How to Wash Shoes in a Washing Machine

Tossing a pair of shoes in the washing machine is certainly a convenient way to clean them. But what kinds of kicks can go in the washer, and how should you go about it? Here are some smart tips for machine washing shoes.

By Nicole Shein | Published Sep 20, 2021 9:30 AM

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how to wash shoes in a washing machine

While you generally get what you pay for when it comes to apparel, a good pair of sneakers is probably going to cost you a pretty penny. Athletic shoes, particularly the super-high-tech varieties, are costly to manufacture, but many get their high price tag simply because they are status symbols or the product of celebrity collabs. Certain athletic shoes are also highly collectible, with self-described sneakerheads plunking down hundreds, if not thousands, on the kicks they covet.

Whether or not you’re a serious sneaker snob, keeping your shoes clean is crucial to getting your money’s worth out of them. Read on for a definitive guide on how to wash shoes in the washing machine.

STEP 1: Determine whether your shoes will survive machine washing.

First things first: Determine whether the stinky shoes in question are machine washable. There are some types of shoes that will survive a sudsy spin in the washer, no problem—think canvas kicks like Keds, classic Chucks, and Toms.

Athletic shoes made from fabric (usually nylon or polyester), whether you wear them for workouts or solely for the comfort factor, are generally OK to machine wash as well.

Dress shoes, heels, leather sandals, boots, or any footwear with embellishment like beads or buckles aren’t washer-friendly.

Lastly, plastic shoes such as flip-flops, garden clogs, and Crocs could be machine washed on the gentle cycle, but it’s probably easier to rinse them in the sink. Use a rag and some gentle soap, if necessary.

STEP 2: Pretreat and prepare the shoes for the wash.

Shoes with scuff marks or stains should get a little personalized attention. Tackle any tough spots with an eraser-style cleaning pad, or try mild soap and a gentle brush—a nail brush or even a toothbrush works well for this step.

Sneakers with fabric uppers, like those made by Converse, can also be treated with stain sprays or sticks. Follow the product’s directions to remove oil, blood, ink, grass, or other common stains.

Remove any liners, insoles, orthotics, or laces. That said, shoelaces can go along for the ride, if you’d like, as can inexpensive cloth insoles. Custom orthotics, gel cushions, or any inserts that aren’t made of fabric should be cleaned by hand.

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how to wash shoes in washing machine

STEP 3: Procure a pillowcase (or a lingerie bag) and some padding.

A mesh lingerie bag like one you’d use for washing bras or other delicate items is good for laundering shoes. If you don’t have one of those, no worries. Place the pair of shoes inside an old pillowcase, preferably one with a zipper. Otherwise, secure the case with a rubber band or knot the fabric loosely.

Don’t stick your kicks in with a regular load of clothes or household laundry, but do add a couple of old towels to the drum. A few bath or beach towels will help cushion the shoes as they bounce around inside the machine, lessening the noise factor. They will also help keep your washer balanced.

STEP 4: Wash the shoes and laces on the gentle cycle.

Select the shortest possible setting, which is generally the gentle cycle. Add laundry detergent, but use much less than you would for a full load—and be sure to choose a liquid, not powder, laundry soap.

Although you might be tempted to run a hot wash, it’s better to use cold water. Hot H2O can start to degrade the glue that holds shoes together. If your sneaks are very stinky, it’s not a bad idea to use a laundry sanitizer as well as your usual detergent. Sanitizers remove bacteria and, by extension, any odors; they’re typically added during the rinse cycle, but check the instructions. To help combat smells, you can also sprinkle the insides of the shoes with baking soda the night before.

how to wash shoes in washing machine

STEP 5: Air-dry the shoes.

When the wash cycle ends, remove your formerly foul footwear from the washer and the bag or pillowcase. It’s important to air-dry them because the high temps of your dryer would definitely be bad news for the footwear’s glue, soles, and other materials.

To hasten the drying process and ensure that your sneakers don’t become misshapen, stuff them with balled-up newspaper, washcloths or rags, or even a few pairs of socks. Wait until the shoes are thoroughly dry before replacing the laces or insoles. It might take a few hours or even overnight, so plan ahead to avoid having to wear still-damp sneakers—never a nice feeling.

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how to wash shoes in washing machine

Final Thoughts

A good pair of running shoes, canvas slip-ons, or casual cloth sneakers is like a good friend: You rely on them week in and week out to support you. Knowing how to clean them properly in a washing machine will not only keep them looking great but will also extend their lifespan.

While the washing machine can be a useful tool for this purpose, be cautious. Don’t machine wash kicks that are made of leather or suede or that have a hard sole. Boots are also verboten in the washing machine. (The exception to this rule? Already beat-up athletic shoes that you still choose for chores like mowing the lawn or messing around in the muck. If you don’t care whether the leather cracks, go ahead and throw ’em in.)