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How to Clean White Shoes: An Expert Guide to Top Cleaning Methods

How to Clean White Shoes
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Updated May 26, 2024

Whether you prefer chic tennis shoes or rugged leather, nearly everyone will agree that crisp white shoes are a great look that pairs well with most outfits. It’s a shame, then, that some feel the need to avoid white footwear because they’re afraid that one poorly-placed step will ruin their style. It’s not actually that difficult to keep your shoes looking their whitest, or to restore a grungy pair to their former snowy sheen. That is, if you double-check the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions and use the best household products for your shoes to avoid unsightly yellowing, or worse, damaging them in the process. With these simple steps and essential pro tips, your favorite shoes will get back that brand-new icy white flair missing from your wardrobe.

How to clean white canvas and fabric shoes

Although the properties of canvas allows dirt and stains to seep deep into the fabric, this durable material also lets you easily scrub away baked-in filth, with some effort and the right technique. For the record, some may say that canvas shoes are “washing machine safe,” however this is completely false if your shoes are made with leather, suede, or other trim details, and this will put more wear on your shoes than you may realize; hand washing fabric shoes is your best bet whenever possible.

What you need

Step 1 

If your canvas shoes are especially nasty, rinse them outside with a hose before bringing them indoors. Mix two or three teaspoons of vinegar and baking soda together in a bowl to make a paste, then grind that paste into stubborn stains with a toothbrush. Don’t be afraid to scrub—your canvas shoes were made to easily withstand this cleaning technique!

Step 2 

Wipe away the paste and loosened grime with a paper towel and rinse the shoes in your sink. A Mr. Clean Magic Eraser is surprisingly effective at spot cleaning details, especially the soles of your shoes.

Step 3 

Place your shoes in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight to air dry.

How to clean white leather shoes

When it comes to cleaning white leather shoes, the good news is they’re quick and easy to restore with minimal effort. On the other hand, if you use the wrong cleaner, you run the risk of discoloration or damaging the leather exterior.

What you need 

  • Microfiber cloth
  • Baking soda
  • Toothbrush
  • Paper towel
  • Mr. Clean Magic Eraser

Step 1 

Dampen a microfiber cloth with water and gently rub it across the leather surface to wipe away marks, dust, and scuffs.

Step 2 

Persistent stains are easy to remove if you gently scrub them away with a little baking soda and a toothbrush. Wipe away any baking soda residue once the stain is lifted.

Step 3 

A Mr. Clean Magic Eraser also works well for removing stuck-on grime, but please note that applying too much pressure may damage the surface layer of the leather shoes. 

How to clean white tennis shoes

Many athletic shoes are safe to put through the washing machine, which makes restoring white tennis shoes a breeze. Again, though, check the manufacturer’s care label before attempting to clean shoes in your washing machine.

What you need 

  • Washing machine
  • Mesh laundry bag
  • Towels

Step 1 

Remove the shoe laces: This ensures that they don’t get damaged in the washing cycle, and don’t somehow get tangled in your washing machine. Knock the excess dust and dirt off your shoes outside to prepare them for the washing machine.

Step 2 

Place the shoes in mesh laundry bags, and put them into the washing machine with some white towels to balance out the load—this will minimize the annoying sound of shoes clattering around your washing machine. Use warm water and heavy detergent to thoroughly clean your white tennis shoes.

Step 3 

Set the shoes in a well-ventilated spot to air dry. If you can place a fan over the shoes, it will safely speed up the drying process.If you absolutely must use the dryer, use its air-only option. Drying tennis shoes with a heated cycle will melt the glue holding them together and put much more wear and tear on them than you may realize.

How to bleach white shoes

A bleach solution can be extremely effective at restoring off-white canvas and fabric shoes to their original snow-white appearance, however it is essential that you research the manufacturer’s care instructions to double check if your shoes are bleach safe.

What you need 

  • Bleach
  • Bucket
  • Toothbrush
  • Water
  • Gloves

Step 1 

Make a diluted bleach solution by adding one part bleach to five parts water in a bucket. Wear gloves while cleaning with bleach to protect your skin.

