It’s officially summer: the season of sweaty, dusty, grass-stained sneakers. But before you relegate your favorite filthy pair to “yard work only,” you might try to clean them so that they look (and smell) like new. But is the washing machine an option?
Luckily, for the lazier among us, the answer is yes—with a few caveats. Your sneakers have to be made of the right material, and you will need to wash them with care, so they don’t fall apart. With the right approach, though, your washing machine can give your nastiest sneakers a new life.
Need to freshen up your filthy kicks? Here’s everything you need to know to machine-wash your sneakers without destroying them.
Which Sneakers Can You Machine Wash?
First, make sure to pick the right sneakers for the washing machine. Almost any canvas or fabric sneaker can be machine washed. In fact, it’s hard to clean them using any other method. For faux leather, proceed with caution, and only use the washing machine as a last resort. And never put real leather sneakers or any with delicate embellishments in the washer.
Washing machines are hard on shoes. If you have a finely constructed pair of designer sneakers or high-end running shoes, they probably won’t come out of the wash looking (or feeling) like new. In short, don’t put anything in the washer unless you don’t mind it coming out with a bit of wear and tear.
So, if you have fancy, expensive sneakers, wash them by hand. But for your everyday pair that needs the occasional thorough scrub, machine washing is a great choice.
How to Machine Wash Your Sneakers
To get the best results with minimal damage, follow these steps.
Prep Your Shoes
First, use a cloth or brush to remove any loose dirt or debris. A clean toothbrush can scrub away stubborn dirt. If your shoes have any scuffs, use a “magic eraser” sponge to get rid of them. Add a stain-treating prewash spray to spot-treat lingering stains.
If your shoes have a strong odor, sprinkle a few tablespoons of baking soda inside them and leave them overnight before washing. Remove the baking soda before you put them in the washing machine, though, as baking soda absorbs odors. You can add some fresh baking soda to the wash, though, to get your sneakers even cleaner.
It isn’t necessary to remove the laces before you wash your shoes, but both the laces and the shoes will get cleaner if you do. You can put the laces in the wash or replace them with new ones.
Wash with Care
A mesh laundry bag will protect your shoes from excess damage in the washer. Wash the laces in a separate bag so that they don’t get tangled.
Space your shoes evenly in the washing machine, and add two or more large towels between them. The towels add padding to the inside of the machine, reducing the damage to your shoes and the noise they make as they bounce around. If you have access to a front-loading washer with no agitator, use that, as it will be much gentler.
Always use cool water. Hot water can melt the glue that holds your shoes together. Set your washer to a gentle cycle with an extra rinse to get all the detergent out. You can use a normal amount of regular liquid detergent—no need to buy something special.
Always Air Dry
No matter what material your sneakers are made of, don’t put them in the dryer. The high temps will melt the glue and warp their shape. Instead, leave plenty of time for your sneakers to air dry. Take out the insoles to speed up the drying process. Consider stuffing the toes with newspaper while they dry, so they don’t lose their shape. After they’ve air-dried, your sneakers are ready to be worn again.
While handwashing and spot-cleaning can keep many sneakers looking good, the washing machine will help get your dirtiest pair wearable again. Use these tips to machine wash with care as your shoes collect the summer’s sweat, dust, and sand. When the time comes to replace them, read our guide to buying shoes that fit.