How to Clean the Insoles of Shoes

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Before you polish your shoes, remove the insoles for a gentle cleaning.
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The soles of your shoes take a beating from the outside world, but your insoles take a beating too. They absorb sweat and odors, make a nice breeding ground for bacteria and get dirty from whatever's on the bottom of your socks or bare feet each time you slip into the shoes. Cleaning and deodorizing insoles keeps your shoes and feet smelling as fresh as possible. Do it after every few wearings or whenever you notice odors developing.

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Cleaning Removable Insoles

Happily, many modern shoes are made with removable insoles. While it would be easy to toss insoles in the washing machine, shoe manufacturers often advise against washing any shoe components (other than laces) this way. Shoe insoles can be made of many synthetic materials, including rubber and foam that may be damaged as they're battered around in a washer. So, unless the manufacturer's cleaning guidelines specifically recommend machine washing insoles, stick to hand washing.

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Dish soap or laundry detergent can be used to clean removable insoles. Squirt a little of the soap in a small bowl and fill it with warm water. Swirl a cloth or clean stiff-bristled brush (like a toothbrush) in the soapy water and scrub both sides of each insole. Pay extra attention to the heel and toe areas, which are generally where the majority of dirt and bacteria are concentrated. Rinse the insoles, squeeze out any excess water and pat them dry with paper towels. Lay the insoles on a towel in a well-ventilated room or set them out in the sun to dry.

If you think your removable insoles need a deep cleaning and you're willing to take your chances with machine washing them, put the insoles in a laundry bag first and wash them in cold water with mild detergent on a delicate cycle. Air dry them. Never put insoles of any kind in the dryer and always make sure they're completely dry before putting them back into the shoes.

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Cleaning Nonremovable Insoles

If you're dealing with stinky shoes that have nonremovable insoles, rubbing alcohol should help. It has disinfectant properties, so it can kill bacteria and reduce the odors they cause inside your shoes. Because rubbing alcohol evaporates, you don't have to worry about submerging the shoe in water to rinse it away.

Mix equal parts rubbing alcohol and water in a spray bottle or bowl. Spritz the liquid onto the nonremovable insoles or dip a cloth in the liquid and wipe the insoles with it. Let them air dry. If the nonremovable insoles have stubborn stains or still have bad odors, consider having a shoe repair professional replace the insoles.

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Keeping Insoles Fresh

Scrubbing insoles with soap and water or cleaning them with rubbing alcohol can be effective for reducing odors that have already built up in your shoes. In between washings, use preventative steps to keep your insoles clean and minimally stinky, especially in shoes with nonremovable insoles.

Unless the shoes are designed to be worn barefoot, always wear clean socks before pulling them on. Bare feet tend to sweat a lot inside closed shoes. Wearing socks minimizes sweating and helps absorb sweat too.

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Let shoes air out completely between wearings, giving them a day off after every use. Set them in a well-ventilated place when you're not wearing them (as opposed to inside a stuffy closet). If your shoes get wet from rain or snow, use a dry towel to absorb as much water as possible from the insoles as soon as you get home. Buy shoe deodorizer pouches filled with active charcoal or make your own charcoal sachets using old socks or stockings. Keep a sachet inside each empty shoe; the charcoal should absorb both moisture and odors that may be lingering in your insoles.

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