How to wash trainers: without ruining them, or your washing machine

Here's how to wash trainers and actually get them clean, while keeping your washing machine intact

trainer on laundry bags - yizhet-at-amazon
(Image credit: yizhet at amazon)

If you're looking at how to wash trainers, they probably really do need washing. It's true that trainers – and footwear in general – don't need cleaning 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 trainers in the best washing machine, think twice. Get it wrong and you will wreck them; and if you were washing them because they were faulty and you were hoping for an exchange, be warned: putting them in a washing machine will almost certainly void your warranty. You also need to be careful not to mess up your washing machine (more on that later). 

Fortunately, with a little know-how, you can get your trainers fresh and clean again.

sneakers in a mesh bag loaded into a washing machine - amazon

(Image credit: Vivifying at Amazon)

How to wash trainers: expert advice

The most important thing to bear in mind is that learning how to wash trainers is different from learning how to do laundry in general. 

Firstly, you need to know what your trainers are made from. Experts at Bosch (opens in new tab) explain that '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.'

Secondly, you'll need to decide whether washing trainers in the washing machine is right for you, or whether it's best to stick to hand-washing. Generally, canvas trainers and trainers made from any other solid fabric are fine to go in the washing machine. But if your trainers are made from mesh, or have a highly textured finish, you may find that hand washing will just give you better results. 

How to wash trainers in the washing machine

Now, the big question is how to wash trainers in the washer. If you're determined to put them in the washing machine, we'd recommend first checking whether the manufacturer recommends it (Nike and Adidas generally don't).

If you get the thumbs up, the biggest mistake you can make is to just sling them in. 

First, you need to prepare them – and the washing machine. Here's how:

  1. 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. Experts at Persil (opens in new tab) 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.'
  2. Next, load up the washing machine with old towels or jeans, and put the trainers in a shoe bag that's designed to go in the machine (opens in new tab). This will reduce the impact of the trainers 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 trainer 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.
  3. Want to play it safe? After you've removed surface dirt, mix washing detergent in warm water then use a toothbrush to gently brush it into the trainers, starting on the insides, before moving to the soles. Refresh the water and detergent mix and tackle the upper parts of the shoes. Wipe off the excess with an e-cloth (opens in new tab)
  4. As for drying your trainers, 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 trainers with paper (and change it for fresh paper every couple of hours).
  5. Trainers 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.

Sometimes, you will find that very dirty trainers will leave marks on your washing machine drum. Don't worry, these aren't permanent – you just need to find out how to clean a washing machine afterward. 

Top tip: Do not use a lot of detergent in your washing machine when washing trainers. They tend to create an excessive amount of foam, which can cause your washing machine to malfunction mid-cycle. Use about a third of the normal detergent amount you use, preferably powder not liquid. 

blue trainer washed with a brush - pink miracle shoe cleaner

(Image credit: Pink Miracle shoe cleaner)

How to wash trainers: by hand

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

Here's how to wash trainers by hand:

  1. Mix a small bowl of bicarbonate of soda with a little water until it forms a paste. Alternatively you can use a cheap whitening toothpaste. 
  2. Using an old toothbrush or (clean) shoe cleaning brush, work the paste into the trainers, both inside and out. Leave for a few hours. For stubborn stains, use a dedicated stain removal powder like Vanish Oxi Advance (opens in new tab) or paste such as Pink Miracle Shoe Cleaner (opens in new tab).
  3. Fill your bathtub up to a quarter with warm water; rinse the sneakers vigorously in the tub, aiding the rinsing with water from the tap or shower.
  4. Wring them out as much as is possible (easier with flexi-sole or knitted) trainers. Air outside in dry weather for a minimum of two days – 72 hours is best.  

white plimsolls tennis shoes hanging up on line - GettyImages-122667282

(Image credit: Getty )

How to dry trainers

Now you know how to wash trainers 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 trainers 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 (opens in new tab) also suggest, 'If you’re in a hurry to wear them again, try stuffing them with clean paper towels to absorb the moisture.' 

Do I have to wash trainers 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 trainers in the washing machine?

Nike do 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.