Complete Shoe Cleaning Guide


The Complete Guide to Cleaning Shoes

Unless you live on a tropical island somewhere in Indonesia or Polynesia, you most likely own one or more pairs of shoes. By owning them, I assume that you use them, and when using them, I presume they get dirty. Although this may sound obvious, what is not always so obvious is how to care for your dirty shoes in order to conserve them for longer and thus make your investment worthwhile.

Indeed, it would be easier to just drop your dirty shoes off at a specialized shoe cleaning service on your way to work and not worry about a thing. However, should you want to, or better yet, have to attempt dealing with them at home, we have prepared a guide on how to clean your shoes –  and what you will need to do so.

Shoe Cleaning Guide

What Do You Need to Clean Shoes

Besides learning how to clean different shoe types, it is important to know which product to use when since each type of material requires a particular process. However, if you happen to own a few different pairs of shoes, it is worth going shopping for shoe cleaning products and keep them at hand. Here is a list of some miscellaneous yet essential products to help you on the shoe cleaning task.

  • Hydrating lotion and waterproof cream for leather shoes;
  • As many professional brushes as you can get your hands on – leather shoe brush, double-brush for Nubuck and Suede, etc. Alternatively, toothbrushes clean shoes just as well;
  • An assortment of cloths, from rough cotton to soft flannel for buffing;
  • Dishwashing sponge;
  • Shoe deodorant spray;
  • Shoe cleaner liquid for removing spots and stains;
Shoe Cleaning Tools

How to Proceed Depending on the Shoe’s Fabric

If you have the time or the budget, by all means, take your shoes to a laundry service, where professionals have the right products and know how to proceed according to shoe types. But if you are either too cheap, lead a hectic life, or just enjoys a bit of DIY, here is how to wash shoes at home based on their fabric.

Leather Shoes

Leather shoes are classy, versatile, and when well taken care of, last a lifetime. But for that to happen you should treat it with the respect it deserves. When considering how to clean leather shoes please don’t even think about chucking them into the washing machine – the work here is done by hand!

In order to bring the leather back to life, you will be needing a leather brush or soft toothbrush, neutral soap or detergent, a wet towel or cloth and, for those who like the extra shine, hydrating lotion.

The first step is to remove the dust all around the shoe with a toothbrush or leather brush. Then dilute some neutral detergent in the water and gently soak the brush in this mixture. Simply brush the small parts of the shoe and then wipe a damp towel in the same area to remove the soap residue. Do the same process inside and then apply a deodorizer if wished.

Finally, allow them to air dry and away from sources of heat. For those who want to give extra shine, use the aforementioned leather hydrating lotion, which will help enhance the color and shine, giving a new face to your shoes.

Leather Shoes Cleaning

Fabric Shoes

The majority of fabric shoes can’t be wet otherwise they run the risk of developing water stains. Hence, you will be needing a brush (softer than usual, maybe even a baby hairbrush) to clean your fabric shoes, as well as a homemade mix of water and vinegar to remove bacteria.

To clean your fabric shoes, add two drops of vinegar into a small container full of water and moisten the brush. Choose an area of the shoes to start and carefully go over it with the brush, drying it with a blow-dryer at once. Repeat the process until you have covered the entire shoe.


Same with suede shoes – never wet them. When cleaning suede footwear, you should try to use a designated brush for this kind of fabric. Otherwise, a shoe brush or toothbrush work too. You will also need tepid water, clothes detergent, and a plush towel.

Firstly, remove any dirt or dust with a dry suede brush (or whichever of the above-mentioned alternatives). Then, mix the tepid water with the detergent and dip the brush in it, removing excess water with a rag. Carefully brush the shoe, re-moistening the brush when needed. Once the entire surface has been brushed, wipe it off with the plush towel and leave the shoes to dry in a ventilated area, away from the sun. A couple of hours, rub the shoes once more with the dry brush, clockwise. If these are new suede shoes, consider applying waterproofing lotion or gel.


If you own a pair of nubuck shoes, you will ideally be needing the following products to clean it: a nubuck brush (found in most shoe shops); nubuck shampoo (can be substituted for a mix of water and hair conditioner if needed); a flannel cloth or an unused sponge.

Begin by using the nubuck brush to remove all dust and particles from the fabric. Afterward, use the flannel cloth or sponge to apply the nubuck shampoo or water-conditioner mix, cautiously rubbing only the areas which look the dirtiest, before leaving it to dry in the shade.

Rope Shoes

Rope shoes are easy to clean – all you need is a cloth, water, and neutral detergent. On top of that, you will be needing extra-care: rope shoes should be cleaned delicately and gently to prevent the string from creeping and loosening threads.

Use a damp cloth with mild soap and rubbing gently. When the cleaning is finished, if the material is still wet, use a drier in cold setting to dry it thoroughly and make sure there are no wet parts left.

Rope Shoes Cleaning


Differently than most fabrics, sneakers can be thrown into a washing machine. But that doesn’t mean you can just put them to wash straight after a run – you will still need to “prepare” it to be washed. For that, have a medium-to-soft brush, neutral detergent and an exfoliating stone or pumice for the outsoles.

The first thing to do when cleaning your sneakers at home is separate the laces and insoles and place them inside a protection bag to be washed separately in the washing machine. Dip the brush into a mix of detergent water and softly rub the fabric sections of the shoes; on the rubber bits and outsoles, use the pumice or exfoliating stone.

Once this step is done, pop the shoes into a protective bag and choose the most delicate setting in your washing machine. When it comes to how to dry shoes, most fabrics call for a natural process.

With sneakers, you can throw a dry body towel together in the washing machine and set it to spin, causing the shoes to come out pretty much dry. Finally, leave them to air in the shade for around 24 hours.

Insole, Shoe Laces, and Soles

Not only the external parts of the shoes need cleaning; insoles and shoelaces also require care and should be washed separately. You can place them into a protection bag and machine wash them. Then hang them to dry. The sole, on the other hand, is the dirtiest part of any shoe and is often overlooked in the shoe cleaning process.

In order to clean the sole, prepare a mix of water, a bit of neutral detergent and a cap-full of alcohol. Fill a spray bottle with the mixture and squirt it on the sole, brushing or rubbing it with a rough cotton cloth. Be sure to wait for it to dry completely before putting it away. 

Soles and Laces Cleaning

A Final Though on Cleaning Your Shoes

Bear in mind that each kind of material requires a specific treatment; insoles, soles, and laces also mustn’t be forgotten! Both the inner and outer part of the shoe must be cleaned properly so as to avoid the proliferation of fungus and bacteria, the culprits of bad smell and ringworms.

Another tip is to make sure your shoes are completely dry before putting them away. Many people tend to place them back into shoe boxes, which is a great idea since the cardboard tends to absorb humidity.