You may take it for granted that your shoes are dirty. After all, they spend all day walking along the ground. But while you can’t do anything about how much your shoes pick up throughout the day, you don’t have to settle for filthy feet. Instead, give your shoes a good cleaning every now and again to knock out microbes and keep them looking their best.
Why should you wash your shoes?
If you’ve gone your whole life without ever washing your shoes, you may wonder why you’d need to start now. They’re just going to get dirty the second you wear them again, right? Well, yeah. But it turns out that there are several good reasons to give your footwear an occasional bath.
The soles of your shoes go everywhere. Along the way, they pick up an assortment of microbes. Research suggests there may be 140 times more bacteria on the outside of your shoes than the inside.
When you wear shoes inside the house, you track those microorganisms with you, and germs from your footwear can transfer to tile and carpet. If you have young kids who play on the floor, this may be especially worrisome. It’s also something to think about if someone in your home has a compromised immune system.
Taking your shoes off at the door is one way to keep these viruses and bacteria from spreading throughout your home. That might not be your family’s preference, though. As an alternative, you can make a regular habit of washing and disinfecting your shoes.
Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection. It’s often associated with locker rooms and athletics, but anyone can catch it.
Warm, sweaty shoes provide the perfect growth environment for fungi. An infection can cause itching and a rash.
Contaminated shoes can reinfect your feet again and again. Washing shoes in hot water may kill the fungus.
Don’t save washing your shoes only for when you currently have an infection, though. If you regularly have sweaty feet — for example, from playing sports or working outdoors — be proactive about cleaning the inside of your footwear.
Let’s face it: shoes can really stink. Bacteria that thrive in dark, damp places are to blame. Washing your shoes may help knock out the bacteria and their accompanying odors.
Last but not least, clean shoes look nicer. If your favorite tennis shoes are starting to look a little worse for wear, a trip through the washing machine may perk them back up. Those who work outside or run on trails may need to do this more often than others.
According to Whirlpool, casual shoes and sneakers can usually go in the washing machine. That includes canvas, nylon, polyester and cotton varieties. To make sure that machine washing is approved by the footwear manufacturer, check the care tag.
For other materials or if you can’t verify whether your shoes are machine-washable, stick with hand washing. Suede and leather shoes should avoid the machine at all costs. Rubber boots and vinyl footwear will also fare better if you wash them by hand.
Whirlpool also suggests taking your most delicate shoes to a professional. It doesn’t take much to damage silk or beaded shoes. To avoid the heartbreak of ruining your favorite pair, leave the job to the pros. Contact a local shoe-repair facility to see if they offer cleaning services.
Preparing Shoes to Be Washed
Before starting a load of shoe laundry, take the time to do some cleaning by hand. A brush can be useful for swiping excess dirt from the surface. A horsehair brush is often recommended, but you could also use a nylon brush or even an old toothbrush.
A shoe-cleaning solution will help remove marks from the soles. Apply it with a cloth or a gentle brush.
Before washing, take out the laces and the insoles. Most insoles should be spot-cleaned by hand instead of going in the machine. You can use a sprinkle of baking soda to eliminate odors.
The laces are machine-washable. But to avoid tangles, place them in a mesh delicates bag first.
Use a larger mesh bag to hold your shoes during the wash cycle, and add them to the washer along with a few old towels to help balance the load.
Stick with liquid detergent for this job. Powders have been known to get stuck in the many cracks and crevices of shoes.
Choose a delicate cycle. That will keep the spin speed low.
In general, wash shoes only in cold water. If you’re concerned about foot fungus, you may need to choose hot water instead. Just be aware that your shoes may not hold up well under high temps.
Another method to treat fungus is to pour in a capful of disinfectant that contains at least 80% pine oil. Put it in with the detergent before starting the cycle.
Air-drying is the best option for most shoes. Set them in a cool spot with good air circulation. You may have to leave them for a few days, but they will eventually dry.
To hurry the process along, aim a gentle fan toward them. Placing a wadded towel inside each shoe can help absorb moisture, too.
Tumble-drying shoes at high temperatures can damage them. The heat may cause adhesives to lose their strength. Bouncing around in a hot dryer can also lead to shrunken, misshapen shoes.
Some dryers do come with a rack. If yours has one, you could try drying your shoes that way. Just be sure to use a no-heat setting.
Additional Ways to Clean Shoes
The washing machine isn’t the only way to address footwear issues. The following tips will help you take care of shoes between washings. They can also be useful for shoes that should never go in the machine.
Even though many pairs of shoes can’t go in the washer, the soles may still be sturdy enough for a soap-and-water wash. You may also be able to wipe them down with a disinfectant solution or diluted bleach.
For hand-wash-only shoes, you can place something inside overnight to take care of bad smells. Options include lemon peels, or sealed baggies of laundry detergent or baking powder. Airing shoes out in the sun can make a difference, too.
The machine isn’t the only way to knock out foot fungus, either. That’s good since not all materials can handle hot-water or pine-oil washes. As an alternative approach, spritz disinfectant on wadded paper towels. Stuff the towels into your shoes and let them sit overnight.
For shoes that can’t be machine washed, stick with spot cleaning to remove stains. This approach is also helpful when you don’t have time to wait for soaked footwear to dry.
For shoes that can get wet, squirt a teaspoon of dish soap into 2 cups of water. Use an old toothbrush to work the solution into the fabric. Soak up excess liquid with an old rag.
Vinegar is safe for leather shoes. Mix a solution with one part vinegar and one part water. Wipe it onto the leather with a gentle cloth.
With regular care, your shoes will look nicer, may last longer and will be better for your health.