How to clean white shoes, according to cleaning experts

Keep your white shoes looking brand new with these cleaning tips

A woman tying up shoelaces on a white pair of Converse
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Whether they're made from canvas, leather or mesh, this is how to clean white shoes - according to the experts.

If you're a fan of Mrs Hinch cleaning tips, then you're probably already a whizz when it comes to sprucing up household items. From how to clean a TV screen to how to clean a hairbrush, no doubt you're up to date on the best methods to keep your belongings dirt free. But there are a few items that are harder to clean than others - footwear being one of them. They collect scuffs, stains and dirt pretty quickly, and if they're white this can be a problem.

Nevertheless, white shoes are a wardrobe staple we're not willing to give up, which is why we've asked the experts how to clean white shoes. Sarah Dempsey, cleaning expert with My Job Quote, says: "There are several ways you can clean white shoes and get them looking bright and white again, just like new. Most methods use household products that you likely already have around the home." If you want to find out the best and easiest ways to clean white shoes, you've come to the right place...

How to clean white shoes

How you clean white shoes will likely depend on the material they are made from. But as a general rule, using soapy water is one of the best methods for removing dirt and stains from white shoes.

Sarah Dempsey told Goodto: "Warm Soapy water is perfect for cleaning white shoes, no matter what material they’re made from. Simply add one teaspoon of liquid dish soap to one cup of water and stir the mixture, then use a cloth or toothbrush and gently scrub the shoe with the soapy water. Continue to scrub until the shoes are clean, then wipe away any excess water and leave the shoes to air dry."

A pair of white shoes with mud on them

(Image credit: Getty Images)

For more stubborn stains, Sarah adds that you can use toothpaste to clean your white shoes. She told us: "Toothpaste can work wonders for cleaning white shoes, but make sure you use a white, creamy toothpaste rather than a coloured gel toothpaste." 

To try this method, apply the toothpaste to your shoes with a toothbrush, working in circular motions. Leave the toothpaste on the shoes and set them aside for around 10 minutes, before wiping it away using a damp towel.

Once you've cleaned your white shoes, it's important to always let them air dry. Vittoria Wellen‑Bombelli, buying assistant at wide fit shoe specialists Pavers, says: "It’s important to avoid trying to rush the drying process, so don’t be tempted to place your shoes on a radiator or use a hairdryer as a heat source, as this may cause damage to your shoes."

How to clean white canvas shoes

Sarah advises using baking soda and white vinegar for cleaning canvas shoes - though make sure you check the label beforehand as some shoes may have specific cleaning instructions. 

  1. Mix one tablespoon of hot water with one tablespoon of white vinegar.
  2. Add one tablespoon of baking soda and mix the solution together until it forms a paste.
  3. Use a toothbrush to apply this mixture to the shoes, working in a circular motion.
  4. Leave the shoes to air dry before brushing off the dried paste.

How to clean white leather shoes

Leather shoes are more delicate, so you'll want to use cleaning tools that are less abrasive, such as a soft-bristled toothbrush or a microfibre cloth. You can use the below method with soap and water to clean leather shoes, but micellar water also works on removing stains, or you could invest in some leather cleaner too.

  1. Add one teaspoon of liquid dish soap to one cup of water and stir the mixture.
  2. Use a microfibre cloth or toothbrush to gently scrub the shoe with the soapy water.
  3. Continue to scrub until the shoes are clean, then wipe away any excess water with a towel or paper towel.
  4. Leave the shoes to air dry.
Kaps Gel Cleaner for Sneakers and Casual Shoes | Amazon - £6.49

Kaps Gel Cleaner for Sneakers and Casual Shoes | Amazon - £6.49

This cleaner works on leather as well as canvas and suede, and comes with a handy brush applicator, making it easy to use.

How to clean white mesh shoes

Sarah says: "Bleach is a great product for cleaning fabric shoes. However, it’s important that you do this method in a well-ventilated room and you must make an effort to protect your eyes and skin while doing the cleaning."

  1. Add one part bleach to five parts water (avoid adding too much bleach as this could turn your shoes yellow).
  2. Work the solution into the shoes with a toothbrush, using a circular motion.
  3. Use a damp cloth to wipe away the solution before leaving the shoes to air dry.

Expert tips for cleaning white shoes

1. Cleaning the inside of your shoes

If you want to clean the inside of your white shoes too, then Vittoria has a couple of tips. She told Goodto: "To keep the inside of your trainers fresh, remove the soles if possible and leave them out to air. Then go back in with a damp cloth to clean the inside of your shoes."

She adds: "Instead of using a shoe freshener spray for deodorising, sprinkle some baking soda in your trainers for a cheaper alternative - though you may have chalky footprints for a while!"

