Get Your Shoes Looking Brand New With These DIY Cleaning Methods

person is cleaning men suede casual boots

Your shoes are pretty much the first things that encounter dirt and stains when you step out (literally and figuratively). As much as you try to avoid stepping in all the wrong places, dirty shoes are inevitable! So, when your favourite, brand new pair gets all ‘browned-up’, it’s best not to waste any time in getting them cleaned up.

Now, the first and most obvious thing to mention is that shoes come in various types of materials, each with its own set of cleaning instructions. These specific cleaning methods must be followed strictly in order to prevent damaging the material or ruining the shoe’s appearance. 

So, with that, here are the DIY shoe cleaning methods you’ve been looking for!

Leather and Faux Leather Shoes

Water stained leather boots

First things first, any dirt that can be wiped off should be removed first. Crush up a paper towel and wipe the shoe thoroughly to get off as much dirt as possible. Next, mix equal parts water and white vinegar, dampen a non-abrasive cloth in the solution, and wipe over the shoe. This will help remove any stubborn dirt on the surface, as well as mild stains. Let the material air dry completely before inspecting it for other stains/marks.

If you find scuff marks on pure leather shoes, dampen a soft cloth, dip it into a bowl of baking soda, and gently wipe over the area. Remove the baking powder with paper towels (dampen if needed), and leave to air dry. Getting scuff marks off faux and patent leather is just as simple, if not simpler. Apply a small amount of petroleum jelly to the scuff mark, take a clean, soft cloth and wipe in circular motions until it vanishes. If the material looks dull after using petroleum jelly, simply buff the shoe with a mixture of water and white vinegar.

Water stained leather boots after cleaning

NOTE: Other exteriors of the shoe such as the outsole and midsole can be cleaned with water and baking soda in the same manner as removing scuff marks.

Fabric (Canvas) Shoes

Converse chuck taylors before cleaning

As much as we love the colours, patterns, and durability of fabric shoes, their porous material makes cleaning slightly harder. They are also more prone to stains because dirt can’t be wiped off without some of it clinging to the fabric. Although some cleaning methods suggest cleaning fabric shoes in a washing machine, we advise against it because this can weaken the shoe’s assembly.

Luckily, the DIY cleaning method for fabric shoes is fairly simple and only requires an old toothbrush, laundry detergent, and paper towels! Start by wiping off loose debris from the material using the paper towels; the more dirt you can remove during this initial step, the easier it will be to complete the rest of the cleaning process. 

Next, make a cleaning solution by mixing 1 teaspoon of laundry detergent in 2 cups of water. For tough stains, you may need to increase the strength of the solution. Soak the toothbrush in the cleaner and start scrubbing the material; pay more attention to stained areas. Try your best to brush in the direction of the weave as opposed to scrubbing against it or haphazardly. 

Converse chuck taylors after cleaning

When you’re satisfied with the removal of stains from your fabric shoes, grab some paper towels and blot the material to absorb as much moisture as possible. Following this up by repeatedly wiping the shoes with a damp towel to remove traces of the cleaner. Soak up moisture with some paper towels again and air dry the shoes in a shaded spot to prevent fading (in case of coloured shoes).

Athletic (Mesh) Shoes

athletic mesh shoes after being cleaned

Athletic shoes vary from brand to brand. While some manufactured mesh shoes can be cleaned in the washer (in a protective garment bag), others require a manual DIY cleaning method. The latter option is always the safer choice, especially if you aren’t sure whether your athletic shoes are machine-washable. 

Much like other shoe materials, the first step is to remove loose dirt. Do this by tapping both shoes together – bottom to bottom, and then side by side with the insoles facing downward. This will help dislodge debris stuck between the mesh. Next, take a soft-bristled brush and gently brush off any remaining loose dirt. 

Now, make a cleaning solution of laundry detergent and water (adjust the strength as required). Dip a soft sponge into the cleaner and gently scrub the material all around. Unless you’ve stepped into some muddy puddles, stains on mesh are rarely noticeable, however, this DIY method will get them all cleaned up. Finish by rinsing the shoes to remove the cleaning solution; shake off excess water, and leave to air dry completely.

NOTE: Other exteriors of canvas and mesh shoes can be cleaned with mild, soapy water and a clean cloth or non-abrasive scrubber.

How to Clean Other Parts of a Shoes

Dirty laces before cleaning

So far, we’ve shared DIY methods to clean different types of shoe materials, but what about other parts like the insoles and laces? Check out the tips below to complete the shoe cleaning guide:

  • Laces can be machine-washed or manually cleaned by soaking them in soapy water and scrubbing with a toothbrush
  • Remove insoles > sprinkle with detergent > scrub with a damp brush > rinse off > air dry 
  • Sprinkle baking soda inside the shoe (to absorb odours); dip a soft-bristled brush in soapy water and clean the interior and tongue by scrubbing gently; finish off by wiping with a damp cloth to remove the cleaning agents.

dirty laces after cleaning

Wear and tear may call for a new pair of shoes but your dirty footwear doesn’t! With these tried and tested DIY cleaning methods, you can get filthy shoes to look brand new again!

If you're looking for more extensive house cleaning and DIY cleaning guides, check out more of our blog.

Adriana Aziz is the operations manager at MaidForYou. With over 6 years of experience managing cleaning operations, she knows all the best hacks when it comes to cleaning residential and commercial buildings. With expert experience in managing house cleaning operations, interior design and logistics. She spends her free time with her family and as a freelance food critic.

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