Welcome to Do It Right, a new series where we cover essential skills that everyone should know. From staying fit to caring for your gear and beyond, each Do It Right post calls on expert advice to help you learn something new across a wide range of topics.
Once you take your pristine running shoes out for their first romp, they’ll never be the same. Whether you run in dry or wet conditions on the road or on the trail, your running footwear accumulates dirt, dust, sweat, and other nasty gunk as you put miles on them.
Some of the signs of dirty running shoes are obvious: They’ll start to stink, or they’ll leave behind dirt on your floors. But the buildup of crud doesn’t just ruin your shoes’ aesthetics; it can actually degrade their technical properties, toos. Dirt and debris on your shoes can reduce their water resistance, breathability, and even the integrity of their materials. If you don’t keep your running shoes clean, you’re only shortening their lifespan.
Before you toss out your dirty running shoes to splurge on a new pair, consider giving the old ones new life with a deep clean. Once they’re shiny and bright again, they might have more miles left in them than you thought.
To gather the best advice for cleaning even the dirtiest running shoes, we talked to a master gear washer for her top tips. Follow these seven easy cleaning steps to revive your running shoes from the laces down to the outsoles.
The Skill: How to Wash Running Shoes
Washing your running shoes keeps your floors clean while prolonging the life of your kicks. Just like our skin, a shoe’s materials have pores. When those pores get blocked with gunk, the shoe becomes less breathable and weather-resistant. By washing them properly, you help restore the shoe’s performance features, which will make for more comfortable runs.
Anabelle McLean, master washer at Gear Washers in Denver, CO. Her company specializes in eco-friendly professional washing and re-waterproofing services for shoes and all kinds of gear. Customers can drop off items at the Denver gear shop FERAL or mail in orders. She’s also opening two more Colorado drop-off locations at Wilderness Exchange in Denver and Bivouac Coffee in Evergreen.
What You Need
A toothbrush or footwear brush, shoe-specific detergent (Nikwax and Grangers make footwear-specific cleaners), re-waterproofing agent (Nikwax and Grangers both offer these products), a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, and a container for washing.
How to Do It
- Remove the laces and insoles (if they’re removable) from your shoes. This will expose every surface for a thorough clean. “Laces can end up being the most dirty pieces because they have such frontal exposure to dirt,” McLean tells Men’s Journal. You’ll want to wash each piece separately.
- Create a solution of warm water and gear-specific laundry detergent. Mix the solution in a bathtub, big sink, or bucket. Drop your shoes, laces, and insoles into the solution. Let them soak for a few minutes.
- Wash your shoes. Using a brush, scrub out the grime on your laces, insoles, and shoes. Rinse, soak, and scrub them again. Do your best to rub out all the dirt spots, but don’t worry if you can’t get rid of every speck. “Even if you’re not getting out every visible deep-set stain, you’re still doing a massively good service to your shoes by doing some sort of washing,” McLean says. Generally, McLean recommends hand washing over machine washing because you have better control over the cleaning. Washing machines can destroy the integrity of the shoe, especially if you leave the laces on and they get wrapped around the machine’s center agitator. However, if you have a washing machine without a center agitator, she says you can try washing them on their own on a gentle cycle with a low-spin setting.
- Apply a re-waterproofing agent. If your shoes are waterproof, you’ll want to apply a re-waterproofing agent to ensure they continue to block moisture. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for application. Usually, McLean says, you’ll soak your shoes in the formula for a certain amount of time to restore their ability to repel water.
- Air dry your shoes. McLean suggests propping them up in your bathtub to let any excess water drain out. Avoid drying them in the sun—UV rays can break down the materials and waterproofing tech.
- Remove scuffs. To remove any remaining marks on the exterior of your shoes, use a product like a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. Gently rub the Magic Eraser on the stain to remove it. You can use the Magic Eraser on fabric, rubber, and even leather.
- Repeat as necessary. Voila! Your running shoes should be almost good as new. You can (and should) wash and re-waterproof them as often as needed. “The more you clean, the more you re-waterproof, the longer your shoes will last,” says McLean.
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