A Pile Of White Sneakers
A Pile Of White Sneakers

Clean Shoes, Can’t Lose: How To Make Your Sneakers Look Brand New

Words by Jody Hume | 5.19.20

Fresh sneakers are arguably one of life’s greatest pleasures. Slipping into a pair of clean shoes can make you feel like you’re able to conquer the world. But of course, that like-new feeling wears off after awhile. As time goes on and you become more comfortable in your sneakers, it’s easy for them to end up in a heap by the front door, or cast under the bed in a moment of exhaustion. If you’re looking for a little longevity in your sneakers, it’s time to change your ways and clean up your act. 

Before you decide to stash your sneakers on the shelf like a trophy, though, The RealReal’s Sneaker & Streetwear Valuation Manager Amir Azarcon has a message for sneaker veterans and initiates alike. “Wear your sneakers!” he proclaims. “You can prolong the inevitable, but eventually all sneakers will deteriorate over time. Wearing them and caring for them is the best way to experience them.” (And when you’re done experiencing your clean shoes? Consign, of course.

Whether you plan to pass down a prized pair of Jordans to your grandchildren or to flip the Yeezys you wore a handful of times, one thing’s for sure: you have to keep them clean. And luckily, the art of maintaining clean shoes is not hard to master — especially with Azarcon’s expert tips. Read on to find out which shoes can be tossed in the washing machine, the kind of magic a humble eraser can work on your kicks and how cedar inserts can lead to a longer (sneaker) life.


How To Clean Shoelaces

Before cleaning any kind of sneaker, remove the laces and toss them in with a normal load of laundry. “The best way to clean your laces is to throw them in the washer with some OxiClean, or soak them in warm water with a little detergent,” says Azarcon. “That’s it. Then hang them to dry after washing! Super easy.” If you happen to have suede or leather shoelaces, apply the care instructions for spot-cleaning suede and leather shoes to the laces.


How To Clean Leather Sneakers

Leather sneakers are extremely durable, but every now and then they need a little TLC. “Magic erasers are the best for cleaning a leather sneaker’s midsoles and outsoles,” says Azarcon, “but if you don’t have any on hand, you can use common household materials to do the job.”

If you’re looking to deep-clean your sneakers, you’ll need a number of materials. “Gather a cloth or towel, a toothbrush, white toothpaste, a bit of baking soda, dish soap, acetone-based nail polish remover and a bowl of warm water,” says Azarcon. “Depending on the condition of your sneakers, you may need to use all of these to make your sneakers look brand new again.”

Remove the laces on your leather shoes and brush off any loose dirt on the sneakers. Mix warm water and dish soap in a bowl. Dip a cloth in the mixture, wring out any excess water and wipe down the leather. To clean stitching, seams and other crevices that hold onto dirt, dip a toothbrush into the solution and shake off any excess. “Brush gently, don’t scrub too hard and wipe off any soapy remainder with a cloth,” advises Azarcon. Let your sneakers air-dry in a space that’s room temperature, and avoid direct sunlight or heaters as these can cause damage to the leather.

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Stumped on how to buff out those unattractive scuffs? “Clean heavy scuffs or marks with a fifty-fifty mix of acetone or acetone-based nail polish remover and water,” says Azarcon. “Apply the mixture with a cotton ball to gently remove the scuff.” If you’re fresh out of nail polish remover, toothpaste is an effective substitute. Apply a small amount of white, non-gel toothpaste to the scuff on your sneaker and gently rub with a cloth. If your leather sneakers have grease or oil stains, sprinkle a little baking soda on the stain and rub it into the leather with a slightly damp cloth. Allow the powder to absorb the oil from the leather for a couple of hours, and then use a dry cloth to remove any remaining baking soda.


How To Clean Suede Sneakers

The most important thing to remember about cleaning your suede sneakers? Don’t use water. Suede is the buttery reverse side of a leather hide, but it is relatively delicate and sensitive to water. Dry methods work best for maintaining the proper texture and color of your sneakers, since water can permanently stain suede. If your sneakers are in particularly bad shape, though, a dedicated suede cleaner or white distilled vinegar can come to the rescue. 

To get started, remove the laces on your sneakers and gather your materials: a suede brush or a brush with soft bristles, a suede eraser (a pencil eraser works too), white distilled vinegar or suede cleaner and a clean towel. Make sure your sneakers are completely dry, then brush the suede in a single direction to loosen any dirt or debris. Use the eraser to buff out light marks or remove set-in stains, then use the brush to restore the nap of the suede. For suede sneakers with water stains or caked-on debris, you have two options, depending on what materials you have available. You can either use a suede cleaner and follow the directions on the bottle, or apply a small amount of vinegar to the towel and lightly apply it to the affected area. Let your shoes dry before giving them a final brush.

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Use wet wipes to clean your sneaker’s rubber soles, carefully avoiding the suede as you go. “Unscented baby wipes are great for a quick wipe-down of your soles post-wear before putting your sneakers back in the shoebox,” notes Azarcon. “Light maintenance goes a long way towards keeping your sneakers fresh and will lessen the amount of deep cleaning you have to do.”


