White shoes are a wardrobe staple that can instantly elevate an outfit. However, they can easily get dirty and dingy looking. Keeping white shoes clean requires regular care and maintenance. With the right techniques and products, you can keep your white shoes looking fresh.
This comprehensive guide covers how to clean white shoes properly, no matter what material they are made of. You’ll also learn tips to repel dirt and stains to avoid having to clean them as often. Follow these shoe cleaning instructions to get your white shoes gleaming like new.
Why Keep White Shoes Clean?
Before diving into the cleaning tips, let’s look at why it’s worth the effort to keep white shoes clean:
Dirt, grime, and bacteria can build up on shoes from wear. Cleaning whites regularly helps remove microbes and germs to keep your shoes hygienic. This helps eliminate odors too.
Extend Shoe Life
Letting dirt and stains accumulate can lead to permanent damage. The particles get ground into the material, causing it to break down faster. Frequent cleaning keeps shoes looking new for longer.
Brighten Up an Outfit
A pair of bright white shoes looks so much fresher than dingy, yellowed ones. Whitening and cleaning shoes helps them instantly elevate your outfit.
For those with dust or pollen allergies, shoes transported outdoor allergens indoors. Regular cleaning helps remove allergens from your shoes.
Scuffs, stains and other marks on white shoes can quickly make them look old and worn. Properly cleaning shoes helps preserve their appearance and value.
Supplies You’ll Need
Cleaning white shoes does require using some specialty supplies. Here is an overview of the shoe cleaning supplies you’ll want to have on hand:
White Shoe Cleaner
- Using a dedicated shoe cleaner formulated for white shoes helps lift stains and prevent yellowing as you clean. Jason Markk and Reshoevn8r make excellent white shoe cleaners.
- A laundry detergent like Tide works well too. Make sure to use a gentle, bleach-free formula.
Soft Bristle Brush
- Choose a brush with soft bristles so you don’t scuff up the shoe material while scrubbing. A toothbrush, nail brush or shoe brush all work great.
- You’ll need a small bowl or basin to mix your cleaning solution in. Use warm water.
- Have clean cotton towels on hand to wipe shoes down after cleaning. White towels are ideal to prevent color transfer.
- For shoes with removable insoles, the washing machine can give a deep clean. Use a delicate cycle and laundry detergent.
- Toothpicks can help gently clean in crevices and seams where dirt collects.
- For scuff removal, a magic eraser cleaning block can safely lift marks without damaging the shoes.
- For leather shoes, use a leather conditioner after cleaning to prevent drying out and cracking.
- Sprays like Scotchgard help guard against future stains and dirt after cleaning.
Now that you’ve assembled your shoe cleaning kit, let’s go over how to clean white shoe materials:
Cleaning Tips by Shoe Material
How you clean white shoes depends on what they’re made of. Here are tips for cleaning the most common white shoe materials:
Buttery soft leather white sneakers are a popular choice. Here is how to clean white leather shoes:
- First remove shoelaces and any removable insoles if your shoes have them.
- In a small bowl, make a cleaning solution by mixing a few drops of mild laundry detergent or white shoe cleaner with warm water.
- Dip a soft bristle brush in the solution then gently scrub the entire leather upper, sidewalls and sole. Pay extra attention to visibly dirty areas.
- For stubborn scuffs or stains, let the cleaning solution sit on them for a few minutes before scrubbing to help lift the dirt.
- Once scrubbed, use a clean corner of a damp cotton towel to wipe the shoes down. Make sure to remove all suds and cleaning solution residue.
- Allow shoes to completely air dry before wearing again or putting insoles back in. Leather needs time to dry out so moisture doesn’t get trapped inside.
- After cleaning, apply a leather conditioner like Chamberlain’s Leather Milk to prevent the leather from drying out and cracking. Gently rub it in using a clean cloth.
- Optional: Use a toothpick to gently clean dirt out of small crevices in the sole or seams after cleaning the upper.
