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How to clean white shoes

Here's how to keep white shoes looking spotless and fresh.
How to clean white shoes
Do you have to hand-wash sneakers or can you use a washing machine?Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

There's nothing quite as annoying as scuffing a brand new pair of white shoes. The tiniest spec feels dramatized to epic proportions — you can nearly see it from the moon, right?

Well, fear not! TODAY Style has you covered with different ways to brighten, whiten and clean your white shoes with advice from top cleaning experts.

How to clean white canvas shoes with baking soda

Cleaning experts Holli Schaub and Jennifer Parnell, founders of plant-based cleaning line Humble Suds, recommend a bit of kitchen science.

"Combine 2 tablespoons of baking soda, 2 tablespoons of hot water and 2 tablespoons of liquid hydrogen peroxide. With an old toothbrush, apply two layers evenly to shoes," Schaub and Parnell wrote in an email to TODAY.

Allow the shoes to dry and harden in the sun for three hours, but "don't leave them out too long or they will turn yellow," they cautioned. Then just remove baking soda residue by slapping the shoes together.

If they look good as is, there's no need to rinse. If there is a bit of residue, rinse with water, shake and place packing paper inside the toe area to help shoes keep their shape while drying. Repeat the baking soda routine if there are any additional areas of concern.

How to spot-clean using a steamer

A handheld steamer is a great tool to lift stains out of white canvas shoes, especially when the stain requires more than a cool-water rinse (like red wine or grape jelly). The steam helps loosen stains without compromising the glue around the rubber sole.

Before you start, wipe off any dust or loose dirt with a dry cloth. "Once the steamer is warmed up, apply the steam to the shoe using a swift back and forth motion," said Bailey Carson, head of cleaning at Handy, a household services booking app. Then, dab the stained areas using a clean rag. Once you've absorbed it all, make sure to let your shoes dry before you wear them next.

Bonus tip: If you have stinky shoes, a bit of steam directed at the soles helps to aerate away unpleasant smells.

How to clean rubber shoe soles

So what about pebbled, rubbery soles that are the most vulnerable to soiling? Fairouz Ait Lkhal, founder of the Oh My Hacks blog, recommends a delicate process. "Take a little bleach with a cotton swab and apply the product to the rubber parts of your shoes, then rub it in lightly," she said.

No bleach, no problem! Dig into your beauty cabinet for nail polish remover, which is just as effective.

How to clean white leather shoes with items you have at home

When rolling up your sleeves to whiten your leather shoes, per Jennie Varney, brand manager for Molly Maid, keep in mind that doubling this recipe makes for a zesty vinaigrette, too.

  • Combine 1/4 cup white vinegar with 1/2 cup olive oil in a medium-size spray bottle.
  • Screw on the spray top and shake the bottle vigorously to combine the ingredients.
  • Spray shoes with the vinegar and olive oil mixture, coating the entire surface thoroughly. Apply more solution to particularly dirty or discolored areas.
  • Allow the solution sit for five minutes.
  • Wipe off the solution with a soft, dry cloth.

While the vinegar serves as an astringent, the oil lubricates the leather to keep it supple.

You certainly want leather to dry as quickly as possible, so opt for stuffing shoes with water-absorbing microfiber cloths to speed up the process.

Conditioning leather shoes

Many experts we spoke to sang the praises of the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser for cleaning leather shoes, but not so fast, says Donna Smallin Kuper from the blog Unclutter. Anything alcohol-based or with harsh abrasives, including a magic eraser-type sponge, can do more damage than good by lifting patches off the leather coating. Instead, Smallin Kuper recommends cleaners and conditioners made for cleaning leather interiors of cars. "Leather is leather," she said.

Whether new or newly cleaned, always spray leather shoes with a protectant to prevent stains in the first place and don't forget to respray every few weeks.

How to whiten shoes

Toothpaste works when you have tiny spaces that are hard to reach, like texturing on rubber soles.

"Toothpaste's microspheres break down anything, so they are perfect to clean a lot of things, especially your shoes," said Abe Navas from Emily’s Maids, a house-cleaning personnel service.

Get your biceps ready for a thorough wash. "You really need to take off all the paste because it's sticky, it traps dirt, so if you don't clean the paste really well, your shoes will get dirty really fast," said Navas.

To machine wash or to not machine wash

The verdict is mixed on whether you should toss sneakers into the washing machine. Some experts fear the machine's drums will loosen and the shoe's construction will be compromised, but lifestyle expert Denise Wild has a hack to help avoid this.

"Remove the insoles and shoelaces and throw your canvas shoes in a cool-water, low-spin cycle with some white towels or rags if you want to lessen agitation," she said. She also recommends applying an enzyme-based spot treatment with a rubber-bristled brush.

“I like rubber bristles for cleaning shoes because they’re stronger and firmer than toothbrush bristles, so they really give a good scrub," she explained. The bristles are larger, so they’re not pushing dirt into the fibers of the fabric. And it's easy to find! You can buy one at the pet store — they’re sold for getting pet hair out of upholstery and carpets.

Consider a mesh bag to prevent laces from tangling.

Always, always air dry

Whether you hand washed or machine washed your kicks, allow the shoes to air dry. "The dryer can affect the structure of the shoe and could shrink the canvas," said Victor Ornelas, director of brand management at Fleet Feet shoes stores.

Special case scenarios

Canvas shoes with mixed fabrics like suede should be cleaned by hand. Try fabric shampoo or a mixture of baking soda and white vinegar. The paste will remove the dirt from the shoe material as it begins drying into a powder. "Repeat all over the shoe, then once finished take a damp clean cloth and wipe the excess powder off," said Sean Parry from Neat Services.