How To Clean Canvas & Coated Canvas Sneakers

Canvas sneakers are a classic footwear staple, and are extremely easy to care for. “Canvas sneakers are good to go for a machine wash, but make sure you remove the insoles before washing,” notes Azarcon. “Hang-dry your shoes or lay them flat to dry, since the high heat of a dryer will destroy them.”

If there’s little wear on your shoes or you’re just hesitant to put your sneakers through a full cycle, spot-treating them can be just as effective. “A combination of detergent or dish soap and warm water applied with a toothbrush should do the trick,” says Azarcon. “This combination works well on pretty much any sneaker material you’ll come across that isn’t leather or suede.”

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Though coated canvas was once a rare material for shoes, a variety of luxury brands have used the material to give everyday sneakers an elevated — and surprisingly durable — upgrade. Coated canvas is waterproof, so it’s another material that shouldn’t give you much trouble when caring for your shoes. “Use a soft cotton cloth dampened with water and a mild bar soap for spot-cleaning coated canvas sneakers,” explains Azarcon. “You can also use a pencil eraser to gently scrub off dirt and stains. Rub gently and make sure the eraser tip is clean before using it. And when all else fails, you can always use a shoe cleaning solution such as Jason Markk.”


How To Clean Knit Sneakers

Sneakers that are primarily made of a knit or mesh material are a dream to clean. “Generally speaking, any sneaker with a knit upper is machine washable,” says Azarcon. “Similarly to canvas sneakers, simply remove the insoles before washing and remember — never put your knit sneakers in the dryer. If you prefer not to machine-wash your sneakers, you can also use a detergent or dish soap and warm water mixture to spot-clean them.”

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Let your sneakers air-dry before wearing. And last but not least, keep your mesh or knit sneakers in top condition by avoiding anything that can distress the material. “Be wary of velcro, sharp edges or similar hazards around any sneaker with a knit upper, as this can damage the knit,” says Azarcon.


How To Keep New (And Newly Cleaned) Kicks Looking Fresh

There’s nothing quite like a new pair of sneakers fresh out of the box. To keep pristine shoes looking as pristine as possible, use a sneaker protector spray. “To keep new sneakers looking brand new, spray them with a sneaker protectant as soon as you take them out of the box,” notes Azarcon. “There are a number of sneaker protectants on the market, and it can be difficult to know what to use. I recommend going with brand-specific cleaning products first. For example, New Balance makes a sneaker protectant and cleaning formula that works really well on their suede sneakers. Reshoevn8r, Jason Markk, and Crep Protect all make solid products. In general, look for something that repels dirt and liquid but is also safe for your shoe’s material.” 

Did you transform a pair of sneakers from mud-caked to spotless? Want to ensure your hard work doesn’t go to waste? Sneaker protectant can still save the day. “If you want to apply sneaker protector spray to a freshly cleaned pair, wait until the sneakers are completely dry before applying the spray,” says Azarcon.

Get started by placing your sneakers on newspaper in a well-ventilated area. “To get a thorough coating, hold the can six to ten inches away from the sneaker and apply generous amounts of spray with even passes over the upper,” instructs Azarcon. “Reapply every four to six weeks if you wear them regularly.”


How To Store Your Sneakers

Storing your sneakers correctly can help preserve your sneakers (and help you avoid frequent deep cleanings). “Best practices for storing your sneakers at home include keeping the box,” says Azarcon. “The box gives your sneakers a home and protects them from dirt and dust, and I personally find it easier to store sneakers when they’re in boxes. Also make sure to store your sneakers away from humid places and direct sunlight. The ideal location for sneaker storage is a cool, dry place. Desiccants such as silica gels are sold in packets and these can be placed in the shoebox to help absorb moisture.”

If your sneakers tend to lose their shape, or if they were previously stored in a less-than-ideal space, consider using a cedar shoe tree. “This really comes down to personal preference, but there are definitely sneakerheads out there who swear by cedar shoe trees,” notes Azarcon. “The shoe tree helps the sneakers retain their shape while the cedar absorbs moisture and has antibacterial, deodorizing properties, making it ideal for storing sneakers. If you’re on a budget, you can stuff your sneakers with newspaper, which will also absorb moisture and help maintain your sneakers’ shape.”


Flex, Clean, Consign

Some sneakers are grails that will live in your collection (and your Instagram feed) forever. Some, frankly, are not. If you finally decide to make room in your rotation for something new, it’s only natural to want the biggest return for your initial investment. Trust us: putting in the effort to properly clean and care for your sneakers will pay off. “Pristine sneakers with tags attached sell 10% faster than sneakers in excellent, very good or good condition, and they’re also priced 35% higher on average,” notes Senior Men’s Merchandising Manager Aaron McWilliams. “Sneakers in excellent condition that show no signs of wear sell 8% faster than sneakers in very good or good condition, and they’re also priced 10% higher on average.” Not to mention that you can now earn up to 80% commission for any sneaker priced $195+ on TRR. Eyeing a forthcoming drop? Tired of those trending kicks that are now ubiquitous? Looking to swap a rare release for something new and equally rare? Sell those freshly cleaned sneakers and earn your shopping money.

Sell your sneakers. Get paid.

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