Regular cleaning keeps leather white shoes looking pristine. Be extra careful about letting leather shoes get wet in the rain, as moisture darkens leather.
Canvas sneakers are the classic white shoes of summertime. Follow these tips for cleaning canvas shoes:
- First, brush or wipe off any loose dirt that’s on the surface before cleaning. This prevents the dirt from getting worked into the canvas fibers.
- Remove shoelaces and removable insoles if possible.
- In a bowl, make a solution of warm water and laundry detergent. The detergent helps lift odors and set in stains.
- Using a soft bristle brush or toothbrush, scrub every part of the canvas upper, sidewalls and rubber sole. Apply extra pressure where stains are present.
- For seriously dirty canvas shoes, remove shoelaces and wash the entire shoe in the washing machine. Use a small amount of laundry detergent and wash on a delicate cycle. Air dry completely before wearing again.
- To brighten up dingy canvas and make it look white again, mix 1 part baking soda with 4 parts warm water. Use a soft brush to gently scrub this mixture on, then rinse thoroughly.
- Allow canvas shoes to fully air dry after hand washing before wearing so they don’t retain moisture. Stuff with newspaper or tissues to help them hold their shape as they dry.
Regular cleaning keeps canvas shoes bright white all season long.
Mesh athletic shoes and sneakers have uppers made of a lightweight, woven synthetic material. Follow this method to get them clean:
- For surface level cleaning, dip a soft toothbrush in warm soapy water and gently scrub dirty areas of the mesh. Try to avoid getting the whole shoe wet if possible.
- For a deeper clean, mix a solution of warm water, gentle laundry detergent and a dash of white vinegar. The vinegar helps remove odors.
- Dip a soft bristle brush in the solution and scrub the mesh upper, getting under the eyelets and into seams where dirt collects.
- Use a clean microfiber cloth dampened with plain water to gently wipe the shoes down. This rinses away all soapy residue that could get trapped in the mesh threads.
- Remove laces and any insoles and let the mesh shoes fully air dry before wearing again. Place near a fan to speed drying.
- To help prevent future stains, spray mesh shoes with a fabric protector like Scotchgard after cleaning.
Regular cleaning keeps mesh shoes odor-free and prevents grime buildup in the woven threads.
Faux leather shoes are lower maintenance than real leather. Here’s how to clean them:
- Start by wiping the upper with a damp microfiber cloth to remove surface dirt and dust before cleaning.
- In a bowl, dilute a small amount of mild laundry detergent in warm water.
- Dip a soft shoe brush in the solution and gently scrub the faux leather all over. Pay extra attention to visibly stained areas.
- Use a clean damp cloth to wipe away any soapy residue. Take care not to soak the synthetic leather in water.
- Allow shoes to completely air dry before wearing again.
- Use a toothpick to gently clean in crevices and seams where dirt collects.
- If white faux leather shoes are looking dingy, use baking soda to brighten them up. Make a paste of baking soda and water and gently rub it on with a cloth. Rinse thoroughly.
With regular cleaning, faux leather shoes maintain their bright white look. Avoid over-soaking them.
- Use a clean, dry toothbrush to brush away surface dirt on rubber shoes before cleaning.
- In a bowl, mix warm water with a couple drops of mild dish soap or laundry detergent.
- Dip a toothbrush in the solution and scrub the rubber upper, crevices and sole.
- Use a clean, dry towel to buff the rubber dry after cleaning. Don’t leave rubber wet.
- For serious stains on white rubber, dip a magic eraser sponge in the soapy solution and gently rub stained areas. Rinse thoroughly.
- Stuff shoes with paper or tissues after cleaning so they hold their shape as they finish drying.
Regular scrubbing keeps the bright white rubber on shoes clean and scuff-free.
