How to Clean White Sneakers

Experts share their best methods for washing fashion's most versatile shoe.

How to Clean White Sneakers

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Slip-on or lace-up, it doesn't matter — white sneakers somehow look great with almost every outfit we pair them with. We've styled our favorite sleek, simple options (Vans! Converse! Rothy's! Nike!) with baggy mom jeans, sequined formalwear, summer sundresses, and oversized winter sweats. But something that can quickly ruin even our best white sneakers outfits? Dirt. Or mud. Or any other type of stain, like oil or food. That's why we're constantly looking for hacks on how to clean white sneakers, thus ensuring our go-to shoe stays pretty and pristine.

Thankfully, there's no shortage of ways to wash white sneakers and restore them to their original color. Whether you're ready to mix up ingredients in your pantry or are looking for quick and easy solutions, experts are weighing in with helpful tips for how to keep those babies looking their best.

What is the best method for cleaning white sneakers?

Tide Senior Scientist, Jennifer Ahoni, says it's important to look at the label on your sneakers prior to washing them.

"While it’s recommended not to put some sneakers in the washing machine, many sneakers made from canvas and cotton are machine washable," she tells InStyle over email. She then shares a super helpful, step-by-step process that will ensure your white sneakers are thoroughly cleaned.

  • First, use a dry soft brush to remove any excess dirt and mud from sneakers.
  • Then, create a solution of Tide Ultra OXI Liquid Laundry Detergent with Odor Eliminators and warm water. Use a brush to scrub and clean away dirt from the soles of the sneakers.
  • Remove shoelaces and place the sneakers into a mesh garment bag.
  • Place the shoelaces in a separate garment bag to keep them from getting tangled up and wash them separately. For white shoelaces, use the warmest temperature as recommended by the care label.
  • Remove insoles and wash them separately, or hand-wash them depending on care label instructions.
  • Wash the sneakers on a delicate/gentle cycle in cold water using Tide Ultra OXI Power PODS® with Odor Eliminators
  • Make sure to air dry. This may take more than a day, but you'll want to make sure your sneakers are completely dry before wearing them again.

Can you put white sneakers in the washing machine?

Again, Ahoni tells us it all boils down to what the care label says. If you don't want to put your white sneakers in the washing machine, she says that mixing detergent with water in a bowl, then using a brush to scrub the fabric, will also help to get them clean.

Product Specialist at The Laundress, Madeline Miller, agrees, telling InStyle that "handwashing is always the gentlest method while also being effective." Still, she isn't against throwing shoes in the machine and washing them on a delicate setting. Like Ahoni, Miller recommends putting the sneakers and the laces in two separate mesh bags, like these from The Laundress.

How to Clean White Sneakers

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When cleaning white sneakers, are there different methods for different materials?

Yes! When cleaning suede white sneakers, Ahoni says to "use a gentle brush to clean away any soils or scuffs." For leather styles, she recommends "a damp cloth to gently wipe away stains."

Should you use bleach when cleaning white sneakers?

TL;DR: Proceed with caution. Ahoni warns us that "chlorine bleach can damage certain fibers and fabrics and lead to permanent staining." However, color safe bleach, like Tide Plus Bleach Powder Laundry Detergent, might be a good alternative, since it doesn't contain chlorine.

Miller adds that The Laundress' All-Purpose Bleach Alternative is also just as fast-acting as regular bleach and is gentler on fabrics. "It helps dissolve both fresh and old stains and discoloration — including yellowing — for cleaner fabrics, and visibly whitens and brightens," she says.

If you do want to clean canvas white sneakers with bleach, it's best to dilute it with water. Clorox cleaning expert Mary Gagliardi, aka Dr. Laundry, says to measure one quart of water in a measuring cup before adding one tablespoon Clorox® Disinfecting Bleach, then stir to mix before scrubbing with a nylon brush.

"Working on one shoe at a time, dip the brush in the bleach and water solution, and then gently scrub the canvas in a circular motion," she says. "Dip the brush again as needed to keep applying the bleach solution to the canvas until the entire shoe has been treated. This only takes a few minutes; you can scrub the rubber outsole while you are at it."

After one minute, "spray all the treated areas with hydrogen peroxide," then rinse the shoe completely with clean water before cleaning the second one.

Which products should you use to clean white sneakers?

Experts seem to agree that detergent and bleach alternatives are great solutions for cleaning white sneakers. But Jennifer Rodriguez, Chief Hygiene Officer at Pro Housekeepers, says that lemon juice or white vinegar work just as well.

"Simply fill a cup with one and use a toothbrush to clean your product," she tells InStyle over email.

Macie Kreutzer, the founder and content creator behind For the Love of Simple, a blog dedicated to organizing, decluttering, and simplifying life, agrees, while also recommending a quick DIY mix.

"Use a medium bristle toothbrush with a small mixture of baking soda, white vinegar, and warm water to help remove stains and scuff marks," she says.

How can you get oil off of white sneakers?

"Our Wash & Stain Bar is specifically formulated to dissolve oil and grease-based stains," Miller tells us. She recommends running the bar under warm water before lathering up a brush. Then, work the soap into the stains before removing it and patting dry with a damp Lint-Free Cloth.

How to Clean White Sneakers

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How can you remove yellow stains from white sneakers?

If you did use bleach to clean white sneakers, leaving it on too long or not diluting it correctly may leave behind annoying yellow stains.

"These yellow stains are tricky to get off," says Rodriguez, although they aren't impossible to remove. "If this happens, you’ll need to soak them in a different solution to minimize the yellow," she tells us, recommending a salt and hot water scrub, cream of tartar, or laundry detergent and white vinegar.

How should you dry white sneakers?

Even though it may take more than a day to dry, Ahoni tells InStyle air drying your white sneakers is best. Miller adds that putting them outside is also pretty smart.

"Sunlight is also a natural fabric brightener!" she says, before adding that if drying outdoors isn't an option, "choose a well-ventilated area like next to an open window or fan."

When are a pair of white sneakers not salvageable?

Experts say that when a sneaker is ripping at the sole and essentially falling apart, it's probably time to get a new pair. And sometimes, no matter how hard you try, a stain may be too tough to remove them completely (although that doesn't mean you need to ditch the shoe). Miller, however, won't give up hope, and suggests that there might be a cleaning method you just haven't tried yet.

"If otherwise in good condition, sneakers can always be cleaned with the right solutions to help get them looking like new!"

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