It is GLORIOUS weather here (for now 😂) and I am checking things off my to-do list as fast as I can to hopefully have time to get outside later today!
Speaking of summer weather–one wardrobe staple I wear all year round (summer included) is the classic white sneaker. I’ve already shared my favorite pairs of white sneakers–but this is a follow-up to that on a very important related topic: how to keep white sneakers clean! If you’re the type of person that purposely doesn’t purchase white shoes because of that little voice in the back of your head saying “…but they’ll get dirty so quick!!” this post is for you.
I’ll be the first to admit, I have racked up a pretty large white sneaker collection, so I’m often asked, “but HOW do you keep them so white?!” because we all know how prone white sneakers are to scuff marks, sole streaks, scrapes, and just getting dirty in general. Over the years, I’ve figured out some tried and true white sneaker cleaning tips (and some to avoid!) along the way. Yes, your white sneakers look great when they are in their brand new condition, but you can keep them looking nearly new for a really long time.
The good news is: it’s not impossible to keep white sneakers white. Will they ever be the same as the first time you took them out of the box? Maybe not. But I have learned over the years that there are some ways you can keep your sneakers practically spotless.
Here are my tips:
How To Keep Sneakers White
Before you clean your shoes:
Remove laces and insoles:
You’ll want to clean these separately and also let them air dry separately! This helps make cleaning more effective and will allow shoes to dry more quickly.
Tools you need may need: An old toothbrush or stain brush, your cleaning solution of choice (see below), an old rag, and likely a towel to put down to air dry your shoes on.
Tips for Preventing Stains
Fabric and Leather Protectants
First of all, the best way to keep shoes looking new is to prevent them from staining in the first place! For shoes made of materials like canvas or suede, spray shoes with a fabric protectant spray like this one to protect from water and stains. This won’t keep them totally spotless, but it will definitely help prevent a lot of staining and make a huge difference in extending the life of your canvas sneakers!
For leather (especially soft leather, like my Freda Salvador sneakers, for example) you will want to treat every so often with a leather conditioner. This will help keep the leather soft and also help with repelling stains! (This kit on Amazon has a leather cleaner, conditioner, and protectant in one, along with a little rag!)
Thinking ahead/having a backup
Okay, this isn’t so much a mind-blowing tip as it is a reminder–but always make sure to plan ahead on days where you’re wearing easily stain-able shoes. I don’t wear canvas shoes when I know it might rain, or when there are lots of puddles/mud outside. If I want to wear a white sneaker in these conditions, I’ll choose a leather sneaker instead of a canvas one, or my Rothys, which are machine washable!
The biggest advantage to white leather sneakers is that they are already naturally water and stain repellent, therefore, they’re much easier to keep clean! For this reason, I wear my leather sneakers most often in wet/cold weather, and I save canvas sneakers for dry/sunny weather. Wearing your canvas sneakers in bad weather is just asking to ruin them! For this reason, I recommend having both in your wardrobe, as you’ll wear both for different things!
Cleaning Tips for Keeping Canvas Shoes White
Spot treat canvas sneakers:
Spot treating as you go is a good way to keep sneakers clean, and will avoid the need to deep-clean very often. I find the easiest thing to spot treat is with a Tide pen or a little dab of my favorite stain remover. (More on that below!) You may have to work it in with a toothbrush (or just use your nail in a pinch) and then wiping away with a damp rag. Should come right out! (Especially if you’ve treated with a protectant prior!)
Wait for mud to dry before wiping:
This is important because if you try to WIPE mud off your canvas shoes, it will smear everywhere. Don’t touch it! Let it completely dry and then BRUSH it off with a dry toothbrush or stain brush, or a dry rag if you don’t have a brush. Then you can spot treat any residue with one of the below methods:
Oxygen powder + warm water + toothbrush:
This is my method of choice for cleaning most of my canvas or fabric sneakers. It’s powerful at lifting stains and making sneakers bright white again, but it’s gentle enough to where it won’t turn your sneakers yellow (like bleach might!) Take your favorite oxygen powder (I like Branch Basics but Oxyclean works too) and add just enough water to form a paste. Brush it on with a toothbrush, taking extra time to work it into any tough stains, and then let it sit for a couple of hours. Rinse clean and allow to air dry out of direct sunlight. (This is key, because direct sunlight can also turn them yellow!)
Stain remover spray + toothbrush:
I found the best stain remover ever called Puracy. So much so that I wrote a Puracy stain remover review. It’s a miracle worker, and is safe to use on all materials. Spray it on any dirty patches, let sit, and then scrub with an old toothbrush or stain brush.
Another cleaning solution you can try:
Baking Soda + Hydrogen Peroxide + Warm Water + Toothbrush
If you don’t have any oxygen powder, you can make a cleaning solution with two things you probably have lying around the house: baking soda and hydrogen peroxide. This will give you a similar effect! For this cleaning solution, mix 1 TB of baking soda, ½ TB of hydrogen peroxide, and ½ TB of warm water in a bowl. It should make a paste that you can brush on with a toothbrush. Coat the whole shoe (including those laces!) and let it sit for a few hours. Then, chip away the dried solution, dampen a cloth with water, and gently wipe away.
