White shoes can be a neutral addition to an everyday outfit, or they can add a pop of brightness when you want to stand out. Either way, grungy, stained or dull footwear is not a good look. The best way to spruce them up depends on the materials they are made from and the type of stains you want to remove. Learn how to clean white shoes of every kind so you can dress to impress.
Most Common Shoe Material Types
While shoes can be made from almost any material, several types are used most often for the outer part. When deciding how to clean white shoes, it is important to determine what they are made from first, as applying a cleaning method meant for a different material could damage the footwear.
- Canvas is a coarse, durable plain-woven material commonly used to make shoes. Originally made from hemp, canvas is often constructed from cotton, linen or a blend of cotton and synthetic fibers, giving the fabric water resistance.
- Denim is a sturdy cotton fabric made using a twill weave that gives a subtle diagonal ribbing pattern. This ribbing is what differentiates denim from cotton canvas and makes it especially long-lasting.
- Leather is usually made from cowhide but can also be from more exotic sources, such as crocodile or ostrich. Suede is a popular type of leather for shoes, as it is soft and comfortable. Nubuck is another type of shoe leather that is comfortable but also strong and durable.
- Synthetics, sometimes called PU leather or synthetic leather, are manufactured, multi-layered materials such as nylon, polyester and spandex. Synthetic shoes tend to be more lightweight and breathable. They can also be made water- and stain-resistant.
- Textiles, such as cotton, polyester and wool, are also used to make shoes. As with clothing made from various textiles, each can have unique properties and cleaning processes.
Shoes can also be made from materials like foam, rubber and plastic. If you are not sure what material your shoes are made from, check for a tag sewn into the tongue or a label on the insole. Alternatively, contact the manufacturer to find out.
How To Clean White Shoes By Type
If your shoes are canvas, denim or another sturdy fabric, they are likely safe to clean in the washing machine. However, you can treat them first to attain the brightest, whitest outcome possible. Start by knocking the soles together (preferably outside!) to remove any caked-on mud, and then follow up by scraping off loose dirt with a toothbrush or cleaning brush.
Make a paste using one part white vinegar to three parts baking soda and apply a layer of the paste over the entire shoe, scrubbing it into grimy spots. When the paste has dried, use the brush, soft cloth or even a paper towel to brush it away. If the shoes still look dirty (or if they are not especially grubby in the first place and you want to skip scrubbing), removing the laces and toss the shoes into the washing machine. Using a small amount of mild laundry detergent, run them on a cold, gentle cycle.
For mesh fabric shoes, stick to brushing off dirt followed by scrubbing them with soapy water made from a bit of liquid laundry detergent and warm water. A bleach gel pen is also a handy tool to use when you don’t know how to clean white shoes with stubborn stains, provided the fabric can tolerate the bleach. When you are finished, use a clean, damp cloth to remove soap or bleach.
Leather and synthetic shoes might not stand up to the soaking, spinning and rinsing of a run in the washer. You can use a brush (such as a toothbrush) and a little warm, soapy water to scrub the dirty areas gently. You can also try the same paste used for cloth shoes: Scrub it on the material, allow it to dry and wipe it away.
Another trick is to use a melamine sponge, such as a Magic Eraser, to wipe away scuffs and marks. Dampen the sponge, wring it out and wipe the shoe. This option will work from tongue to sole and everywhere in between. You can use melamine sponges on rubber soles, foam shoes (such as Crocs) or shoes with plastic, rubber or synthetic leather embellishments.
For white knit shoes, grab a bar of mild bath soap (preferably white, as well, to avoid staining or dying the fabric). Dampen a clean, soft cloth and rub it on the soap to get a little lather. Gently scrub the shoes to remove grime and smudges, then use a clean, damp cloth to wipe away the soap.
How To Clean White Shoelaces
Most shoelaces are made of a blend of cotton and synthetic fibers, such as polyester and nylon. Although they will generally stand up to a cycle in the washing machine, be sure to secure them in a mesh bag to avoid tangling or getting stuck in the works. Before the cycle, use a brush to remove any loose dirt and apply fabric stain remover for a presoak, if desired.
You can opt to hand wash shoelaces, as well. Dampen the laces, treat with fabric stain remover and soak them for 30 minutes in warm water with a teaspoon of bleach. After soaking, give them a good scrub with a clean brush, rinse them well and hang them to dry.
With a little elbow grease, proper supplies and a little know-how, you can have sparkling white shoes down to the laces in no time.