How to Clean Your Running Shoes

A dirty pair of running shoes lays on the pavement with a cleaning rag, a brush and a spray bottle.

There’s nothing like a fresh pair of shoes. The cushion is bouncy, the tread is grippy, and the upper is pristine—not a speck of dirt in sight. That first run feels amazing, but comes with a touch of trepidation. When you’re running in your untarnished beauties, the last thing you want is to get them dirty.

Once you get caught in a downpour and unavoidable mudfest, you may be wondering, “can I put my running shoes into the washing machine?” While that would be easier than a hand wash, we don’t recommend it. Along with the heat from a washing machine, many types of laundry detergent can damage the color and adhesives in running shoes, causing them to break down faster.

If these are just for running, they don’t need to stay pristine, but eliminating grit buildup will increase their performance, their smell and your comfort.

A dirty pair of trail running shoes.

Reasons to clean your shoes:

  • Traction is compromised because of built up mud, especially for trail shoes with grippy lugs.
  • Sand and dirt caked into shoes can scratch away at the shoe materials, as well as your skin.
  • Your shoes have gotten smelly.
  • You’re wearing them casually in addition to running.
  • You just like clean shoes, geez.

Just a note: You are a grown person who gets to wear your shoes however you please. However, your running shoes will get the most life if you use them for one purpose (only for running, or only as a lifestyle shoe).

Let’s get to cleaning!

Gather your supplies

Here’s what you’ll need:

  1. Something to clean them in so you won’t clog up your bathtub
    1. A free-standing plastic tub or bucket
    2. Outdoor space with a hose
    3. Utility sink
    4. Towel
  2. Cleaner of choice
    1. Solution mixed with equal parts baking soda and vinegar
    2. Mild cleaner like dish soap or biodegradable soap
  3. Something to wipe off dirt
    1. Soft cloth (microfiber is excellent for cleaning)
    2. Brush with soft bristles (like an old toothbrush, baby hairbrush or a veggie brush),
    3. Melamine foam sponge (Mr Clean Magic Eraser) - best for white shoes, not necessary unless you’re trying to get your shoes super squeaky-clean.
  4. Newspaper, packing paper or rags to stuff inside your shoes and dry
A pair of running shoes sits inside a bucket with a cleaning cloth and spray bottle.

Get to Cleaning

1. Remove the insoles and laces. The laces can go in the washing machine–just put them in a mesh bag so they won’t get tangled.

2. If your shoes are caked in mud, knock off the biggest chunks before you put them in a tub. Take them outside and bang the soles together to release any large pieces of dirt or debris. You can also hose them off.

3. If they have dry dirt on them, dust them off with a small stiff-bristled brush or a cloth. It’s important to knock off dry dirt before you get it wet and turn it into mud.

4. Scrub the outsoles with the soft brush and your cleaning solution of choice.

5. Wipe the upper with a cloth and the solution. Get extra clean using the melamine foam sponge (optional), which is best on white shoes.

6. For the deepest clean, let the shoes soak in water or a diluted cleaning solution for a few hours or overnight.

7. Rinse thoroughly with clean water.

Air Dry with newspaper

With the liners still out of the shoe, stuff them with newspaper. If you’re a modern person who gets their news online, you can use paper that arrived stuffed in your shoes, packing paper from a package, your junk mail, or rags. Just note that glossy paper is not very absorbent.

Once your stuffer of choice has soaked up the water, remove it. If they are soaking wet, you may need to do this twice. If you have floor vents in your home, place the stuffed shoes and liners by a vent to speed up your drying time.

Notes of caution

A runner cleans his dirty running shoes with a cleaning brush.

Don’t put your shoes in the dryer.

Heat from the dryer can melt the adhesives used in the manufacturing and will damage your shoes. It’s also best to avoid direct sunlight unless it’s for a brief period of time.

Don’t leave your shoes out in the sun for extended periods of time.

The sun is powerful. A little bit of time in the sun can help your shoes dry faster, but if you forget about them for too long, the shoes can be damaged by the sun’s rays.

Be careful with suede!

Most running shoes are pretty straightforward to clean, but some road running shoes have suede accents (most commonly found on shoes by Diadora and adidas), which are challenging to clean. He may not have been a runner, but Elvis asked people to stay off his blue suede shoes for a reason.

If you have a shoe with suede accents, don’t use soap and water on those areas. Suede absorbs water, so washing it with soap and water is likely to make stains set in. Instead, start by brushing off any dirt with a dry brush. Then use a dry melamine foam (like a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser) to brush off dirt. If that doesn’t work, white vinegar or rubbing alcohol can be used, sparingly.

Most running shoes are made with fabrics that are expected to get dirty and easier to clean, like mesh and canvas.

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