You can put most athletic shoes and sneakers in the washing machine, using a gentle cycle and cold water. Always check the care label before attempting to wash them. Shoes made of leather, suede, vinyl, and other delicate materials can’t go in the washer, as it can damage them.
Your shoes are the dirtiest thing you wear—and it’s not even close. Stylish as they may be, your shoes pick up all sorts of nasty bacteria, viruses, and germs while you walk around. One study found that the average shoe is covered with 421,000 bacteria. Not to mention the stench…
Did we scare you into throwing all of your shoes into the washing machine? Not so fast. While certain shoes can handle a wash cycle, others need to be hand-washed.
We don’t want you to ruin your favorite pair of kicks. That’s why we made this guide to help you decide whether your shoes can go in the washer, and if so, what steps to follow.
Can You Put Shoes in the Washer?
Not all shoes can go in the washing machine—it depends on the material they’re made of and the care instructions from the manufacturer.
Generally speaking, you can put athletic shoes and sneakers made from canvas and nylon in the washer—those materials can handle the rumbling and agitation during the wash cycle. If you do put your shoes in the washer, it’s best to use a gentle cycle and cold water to preserve their shape and texture. You can also place them in a pillowcase or mesh laundry bag for extra protection.
However, you should avoid machine washing shoes made from leather, suede, vinyl, and other delicate materials. The combination of water, detergent, and agitation can warp the shoes, affect their color, and alter their texture. Instead, you should hand-wash these shoes according to their care instructions
4 Types of Shoes You Can Put in the Washer
These types of shoes can withstand water, suds, and tumbling inside your washing machine:
1. Canvas sneakers
2. Athletic or running shoes with mesh or fabric uppers
3. Polyester shoes
4. Slip-on shoes with fabric uppers
5 Types of Shoes You Shouldn’t Put in the Washer
These shoes need to be hand-washed or spot-treated only, otherwise you might have to replace them:
1. Leather shoes, including boots, heels, and Oxfords
2. Suede shoes, including loafers
3. Vinyl shoes
4. Rubber shoes
5. Boots with fur or other linings
How to Wash Shoes in the Washing Machine
Once you determine your shoes are machine washable, follow this step-by-step guide to get them looking (and smelling) like they’re brand new.
Pro tip: Never wash shoes with your clothes, towels, or bedsheets, otherwise that nasty dirt and bacteria can transfer onto your garments. Always run a separate cycle for shoes.
1. Remove the Shoelaces and Insoles
Before loading your shoes into the washer, remove the laces and insoles. Laces can get tangled when they tumble around the machine, and insoles are often too delicate. Instead, clean the laces and insoles by hand, using liquid dish soap or liquid laundry detergent and a soft brush.
2. Scrub the Soles
The soles are the dirtiest part of your shoes. Accordingly, try to remove as much loose dirt and debris as you can before putting them in the washer. This will help make the cleaning process more thorough and efficient.
We recommend using an old toothbrush to scrub the scuff marks off your soles, but an old rag works too.
3. Put Your Shoes in an Old Pillowcase
Even if your shoes are sturdy, they can still be vulnerable to wear and tear from your washing machine, especially if you have an agitator. Placing them inside a pillowcase (or a mesh garment bag) adds an extra layer of protection when they inevitably knock around the washer drum.
A pillowcase or bag will also minimize the noise from your shoes bouncing around the washer. (Your housemates/neighbors will thank you for that).
4. Add a Laundry Detergent Pod
Many liquid detergents have artificial dyes that can easily stain your shoes. Instead, wash your shoes with a dye-free laundry pod. This way, you won’t have to worry about measuring the right dose or finding neon blue streaks on your favorite shoes.
Want your shoes to smell as good as they look? Wash them with Laundry Sauce: the best-smelling laundry detergent pods on the planet. From French Saffron to Australian Sandalwood, these pods give a whole new meaning to the phrase “fresh kicks.”
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5. Select the Right Wash Cycle
Use a gentle or delicate cycle to wash your shoes. This will put less stress on the seams of your shoes and keep their shape intact.
As far as water temperature goes, always use cool or cold water. Hot water can shrink or warp your shoes—and those problems can’t be fixed. Don’t worry: modern laundry detergent formulas clean just as well in cold water as they would in warm water.
6. Air Dry Your Shoes
Take your shoes out of the washer as soon as the cycle is complete. Leaving damp shoes in the washer for too long can make them reek of mildew, and that can be a headache to fix.
It’s almost always best to air-dry your shoes (ideally in direct sunlight) instead of putting them in the dryer. The heat and constant tumbling in the dryer can damage shoe glue and warp their shape.
Can You Put Shoes In the Dryer?
This is a hard no—you should never put shoes in the dryer. The combination of high heat, friction, and tumbling can damage your shoes, especially if they contain leather, rubber, or certain synthetic materials. Putting your shoes in the dryer can also cause shrinkage, warping, and weakening of the stitching or adhesives that hold your shoes together.
Instead of putting your shoes in the dryer, let them sit out to air dry. Pro tip: Stuff your shoes with clean rags or a shoe tree to help maintain their shape and absorb moisture.
You’re (Probably) Not Washing Your Shoes Often Enough
Your shoes may be stylish, but they’re also disgusting. According to a 2016 study, 90% of shoe bacteria transfer directly to the floor on first contact. And let’s not forget about the horrific sweaty stench inside your tennis shoes.
We’re not saying you need to wash your shoes as often as your underwear or bath towels. But if you wear a pair of shoes multiple times a week, you should consider cleaning them at least once a month, even if it’s just scrubbing the soles with soapy water.
When you’re ready for your shoes to look (and smell) their best, look no further than Laundry Sauce.