Cleaning is fundamental to running shoes’ durability, but we like to pretend we can skip this step.
With a lot of myths surrounding this topic, we set ourselves to offer you a true guide that will extend the life of your running shoes while making them shine in your tomorrow’s morning run.
There are a lot of alternatives, and each runner has a favorite method which seems to work well. But many times the materials and properties of your running shoes can be damaged without you to notice it.
Is the washing machine your best option?
It is certainly the easiest and fastest option. With the years, brands have done some effort in this area and now most of the models can withstand a short, gentle wash in the washing machine.
If you are short of time, go ahead, but know this is not the best option to use every week, as the glues that bind the different foam rubbers are especially sensitive and suffer the most. Furthermore, the heat can deform the shoe and the spin and friction inside the washer drum may shred the mesh consistency.
A good trick to avoid at least the friction is to put one or two old towels to go with the running shoes. Still, the glues will suffer the same.
And the dishwasher?
For several years, some people have been using the dishwasher to wash their running shoes. Certainly, it is less aggressive than the washing machine, and putting them on the top shelf, with a short cycle at a low temperature can achieve good results.
Still, it remains an aggressive method for washing your footwear. Moreover, if the shoes have large amounts of dirt or mud, you will have to do a previous hand washing to avoid contaminating the dishwasher, defeating the purpose of using this method that is definitively not the best solution.
Some runners use quick stain removers or spray degreasers to clean their running shoes. Having tried that myself, the shoes clearly look clean, as if they were new (if it weren’t for the “wrinkles” caused by my foot strike). Mind you, this is worse than the washing machine. Their highly concentrated formulas can be very effective for cleaning your kitchen’s table but they’re too aggressive for footwear. Once again, they can dissolve binding materials and make the shoes lose their special (and often expensive) properties.
If you want them to look super clean, and for some reason you’re not using them again, it may be a good method. But if you want to run in them again, you better not.
Shoe Cleaning Kits
Shoe cleaning kits are usually available at specialty stores, especially for sneakers.
The problem is that these kits work very well for materials like leather or suede, but for running shoe uppers, which have to provide ventilation, they are not as suitable. However, this is perhaps the best option we’ve mentioned so far.
So How Should You Clean Your Running Shoes?
Hand-washing. Nothing beats a devoted 30 minutes hand-wash, with patience and care.
Of course, the starting point may be very different. You can have mildly dirty shoes from normal road use (which takes a while to be noticed) or you’ve just come back from a Mud Run, which can have worse effects in your shoes.
In the worst case scenario, you’ll have chunks of dried mud hanging in the sides of the shoe, dirt between the outsole lugs and a very stained upper.
You’ll think that your running shoes will never look the same, but with patience, you can work something out. In these cases, you should pre-wash them.
These are the steps to follow:
- Take the grit out (the one which is clearly protruding from the shoe) with a brush or with the hands if you’re not very scrupulous. We will not use water since otherwise the clay can stain other parts of the shoe.
- The key is to dry the shoe to harden the mud. It may take 6 hours from the moment you took them off, but this point is important to avoid more mud impregnation.
- When the shoe is dry, hit a wall with the side of the sole. Another way is to put them on and jump hard in our feet. Most of the grit will fall down.
- To get rid of the mud in the outsole, use something more precise: a ballpoint pen will do or even a paper clip.
- To remove the remaining dirt, take an old hair brush with stiffer bristles and gently brush the outsole. With this, you will remove the persisting dirt which you couldn’t remove by following the steps above. There’s no need for aggressive brushing. Don’t worry if the shoe turns brown because we will solve it in the next steps
Once we remove most of the clay/dirt we’re ready to do the actual washing.
To wash your running shoes there are plenty of methods, but this one is a quite popular method:
- Remove the laces. You will wash them in the washing machine or by hand.
- Remove the insoles, original or custom-made. You will also wash them by hand later.
- Get two buckets of water ready, which don’t need to be very large. One should have cold water and the other tepid water, in which we will later put detergent.
- Products and tools we’ll need: bicarbonate (optional), neutral detergent (a mild detergent containing no alkaline or bleaches), shoe brush, toothbrush, microfiber cloth and nylon sponge.
- We put the whole shoe in the bucket of cold water and brush it until most of the dirt is in the water. If the shoe is still dirty, we empty the bucket and fill it back and do the same process until the shoe remains decent.
- Add neutral detergent to another bucket and dip your toothbrush. Brush the same shoe without being aggressive, especially the mesh.
- The nylon sponge may be unnecessary unless you have tough stains.
- Rub the interior of the shoe with the microfiber cloth, after you wet it with water and detergent.
- While doing 6, 7 and 8, we will take a cloth with warm water to absorb the detergent.
- Repeat the previous four steps until you’re happy with the result. They do not have to look new, but decent.
Many people wrap the shoes in newspapers, but this is seldom a good idea – the ink in the wet paper will be passed on to the shoe. We think it’s best to use absorbent paper towels in order to avoid that.
- Form a base to place the shoes, with at least 2 layers of this paper.
- Make “paper balls” and put them inside the toe box to absorb moisture.
- Let them dry naturally and preferably in the shade. Never put your shoes in the laundry dryer machine.
Insoles and sock liners are not usually stained, but they absorb all the small of the foot and often become unusable before the end of the life of the shoe.
If they are dirty, you should clean them by rubbing them with a shoe brush wet in warm water and mild detergent. Despite the huge variety of insoles these days, this method has proven to work in most of them.
But the odor is a different issue. Actually, this is caused by “stinky bacteria”. If we eliminate it, we’ll also get rid of the smell. There are several ways to eliminate the bacteria:
- With powerful antibacterial products: expensive but efficient.
- Rubbing with a brush dipped in a solution of water, vinegar, baking soda or detergent. You call spray it with the same solution and then brush it.
- Put them in the washing machine: not very effective but quick and easy.
- Put them in a freezer bag and in the freezer for 2 days. The cold will kill the bacteria.
After this process, especially if they have been wet, you should dry them naturally and in the shade, just like the shoes.
We hope this guide will serve to extend the life of your shoes!