Gone are the days where your sneakers are an afterthought. They're a fashion piece. Some classic styles have endured, such as clean white canvas shoes, or Jordan Air Force 1's. New styles have emerged such as the Yeezy 350 and Yeezy 500.
High end footwear manufacturers have also started to make handsome sneakers. Suede or smooth leather, these are usually sleeker and more minimal.
The only thing better than buying new sneakers is wearing them. Finding the right pair to compliment what you've got on feels great.
Wearing your sneakers should be something you look forward to. You shouldn't be worried about getting them dirty or losing that "fresh out of the box" look.
Here, we'll go over the basics of how to clean sneakers. If you've got a white sneaker, a leather sneaker, a suede sneaker, it doesn't matter. These methods will work on all them. You'll no longer have to decide between dirty sneakers or keeping them dead-stock.
We've heard lots of recommendations from toothpaste, to dish soap, to bleach, to soda, and even more. We'll show you what you actually need for sneaker cleaning. (Hint, it's none of these.)
What you'll need
The sneakers you want to clean
Microfiber cloth (optional)
Saphir Medaille d'Or Suede Crepe brush (optional, if cleaning suede shoes)
Diemme Veneto High shearling lined sneakers in "Anthracite" suede. Somewhere between charcoal and midnight navy in colour. An old favourite that has clearly seen a lot of wear. Given the cozy suede and lining these are a winter staple for me. You can tell from their condition.
Brush Off Surface Dirt
Before we begin, note that this colour of suede is very hard to photograph. The colour appears to change from navy, to charcoal, to black depending on the lighting and the angles. There was no change of colour to the suede during this cleaning process. The shoes did not get any lighter or darker. No colourants were used at any point.
You want to start by getting off any surface dirt. This is best done with a soft bristle brush. We recommend a horse hair brush as the bristles are firm enough to brush off most of the dirt and not too firm that they harm the shoe.
Brush your entire shoe. If your sneakers are extra dirty, remove the laces.
A suede crepe brush is shown as I used both brushes. The horsehair brush to get off all of the dirt to start. Once that was gone, the crepe brush was perfect for smoothing out the nap and prepping the suede for cleaning. The horsehair brush act well...like a brush. The crepe brush uses a bit more friction to agitate and align the nap. The crepe brush is essential for suede.
A cleaning tip: If your laces are dirty you can soak them in water and this will help clean them. Especially helpful if you have white sneakers with white laces. If your laces are extremely dirty, you'll need some cleaning solution. Soak your laces in a bucket of warm water and detergent. Saphir's Omni Nettoyant or Foam Cleaner works great. You can also use some laundry detergent, dish soap, or oxiclean dissolved in the water. Let them soak while you clean your sneakers and up to overnight. Rinse them off after and brush them if needed. Let them dry before you lace your sneakers with them.
We don't recommend using bleach as it can wear away your laces. It can also stain your leather if it bleeds into it.
If you have some dirt stuck near the sole or by the stitching, an old toothbrush does a great job of getting into the nooks and crannies.
Wash Your Sneakers
Yes, wash them. This is the step that everyone gets a bit nervous about. We promise, it's very easy. No, the water will not damage your sneakers.
Our favourite shoe cleaner is Saphir Foam Cleaner. It's mild detergent cleans suede shoes, knit sneakers, canvas sneakers, anything.
This is similar to, but more premium than, Jason Markk Shoe Cleaner. Saphir Foam Cleaner is made in France to very high standards. Saphir's Medaille d'Or line of premium shoe care has been around since 1925, so they know they're stuff!
It's designed to work on any type of textile. This is perfect since sneakers often have different fabrics and materials on them. You might have a knit toe with leather or suede trim.
It's a great stain remover, perfect to clean white sneakers. That said, it works on all types of shoes, sneakers, suede, nubuck, etc.. That's all to say that regardless of what shoe you have, this will work. It works on all colours too.
Spray the foam cleaner generously all over your shoes. If you're using another detergent/product, follow the manufacturer's recommendations. When we say generously, we mean it. It's hard to overdo it. Your shoes should be very soapy all over. A little bit of water can help get you an even richer lather.
