Nothing beats a new pair of shoes. You know: that smell when you open a new box, trying them on in front of a mirror with all your outfits, that box-fresh crispness… It’s enough to give you goosebumps. But shoes are meant to be worn, and any real sneakerhead worth their stripes (checks over stripes, that’s what we like, yeah—just kidding, we love you Adidas) will tell you that you should rock your sneakers, and wear ‘em to death.
…Which sounds great in principle, until someone steps on your toes and marks up your babies. That can be traumatic. It can be hard to figure out how to clean sneakers. Unlike dress shoes, heels or boots, sneakers are often made out of a variety of different materials, and have design features that make it hard to brush or polish them.
There’s also a lot of conflicting advice out there, and you don’t want to ruin your shoes, particularly if you’ve copped something limited edition and you can’t easily replace them. Some brands also have a vested interest in not necessarily giving you the most accurate cleaning instructions—they’d rather you go out and buy another pair than try and clean or restore an old pair.
But as sustainability is the wave for 2020 (and forever) so we’ve got together some handy tips and tricks to keep your creps looking fresh af.
Prevention is the best cure
The first thing you do when you get a new pair of shoes is to protect them from getting dirty in the first place.
Eugene Cheng, co-founder of The Sneaker Laundry, suggests spraying them with a sneaker protector or waterproofer. Make sure you do this only if they’re totally clean, though: spraying them when they’re dirty will just seal stains in.
Clean as you go
If you muck up your shoes, deal with it ASAP.
“Cleaning them as you go is very important because the longer dirt and stains sit and accumulate the less likely you can clean them,” Cheng warns.
Jemuel Wong, one of Australia’s most prominent sneakerheads and an expert on keeping kicks clean, agrees.
“Like with any other task in life, do things one at a time to avoid an eventual build-up. My #1 tip is to always clean on a regular basis, after wear is usually the best time… I make sure after each wear, all my sneakers are cleaned and aired before they are stored away again.
Cheng says that a common mistake people make when cleaning their sneakers is they treat them like other clothing items and use harsh chemicals or just throw them in the washing machine—a big mistake.
“They can sometimes shrink, fade and have its colour bleed onto different areas of the shoe. Bleaching is also a big no-no.”
You can try putting canvas shoes like Converse Chuck Taylors or Vans in the washing machine but Cheng isn’t a fan.
“They can shrink, warp, go out of shape when you do so and they can often dry yellower than when they went in.” Wash your shoes by hand for preference—putting dirty shoelaces through a washing machine is a good move, tho.
(Speaking from personal experience however, you can get pretty good results on Cons if you put them in the machine—just make sure you clean off as much debris as you can beforehand, use a liquid detergent instead of powder, and put them in on their own. Wash the laces separately, ofc, and throw a bunch of old towels in the machine as well so the shoes don’t damage the machine. You’re welcome.)
Choose your tools carefully
“Using a soft bristled hog brush is usually great to dry brush/clean for materials like mesh and suede. When it comes to the outsole, use a harder bristle brush”, Wong recommends.
Also consider using a clean toothbrush for hard-to-reach grime, and a microfiber cloth to dry off – these are cheap and easy to find, and if they get really disgusting, you can throw them away, nbd.
Know your materials
Different materials require different cleaning methods, and you can make your life a whole lot easier by choosing shoes that are easier to clean.
Shoes made predominately of suede, nubuck, canvas or knitted materials can present more of a cleaning challenge than leather, for example—“leather is much harder for dirt to cling onto than fabrics,” Cheng explains.
Not that leather is immune to schmutz, either. White leather sneakers are super common and a must-have in your rotation but they attract dirt like nothing else.
“I see a lot of people beating-up their Air Force 1s or Stan Smiths really quick”, Wong laments.
“The best way to maintain white leather sneakers is to clean regularly; baby wipes or sneaker cleaning wipes/quick foam works well. Never use harsh chemicals as it can dry the leather out easily. Also, it’s good to apply leather conditioner or simply coconut oil after they dry from cleaning with the purpose of re-moisturising and prolonging the life of the leather upper.”
Do your research
As previously mentioned, different shoes and different materials all require different approaches to cleaning. Luckily, sneakerheads are a fastidious bunch and just about any crep you can think of has a guide online on how to clean/maintain them.
Lead image via Nike x Heron Preston.