Running shoe cleaning and maintenance

Maintaining and cleaning your running shoes is a good way to make them last that little bit longer and get more enjoyment out of your purchase. Maintaining and cleaning running shoes is a little different to how you might clean casual pumps or office shoes – you’re working with different materials which require different treatment.

Most running shoes use synthetic fibres, specific gluing techniques and foams, so it’s important to take special care when cleaning them – DON’T just chuck them into a washing machine!

Let’s look at how to clean running shoes – including the do’s and the don’ts.

Everything you need to know about cleaning running shoes

By and large, there are three main kinds of cleaning you to want to focus on when it comes to cleaning running shoes:

  • Cleaning muddy soles: Mud-caked soles make it harder to grip, so they need to be cleaned regularly, especially if you do trail running.
  • Stained uppers: The uppers of most running shoes are made of lightweight mesh (although canvas and even some kinds of leather may occasionally be used). Run through too many puddles or mud splatters and they’ll start to discolour.
  • Inner sole odour: Well-loved shoes can get a little smelly over time, Cleaning your inner soles will help with this.
  • If you’ve decided your shoes need a bit of sprucing up, it’s normally a good idea to wait until they are dry – you don’t want to spread damp mud around and make your job harder! A dry shoe is generally easier to clean.

How to clean running shoes: the equipment you’ll need

To start cleaning running shoes, you need some basic equipment:

  • A brush with soft bristles: A vegetable brush or even an old toothbrush will do, as will a soft-bristled shoe brush
  • A sink or container with lukewarm water
  • A mild detergent for the uppers – unless they are made of GORE-TEX, which requires a special shoe cleaner
  • A mild detergent for your inners, or, alternatively, baking soda and water mixed into a paste, or a 1:2 distilled vinegar/water mix
  • Sponge
  • Paper towels

How to clean running shoe soles:

Grab your soft-bristle brush and gently scrape the dried mud from your shoes. If any remains, dip the brush in warm water to help ease through any especially tough mud. Once you’ve got the worst out of the lugs, grab a sponge and some warm soapy water and clean off the soles, before patting dry with paper towels.

How to clean running shoe uppers:

The upper is the part of the shoe which wraps over and around your foot. The way you clean the upper depends on the material it is made from (this information is normally noted inside the tongue).

  • If your running shoes are made from a lightweight mesh, canvas or fabric: Grab a sponge and dip it in soapy water. Gently scrub the material before wiping off with clean water. These kinds of materials require gentle scrubbing – you definitely don’t want to submerge them in your sink or bucket all at once.
  • If your running shoe uppers are made from suede, leather or nubuck: Soap and water can permanently damage or discolour these materials – it’s strongly advised to purchase cleaning products specifically designed for this task.

How to clean running shoe insoles:

Insoles can become smelly, primarily due to the build-up of bacteria. Gently remove the insoles from your shoes and brush them gently on both the top and underside with a soft-bristled brush that’s been dipped in warm soapy water. Next, clean off any residual dirt and soap with a wet sponge (the vinegar or baking soda mixtures described above also work). Just as with the rest of the shoe, you should avoid submerging insoles in water as this can damage both the foam and the shape.

How to clean running shoe laces:

Remove the laces from their eyelets and brush off any mud first with a dry, soft-bristled brush. If they are still dirty, submerge the laces in warm, soapy water and continue using the brush to scrub off any stains.

Drying your running shoes

Once you’ve finished cleaning your running shoes:

  • Thoroughly air-dry your insoles separately; put them back in your shoes only when you have followed the next steps and the entire shoe and sole is dry
  • Stuff the shoes with tissue paper or paper towels to absorb water for several minutes, remove, and then air dry
  • Hang laces up by a window
  • You might also consider sprinkling a small amount of baking soda into the shoes to absorb odour and prevent its return.

Do not attempt to dry your running shoes by placing them on a radiator or, worse, in a clothes dryer or washing machine’s drying cycle. This heat is likely to damage the glue which binds parts of the shoes together and could cause permanent damage.

Regular maintenance can help your shoes run farther

By maintaining and cleaning running shoes, you not only make them look better but you also delay any damage which residual bacteria and grime will do to them. This means they last longer, and the delicate materials used in their construction are less likely to be damaged. While your cleaning will depend on how often and where you run, it’s worth spending 15 minutes giving them a quick clean every two to three months to make sure you get the most out of your investment.