Some dirt is inevitable when it comes to our kid’s cleats, running shoes, and other athletic shoes. However, regular cleaning can help prolong the life of the shoes, not to mention, cleaner shoes often have better grip and support.

Many shoe manufacturers have their own guidelines on how to best clean your athletic shoes, but all brands follow the same basic idea. The cleaning methods for almost all athletic shoes are relatively similar, so you can follow these steps whether you’re working on soccer cleats or tennis shoes.

These tips are ideal for grass stains, gravel stains, dirt, and just about anything else a pair of shoes would encounter during your child’s sporting career!

Video Walkthrough

How to Wash the Insoles & Laces

First, remove the insoles from the shoes. If the laces are dirty, remove those as well. These parts of the shoe can be machine washed.

  • To machine wash the insoles and laces, place them into a garment bag or pillowcase.
  • Then, wash them as normal on a gentle setting.
  • If you’re worried about your insoles or your washing machine does not have a gentle setting, you can include a few towels in the same load to help cushion the insoles.

Helpful tip

Never soak the insoles, as this could cause them to lose their shape and support. If you’ve washed them and they’re still not smelling fresh, it might be time for a replacement pair.

Wait, Can I Machine Wash the Whole Shoe?

Some shoes can be washed entirely in the washing machine. The main reason you can’t wash some shoes is the type of glue used, as some types will degrade in the wash. Most shoes will indicate somewhere on the tag whether they can or cannot be machine washed.

If the shoes can be machine washed, follow these steps:

  • Place the shoes in a garment bag or pillowcase
  • Use warm (not hot) water and a small amount of gentle detergent
  • Use a gentle or low spin cycle
  • Air-dry the shoes when done

If the shoes cannot be machine washed, continue on with the steps below.

How to Wash the Sole

It might seem counter-intuitive, but allow any mud to dry completely first. Once it has dried it will be much easier and less messy to remove dirt rather than mud. Clap the dry shoes together outside to remove the majority of the dirt.

Then, use a brush and water to remove the rest of the dirt. Add a small amount of detergent to the water for especially stubborn dirt or if you are cleaning shoes with white soles.

You can use a dry brush, shoe brush, or even a toothbrush for this step. If you’re using a stiff brush, avoid the upper part of the shoe as stiff bristles can damage the fabric.

boy playing soccer in green soccer cleats

Helpful tip

For cleats, use a popsicle stick or putty knife to clean between the cleats. It’s also not a bad idea to keep one in your child’s sport’s bag to clean mud from between the cleats during halftime for optimal grip.

How to Wash the Upper

The upper, or the fabric part of the shoe that wraps around your foot, needs to be washed with a bit more care than the sole and the insole.

To wash the upper, first mix a gentle laundry detergent with warm water. Don’t use bleach or other household cleaners on your shoes. Only use soap that you would use on clothing. For specific stains, you can use stronger detergent in an isolated area, similar to how you would clean your kid’s sports uniform.

You’ll want to use around 2 oz of detergent (or one capful) for every 2 cups of water. You may need to adjust the recipe slightly based on how concentrated of a detergent you’re using. Just be careful not to use too much, as it will be difficult to rinse away.

Next, dip a sponge into the detergent and water mixture and start washing the upper portion of the shoe. Be sure to use gentle, dabbing motions to help lift any stains and stubborn dirt.

Once the shoes are clean, use a sponge or microfiber cloth to rinse the shoes of any leftover soap. Don’t submerge the shoe in water, as this can damage the glue and cause materials like leather to crack.

Helpful tip

If the shoe you’re cleaning is made of leather, nubuck, or suede, it’s best to use a special cleanser made for these materials. Soap and hot water can damage these natural fabrics, causing them to crack or lose their shape.

How to Dry Your Athletic Shoes

Do not put any shoe in the dryer, even if they were safe to machine wash. Instead, allow the shoes to air-dry in a well-ventilated area.

You can place newspaper or paper towel in the shoes to help absorb excess moisture and speed up the drying process. This can also help the shoes keep their shape.

Helpful tip:

Don’t place the shoes in direct sunlight or next to a direct heat source when drying. Heat from a hairdryer, radiator, or the sun might help the shoes dry faster, but it can also damage the shoe.

boy playing baseball in dirty black shoes

Quick Tips for Fresher & Cleaner Shoes

Washing the shoes regularly will help with any unpleasant smells, but these tips will help keep your kid’s shoes smelling fresh between washes.

  • Baking soda is a great natural, DIY odor absorber. Sprinkle some into the shoes, let it sit overnight, and dump the powder out in the morning. For a fresh scent, you can do the same with a dryer sheet.
  • When storing the shoes, keep them in a breathable bag (this will help reduce odors in both the shoes and the bag). Once you get home, remove the shoes and place them on a shelf if you can.
  • With these tips, your kids will not only have cleaner shoes but longer-lasting ones too!