Should you use bleach to clean white sneakers?
Personally, I stay away from bleach because I’ve had several mishaps with it turning my shoes yellow. I have had great luck with the above methods, so to be safe, I would stay away from bleach unless you have to! If you DO want to use bleach, it’s best to use it to whiten laces if you’ve washed them with detergent and oxygen powder and they still aren’t clean to your liking. Make a solution of 1 part bleach to 4 parts water and let laces soak overnight, then lay out to air dry.
Cleaning Tips for Keeping Leather Shoes White
Magic Eraser + Warm Water
A magic eraser actually works great on both the rubber soles of shoes and leather shoes themselves. Just get the eraser a little wet with warm water, and start scrubbing away!
Leather cleaner + rag:
If your leather sneakers are super dirty and a magic eraser isn’t cutting it, you can try a leather cleaning solution like this one. You want to be careful though and don’t scrub too hard or scrub soft leather with a stiff brush, as it might scratch the leather! A cloth will be your better bet for soft leather. Make sure you condition them after!
Toothpaste + Toothbrush?
If you’re in a pinch (say, you’re on vacation in a hotel), toothpaste + a toothbrush (call the front desk for an extra–don’t use yours! 😜) is supposed to work great on the fly! (Just make sure you’re using a white paste, not say, a blue gel). Mix some toothpaste with a bit of warm water and scrub onto the stain, rinse, and let dry. (Again, if your shoes are a super soft leather, might be better to use a rag vs. a toothbrush!)
Tips for Keeping Suede Shoes White
Some shoes may have leather and suede on them (or all suede, if you’re very fancy!) so it’s important to note how to clean the suede separately from the leather or canvas:
Use corn starch on grease stains:
If you spill anything that is greasy or oil based on your suede shoes, don’t wipe it–pour corn starch directly on top and let it sit for a few minutes. Brush it out, and re-apply and let it sit for longer–an hour or two, or overnight, or up to two days. Repeat as necessary! Afterward, you can brush out the rest of the stain by using a suede eraser. Make sure you re-apply your suede protectant after you’re done!
For other stains on suede:
You don’t want to use water on suede, as it can actually further stain the shoe! Instead, you can try white vinegar or rubbing alcohol, or a suede cleaning solution!
How to clean the soles of your shoes:
Okay, we’ve talked about the main part of your canvas or leather shoe, but what about the soles? Often they will have dirt or scuff marks. The easiest way to tackle these, in my opinion, is with a magic eraser and some water. If that doesn’t work, try scrubbing the sole of your shoe with a toothbrush and whatever solution you’ve already used to clean the rest of your shoes. (Again, I really love an oxygen paste here! I think it works the best!)
How to clean the insoles of your shoes:
It’s always best to clean your insoles separately from your shoes. Remove and place in a solution of oxygen booster and hot water, and let soak. If your insoles are smelly, you can add a few drops of essential oil, like eucalyptus, and/or some baking soda, which should freshen them up! After they’ve soaked up to overnight, you can throw them into the washing machine and then allow to air dry.
How to clean shoelaces:
I would clean your laces first in the same way I outlined above. Soak them in an oxygen and water solution, then mix with a bit of your favorite detergent or stain remover (I would use the Puracy kind, as I’ve found it to be the most effective) and scrub your laces with a toothbrush until they come clean. Feel free to rinse and refresh the water with a second batch if the water gets really dirty. You can throw them in a mesh laundry bag and wash them along with your insoles in the washing machine! Of course, sometimes, laces will reach a point of no return, and then you may just want to buy some new laces! (There are plenty on Amazon!)
How to cover up scuff marks on white sneakers:
There is nothing worse than scuffing your favorite pair of white sneakers 😭 but luckily, there’s a hack for that. (There’s always a hack, right!?) You can get white scuff cover! YES it’s a thing. It might take a couple coats, but it’s basically paint for your shoes. Results may vary depending on the scuff, but in many cases, it can render it invisible!
Mistakes to avoid when cleaning your white sneakers:
Using a detergent or brush that is too harsh: Some cleaning products can cause the white to discolor over time or erode the material of your shoes. You don’t want to use, say, Tide, on your supple calfskin leather sneakers, or clean them with a stiff toothbrush that may scratch the leather, for example. The softer the material, the gentler the cleaning needs to be.
Using bleach (or too much of it): I have ruined multiple pairs of Chuck Taylors with bleach, leaving them discolored and yellow! As a rule, I typically stay away from bleach for this reason (using one of the above methods first). Sometimes, you need bleach as a last-ditch resort, but even then, I use it sparingly and make sure to dilute it a lot, and rinse shoes fully after.
Drying in direct sunlight or in the dryer: This will DEFINITELY turn your shoes yellow. You want to air dry your shoes out of direct sunlight. (This doesn’t mean you have to dry them in the dark, you just don’t want to sun shining directly on them!)