Step 2 

Gently scrub the dirtiest areas of your shoes with a toothbrush soaked in the bleach solution while avoiding leather, metal, logos, and other details.

Step 3 

Thoroughly rinse the shoes with warm water to remove all traces of bleach. This minimizes the risk of discoloration.

How to clean white shoelaces 

No matter what kind of shoes you own, there are a few simple, yet effective ways to refresh your white shoe laces:

What you need

  • Heavy-duty laundry detergent
  • Warm water
  • White toothpaste
  • Toothbrush

Option 1 

Fill a small bowl with warm water and a teaspoon of laundry detergent. Place the laces in the bowl and let them soak for 15 minutes. Hang them in a cool, dark place to air dry.

Option 2 

Apply white, baking soda-infused toothpaste to your grimy laces and scrub them with a toothbrush. Rinse the laces thoroughly with water and air dry.

Note: If your formerly white shoelaces are extremely filthy, it may be easier and a better use of your time to simply toss them in the trash and buy new ones.

Mr. Clean Magic Eraser Original 2x Stronger with Durafoam Melamine Sponge (6-Pack) in White | 3700079009

Mr. Clean Magic Eraser Original 2x Stronger with Durafoam Melamine Sponge (6-Pack) in White | 3700079009

Cleaning white shoes with toothpaste

Yes, the urban legend that you can effectively clean stubborn stains from your shoes with toothpaste is true! Get white toothpaste, ideally a brand infused with baking soda, and apply the same amount as you’d use to brush your teeth directly to a persistent stain. Lightly scrub the toothpaste into the spot, let it sit for 15 to 20 minutes, and use a paper towel to wipe the toothpaste and loosened grime away.

How to keep your white shoes clean longer

The single best methods for keeping your white shoes looking their best between thorough cleanings include wiping them down with a moist, soft cloth to remove everyday scuffs and dust at the end of the day, and storing them in a dry and dark place like a closet or shoebox. This ensures that your shoes are clean every time you put them on, and are protected from getting dusty, moldy, or faded when you aren’t wearing them 

Storage and organization tips for white shoes

  • Keep your white shoes in a shoebox when you aren’t wearing them. This keeps them from getting dusty and allows you to easily stack multiple pairs of shoes for optimal storage space.
  • Always store your shoes in a climate-controlled area. Poor air circulation, excessive heat, and humidity will quickly ruin a good pair of shoes, and note that leaving your white shoes in direct sunlight for extended periods is likely to discolor them.
  • If you aren’t planning on wearing your white shoes for a while, give them a complete cleaning before putting them away to prevent nasty odors from forming in your absence. A shoehorn is a great idea for shoes in extended storage, as these handy devices maintain a shoe’s shape while preventing cracking and creasing from not being worn for a long time.
  • Vertical hanging organizers are an effective way to clear up closet space, since they’re easy to hang on the backs of bedroom doors or closets and feature plenty of storage pockets for your old wedding shoes, out-of-season boots or sandals, and everything else in your footwear collection.

How to get rid of and prevent smells in your white shoes

Once your favorite shoes are squeaky clean and whiter than a polar bear, you can focus on these key tips for removing odors from your footwear, and keeping them smelling fresher for longer.

  • Always wear socks, as they will absorb sweat and moisture that would otherwise be absorbed into your shoes.
  • Sprinkle some baking soda into each shoe and leave it for 24 hours to deodorize them.
  • Leave a dryer sheet in each shoe overnight to absorb odors and replace them with fresh fabric scents. Just don’t forget to remove them when you put your shoes back on!
  • Properly drying wet shoes as soon as possible will go a long way towards preventing odors from forming. Place soggy shoes in a well-ventilated area, consider setting them under a fan for even drying, and always store them in a clean, dry spot.
  • Wash your shoes on a regular basis to keep them fresh, clean, and odor-free.
Mr. Clean Magic Eraser Original 2x Stronger with Durafoam Melamine Sponge (6-Pack) in White | 3700079009

Mr. Clean Magic Eraser Original 2x Stronger with Durafoam Melamine Sponge (6-Pack) in White | 3700079009

The information presented here is created independently from the TIME editorial staff. To learn more, see our About page.

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