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

Here's how to wash sneakers 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 sneakers, tennis shoes, or trainers, they probably really do need washing. It's true that sneakers – 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 sneakers in a 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.

Just when you thought that how to do laundry couldn't get any more complicated... 

Plus, you might wreck your washing machine: heavy sneakers can break drum paddles, especially on cheaper washing machines.

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.'

So, while we suggest you approach with caution, read on to see how to give them a good wash. We've also included an option for washing them by hand. 

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

(Image credit: Vivifying at Amazon)

How to wash sneakers in the washing machine

Now, the big question is how to wash sneakers and tennis shoes 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 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 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.
  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 sneakers, 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
  4. 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).
  5. 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.

blue sneaker washed with a brush - pink miracle shoe cleaner

(Image credit: Pink Miracle shoe cleaner)

How to wash sneakers: by hand

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:

  1. 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.
  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 OxiClean.
  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 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.' 

Lucy Searle
Lucy Searle

Lucy is Editor-in-Chief of Realhomes.com, having worked on numerous interiors and property titles. She was founding Editor of Channel 4’s 4Homes magazine, was Associate Editor at Ideal Home. 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.