2. Cleaning the inner soles

Laura Harnett, founder of Seep eco-cleaning tools, also recommends using baking soda to clean the soles of you shoes. She says: "For the inner soles, if they can be removed then I pop these into Seep compostable bin bag with enough baking soda to cover them completely. Leave them tied in the bag over night and in the morning any odours will have been removed. If they are especially dirty, then you can gently wash by hand with a small amount of soap and water."

3. Use newspaper to absorb extra moisture

If you've cleaned the inside of your white shoes, or they got wet while you're cleaning the exterior, you can use newspaper to help dry them quicker.

Vittoria told us: "If you’ve cleaned the inside of any of your shoes, it’s important to make sure that they don’t remain damp, so grab some newspaper and scrunch it up inside your shoes to absorb any remaining moisture. You should then avoid wearing your shoes until they’re completely dry."

Avoid using sheets with excessive ink on - as they could leave marks on your trainers - and make sure to stuff the newspaper all the way into the toe of the shoe.

4. Use a mesh bag or pillowcase for machine washing trainers

Putting you shoes in the washing machine to clean them is not recommended, as it can damage your shoes. However, if you're struggling to find the time to clean your white shoes by hand, the there are some steps you can take to make machine washing your shoes safer.

Vittoria says: "If you would prefer to use the washing machine to clean your trainers, place them in a mesh bag or pillowcase and wash at 20°C to 30°C." 

Placing your shoes in a laundry bag or pillowcase protects the shoes from snagging in the washing machine, and will also reduce the noise as they tumble around in the wash.

A pair of white shoes in a washing machine

(Image credit: Getty Images)

5. Use baking soda to neutralise odours

A popular hack that has emerged on TikTok is to use baking soda to reduce any unpleasant smells in shoes. Cleaning influencer Clean That Up shared a video in which he suggested pouring two tablespoons of baking soda into a coffee filter, sealing it with a rubber band and placing the bundle inside of your shoes.

Vittoria says: "Baking soda is a natural deodoriser that can absorb odours  and bacteria, so it’s no surprise that many TikTokers have chosen this approach to combat smelly shoes."

She adds that instead of a coffee filter, you could also use a dryer sheet or sock to hold the baking soda in the shoes. Vittoria advises, "I wouldn’t recommend pouring baking soda directly into the shoe itself without a protective layer."

How to clean white shoelaces

Shoelaces can be washed by hand, or you can put them in a washing machine in a mesh bag. If you're washing the laces by hand, first brush off excess dirt and then soak them for 20 minutes in a bowl of warm water and washing up liquid.

If you choose to wash your white shoe laces in the washing machine, Vittoria says: "You can add your shoelaces in with your regular washing to freshen them up and speed up the process. First, remove any tough dirt debris with a toothbrush or water, then place your shoelaces in a mesh washing bag for delicate items before a regular cycle."

You can also use vinegar to clean shoelaces. Laura Harnett advises placing the laces in a bowl with a 1:1 ratio of white vinegar and water. Using a cloth, she says, "Rub the vinegar liquid into the laces and then leave to air dry. When they’re dry they’ll be white again with no lingering vinegar smell."

If you want to whiten your shoelaces, you could also soak them in bleach. Add one part bleach to five parts water, and submerge the laces for five minutes before putting them in the washing machine.

White shoelaces on a pink background

(Image credit: Alamy)

How to keep white shoes clean

Once you’ve got your shoes looking clean and fresh again, you’ll want to keep on top of maintaining them. Follow Sarah's tips below to keep your shoes looking good as new:

  • Apply a stain and water-repellent spray once every few weeks to prevent stains before they happen. You may still need to give them a clean every once in a while, but the repellent spray will make it much more difficult for dirt and grime to penetrate right into the shoe.
  • Keep on top of spot cleaning your shoes. As soon as you notice a stain on the shoes, get it cleaned up, as the longer you leave a stain, the longer it has to set and penetrate into the shoe’s material. This will make it much harder to clean in the future.
  • Don't put your shoes in the washing machine, as this can damage both your shoes and the washing machine. Plus, it could also make your shoes age prematurely.

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Sarah Dempsey
Sarah Dempsey

Sarah Dempsey has worked in the cleaning industry for over twenty five years. She specialises in domestic cleaning and works closely with MyJobQuote - the UK’s leading trades matching site - to provide expert cleaning knowledge to homeowners, tradespeople and news outlets

Ellie Hutchings
Family News Editor

Ellie is GoodtoKnow’s Family News Editor and covers all the latest trends in the parenting world - from relationship advice and baby names to wellbeing and self-care ideas for busy mums. Ellie is also an NCTJ-qualified journalist and has a distinction in MA Magazine Journalism from Nottingham Trent University and a first-class degree in Journalism from Cardiff University. Previously, Ellie has worked with BBC Good Food, The Big Issue, and the Nottingham Post, as well as freelancing as an arts and entertainment writer alongside her studies. When she’s not got her nose in a book, you’ll probably find Ellie jogging around her local park, indulging in an insta-worthy restaurant, or watching Netflix’s newest true crime documentary.