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

How to wash trainers in a washing machine
(Image credit: Vivifying 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 trainers that look (and smell) less than fresh. 

Before you even think about bunging your trainers in a washing machine, think twice. Get it wrong and you will wreck your trainers; 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. Even worse, you might wreck your washing machine: heavy trainers can break drum paddles, especially on cheaper washing machines. 

So, while we suggest you approach with caution, read on to see how to give them a good wash. There is an option for washing by hand first.

How to wash trainers: by hand

This is by far the safest method, both for your trainers and your washing machine, which just wasn't designed to wash footwear. 

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.

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 or paste.

3. Fill your bathtub up to a quarter with warm water; rinse the trainers 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.  

How to wash trainers in the washing machine

 If you're determined to put them in the washing machine, we'd recommend first checking whether the trainers' manufacturers recommend it (Nike and Adidas 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. 

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. 

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. This will reduce the impact of the trainers on the washing machine drum. Choose a delicate cycle and a slow spin speed to minimise damage, too. Can't get a delivery? A cloth bag with a tie top will just about do instead.

Or, if you don't have a shoe bag, you can leave the trainer laces in the trainers 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

4. As for drying trainers, this, too, is important: don't put them in a tumble dryer. Unless, of course, you like your trainers two sizes smaller and mis-shapen. 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 kitchen roll (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.

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