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How to Clean Every Type of Shoe

Updated: Mar. 26, 2024

Give worn shoes a makeover with these simple cleaning tricks. Here's how to clean shoes—without buying expensive products.

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Leather shoes

How to clean smelly shoes mostly depends on their material. For leather shoes, clean off debris by wiping a solution of equal parts water and white vinegar over the stains. Once your shoes are dry, rub them with a soft cloth. Buff scuffs away with a wet cloth dipped into baking soda. Wipe your shoes off, then buff them once more after they’ve dried. For a little extra love, try Leather Honey, an easy-to-use leather conditioner.

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Patent leather shoes

If your patent leather flats or heels have unsightly marks, rub some petroleum jelly into the scuff using a cotton swab. If all they need is a little shining, spritz on some glass cleaner for a like-new sheen. If you need more help, here is how to clean leather and protect it for long-lasting results.

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Suede shoes

Working in one direction, use a nailbrush or scrub brush to gently buff stains away. Once you’ve gotten the surface dirt off, add pressure and go back and forth with the brush to work at the deep stains. If necessary, follow up by scrubbing hard with a white eraser. You can also use a nail file. For truly stubborn stains, use a white washcloth to rub white vinegar or rubbing alcohol to attack the spot, or use it all over to brighten the suede. (Don’t worry—they won’t leave water marks.) Don’t miss these genius tricks to make your shoes last longer.

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iStock/Anthony Shaw

Sheepskin boots

Using a nailbrush or scrub brush, gently wipe off debris from the outside of your boot. Then grab a white eraser to rub away more stubborn stains. Now, wipe the outside of the shoe with a damp cloth—if it’s too wet, you could ruin the material. Using a solution of equal parts cold water and distilled vinegar, gently work at the areas in need of spot cleaning. Finish by wiping the solution off with a damp cloth, then stuffing your boots with newspaper so they keep their shape while drying.

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Canvas shoes

Start by wiping dirt off canvas slip-ons and sneakers with a clean toothbrush. Then, use that toothbrush to scrub a paste made of equal parts baking soda and water into shoe’s soles. Next, run the gentle cycle of your washing machine with cold water, adding about half the amount of detergent you’d typically use when the machine is about half full. When it’s three-quarters full, toss your shoes in. Let them air dry—using the dryer or a vent could shrink your shoes. Here are more details on how to clean shoes, and other products, in the washing machine.

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Running shoes

Get loose dirt off with a toothbrush, then clean your brush. Dip it into a teaspoon of laundry detergent mixed with a cup of water. Use the solution on the fabric, mesh, and rubber areas, but don’t use it on foam or leather. Use a wet sponge to wipe the suds off. Refresh your laces by pretreating stains with a dab of laundry detergent, then throwing them in a delicates bag while you’re doing laundry. Clean off the area around them before restringing your shoes.

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White sneakers

Wondering how to clean shoes that are constantly getting dirty? Apply a bit of nail polish remover or vinegar to a cotton ball, then use it to wipe stains away from white sneakers. If you need to resort to bleach, make sure to dilute it first so you don’t end up with discolored shoes. Use a toothbrush to scrub your kicks with a solution of one part bleach to five parts water. Finish by rinsing with warm water.

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If your rubber flip-flops smell less than fresh after a beach trip, start by running warm water over them. Sprinkle the wet sandals with baking soda, then let them sit for at least five minutes before using an old soft toothbrush to scrub them. You can also let your washing machine do the dirty work. Use just a little detergent and a cup of vinegar as they run through the cold delicate setting.

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Cork wedges

Start by mixing a gallon of warm water with ½ cup of white vinegar and several drops of dish detergent for 30 seconds. Wipe the whole shoe down with the solution, then dip your cloth back in and focus on the cork, using little circles to scrub. Once you’ve worked through all the grime, wipe the wedge with a clean cloth.

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iStock/Guenter Guni

Rope wedges

For rope wedges, use a toothbrush to gently rub the rope-covered part of the heel with carpet or upholstery cleaner. Make sure to work in the direction the rope runs to avoid risk of fraying.

[Sources: abeautifulmess.com, cleanmyspace.com, howtocleanstuff.net, onegoodthingbyjillee.com, oureverydaylife.com, thekrazycouponlady.com]

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest