How to Wash Tennis Shoes & Sneakers Guide [DIY]

how to wash tennis shoes & sneakers

There’s something satisfying about slipping a new pair of sneakers on your feet. The problem is keeping the colors bright, the outer material clean, and the interior surfaces clear of odor-causing bacteria. Even the soles can start to look dingy and unkempt if you don’t wash your tennis shoes at least occasionally.

The secret to clean tennis shoes is maintenance. If you know you stepped in a puddle or something unclean, take the time to wipe your sneakers down as soon as possible. You can avoid many stains by eliminating mud, dirt, and other debris before they have time to set into the material.

You will still need to clean your tennis shoes to keep them looking new. But, how do you do that? I’m going to walk you through the process on how to wash tennis shoes step-by-step while giving pointers on washing specific types of tennis shoes.

Let’s get right into the details!

What are tennis shoes

Tennis shoes are athletic shoes intended for exercise, walking, sports, and other activities. They’re designed with a flexible upper material and a durable rubber sole. Many tennis shoes also include layers of foam and other materials designed to support your foot and ankle during physical activity.

The tennis shoe market has exploded with more colors, designs, and functional specializations than ever. You can buy tennis shoes designed to develop calf muscles, burn more calories, or select from an array of running shoes designed for different gaits. There are minimalist tennis shoes, walking shoes, cross trainers, and gel tennis shoes.

If you overpronate, there’s a tennis shoe for you. Do you overstride when going for a walk? You have options as well. From casual shoes that you wear to the mall on the weekend to athletic shoes designed to improve performance and specialty shoes for people with flat feet or high arches, there’s a tennis shoe for virtually any need.

what are tennis shoes
Photo: Sladjana Karvounis

While most tennis shoes have laces, you can now find slip-on tennis shoes in most shoe stores as well as online. They deliver the support you need for exercise or sports while making it easier to get on and off. Velcro tennis shoes are also available.

Waterproof tennis shoes

What are waterproof tennis shoes

Waterproof tennis shoes are athletic footwear designed to withstand exposure to moisture. Most waterproof shoes are made of leather. But, you can also find many made of Gore-Tex, mesh, or vegan materials like Merino wool. The best waterproof sneakers allow you to run or walk in the rain without suffering from soaked socks and wet, cold feet.

Tennis shoes designed to withstand exposure to water are often bulkier and more durable than other tennis shoes. That’s because they’re designed from thicker materials that don’t allow moisture to leak through to your feet. Leather is the most popular option, but manufacturers compete to come out with lighter weight materials that effectively do the same job.

Waterproof tennis shoes may also have thicker, more durable soles. From top to bottom, you can count on these shoes to protect your feet from the elements no matter what the conditions are. Some shoes are merely resistant to water on the outer surface, while others are designed for full submersion.

How to wash tennis shoes

It’s safe to toss some tennis shoes into the washing machine while others require hand washing due to more sensitive materials. If your tennis shoes have deep stains, you may find that they don’t come clean after a cycle in the washing machine. In that case, you should wash them by hand with some extra scrub time on the stains.

In this section, I’m going to deliver step-by-step instructions for washing your tennis shoes by hand. This is an essential process that you can use to maintain the appearance of your tennis shoes over time regardless of their material. In the next section, I’ll give further tips for tackling deep stains on specific tennis shoe types.

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You’ll get the best results if you make washing your tennis shoes a routine task. Don’t wait for dirt and grime to build up to the point it becomes visible. Regular cleaning will reduce the amount of staining over time, which could extend your sneakers’ lives. Between cleanings, you may still need to spot clean if you see dirty spots.

Let’s move on to the process of cleaning up your tennis shoes!

What you will need to wash your tennis shoes

The first step to cleaning your tennis shoes is to gather your cleaning supplies. What you need will depend on the material you’re washing. So, you won’t need everything on the list below. You may also have the option of choosing between several tools. I’ll detail those choices as we move through the step-by-step tennis shoe cleaning tutorial below.

For now, familiarize yourself with the necessary tools of cleaning sneakers:

  • Laundry detergent.
  • Mild soap.
  • Dish detergent.
  • Clean, soft cloth, or rags.
  • Sink or large bowl.
  • Sponge.
  • Toothbrush.
  • Soft shoe brush.
  • Warm water.

Ready to start washing your shoes? The step-by-step instructions are up next.

Step-by-Step Instructions

allow your shoes to dry

The following steps will introduce the process of cleaning tennis shoes in general terms. I’ll provide directions specific to different types of sneaker material, including canvas and leather. For more tips on keeping your tennis shoes clean, see other chapters in this guide. There are chapters specific to leather, suede, and canvas shoes.

Follow the steps below to complete a basic tennis shoe cleaning:

Total Time: 25 minutes

  1. Remove your shoelaces

    remove your shoelaces

    Wipe them down with a mixture of warm water and laundry detergent or dish soap. If they’re heavily saturated or stained, allow them to soak in a small bowl or cup with the same mixture. Rinse them off and dry them with a towel. And then allow them to air dry before putting them back into your shoes at the end of this process. You can also put shoelaces into the washing machine with similar colors.

  2. Use a soft shoe brush or dry washcloth

    use a soft shoe brush or dry washcloth

    Brush loose dirt and other matter from your shoes’ soles and uppers. If your shoes are wet with water or mud, wait for them to dry before starting this process. It’s easier to knock off dry mud than to wash wet dirt out of the fabric.

  3. Clean the soles of your shoes

    clean the soles of your shoes

    For foam soles, get a toothbrush wet with warm water and gently scrub. For rubber soles, wash with a soft sponge and a mixture of warm water and laundry detergent. A toothbrush will help get in small crevices if your shoes have an intricate bottom design.

  4. Use a mixture of warm water and laundry detergent to wash the uppers gently

    You can use a toothbrush, soft scrub brush, sponge, washcloth, or microfiber cloth. This cleaning mix is adequate for most leather and canvas tennis shoes. See the following chapters for specific shoe materials if you need tips on removing stains from canvas, suede, or leather.

  5. Use a dry washcloth or microfiber cloth

    use a dry washcloth or microfiber cloth

    Wipe all suds from the uppers and pull out as much of the moisture as possible.

  6. Allow your shoes to dry

    allow your shoes to dry

    Don’t replace the shoelaces until your shoes and the laces are completely dry.

  7. Clean the insoles

    If you’re concerned with odor, you can remove your insoles and clean them with warm water and laundry detergent as well. That’s an excellent addition to this cleaning regime if your feet sweat heavily during exercise or sports activity.

Estimated Cost: 20 USD


  • Laundry detergent
  • Mild soap
  • Dish detergent
  • Clean, soft cloth, or rags
  • Warm water


  • Sink or large bowl
  • Sponge
  • Toothbrush
  • Soft shoe brush

Tips on washing tennis shoes

The general tennis shoe washing instructions I’ve just detailed will help you maintain your sneakers so that they look great even after months of continuous wear. Those instructions may not help if you get stains on your tennis shoes or want to clean up an older pair of shoes that have never been washed.

The dirtier the shoe, the more likely you need the tips and tricks contained in this section.

washing machine tennis shoes 1
Photo: Daniel Koponyas

The following tips will give you more insight into in-depth cleaning tennis shoes made from specific materials. You can also flip through other chapters of this guide to pick up additional shoe cleaning tips specific to your shoe material.

How to wash tennis shoes in the washing machine

Before placing your tennis shoes in the washing machine, consider the uppers and soles’ material. Never put leather or suede shoes in the washer or dryer. Canvas and mesh shoes are better options for machine washing. I don’t recommend placing tennis shoes in the dryer. I’ll discuss how to dry your tennis shoes in a moment.

If you do have canvas or mesh sneakers that are safe for the washing machine, the following step-by-step guide will take you through the process:

  1. Remove the shoelaces. You can wash them with warm water and laundry detergent or put them through the washer with a load of clothing or towels of like color.
  2. Brush your shoes with a scrub brush or soft cloth, knocking off any clumps of dirt or other visible filth.
  3. Place the shoes in a mesh laundry bag. This will keep the shoes together and provide some protection from harsh movement inside the washer. If you don’t have a mesh laundry bag, you can place most shoes into the washer alone.
  4. Run the shoes through the washer with a load of like-colored towels. Most brand name laundry detergents will work. Shoes can cause an unbalance of the load, especially if they’re not contained in a mesh bag. Selecting a lower spin speed can limit those balance issues.
  5. Dry your tennis shoes. Air drying works well. Yet, I’ll discuss all of your drying options in just a moment.

How to clean white tennis shoes

All of the cleaning instructions given so far will work for white tennis shoes. But you may take a couple of extra steps to keep that crisp white appearance. For starters, add a wipe down with white vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, or bleach to the basic tennis shoe cleaning instructions given earlier in this chapter.

how to clean white tennis shoes
Photo: Nathan Dumlao

To do that:

  1. Make a homemade cleaning solution with one part bleach or white vinegar and four parts water. If you want to use hydrogen peroxide, you only need one teaspoon of peroxide and a small cup of water.
  2. Cover your hands with thick cleaning gloves if you use bleach.
  3. Dip a sponge or soft cloth into the cleaning solution, and then scrub your tennis shoes.

You don’t need to use bleach across the full shoe unless it is heavily saturated or stained. Bleach is a good option if you need to spot clean deep stains that don’t come out through hand washing or a cycle in the washing machine.

Baking soda is another option for cleaning white tennis shoes. Mix a cup of warm water with two tablespoons of white vinegar and one tablespoon of baking soda. Scrub your tennis shoes with a toothbrush, soft cloth, or scrub brush. The baking soda and vinegar will work together to remove stains and restore your sneakers’ brilliant white.

After washing your tennis shoes with any of these whitening products, wipe them down with a clean, dry cloth and allow them to air dry.

How to clean suede tennis shoes

If you have suede tennis shoes, you should never put your shoes in the washing machine or dryer. Place a shoe tree inside your shoes or fill them with paper towels to make sure they hold their shape throughout the cleaning process. If your shoes are wet, stuff them with paper towels and wait for them to dry before starting the cleaning process.

Instead of brushing your shoes off with a scrub brush, you can use a suede brush and suede eraser. These products are an added expense, but they’re designed for your suede shoes. You can also use the eraser and brush to instantly clean your shoes whenever you notice a bit of dirt collecting on the uppers or soles. Just a minute here and there could save you from a lot of scrubbing later on.

clean suede tennis shoes

To clean your suede tennis shoes, you can sprinkle baking soda on the dirty spot, brush, or rub it into the material. Allow it to sit for 10 or 15 minutes, and then brush off the baking soda. You may also use a mixture of warm water and mild soap or laundry detergent to scrub the suede gently. Remove all detergent from the suede with a soft cloth and allow the shoes to air dry.

Take a look at our cleaning suede shoes guide if you want more tips.

How to clean leather tennis shoes

Leather should never go in the washer or dryer. It would be best to avoid bleach and cleaners with other harsh ingredients because they can damage or discolor leather even when diluted with water. You can use the basic tennis shoe cleaning instructions given earlier in this chapter, but one additional tool works particularly well with leather shoes.

That tool is a Magic Eraser. You’ll find this in the cleaning aisle of most supermarkets and big-box stores. It’s a foam block that you get wet and then use to scrub anything from walls and cabinets to your leather shoes. Just a little water and the eraser are all you need to scrub away any stains and marks that occur from the regular wear and tear.

To wash your leather tennis shoes, use a mix of warm water and laundry detergent or dish soap. Wash the leather with a sponge or soft cloth. A toothbrush with soft bristles may help you get in small crevices around the shoelace holes and soles.

To learn more about washing leather tennis shoes, see our leather shoes guide. That post delivers more detailed instructions on cleaning leather shoes in general.

How to wash waterproof tennis shoes

If your tennis shoes were pre-treated with a waterproofing agent, you might not want to wash them with the standard mixture of warm water and laundry detergent. Some waterproof membranes will turn into a gooey mess when met with even mild soap. Yet, others are compatible with light water and detergent cleaning.

You can try that general cleaning mix on a small spot of one shoe to see if it works well for your waterproof shoes. If it doesn’t, then trade the water and detergent for a shoe cleaning gel designed for the type of material found on your shoe uppers. Follow the package instructions to clean your shoes without interfering with that protective waterproof membrane.

waterproof tennis shoes 1
Photo: Robin Benzrihem

If you aren’t sure if your tennis shoes were treated with a waterproofing agent, test a mix of water and detergent on a small section of one shoe before cleaning. You can also check for cleaning instructions from the shoe manufacturer. Many manufacturers now offer detailed instructions for their shoes on their websites or blogs.

How to dry tennis shoes

I’ve mentioned not placing your tennis shoes in the dryer a couple of times so far. So, how should you dry your sneakers?

For starters, let’s clarify that you can use your dryer with canvas or mesh shoes as long as you have a drying rack that inserts into your dryer. That allows you to set the shoes on the shelf rather than allowing them to flop around the dryer. Some advanced dryers also have a shoe setting that works with the rack. You should consider this your last option if you really need your cloth shoes to dry quickly.

You can also use the following procedure to allow your tennis shoes to air dry naturally:

  1. Keep the shoelaces and insoles out of the shoe after washing or remove them at the start of this process.
  2. Fill the shoes with newspaper or paper towels. The paper will absorb some of the moisture while allowing your shoes to hold their shape.
  3. Place the shoes by an air vent or another heat source, if possible. If not possible, place the shoes in a dry area where they can gradually air dry. Positions in front of fans will work as well, so you don’t need hot air to do the job.

Tennis shoe care

I’ve discussed washing tennis shoes in great detail, but what about routine daily care? The better you maintain your shoes on a daily basis, the less time you will need to spend on the cleaning process. Before releasing you to scrub down your tennis shoes and jump back into life, I want to discuss maintaining, protecting, and storing your tennis shoes.

How to Maintain Tennis Shoes?

A soft scrub brush or shoe brush is your best friend. Keep it close to your closet or shoe collection so that you can quickly wipe away dust, dirt, and other contaminants right when you notice them. Take the time to look your shoes over as you take them on and off. And then take the time to correct potential problems so that they don’t turn into difficult stains.

If a brush doesn’t get rid of the problem, try a damp washcloth. A little warm water can go a long way when removing dirt and other fresh messes.

If you don’t wear your tennis shoes for a period of time, you can stuff them with newspaper or install a shoe tree to help maintain their shape. I’ll focus on tennis shoe storage procedures in a moment. But first, let’s talk about protecting your tennis shoes.

How to Protect Tennis Shoes

Depending on your tennis shoe material, you may add a protective shoe spray and/or waterproofing to protect your shoes. Protective sprays apply a thin film over the shoe to repel a lot of the dirt and dust that you encounter in daily life. That makes it easier to keep your shoes clean and may prevent some stains from setting into the fabric.

tennis shoes care
Photo: David Lezcano

Waterproofing treatments create a water-repellent membrane over the shoe. That membrane prevents moisture from seeping through the shoe. Not all tennis shoes are compatible with this treatment. So, read package instructions carefully to determine what materials it’s designed to protect.

Leather tennis shoes are the most vulnerable to water damage. So, you should consider adding waterproofing to those shoes.

How to Store Tennis Shoes

You’ve made it to the end of my detailed tennis shoe cleaning guide. Still, I have one last issue to discuss: storage. Most tennis shoes store well in a closet or on a shelf away from heating vents or radiators. A temperature-controlled, dry room will allow your shoes to rest without any damage.

If you want to add another layer of protection, place your tennis shoes in a sealed bag or shoebox. You can dust them off as you clean your home if you’re concerned about dust accumulation. Dust is particularly likely to collect on suede shoes. So, routine dusting is good for suede tennis shoes.

When taking your shoes out of storage, follow the general cleaning guidelines detailed earlier in this chapter to prepare them for another season of activewear.

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