How To Clean Used Shoes: The Ultimate Guide

If you’re wondering how to clean used shoes, you can put them in the washing machine or try warm water and detergent or vinegar, depending on the material.

Did you purchase some used shoes to rock that vintage look or a preloved pair that would go perfectly with an outfit?

Buying used shoes not only saves money but it’s also an excellent way of recycling. You can often find designer shoes for a fraction of the original price when they’ve already been worn. 

The downside of buying used shoes is that they may have dirt or scuff marks on them. Even if they’re in excellent condition, you might want to disinfect them before you wear them. You don’t really know where they’ve been before. 

Don’t worry; we’ve got your back. Check out our guide below on how to clean used shoes to make them look and feel new again

How to clean used shoes infographic


Why Is It Important To Clean and Disinfect Used Shoes?

If you’ve bought used shoes from a second-hand store, they’ll have been worn before by someone else. You don’t know where these shoes have been or if this person had any bacterial or fungal infections. 

Bacterial and fungal infections, such as Athlete’s foot, can easily be picked up through minor cuts or under the nail beds. These conditions are usually very invasive and hard to treat. So it’s better to be safe than sorry and clean and disinfect used shoes before you put them on your feet.

If you have your own shoes that need a clean, there’s no risk of contracting a fungal or bacterial infection. However, it’s always nice to clean your old shoes to get rid of any odors and stains.


How To Disinfect Used Shoes

Germs are everywhere, even on an entirely new pair of shoes. So there’s nothing wrong with buying already used shoes, but you do want to disinfect them to avoid any possibility of infection. 

On average, the sole of a shoe is coated with 421,000 bacteria. Most of those bacteria end up in your home, on your floors when you walk on them. But bacteria aren’t only found on the outside of the shoes.

Socks also contain plenty of germs, so whoever wore your shoes before loaded them up with lots of bacteria. So you might want to disinfect them well before wearing them and showing them off. 

If you’re struggling with foul smells from your used shoes, check out our detailed guide on how to clean shoe insoles.

Antifungal or Antibacterial Spray

An example of a common fungal infection is Athlete’s foot. If you don’t know the previous shoe owner’s medical history, you might want to spray them with an antifungal product. Spray the interior areas, and if the shoes are made of a porous material such as canvas, you can spray the antifungal product on the outside too. 

You can also use household antibacterial sprays such as Lysol. This will also do the job of killing many types of bacteria. Spray the antibacterial spray inside of your shoes as well as on the soles and let it dry before wearing them. 


You can use hand-steam cleaners to sanitize and disinfect the inside of the shoes. High temperatures will kill off most bacteria. You can use this method of disinfection on most leather and cloth shoes, but be careful with steaming suede shoes. It’s best if you don’t opt for steaming at all in this case, as it can ruin the material.


Bleach is a very powerful disinfectant. It kills various viruses, fungi, and bacteria. You should never use it directly on the shoes but mix it with some water first. 

Unless the outside color of your shoes is white, you might not want to use bleach there since it can discolor leather and bright hues. 

Mix a small amount of water and bleach in a spray bottle, and spray the mix all over the insides of your shoes. Let them dry before wearing them. 

If your shoes have developed yellow bleach stains from not cleaning the shoes correctly with bleach, check our guide on how to remove yellow bleach stains from white shoes


The 3 Best Methods for How To Clean Used Shoes 

These are our three best methods you can use to clean used shoes and make them look new again.

Hand Wash With Detergent and Warm Water

If you’re worried that the shoes are too delicate for a washing machine or any other more aggressive washing method, you can hand wash them with some detergent and warm water. Opt for this method with leather shoes, since they are too sensitive for the washing machine.

  1. Use a few cups of warm water with a few drops of mild detergent and mix the solution with a soft toothbrush. 
  2. Before cleaning, dip the toothbrush head in the detergent and water solution to make the bristles wet. 
  3. Clean the dirty parts of the shoes with small circular motions. 
  4. To finish, wipe the shoe with a cloth or paper towel and air dry the shoes for at least 2–3 hours before wearing them.
  5. After cleaning, always protect your shoes either with a leather conditioner or a fabric spray that’s designed for footwear.

Hand Wash With Vinegar and Warm Water

If you have white shoes, you probably know the struggle that they get dirty very fast. 

  1. You can prepare a mixture of warm water, white vinegar, and a bit of baking soda. This will get most of the dirt and stains out of white shoes. Mix a cup of water with two tablespoons of vinegar and one tablespoon of baking soda. 
  2. When you finish making the paste, use a cloth or, even better, a toothbrush and start scrubbing the stains all around the outside of the shoes. 
  3. The mixture dries pretty quickly, so make sure you’re rinsing it with water in between. 
  4. To clean the rubber parts of shoes, including the soles, you can use a stronger brush and gently scrub down dirt, to not destroy the material.
  5. Vinegar mixture also helps with any bad smells. If your shoes have an unpleasant odor, you can prepare a mixture of 50/50 vinegar and water and spray it on the inside of your shoes. 
  6. When you finish, let the shoes air dry. Don’t toss them into a dryer because it can wear down or destroy your shoes. 

If you’re struggling with cleaning white shoelaces and the dirt just doesn’t come off, check our guide on how to clean white shoelaces.

Toss Them In the Washing Machine

Front-load washing machine

Most cloth shoes, such as running shoes, sneakers, and canvas shoes, can be put into a washing machine without getting ruined. Most leather shoes shouldn’t go into a washing machine; however, you can wash running shoes that are made out of a combination of leather and cloth on a delicate cycle.

Here are some tips to prevent damaging your shoes in the washing machine: 

  • Begin by removing the laces and placing them in a washing bag so they can’t get stuck or tangled anywhere. 
  • Use a toothbrush to remove as much mud or dirt as possible from the shoes first before tossing them into the washing machine.
  • Remove the insoles and wash them separately. 
  • Put the shoes into a mesh laundry bag and place them in the washing machine along with laundry. This will prevent shoes from hitting around the washing machine. 
  • Spin them on a gentle warm cycle with concentrated laundry detergent. Don’t use fabric softener when washing shoes since this can damage and soften the glue.
  • After washing, air-dry the shoes. Don’t put them in the dryer, as high temperatures can damage the fabric and soften the glue.

What About Cleaning Suede Shoes?

Most people think that cleaning suede shoes is extremely difficult and annoying, but this isn’t true.

To begin with, the shoes must be completely dry. Rub them with a clean towel or suede brush, but wipe or brush in one direction only.

The next cleaning supply you’ll need is a bit surprising—you need a soft white pencil eraser. Use it to rub over the stains on the shoe, again in one direction only. This should get the stains out completely. If you see some stains that still won’t budge, try getting them off with white vinegar.

Let them dry and finish with a suede protector. 


Final Thoughts

There’s nothing wrong with buying used shoes. You can save some money, and it’s even good for the environment.  

But before you put them on your feet, you should disinfect and wash them to prevent any chances of getting bacterial or fungal infections—since you can’t really know the previous owners’ history.

If you follow our guide correctly, your shoes will be disinfected and cleaned in no time, and you can start to enjoy wearing them immediately after they are dry.



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