How to Clean White Shoes

White shoes are a staple in many wardrobes, but keeping them clean can feel like an uphill battle, fortunately, keeping your white shoes looking fresh is easy with the right techniques. Learn how to clean white shoes with this complete guide.

female hands cleaning white shoes with a piece of cloth
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This guide covers general shoe cleaning tips, ways to wash white shoes of different materials including leather, canvas, and mesh, and how to make shoe cleaner with basic household ingredients. These DIY shoe whitening techniques will leave even the dirtiest white shoes looking brand new!

General Cleaning Tips

Before diving into specific methods, here are a few important guidelines for cleaning white shoes regardless of their material:

laundry care label of a sneaker
Image Credit: Anatoly Vartanov /
  1. Check Care Labels: When possible, always refer to the care instructions provided by the manufacturer. They will address any cleaning limitations and help you avoid damaging your shoes.
  2. Remove Laces: Laces are more difficult to clean and can become tangled if left in shoes during washing. Hand-wash them separately or place them in a mesh laundry bag before putting them in the washing machine.
  3. Pre-Treat Stains: Addressing stains with a stain remover pen as soon as possible will prevent them from setting in and make it much easier to keep white shoes clean in the long run. 
  4. Avoid the Dryer: High heat can damage the shoes’ glue and warp their shape, so opt for air drying them in a well-ventilated area instead. 

Cleaning Shoes in a Washing Machine

woman putting white shoes in the washing machine to clean
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The washing machine may be the easiest option if you’re wondering how to clean white running shoes, tennis shoes, or sneakers. Here is the best way to clean white shoes made from canvas or mesh in the washing machine: 

  1. Remove the laces. To pretreat the shoes, soak them in a solution of equal parts water and white vinegar for 5-10 minutes. Lightly scrub any stains with a toothbrush, soft brush, or cloth. 
  2. Place the shoes and laces in a mesh laundry bag
  3. Wash on a gentle cycle with cold water and a mild detergent
  4. Allow to air dry, stuffing the insides with paper towels to absorb moisture and help the shoes hold their shape

Washing Shoes by Hand

white shoes soaked before cleaning
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If the care label on your shoes recommends against the washing machine, hand washing is also an option. Here’s an easy way to clean white shoes made from canvas or mesh manually

  1. Remove any loose dirt by knocking the soles together and wiping them down with a cloth.
  2. Remove the laces – laces can be placed separately in a mesh laundry bag and machine-washed.  
  3. Add 1 tablespoon laundry detergent to a container of warm water
  4. Soak the shoes in the detergent solution, scrubbing with a toothbrush or cloth in circular motions
  5. Rinse the shoes thoroughly to remove any detergent residue and air dry

Leather Shoe Cleaning

Some popular shoe materials, such as leather, are more delicate and best washed by hand to prevent damage. Here are two simple techniques:

special care for leather white shoes
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Soapy Water Solution: 

  1. Remove the laces and gently scrub any dirt or debris from the shoes using a soft brush.
  2. Add a few drops of dish soap or mild laundry detergent to a bowl of warm water
  3. Dip a clean cloth in the soap solution and scrub the shoes gently using circular motions
  4. Follow up with a clean, damp cloth to remove any soap residue and dry with a soft towel
  5. If desired, apply a leather conditioner after cleaning to help keep the material intact and prevent cracking

Micellar Water: 

Micellar water is a gentler approach to washing white shoes. It can clean leather without leaving soap residue. After removing the laces and any loose dirt, apply micellar water to a cloth or cotton pad and wipe the shoes clean. If desired, pat the shoes down with a slightly damp microfiber towel after cleaning. 

Clean With Baking Soda

cleaning white shoes under running water on sink
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Baking soda is a great DIY option for an effective yet inexpensive white shoe cleaner. Consider using it if your shoes are particularly dirty or stained. Here’s how to use baking soda to clean shoes: 

  1. Mix baking soda and white vinegar in a small bowl until a thick paste forms.
  2. Apply the baking soda paste to the shoes. Let it sit for 15 minutes or until dry and hardened
  3. Brush off the shoes and rinse under running water to remove any leftover paste, then allow to air dry

Baking soda is also a great option if you want to know how to whiten shoes whose soles have become yellow or discolored. To whiten soles, first, mix a tablespoon of baking soda with ½ tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide and a little bit of water to form a thick paste.

Apply the paste to the soles with a toothbrush, scrub gently in circular motions, then let sit for at least 30 minutes. When done, rinse the soles with warm water, wipe clean with a cloth, and allow to air dry

Any leftover scuffs on the soles should be easily removed with a Magic Eraser or a damp piece of melamine foam. 

How to Clean Shoes With Toothpaste

cleaning white shoes with a toothbrush and toothpaste
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Thanks to its whitening properties, toothpaste is another affordable shoe cleaner for white shoes. Choose a white toothpaste with peroxide and/or baking soda as an ingredient for the best results, then follow the steps below: 

  1. Apply a dab of toothpaste to an old toothbrush and use it to gently scrub the surface of the shoes, reapplying as needed to cover all necessary areas. 
  2. Once the shoes have been coated in the toothpaste, let them sit for 15 minutes
  3. Wipe away the toothpaste with a damp cloth

If your shoes are machine washable, consider using toothpaste for an extra whitening boost before washingMix the toothpaste with baking soda and a few drops of dish soap in a small bowl, then apply the mixture to the shoes and leave it on for 10 minutes before placing them in the washing machine. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What Turns White Shoes Yellow?

White shoes can yellow over time through prolonged exposure to sunlight, sweat, and dirt. Residual laundry detergent and bleach can also cause yellowing if not washed off thoroughly. 

Can You Bleach White Shoes?

While you can spot-clean white shoes with bleach to remove tough stains, it is risky to soak them in it. Bleach should be heavily diluted and applied cautiously, as it can cause yellowing. 

To bleach shoes, first dilute one part bleach with five parts water. Wearing rubber gloves, apply the solution to the shoes with a white cloth and rinse thoroughly before air drying

When Should I Replace My Shoes?

Sometimes, shoes are simply beyond cleaning. If the soles are ripped, the tread has eroded, or stains are impossible to remove, it is probably time to invest in a new pair.

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