How to Clean Shoes: A Guide to Cleaning Leather, Cloth, and More
Whether you want to sanitize thrifted shoes or clean suede, cloth, or leather shoes you already own, here's how to clean shoes like a pro.
With every thrift haul comes the task of thoroughly cleaning your new finds. Tossing your new-to-you clothes into the washing machine is easy, but cleaning shoes can be more challenging.
If you're not sure how to clean shoes—secondhand options or pairs you already own—we've got you covered.
Why Thrift for Secondhand Shoes?
Thrifting isn't just a TikTok trend—it's a sustainable way to buy affordable "new" clothes without supporting fast-fashion retailers. Whether you prefer your local Goodwill or an online thrift store, thrifting gives old products the opportunity to have a new life. Plus, it prevents old clothes, shoes, and accessories from ending up in a landfill.
However, shopping secondhand means the items were previously owned, so they need a good cleaning before you can enjoy them. Not only that, but regularly cleaning your shoes (1 to 2 times per month is recommended for your most-worn pairs) can keep the footwear in good shape and odor-free.
The better you take care of the shoes in your collection, the less often you'll need to replace them. It's always more sustainable to make the most of what you already have than buy new.
To ensure your favorite sneakers, boots, or sandals stay in tip-top shape, check out the step-by-step instructions on how to clean shoes below.
How to Clean Shoes Like a Pro
Whether you want to sanitize your thrifted finds or keep the shoes you already own around for years to come, follow the simple instructions on how to clean shoes below.
How to Clean Cloth Shoes:
- Fill your sink or a large container with warm water and gentle, fragrance-free soap.
- Submerge the shoes into the water to let them soak.
- As the shoes are soaking, gently scrub them with a sponge or Swedish dishcloth to remove dirt and grime.
- Once clean, remove the shoes and dispose of the dirty water.
- Set the shoes on a towel to dry.
- Stuff the shoes with small towels to ensure they stay in the proper shape.
How to Clean Leather Shoes:
- Use the soft side of a sponge or a Swedish dishcloth to remove dirt and grime.
- Dip the sponge in warm, soapy water, wring it out, then wipe down the surface of the shoe.
- Once clean, remove the soap from the surface of the shoe with a damp cloth.
- Dry the surface with a towel.
- Set the shoes on a towel until completely dry.
- Optional: After drying with a clean towel, you can apply a leather conditioner to protect shoes from future stains.
How to Clean Suede Shoes:
- Gently remove dirt from the surface of the shoe with a suede brush. Always brush with the grain.
- If the suede has scruff marks, brush back and forth with a little added pressure.
- If the suede has a stain, remove it with a rubber eraser using small circular motions.
- If that doesn't work, try removing the stain with white vinegar or rubbing alcohol. Don't use water, as that may stain the suede.
- To deep-clean and disinfect, wet a cloth with rubbing alcohol and gently rub it into the suede.
- Optional: After cleaning your shoes, apply a suede protector to prevent future imperfections.
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