How to wash sneakers in the washing machine or by hand – without ruining them (or your) appliance

Learn how to wash sneakers properly in the washing machine, or by hand

White sneakers in washing machine
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you're looking at how to wash sneakers in the washing machine, they probably really do need a good scrub to restore their original colors and freshness. 

It's true that you don't need to clean sneakers, tennis shoes, or trainers — and footwear in general —  nearly as much as your clothes, but regular wear does result in shoes that look (and smell) less than fresh.

Before you even think about plunging your (dirty) white sneakers into your best washing machine, take a minute, because if you rush and get it wrong, you could wreck them. But not to worry, the Real Homes team has tried this method and our editors swear by it to get the freshest results.

How to wash sneakers

If you're looking up how to wash sneakers, we're going to guess it's pretty long overdue. Plus, washing your shoes is probably one of the last things on your to-do list. With a few tips, some of the best shoe cleaner solutions, and a step-by-step guide, those sneakers you promised you'd take good care of this time can look new again.

How to wash sneakers in the washing machine

blue sneaker washed with a brush - pink miracle shoe cleaner

(Image credit: Pink Miracle shoe cleaner)

Time: About 1–2 hours to clean, 24–48 hours to dry

Difficulty: Easy

Helpful hints: Take a look at the material your shoe is made of. This is often on the tongue of the sneaker, the sole, or on the original box. (Check the website if you can't find it.) This will help you determine how to properly clean your sneakers and avoid ruining any finicky fabrics like suede.

If you get the thumbs up, the biggest mistake you can make is to just sling them in, especially if you want to return your shoes for some reason as it will erase the warranty.

First, you need to prepare them — and the washing machine.

What you'll need

Step 1: Remove the laces and clean off as much dirt as possible

Start by removing the laces, then any dirt, stones, or anything stuck to the soles with a soft brush and then a damp cloth. Why do this? A stray pebble can wreck a washing machine, and the cleaner the trainers are when they go in, the cleaner they'll be when they come out. Use a soft cleaning brush or toothbrush and baking soda — our fave is Arm & Hammer (available at Amazon) — or a cleaning paste (such as The Pink Stuff (available at Amazon) ) to get in every nook and cranny.

Experts at Persil explain more, "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." We'd recommend cleaning a washing machine beforehand anyhow.

Step 2: Prep and put your sneakers in the washing machine

Next, load up the washing machine with old towels or jeans, and put the sneakers in a shoe bag that's designed to go in the machine. This will reduce the impact of the sneakers on the washing machine drum. Choose a delicate cycle and a slow spin speed to minimize damage, too. 

Can't get your hands on a sneaker bag? A cloth bag with a tie top will do instead. Or, if you don't have a shoe bag, you can leave the laces in the shoes and trap them in the door as you shut it. This, too, will stop the trainers from bashing against the drum when it spins.

Step 3: Allow your sneakers to dry

As for drying your tennis shoes, this, too, is important: don't put them in a tumble dryer. Unless, of course, you like your shoes two sizes smaller and misshapen. Instead, leave them to air-dry in a warm, dry and — if outside — shady spot (we'd only put them in direct sunlight if they're all-white. 

If you want to speed up the drying process, a dehumidifier will help; otherwise, stuff the sneakers with paper towels (and change it for fresh paper every couple of hours).

Step 4: Sprinkle with baking soda

Sneakers still smelly after all that? Sprinkle baking soda inside them and leave them over night. The next day, shake them out and you should be good to go.

How to wash sneakers by hand

Wiping white sneaker with blue microfiber cloth

(Image credit: Getty Images)

How to wash sneakers safely? Doing so by hand is by far the best method, both for your shoes and your washing machine.

Here's how to wash sneakers by hand:

Step 1: Get your cleaning solution ready

Mix a small bowl of baking soda with a little water until it forms a paste. Alternatively you can use a cheap whitening toothpaste. Check out more baking soda cleaning tips.

Step 2: Start scrubbing

Using an old toothbrush or (clean) shoe-cleaning brush, work the paste into the trainers, both inside and out. If your sneakers are extremely dirty, you can leave the solution to soak for an hour or two, then repeat the process to get them clean. For stubborn stains, use a dedicated stain removal powder like OxiClean.

Step 3: Fill your sink or tub

Get the warm water running and fill up your sink or bathtub. Then rinse the sneakers  well, using the cleaning brush to remove additional dirt. Use the faucet or showerhead to rinse the soap and leftover dirt particles off.

Step 4: Dry your sneakers

Squeeze out excess water from the fabric if your shoes are flexible. If the sneakers are stiffer, use a clean towel to squeeze and pat them dry. Then air dry them outside if the weather is nice. It may take a day or two, sometimes longer depending on the material — 72 hours is best.

How to dry sneakers

Now you know how to wash sneakers without ruining them, we'll walk you through drying them. As with washing, make sure you read the care label for the best course of action.

It's pretty rare to find a pair of sneakers that can go in the tumble dryer without repercussions, so we'll err on the side of caution and suggest you hang your shoes to air dry, avoiding direct sunlight to maintain color. If you don't have outside access, hang them in a warm dry place with a window open. Grab yourself a great clothes airer from our buyer's guide.

Experts Laundrapp also suggest, 'If you’re in a hurry to wear them again, try stuffing them with clean paper towels to absorb the moisture.' 


Can sneakers get ruined in the washing machine?

Heavy sneakers can break drum paddles, especially on cheaper washing machines, so you need to get the method right. Experts at Bosch explain more, "Shoes that are made from animal products such as leather or suede can sustain water damage from being washed in a washing machine. On the other hand, trainers that are made from synthetic materials like nylon and polyester are more hard-wearing and can therefore withstand multiple washes in a washing machine."

Do I have to wash sneakers on a cold cycle?

Not really. You've probably read online that trainers have to be washed on cold, but this isn't really true. In fact, a cold wash is highly unlikely to get rid of tough stains. As a general rule, if your trainers are white, they can safely be wash on a 40°C cycle. If they are bright-colored or dark, it's best to stick to 30°C. 

Can you wash Nike sneakers in the washing machine?

Nike does not recommend washing their trainers in the washing machine. However, we have — with mixed results. The biggest problem with washing Nikes in a washing machine isn't that they'll get damaged, but that they won't necessarily come out much cleaner than before. This especially applies to the Flyknit range and anything made from texture fabric. These are best washed by hand. 

Lucy Searle

Lucy is Global Editor-in-Chief of Homes & Gardens having worked on numerous interiors and property titles. She was founding Editor of Channel 4’s 4Homes magazine, was Associate Editor at Ideal Home, before becoming Editor-in-Chief of in 2018 then moving to Homes & Gardens in 2021. She has also written for Huffington Post, AOL, UKTV, MSN, House Beautiful, Good Homes, and many women’s titles. Find her writing about everything from buying and selling property, self build, DIY, design and consumer issues to gardening.

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