Be liberal with how much you apply if your shoes are dirty. I applied at least twice what you see here. If you want to get an even richer lather you can try wetting the brush with water first. You can't really use too much Foam Cleaner so don't worry about over doing.
Once your shoe is nice and foamy now it's time to do the cleaning. With a soft brush, work the soap all over the shoe. Scrub. Don't be shy. Get into the crevices. Spend some extra time on the soles. We recommend a Saphir Spatula Brush or a polishing brush.
If you have a stubborn stain spend a little bit of extra time on that area to help lift the stain. If the stain is in a crevice, pull out your trusty toothbrush once again.
If you have a canvas or knit shoe it will get saturated fairly quickly. That is totally normal.
If you have a leather shoe or suede shoe, it likely won't soak through, which is also normal. It is does soak through though, that's not a problem. Know that it'll take longer to dry is all.
Think of using the same circular action that you use when you're brushing your teeth. The circular motion helps with cleaning. You want to work with a light to medium pressure. You don't need to muscle it.
Once you've thoroughly brushed and scrubbed your shoes you can clean them off. Using a microfiber cloth or microfiber towel you can wipe off all the excess foam. You can also rinse them with warm water and a clean cloth.
Don't forget to clean the sole edge and soles! You can also take out your insole to give it a more thorough scrubbing at this point. The sole edges usually take more elbow grease.
Another tip: if your sole edges aren't sparkling clean and white after foaming, you can take it one step further. Using a Mr Clean magic eraser (or any melamine sponge) and some water, scrub your sole edge. This works extremely well for cleaning.
After your shoes have been cleaned and wiped (or rinsed), let them dry. We recommend waiting at least a few hours. Overnight is better if possible.
Do NOT use any external heat source to speed this up. No heaters, baseboards, hair dryers, etc. . The extra heat can damage your leather shoes, it can shrink a canvas shoe, and could possibly discolour your sneaker. Air dry without shoe trees after cleaning.
Here are the shoes after rinsing off all of the excess foam. They are still wet and waiting to air dry. Your shoes will almost certainly be darker when wet than when they are dry. That's normal and to be expected. After they were dry I brushed them again with the suede crepe brush and then laced them.
Protect Your Sneakers With Protecting Spray
After you're done cleaning your sneakers you want to protect your work. By using a waterproof (also known as hydrophobic) spray you're protecting your cleaning work.
These work best on a new pair of shoes, or ones you've finished cleaning.
Evenly apply at least one coat of spray to your sneakers. We recommend using Saphir Protector. Most similar to Jason Markk Repel, this is a more premium version that is also made in France. It can be used on any textile so its safe for all your sneakers.
Don't forget to spray some on your laces. We normally lace up our shoes after cleaning and then spray. If you want maximum protection, you can do some on the tongue before putting your laces back in.
You can apply a 2nd coat if desired for a little extra protection. Anything more than two is overkill.
These sprays work wonders. They keep fresh shoes looking cleaner longer. They help prevent stains from happening in the first place. They repel soda, coffee, dirt, mud, etc.
They can't do everything, and you should expect their effects to wear off over time. This is why you have to re apply them from time to time. When it comes to suede or delicate shoes, an ounce of protection goes a long way. Reapply every couple of months, or when you noticed their effects starting to lessen.
A before and after. What a difference! And this is from using Foam Cleaning and brushing. An incredibly easy process that leads some remarkable results. Notice how dull and rough the sneaker on the right looks compared to the same sneaker after cleaning. This is a sneaker that has been through three Canadian winters!
That's it. You're done. You've got clean shoes. They're protected against the elements too so you can wear them without worry.
As you can see, cleaning your sneakers isn't that hard. Brush excess dirt and dust off. Give them a nice soapy lather and brush. Let them dry and then give them a nice coating of protector. That's all you need.
What we've outlined will work on all but the most delicate of sneakers. 95%+. Wear your shoes with confidence. If something happens you're equipped to take care of them.
One last close up of the suede to show you how healthy, clean, and buttery the nap looks. Cleaning out all of the dirt brings the suede back to its intended soft form. The shoes feel like new again with tons of life in them. They will continue to be a staple for years to come.