How to Wash Shoes in the Washing Machine and by Hand

Washing shoes properly is key to keeping them looking and smelling fresh. Whether machine washing or hand washing, following some basic guidelines will help extend the life of your shoes.

Choosing the Right Method

Machine washing is quick and convenient for canvas, mesh, and other delicate shoes that can withstand a gentle cycle. It allows you to thoroughly clean the entire shoe.

Handwashing gives you more control for cleaning leather, suede, and other materials that require special care. You can target dirty spots and avoid soaking certain areas.

Consider the shoe material, construction, and amount of dirt when deciding on a washing method.

Preparing for Machine Washing

Before tossing shoes in the washing machine:

  • Brush off any dried mud or loose dirt.
  • Check for signs of damage or wear. Washing may worsen existing issues.
  • Remove shoelaces and removable inserts.
  • Zip or Velcro closed any fasteners. This prevents damage during the cycle.
  • Turn shoes so the toes point towards the center. This balances them during washing.
  • Place shoes in a pillowcase or mesh bag. This prevents banging around.

Washing Machine Settings

Wash shoes in cold water on a gentle or delicate cycle. Choose a low spin speed or no spin at all.

Avoid using detergent directly on shoes as it can damage materials or leave residue. Use a gentle laundry detergent and only a small amount.

Skip fabric softener and bleach entirely as they can discolor shoes.

Washing Shoes by Hand

Handwashing gives you more control than a machine. Follow these tips:

  • Use a basin or sink dedicated to shoe washing. Avoid food prep sinks.
  • Fill with cool water and a small amount of mild detergent. Avoid hot water.
  • Use a soft bristle brush to gently scrub dirt and stains. Avoid wire brushes.
  • Rinse thoroughly with clean water to remove all soap.
  • Stuff shoes with tissue or towels so they hold their shape as they dry.
  • Allow shoes to air dry completely before wearing. Don’t machine dry shoes.

Spot Treating Tough Stains

For mud or dirt stains, allow shoes to dry first and brush off any dried dirt. Mix a solution of equal parts water and white vinegar and rub into the stain using a toothbrush or cotton swab. Rinse thoroughly.

For oily food stains, blot immediately using paper towels. Rub a bit of dish soap on the spot and scrub gently with a soft bristle brush. Rinse well.

Avoid harsh chemicals like acetone or bleach. Test stain removers on an inconspicuous spot first to check for damage or discoloration.

Washing Different Materials

Follow these tips when handwashing shoes made of special materials:


  • Use a leather cleaner or mild shampoo and avoid soaking.
  • Wipe stains with a damp cloth.
  • Stuff with towels to retain shape while drying.
  • Apply leather conditioner after washing.


  • Use a suede brush and shampoo made for suede.
  • Avoid immersing the entire shoe in water.
  • Apply a suede protector spray after washing.


  • Spot treat stains first before washing.
  • Wash by hand or machine wash on delicate cycle.
  • Stuff shoes with towels or crumpled paper to retain shape.

Mesh and Synthetic

  • Use a soft brush and mild detergent.
  • Hand or machine wash on gentle cycle.
  • Air dry away from direct sun or heat sources.

Tips for Handling Odors

Smelly shoes are a common issue. Try these remedies:

  • Sprinkle baking soda inside shoes and leave overnight before brushing out.
  • Stuff damp shoes with newspaper to absorb odors as they dry.
  • Freeze shoes overnight to kill bacteria causing odors.
  • Use an odor absorber product formulated for shoes.

Regular washing prevents odors from building up over time. Rotate shoes between wears and always allow them to fully dry before wearing again. Discard insoles or inserts if they retain odors after washing.

Maintaining Clean Shoes

To keep shoes looking their best after washing:

  • Apply appropriate protectors or conditioners for the material. This prevents stains.
  • Use cedar shoe trees to help shoes retain their shape as they dry.
  • Store shoes in breathable cotton bags to prevent odors.
  • Avoid wearing the same shoes two days in a row.
  • Immediately treat spills or stains to prevent setting in.
  • Have shoes professionally cleaned periodically for a deep clean.

With the proper washing technique for the material, you can safely clean most shoes at home. Taking care of your shoes will keep them looking fresh and extend their lifespan.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long should I soak shoes when handwashing?

Avoid soaking leather shoes entirely. For canvas or mesh shoes, 5-10 minutes is sufficient for loosening dirt. Prolonged soaking can damage materials.

Can I put any shoes in the washing machine?

Sturdy athletic shoes with canvas or synthetic uppers are safest for machine washing. Avoid leather, suede, or easily damaged materials. When in doubt, wash by hand.

What temperature water should I use?

Always opt for cool or cold water when washing shoes. Hot water risks damaging glues, adhesives, and materials.

How can I dry shoes quickly?

It’s best to air dry shoes naturally to prevent heat damage. Stuffing damp shoes with towels or crumpled paper helps them retain their shape and dry faster. Using a fan to circulate air can speed up drying time.

How do I disinfect shoes?

To kill bacteria, try freezing shoes overnight or using a UV shoe sanitizer. Take care when using disinfectants like bleach as they can damage shoe materials.

How often should I wash shoes?

Clean shoes whenever they get noticeably dirty. For athletic shoes worn frequently, every 2-3 weeks is a good rule of thumb. Rotate shoes between wears to reduce odors and extend time between washes.


Learning how to properly wash shoes keeps them looking fresh and lasting longer. Determine the best method based on shoe material and construction. Take care to use the right products and settings to avoid damage. With some basic steps, you can keep your shoes clean at home. Just be sure to allow time for thorough drying before wearing again. Keeping on top of shoe laundry will lead to a long and happy relationship with your footwear.