How to Clean White Shoes

A person holding up a pair of clean white sneakers.

First, a word of caution: White shoes, no matter how hard you try, will never be as white as the day you bought them. It’s the Murphy’s Law of light-colored footwear: The whiter the shoe, the sooner it will resemble a Dalmatian puppy at a mud farm. However, you can keep them closer to white longer by taking care of them.

Cleaning White Shoes

  1. whiteshoes-1Clean white shoes promptly. At your first opportunity, clean them like there is no tomorrow. The longer they have to set, the harder they are to clean. That equals more headache and frustration for you, and I am all about your avoiding headache and frustration. It will also mean that the tips below will actually work, and you won’t beat me with sticks.
  2. whiteshoes-2How to clean white cloth shoes. Remove the laces and inserts (assuming you have them). If you are REALLY hurting for cleaning supplies, and you are a fan of lemons and/or limes, you can use a mixture of water and lime or lemon juice. A real fruit is preferred instead of the store bought variety because the artificial dyes can stain the shoe. You don’t need much: three parts water to one part juice. Pour this into a container, wet a rag, and wipe down the shoe. Use an old toothbrush to focus on any problem areas. Rinse the rag and use it to wipe the solution off the shoes. With cloth shoes, I do recommend you dry the shoe with a soft, dry towel. If you have bleach (and I recommend the Seventh Generation brand as opposed to name brand bleaches; name brand bleach is very harsh and can damage your shoe), add a capful of this to the solution, as well.
  3. whiteshoes-3How to clean white canvas shoes. Once again, remove the laces and inserts. Then, fill a jar or glass halfway with water, add one full cap of bleach, and roughly the same amount of dish detergent. (Once again, use the Seventh Generation products in both cases as mixing products can be hazardous.) If you like, take a lemon wedge and squeeze its juice into the solution. The citric acid aids in the cleaning, and it smells nice, too. First, take a cloth and rub both shoes down with your cleaning solution. Again, an old toothbrush dipped in the solution will aid scrubbing any particularly dirty areas. Once complete, rinse out your cloth and wipe away the solution. Allow the shoes to air dry.
  4. whiteshoes-4How to clean white leather shoes. Leather shoes are probably the easiest of the batch to clean. Repeat the steps cited for white canvas shoes, but with two exceptions: A) Do not add lemon juice, and B) Take care to dry the shoes thoroughly with a soft towel when you are done. DO NOT let your white leather shoes air dry. Leather tends to shrink, crack, and become brittle as it slowly dries, so save yourself the headache.
  5. whiteshoes-5How to clean white suede shoes. If you read the section on How to Clean Suede Shoes, you’re not far off. As a last resort should your white suede be stubborn (what have you been doing?), you can apply white vinegar to the shoe using a slightly wet cloth. When you apply, be certain to dab the suede. DO NOT RUB. Of course, the trouble with this method is that your feet smell like vinegar. At least they look fantastic! In the case of staining, it’s probably best to get your white suede shoes professionally cleaned.
  6. whiteshoes-6How to clean white shoelaces. Honestly, the easiest solution is to purchase new laces. However, if that isn’t in your budget, then you can try the following: Using the solution mentioned above (half a container of water, cap of bleach, cap of dish detergent), once you’re done cleaning your shoes, let your laces soak in the solution until your shoes have dried, which should take approximately two hours. Remove the laces from the solution and thoroughly rinse them under cool tap water. Feel free to squeeze them to expedite the process. You can leave them to air dry, but that tends to make them stiff. If you wish, place the laces inside a sock and run them through the clothes dryer with a dryer sheet with your next load of laundry.

A Few More Tips For Cleaning White Shoes

Never ever dry your shoes in the sun. The heat and light can cause your shoes to harden, shrink, fade, or explode! Okay, maybe they won’t explode, but the rest are valid. You’ll also note that I did not touch on cleaning satin shoes. This is largely because it is covered on the How to Clean Shoes page. To be honest, if you’ve sullied your white satin shoes, there’s not much you can do beyond taking them to a professional cleaner or buying a new pair.

Also, in terms of cloth, canvas, and leather shoes, if you don’t have all the ingredients to the suggested cleaning solution (water, bleach, dish detergent), you can instead use a mixture of water and baking soda, and clean the shoe with an old toothbrush. Be certain not to scrub too hard or you may scuff your shoes.

Needless to say, anytime you use a toothbrush for these purposes, it is not (repeat NOT) recommended that you then use it to brush your teeth. While it may make your teeth white, shiny, and cleaner than they’ve ever been, it will also likely kill you.

Natural Products for Cleaning White Shoes

whiteshoes-aLemons and limes can clean white shoes. The citric acid in these fruits works just as well as chemicals, depending on the level of soiling, and it doesn’t take much. Plus, it has a pleasing aroma, should you not care if your feet smell like Sprite. Combine 1 cup of water and 2 Tbsp of either lemon or lime juice in a container. Actual fruit is recommended as it does not contain an artificial dye. Use an old toothbrush or cloth to clean the shoe. Rinse the cloth, wipe off the solution, and dry.

whiteshoes-bBaking soda is a friend of your white shoes. Not only can it help you clean white shoes, but you can brush your teeth with it. You should probably not use the same toothbrush on your teeth as you would with your shoes. That could kill you. Or just be really gross. Mix several tablespoons of baking soda with just enough water to make a thin paste. Apply to the shoe with a toothbrush, rinse with a damp cloth, and dry with a clean cloth.

whiteshoes-cWhite vinegar shoes? Vinegar is usable on suede in a pinch and will work on leather or canvas shoes, as well. It is not recommend for cloth shoes; once the vinegar soaks in, you’ll never get rid of the smell. Put a very small amount of vinegar (less than a teaspoon) on a water-dampened cloth. Dab suede; rub canvas or leather. Rinse the rag and use to wipe the vinegar away. You can always find Vinegar on Amazon.

About the Author

Adam Gottfried