How to wash sneakers without ruining them (or your washing machine)

For kicks that have seen better days

White sneakers on a bubbly circle with orange background
(Image credit: Future)

If you're looking up how to wash sneakers, we're going to guess it's pretty long overdue. Outta sight, outta mind — the minute you kick off your shoes by the door, it's hard to remember that they're looking a little crusty until you go to wear the again. Plus, washing your shoes is probably one of the last things on your to-do list, especially when there's a giant pile of laundry waiting in your room or dishes that have stacked up from a few nights ago.

You might be tempted to just throw your sneakers in the wash and hit send — but think again. Like some of your clothes, sneakers have to be washed with care and although some can go in the washing machine, others will get ruined even on the lightest cycle. Not to mention, you can kiss that warranty goodbye. 

Welp, 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.

Good to know

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.

Here's what you'll need

How to wash sneakers in the washing machine

Step 1: Figure out what your shoes are made of

Experts at Bosch explain that sneakers made out of leather or suede can't really deal with "water damage from being washed in a washing machine," but that synthetic materials "are more hard-wearing and can therefore withstand multiple washes in a washing machine."

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

Step 2: Remove the laces and clean off as much dirt as possible

Start by removing the laces, then any dirt, stones, or crusty items stuck to the soles or uppers. A stray pebble can wreck a washing machine, and the cleaner the sneakers 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 — or a cleaning paste (such as The Pink Stuff ) to get in every nook and cranny. You can grab both from Amazon, FYI.

Step 3: 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 mesh laundry bag, cloth bag, or old pillowcase. 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.

Top tip: Do not use a lot of detergent in your washing machine when washing sneakers. 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.

Step 4: Allow your sneakers to dry

Whatever you do, don't throw your sneakers in the dryer after! They'll need time to air dry instead. Put them in a warm, dry room or pop them outside on a towel or newspaper, protected from rain or direct sunlight. A dehumidifier and extra towels can help speed up the process if you need them stat.

How to wash sneakers by hand

blue trainer washed with a brush - pink miracle shoe cleaner

(Image credit: Pink Miracle shoe cleaner)

Looking to minimize any risk of ruined sneakers? Washing them by hand is your best bet. 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. You can also purchase specialty shoe cleaners and solutions for sneakers and other footwear styles.

Step 2: Start scrubbing

Using a cleaning brush, like this cute Amazon kit, (or an old toothbrush) work your cleaning paste or solution into your sneakers, being careful of any suede patches. 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. If there are stains, a cleaning paste works wonders on grimy rubber soles. 

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.   

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

(Image credit: Getty )


Can you wash sneakers in the washing machine?

Short answer: maybe. Long answer: It really depends. Check the material your sneakers are made of before you throw them in the washing machine. Fragile fabrics can get wrecked even on the gentlest cycle. And no sneakers should be put in the dryer — it can melt the glue holding them together!

Can you put your Nikes in the washing machine?

Nike doesn't recommend washing its sneakers in the washing machine. However, we've still done it 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. 

Melissa Epifano
Former Global Editor in Chief

Why hello! I'm Melissa, and as the global editor in chief of Real Homes, my aim is to help our community design homes that feel authentic, real, and functional. Though we all love aspirational images and celebrity houses, my team and I are motivated to create content that makes sense for your lifestyle, needs, and interests, whether you own a home, rent an apartment, share a space with your parents, or live in a cozy converted van. I myself am a renter and am constantly seeking out ways to personalize my home – which is, as many people know, a more challenging task than it sounds. When I'm not editing home content, I'm usually staring at birds through binoculars, curled up with a good book, or devouring a new flavor of ice cream.

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