Out of all the shoes you own, shoes used for sports and exercise are the ones that will get dirty most often. Understanding how to wash tennis shoes, sneakers, and other flexible shoes properly will go a long way towards keeping them clean, usable, and comfortable when you need them most.

Washing the Shoes

Generally, the average pair of sneakers will be easy enough to clean with a washer if you don’t want to do them by hand, although you might need to be careful with ones that rely on a pre-programmed cycle system. If you are going to clean your tennis shoes well, then you will want to do it correctly.

Remove the Dirt

If there is any dirt still clinging to the outside of your tennis shoes, you should use a stiff brush to get it off. Make sure you target the soles properly if you can since this is where dirt is most likely to settle or get wedged in. If you have any other stains or large pieces of debris that need to be dealt with (sand, gum, food stains, etc.), do your best to remove them ahead of time so that they don’t damage your washing machine or contaminate the liquid detergent you use.

Take out the Laces

Not having laces will make it much safer to put your shoes in the washing machine. This is also a good chance to swap them out for a fresh pair of laces if they are fraying or starting to split apart: you will want to use the best possible laces in your favorite pair of shoes, especially since they are meant for sport.

Should you Remove Insoles?

Be sure to remove the insoles too. These can be cleaned with warm water, and baking soda then left to dry while you handle the rest of the shoe. This is mainly because these insoles aren’t designed to be kept inside the shoes during washing or drying. If you don’t have removable insoles, then don’t try to take off the ones inside your tennis shoes: these insoles are built into the design and can be washed as normal.

Start Washing your Shoes

Before you throw your shoes into a washing machine and let them go through a full wash cycle surrounded by liquid detergent, you should try cleaning them on your own. Rinse the outside of the tennis shoes with cold water to get the little loose pieces off the exposed surfaces. Once you are satisfied that they look clean enough, you can place them into the washing machine as normal.

When they are in a wash cycle, you will want to use a lower speed if possible, since this prevents the laundry detergent and high speeds from damaging the shoes or causing problems to the washing machine itself. If trying to machine wash sneakers seems too excessive, you can wash and scrub most tennis shoes by hand in soapy water.

Dry the Shoes

When your shoes have been fully washed, remove them from the washer and place them on a drying rack or another well-ventilated area. Ideally, keep them out of direct sunlight just in case the evaporating water causes damage to the materials, and try to provide as much natural cooling as possible.

Stuffing the Inside

To dry out the insides, you should use cotton towels, tissue paper, or other soft drying items to stuff the insides – this can remove any moisture left inside, which would otherwise take much longer to dry.

It can be tempting to use a newspaper for this, but be careful. Some of the ink can leak off if you aren’t prepared, which might end up sinking into the interior surfaces. The softer and less water-resistant the sneaker materials are, the more important this sort of care becomes. If nothing else is available, a basic kitchen cloth can work.


Alternatively, you might choose to use a dryer. This machine can make the process much faster, but be sure to use a suitable temperature setting. High heat can cause the shoes to fall apart by melting glue and shriveling up certain materials before you have a chance to remove them. Choosing to air dry your tennis shoes might be the more practical option.

Protecting your Tennis Shoes

Even if you know how to wash tennis shoes, that doesn’t mean that you should take cleaning at face value. Having to constantly air dry your shoes and cover the insoles in baking soda can get really annoying, so it is a good idea to try and minimize how often you clean them.


For example, you can start to polish your favorite pair of shoes to deal with any scuffs or cracks in the materials, making it harder for dirt to settle into those spaces. This kind of care will also make them look better overall, and can be a nice way to restore old shoes that have some personal value to you. While polish can’t solve everything, you can easily do it at home without needing any special equipment. Even a simple toothbrush can be a good stand-in for a full-sized brush if needed.

For fabric shoes, you might want to use a protective spray instead. These can help your footwear fight off any stains or pieces of dirt that might blemish the surface – since the fabric is more vulnerable to dirt in general, this can be a major benefit.


If you need to repair your shoes for whatever reason or have a problem that can’t be fixed by a wash in warm water and detergent, you might have to send them off for repairs. While you can repair small types of damage (such as loose soles) with some glue and a short wait, you might have to find the original manufacturer’s email address and ask for assistance if you can’t do anything else.

It is a good idea to find their email address specifically if the shoes are important or have a sentimental value to you. Most companies will have unique designs with an ‘all rights reserved’ status, meaning that they will be the best at repairing their own designs.


A wash won’t always completely clear your shoes of bad bacteria, and fans of regular exercise might want to disinfect them directly. Simply using it alongside some warm water can be enough to clear off any harmful fungus or bacteria living in there, at least temporarily.


Storing your shoes is almost as important as deciding how to wash them. Be sure to give your shoes a good wash before placing them in any box, bag, or backpack, since left-over dirt can quickly accumulate or lead to the spread of bad bacteria.

About the Author

Hey, I'm Lilly Harvey. If there's two things I'm passionate about in life, it's shoes and writing!

Combining both my passions with my Fashion Design degree, I've helped create Shoe Adviser to help readers choose the best shoes for them, enjoy!

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