Preventing Dirt and Stains
Cleaning shoes regularly helps keep them looking fresh and new. But you can also take steps to prevent them from getting too dirty and stained in the first place. Here are tips to keep your white shoes pristine for longer between cleanings:
Use Protective Sprays
- Spraying shoes with a waterproofing or stain-resistant coating helps prevent dirt and moisture from seeping into the material and leaving marks.
- Scotchgard Fabric Protector Spray adds an invisible barrier that repels oil, water and stains. Apply a fresh coat every 1-2 months.
- For leather, try a weatherproofing spray like Kiwi Rain and Stain Protector to make the leather repel water. Reapply frequently.
Stuff With Tissue Paper
- When not being worn, stuff shoes with tissue paper. This absorbs moisture and helps the shoes maintain their shape instead of becoming misshapen.
- Change the paper regularly so your shoes don’t smell.
Rotate Your Shoes
- Avoid wearing the same pair of white shoes two days in a row. Give them a day off in between wears to fully dry out and air out.
- Keep shoes protected in their original box to prevent dust and dirt buildup when in storage. If you don’t have the box, use a breathable fabric shoe bag.
- Avoid using plastic bags, which trap in moisture and can yellow the shoes.
Clean Scuffs ASAP
- Don’t delay cleaning scuffs. They become harder to remove the longer they sit. Gently rub scuffs on leather or rubber with a magic eraser and soapy water immediately to lift the scuff.
Wipe Down After Wears
- Get in the habit of wiping shoes down with a damp cloth after each wear. This removes surface dirt and salt stains before they have a chance to really set in and get ground into the material.
Apply Rain Protection Spray
- For shoes worn outdoors, spray them with a rain protection spray first. This causes moisture to bead up so leather or fabric doesn’t get water stained.
Avoid Wearing When Wet Out
- Try not to wear your nicest white leather or canvas shoes on rainy days where they might get soaked and stained. Save them for dry days.
Signs Your White Shoes Need a Cleaning
Don’t wait until your white shoes are caked in mud or seriously discolored to clean them. Be on the lookout for these more subtle signs that it’s time to clean them:
- The bright white color looks dingy, yellowed or lacks freshness
- The material feels stiff or crunchy instead of soft and supple
- Visible dirt, dust and debris accumulate on the shoe that doesn’t brush off
- After wearing, you notice fresh scuffs or marks on the shoe upper or sole
- For leather, you notice signs of cracking or peeling starting
- Mesh shoes are looking grimy around the seams and edges
- Odor is emanating from the shoes when worn
- The tread pattern on the bottom has packed in dirt and dust
- For canvas shoes, the fabric lacks its normal sheen and looks dull
- Dark streak marks appear on the shoe upper or sides
- Shoes feel gritty or sandy when worn and when removing
By cleaning shoes as soon as you notice these signs, you can prevent permanent stains, material breakdown, and odor buildup.
Extra Tips and Tricks
Here are some more tips and tricks for keeping white shoes clean:
- For smelly shoes, sprinkle baking soda inside them overnight before cleaning. The baking soda absorbs odors.
- Use an old toothbrush and toothpaste to scrub away yellow discoloration on rubber soles. Rinse thoroughly.
- For smoothing out scuffs on leather, gently buff with rubber cement then wipe away excess.
- Try white shoe polish to touch up leather scuffs. Test first to ensure the color matches exactly so you don’t leave shoe polish smudges.
- For tough oil-based stains, dab them with a bit of lighter fluid on a cotton ball before scrubbing with soapy water.
- Whiten laces by soaking them in a bowl of warm water with a denture cleaning tablet. The tablets remove yellowing.
- Replace insoles regularly. The insoles absorb odor and dirt that cleaning can’t fully remove.
Keeping your white shoes clean does require some regular maintenance, but it allows you to get more wear between replacements. Follow these tips tailored to your shoes’ material, and you’ll keep them looking box-fresh for longer. Just be sure to clean them as soon as you notice dirty buildup, don’t let it sit!