How To Wash Shoes In The Washer Without Ruining Them

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Jane Taylor in Life style

Last updated: 14 January 2020, 09:28 GMT

You might be wondering if it’s even safe to toss your shoes into the washer – Will the shoes break my washing machine? Will the washing machine break my shoes?

Are you six months into a new pair of white shoes and notice them already dulling? Instead of cursing yourself for buying white shoes in the first place, just chuck them in the washing machine! We’ll tell you how to wash shoes in the washer without completely destroying them.

While shoes don’t always have a tag on them telling you whether or not they’re safe for the washing machine (or maybe they’ve faded off by the time your shoes need a wash), you can usually use common sense to figure it out.

Are your shoes made of canvas or 'pleather' (fake leather)? They’ll be A-OK. Most sneakers and kids’ shoes are fine for the washer too since they’re made of machine-washable materials like cotton, nylon, or polyester.

Skip the machine for leather, suede, silk, or satin – you’re much better off cleaning those by hand with their specialized cleaning products or leaving them to a professional cleaner. Don’t try putting heels or boots in the washing machine either. You don’t want to end up ruining your shoes, so err on the side of safety.

Note: you can risk the washing machine with leather if the shoes are old and you don’t mind the leather creasing. It’s up to you.

Say Goodbye to the Dirty Shoes Blues


Wait! Don’t just take your shoes off of your feet and throw them into the washing machine! There are a few things you have to do before you get the washer involved.

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Necessary Preparations Before Your Shoes Go in the Washer

Gather your materials:

  1. Dirty shoes
  2. Laundry bag or pillowcase
  3. Liquid detergent
  4. Baking soda
  5. Brush (or a toothbrush you don’t intend to use anymore) and sponge
  6. Old towels
  7. Maybe: vinegar, essential oils, Shout or Resolve, newspaper

Now you’re ready to pre-wash your shoes.

Before the shoes go into the washer you’re going to want to give them a throughout scrub-over first.

Get as much of the dirt, scuffs, and debris off as you can by banging your shoes over a trash can and then running over them with your chosen brush, toothbrush, or sponge. If you want, you can also hit them with a laundry pre-treatment spray like Shout or Resolve.

Good, now take out the shoelaces. We know, it’ll be a pain to string them back in, but the whole process works better when you wash the shoes and shoelaces apart from each other. With the shoelaces out, the water and detergent can get into the eyelets and clean those out too.

Pop the laces in a laundry bag or pillowcase – you don’t want the laces getting tangled in your shoes or in the washing bin. You might also want to toss the shoes themselves into their own laundry bag or pillowcase, but you don’t have to.

You’re going to want to take out the insoles if they can be easily removed from the shoe. Washing the insoles separately from the rest of the shoe helps get the smell out, and you’ll definitely appreciate how much nicer your shoes will come out smelling when you get everything washed down properly.

The insoles are washed separately and by hand. Mix up warm water and liquid detergent in a bucket, bowl, or sink. Use your brush to scrub the insole free of dirt or stains, then clean off the detergent with a wet sponge.

If the insoles still stink, pop them into a bag with some baking soda, shake it around to cover the insoles and leave it overnight. That’ll usually take care of most odors.

If your feet have left some really funky smells on your insoles and they still smell, there’s another trick you can try. Soak the insoles in a mixture of 2-parts vinegar to 1-part water, then soak them again but in a mixture of hot water and baking soda with an added essential oil (like tea tree or pine oil). That ought to knock out even strong offending smells.

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It’s Washing Machine Time

Alright, it’s time to prep the washing machine to do its job.

Your washing machine has a bunch of settings, and not just any will do. You’ll want to pick the gentle cycle to reduce how much your shoes will be tossed and spun around in the bin. The gentle cycle spins the slowest of the options during both the wash and spin cycle and will subject your shoes to the least amount of friction.

You should use cold water because shoes are typically held together by glue – you don’t want your shoe to separate because the glue melted at higher water temperature. Coldwater will also keep the colors of your shoe from running or fading. Using the gentle cycle and cold water will minimize the possibility of your shoes warping in the wash.

Don’t throw your shoes into the bin alone, but you also shouldn’t just toss the shoes in with your weekend laundry day load of colors either. Your best call is to wash your shoes in the machine along with several old towels. Old towels are a specifically good call because newer towels might bleed dye or leave fuzzies stuck to your shoes – not ideal, but if you don’t have another choice then it’s not that huge of a problem.

The towels are meant to act as a buffer in the washing machine, so the shoes don’t clang around and make annoyingly loud noises while spinning. The towels also keep the washing machine bin balanced so it won’t go lopsided and make even more noise.

Again, you don’t have to use old towels – blankets, sweatshirts, or anything providing padding for your tumbling shoes is fine too. Just be aware that these clothing items will be spinning around with some dirty shoes, so don’t put any delicates or favorite shirts in there unless you’re prepared to suffer the consequences.

You’ll want to use liquid detergent instead of powdered detergent because the powdered detergent can get stuck inside your shoes. If you want to add some extra odor-removing powder pour in a little vinegar. You can also add pine oil (a product with at least 80% pine oil) to disinfect.

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To Dry or Not to Dry

Some people say to never put your shoes in the dryer, but others say it’s fine if you’re cautious about it.

The danger of machine-drying your shoes is in the heat used to dry them – The heat can warp the soles (or any part, really) of your shoes.

It’s definitely a safer bet to just air-dry your shoes, but if you’re in a rush or insist on using the dryer, here are some tips:

Run the dryer with settings for delicates, and low-heat. Consider wrapping your shoes in a towel. Keep your laces in the pillowcase or air-dry them separately for the same reason you did so in the washer – you don’t want them to get tangled in the drum. Check on your shoes throughout the dryer cycle to make sure they’re not warping from the heat. Go ahead and spank those suckers with a dryer sheet if you’re in the mood (we prefer ours to smell like lavender).

If you don’t want your shoes to go through any more rough-and-tumble than they have to, we understand. You can always just leave your shoes out to air-dry somewhere out of the way. It’ll take a longer time, but it’ll be safer on the integrity of your shoes.

If you dry them outside, don’t put them in direct sunlight or it might bleach or shrink your shoes. Maybe put your shoes under a table, chair, or stairway to dry. You also might consider stuffing your shoes with newspaper or a dry towel to help them hold their shape.

Dirty Shoes? No Worries


Congrats, now you know how to wash shoes in the washer! That wasn’t so bad, was it?

Instead of accepting the fate of scuffed up shoes or slaving over the sink with a toothbrush alone, let the washing machine do the bulk of the work.




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