Bleaching Dirty Shoes

Machine washers can loosen shoe adhesive over time.
Machine washers can loosen shoe adhesive over time. (Image: Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images)

Wishing you could stand in someone else's shoes for a while won't turn your filthy footwear fresh. No shoe stays spotless after a stroll in the rain and mud or after many days of accumulated dirt, but that doesn't mean they're ready for the rubbish bin. Avoid the harmful hazards of the washing machine -- which can take your shoes from simply soiled to falling apart -- and turn back the grime of time on your gunky goods.

Things You'll Need

  • Large bucket
  • Washing machine
  • Neutral fabric detergent
  • Color-safe oxygen-based bleach
  • Soft cleaning brush
  • White nylon-backed scrub pad
  • White paper

Knock the shoe soles together outdoors to remove dried, caked-on mud.

Remove the shoelaces and liners from each shoe. Launder laces and liners separately with 1 tablespoon of laundry detergent in a washing machine set to a cold cycle.

Fill a large bucket with warm water and swish each shoe in the bucket to rinse them. Dump out the dirty water, fill the bucket with clean water and rinse the shoes again.

Discard the dirty water and fill the bucket with warm water again. Add 1 teaspoon of neutral color-safe detergent and half a capful of color-safe oxygen-based bleach to the water and agitate the water to mix it.

Dip a soft cleaning brush into the bucket. Scrub each shoe with the detergent solution to remove dirt and mud. If some stains are still there, dip a white nylon-backed scrub pad into the bucket and work it against each shoe to completely remove stains.

Dump the bucket solution into a sink or toilet to discard it. Refill the bucket with clean water and swish the shoes in the bucket to rinse them. Rinse the shoes repeatedly, until all detergent disappears.

Stuff the wet shoes with white paper to help them keep their shape and let them air-dry.

Tips & Warnings

  • Clean stubborn stains with white shaving cream. Coat the stain with the cream, let it dry, then brush it away with a soft brush.
  • Always wear latex gloves when scrubbing shoes.
  • Check the care label on your shoes to make sure the material is canvas or synthetic. Never use bleach on real leather, suede or satin.
  • Never dry shoes in direct sunlight or over an electric heater.
  • Avoid stuffing shoes with colored paper, as the dye can stain light-colored shoes.

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