DIY cleaning solutions

A collection of pink shoe cleaning materials

(Image credit: Future)

Pour a small amount of mild laundry detergent (I used my trusty Method detergent which you can get from Target) or dish soap into your mixing bowl, and then allow it to dissolve in some warm water that's at a comfortable temperature to touch. In the meantime, grab your favorite cleaning paste (Hello, The Pink Stuff from Walmart) or whip up your own using equal parts baking soda (always Arm & Hammer from Amazon) and water to treat stains on white and light shoes.

Tip: Use waaaay less soap or detergent than you'd think. After some trial and error, I found just enough to cover the bottom of my bowl was the perfect amount of laundry detergent. Keep in mind, dish soap is really concentrated, so make sure you use a tiny amount if you're going for this option in your solution. 

Step 2: Dry brush your shoes

A pink toothbrush scrubbing a neutral sneaker

(Image credit: Future)

You've definitely heard of dry brushing as a part of your beauty routine, but this technique can save your shoes, too. Before you even think about dipping your brush (whether it's an old or new toothbrush or the cleaning brush we recommended from Amazon) into your cleaning solution, use it to remove loose dirt from your shoes and their stitching. Brush gently, like you would with your teeth, and if you encounter any suede material, be sure you only brush in the direction of the fabric's grain.

WARNING: Do not get any suede sections of your shoe wet! Suede can get discolored and the texture can be ruined by too much water.

Step 3: Separate and clean your laces and insoles

Shoelaces submerged in a mixing bowl of soapy water

(Image credit: Future)

Check if your shoes have any removable insoles and laces, and take these out and off. Submerge them in your bowl of cleaning solution and rub the laces between your fingers to gently work out the dirt. I ended up needing to clean out my bowl and make more cleaning solution after just cleaning the dirt out of the shoelaces, so I recommend keeping the laundry detergent close by.

Tip: I took a photo of how the sneakers were laced up before removing, so I could refer back and get the look right once the cleaning process was complete!

Step 4: Spot-treat scuffs and stains

A white eraser on neutral sneakers

(Image credit: Future)

This is the time to treat specific scuffs, stains, (or tire marks) on your shoes. Buff your cleaning paste into using the brush or a cloth, and tackle spots on the leather body of the shoe with a magic eraser sponge like the Mr. Clean one from Walmart.

If you've encountered difficult stains on suede, don't reach for your wet brush or dampened cloth. Instead, dig into your office drawer and find a clean and dry pencil eraser to gently treat these marks.

Tip: A pencil eraser is also great for extra-stubborn scuffs on the rubber parts of your shoes. Just work carefully and brush off any excess frequently.

Step 5: Brush clean the shoes and soles

Dip your brush into the cleaning solution and gently scrub the surface of your shoes, taking care to avoid getting any suede spots wet. Once you've done this, flip the shoes over and get into the grooves of the soles with your brush and cleaning solution combo. This is where the tough scrubbing comes in, and the results are so satisfying.

Step 6: Blot soap away and repeat

Use a microfiber cloth to soak up any excess suds by blotting the shoes dry. If they're not quite night-out ready after this, soak a cloth in your cleaning solution and wipe the shoes down as many times as you need to. 

Step 7: Air-dry and reassemble

A pair of Adidas sneakers cleaned and stacked

(Image credit: Future)

Lay your shoes out beside their insoles and laces to air dry. With delicate materials like suede and leather, you'll want to avoid areas with direct sunlight to prevent any discoloration or accidental bleaching the sun may cause. Leave everything out at least overnight to dry, and once it's all ready, reassemble your shoes and thread the laces back through.


Is it better to wash shoes by hand?

Short answer: yes. It takes much longer, but the benefits are definitely worth it. The main reason why hand-washing is your best bet? There are different ways to treat stains and generally clean on regular fabric, leather, and suede, and a majority of shoes are made of multiple materials. Hand washing allows you to target each area specifically, and you also seriously reduce the risk of disintegrating the glue on your shoes by opting for this technique.

How long does it take for shoes to dry after hand washing?

This varies depending on the material. Leather shoes can be dried with a microfiber cloth and will be ready to wear out the same day, but fabric sneakers or shoes with multiple materials will take closer to 12 hours. If you're coordinating a weekend outfit with your freshly cleaned shoes, make sure you've allocated enough time before your event and clean your shoes at least a day in advance.

Does regular dish soap clean shoes?

You can def clean shoes with dish soap, but not on its own. Dish soap is highly concentrated and colorful, so applying it directly to your shoes could result in staining and discoloration. For the best results, dilute that Dawn with some warm water (enough for the water to appear clear and soapy) and dip in a cloth or cleaning brush. This solution can be used to clean shoes overall, and also to spot treat stains between hand-washing sessions.

Nishaa Sharma
Freelance social media editor

Hi! I’m the former social editor at Real Homes and a freelance social media expert bringing you the latest and greatest in home trends, interiors aesthetics, and celebrity finds. When I’m not scrolling or filming the best home decor for your small space, you can find me exploring the cutest villages and brunch spots, or snuggled up on the sofa with a new recipe, my husband, and our puppy, Ebble.