White sneakers are everything that is good in the world. They go with basically everything, they are always in style, and they make everything you wear feel just a touch cooler. That is, at least, when those white sneakers are actually white. The obvious and detrimental downside to a great white sneaker is that it gets dirty and it gets dirty fast.
There are a few simple things you can do to make sure they stay looking fresh. Don’t wear them near dirt, mud, or any kind of sketchy grime. Don’t wear them in the rain (especially canvas!) or just after the rain. Puddles are not your friend, not in white sneakers they’re not. White workout sneakers are pretty, too, but might we suggest staying away from outdoor runs and keeping them for indoor workouts only.
There is also the issue of fabrics on the shoe. Maybe you manage to keep the uppers clean but the soles look like trash. Or maybe you have some scuffing around the toes, but the tongue and heels look great. When it comes to keeping sneakers clean, it’s important to take note of these things. Is the sneaker made of leather, canvas, or some other material? Is the sole rubber or foam? And is every part of the sneaker a single fabric, or will you be looking to spot treat different areas for different reasons?
Take a minute to survey your sneaker stains—or sneakers you would like to never become stained—and take note. Here’s how to clean your white sneakers, according to experts.
How to Clean White Leather Sneakers
White leather sneakers are the easiest of the fabric bunch to clean and keep clean. Bernie Gross, the creative director at Extra Butter, recommends sticking to his favorite: Jason Markk sneaker cleaner. “It’s become the industry standard for footwear maintenance,” he says. “And being that it’s almost completely all natural and biodegradable, it’s safe on all materials.” There are some household DIYs you can test out, if you’re feeling up to the challenge: mix water with baking soda, use laundry detergent, or even spot clean with toothpaste—just make sure it also has baking soda in it.
The experts at Koio recommend spot cleaning your shoes before going all out. Not only is this a good way to get an even clean, but it also ensures whatever cleaner you’re using works well with the fabric. Megan Defeo, Koio’s marketing associate, recommends using Crep’s cleaning kit—the cleaning solution, a microfiber towel, and a brush—for the most productive clean. Brush the diluted solution into the leather gently. No. Scrubbing. Going too hard can break up the leather.
Wil Wispin, the U.S. Brand Director at Sneakersnstuff, adds mild dish soap into the mix: “I love a good microfiber cloth with a little mild dish soap—not too wet,” he says. “Get one hand inside of the shoe and wipe away, putting a little more elbow grease on the soles where you can scrub harder. Wipe with a dry cloth or towel.
As for the Magic Eraser trick you might’ve seen around the internet? Save it for the rubber soles and skip it on the leather. “Magic Erasers contain chemicals that can be too harsh and even ruin the natural finish on the sneaker,” Gross says. “You want to preserve that varnish as much as you can to keep the integrity of the leather.” That goes for other household cleaning products that might seem to work but will really do more damage.
“When I first met my current girlfriend, she was Windex-ing her white shoes,” says Gross. “They barely made it 3 months, the leather basically started peeling. They deserved better.”
How to Clean White Canvas Sneakers
White canvas sneakers need a little bit different of a treatment. The canvas is porous, so the same leather pastes and cleaners are going to seep into the stains instead of pulling them out. “I’ve seen YouTube’s of people suggesting to let the paste dry out in the sun for a full effect,” says Gross. “That’s basically asking for the baking soda to try and get caught in the tight weave of the canvas.”
Instead? “Do a dry pass on the canvas first with a sturdy brush to get any loose dirt off,” says Gross. “When using a wet solution, keep the water content low so the canvas doesn’t soak it up too much. Work quick, and dry off as much as you can with a fiber towel.”
How to Prevent White Sneaker Stains
Of course, the best way to keep white sneakers clean is to prevent them from getting spotty in the first place. Koio likes shielding them with Crep’s protect spray, which helps avert dirt, stains, and liquid from getting in.
Make sure your shoes are dry, spray from 20 cm away, let them dry for 10 minutes, and repeat. Let the sneakers breathe for a day before wearing them again, and make sure they’re dry before you do.
Also on the list of “hacks” to leave on the internet: drying via direct sunlight or using a hairdryer to get the shoes drier faster. Koio experts say it can cause the materials to crease, crack, or dry out.
Other Tips for Sneaker Maintenance
White shoes are a good test in keeping your clothing maintenance in check. We buy nice things and we take care of them. Good care! Ready to level up? Koio recommends conditioning your sneakers once a month to help them live a long and fruitful life. Put a little bit on a cloth and work it into the leather.
For workout sneakers? Wispin sometimes puts them in the washing machine with a towel and a cold setting, regular detergent. Do this at your own risk—and definitely don’t put them in the drier.
For a quick refresh—and a total cleaning overhaul—don’t skip on the power of a fresh new pair of laces. Laces often look beat up real fast and are basically impossible to get 100% clean. A new pair is worth the money, every time.
Lastly, Wispin recommends the most tried and true method of keeping white sneakers white: “Literally, physically, keep everyone at arm’s length. Just a basic reinforcement of personal space.” It’s good for public health and good for your sneakers.