How to Clean Stinky Sneakers In the Washing Machine
May 26, 2023
If you break into a cold sweat when you’re asked to remove your stinky sneakers at the airport or a friend’s house, it could be time to rethink how you treat odor in your shoes. Fortunately, with the help of a few simple tricks, you can wash away that ripeness. The best part? You can safely do so in your washing machine.
According to experts, you won't break your washing machine if you clean your sneakers in it. Actually, the biggest risk is to your shoes. Before you start, confirm that your sneakers will tolerate being machine-washed. This mainly comes down to the materials your sneakers are made of—cotton, polyester, and canvas are all washer-safe.
Remember that certain shoes should never make it into a washing machine. Leather sneakers are more popular than ever, but you should spot-clean those Veja or Golden Goose shoes instead. (Our guide to cleaning white sneakers can help.) For this round of testing, we washed white Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars and fabric Nike Blazers and had great results.
Experts generally agree that washing machines are better for odor removal than for stain removal. They recommend that you try to remove tough stains, such as mud or motor oil, by hand before resorting to the washing machine. There is one exception: If stains are particularly widespread or saturated, and spot-cleaning is barely making a difference, use the washing machine. Just don’t expect perfect results.
If it seems like your stinky sneakers are a good candidate for the washing machine, here’s how to do this safely.
First, remove the laces from the shoe—this will help ensure that all of the grime washes away. Using a small scrub brush, remove any excess dirt or gunk from the soles.
Then place a small amount of abrasive all-purpose cleaner (we used Soft Scrub) on the non-fabric parts of the shoe (sole, toe, heel), and use a microfiber cloth to wipe away any stains.
If the fabric insoles of your shoes are removable, remove them. Place the insoles, laces, and shoes into a mesh garment bag. This helps keep the noise of shoes being washed to a minimum.
Along with the garment bag containing your shoes, add two towels to the washing-machine drum (to further muffle the noise). To help fight odors and enhance cleaning, we added a tablespoon of oxygenated bleach (in this case, one made by Dirty Labs) directly to the machine.
A delicate cycle will help ensure your shoes are gently washed. Delicate cycles have slower spin cycles (or sometimes no spin cycle at all); this will also help reduce noise.
Be sure to select the coldest temperature available for the wash. Don’t worry—a cold cycle will still remove odors. Though it is commonly believed that heat is best for eliminating odor-causing bacteria, modern laundry detergents contain enzymes that work to remove odors regardless of water temperature.
Then add detergent to the machine’s dispenser. We recommend using liquid laundry detergent for this project, instead of powder detergent (which doesn’t always dissolve fully in cold water).
Finally, start the machine, and relax while your washing machine does the dirty (and stinky!) work for you.
After the wash cycle ends, you may be tempted to throw your shoes into the dryer. Don’t! According to our sources, air-drying your sneakers is a better approach. The glues, rubber, and foam used to make shoes are likely temperature-sensitive, and a dryer’s heat could ruin them.
You can air-dry your shoes, insoles, and laces outdoors or on the ledge of an open window. If that is not an option, place them in front of a fan. Be sure to avoid drying them in damp and dark areas where mildew will flourish, lest you undo your efforts.
When your shoes, insoles, and laces are fully dry, place the insoles back in the shoes and lace them up. The next time you remove your shoes, you can breathe easy. (And if you are a fan of going sockless, perhaps consider some no-show socks instead. Your nose will thank you.)
This article was edited by Brittney Ho, Ingrid Skjong, and Sofia Sokolove.
Dan Conrad, mechanical engineer and appliance expert, email interview, July 20, 2023
The fundamentals of automatic washing machine design based upon dynamic constraints. D. Conrad, 1994, Engineering
Andrea Barnes is a staff writer reporting on large cleaning appliances for Wirecutter. She previously worked as a research analyst. A number of avoidable appliance mishaps have led her to a passion for proper appliance care.
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