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Got Dirty White Shoes? Here’s How to Clean White Shoes & Make Them White Again

Got Dirty White Shoes? Here’s How to Clean White Shoes & Make Them White Again

Knowing how to clean white shoes to make shoes white again might not seem necessary. Right?

But here's the thing – white shoes, particularly bright white sneakers and ankle boots are highly fashionable and make any outfit look fresh. And if your white shoes aren't spotless, they can ruin your style's aesthetic. 

You know that shoe saying about having good hair and good shoes? Well, it's not wrong! And dirty white shoes are not so good.

White clothing and accessories are hard to keep clean. Shoes are much more challenging, especially when certain materials are involved. Since white shoes accumulate more grit and grime than other fashion products, many want to learn how to clean white shoes. 

The most common white shoes that need to be kept white are leather, canvas and mesh sneakers. But white satin wedding shoes and fashionable white booties can also be included in the mix!

After a day of walking in the city or celebrating on a grassy knoll, white shoes will accumulate their fair share of stains from mud, dirt, red wine (yikes!), and other pesky elements.

Thankfully there are many ways to clean white shoes at home! I'll touch upon different methods & tips for cleaning white shoes. From how to clean white shoes with detergent to toothpaste (yes, really), to utilizing other products to keep shoes white, I've got you covered! 

Today on ShoeTease, you will learn how to clean shoes, including white leather shoes, white mesh shoes, white canvas and satin shoes. All with everyday soap and pantry ingredients you likely already have lying around the house. 

You'll also learn how to make the soles of your shoes and laces white again. Keep reading for all the white shoe cleaning hacks & maintenance tips, below.

How to Clean White Shoes to Make Them White Again

Rather than jump right into my guide on how to make your white shoes white again, there are a few things to note before cleaning. These will prevent you from damaging your fab white footwear. 

They are applicable to all the tips listed below for cleaning all types of white footwear, so please take note!

What to do Before Cleaning White Shoes:

Let Them Dry

If your shoes are muddy or dirty and wet, don't do anything until they're dry. The logic behind this is that you're more likely to move dirt around and make white shoes dirtier if you try to clean them while we. 

Remove Excess Dirt First

Rubbing your shoes with any of the below solutions won't work if your boots or shoes have caked-on dirt. So, with an old toothbrush or cleaning brush, and after allowing wet shoes to dry, brush away the dirt.

Make sure to get into the dents of the shoes. Remove any pebbles stuck in the outsole with a toothpick.

– Determine the Right Cleaning Method for the Material

Your shoe material will determine which method will work best. Although I have initially put together an all-encompassing guide on how to clean white shoes of all kinds, certain types need special care. 

Refer to my material-specific white shoe list to pick the best cleaning method!

– Remove Shoelaces & Accessories

If your shoe has laces or removable accessories such as a chain or broch, please remove them before proceeding with your shoe cleaning. 

– Do a Spot Test

Always start with a spot test on an inconspicuous area first. This can include the shoe interior, the internal shoe wall close to the bottom, or any lower heel portion.

7 White Shoe Cleaning Methods

White Sneakers with text reading how to clean white shoes 6 genius hacks to make shoes white again.

Below are 7 methods for cleaning white shoes. Each section will have different ingredients and steps. However, before each please follow my before-cleaning and after-cleaning recommendations.

Remember that some stains may be more difficult to remove, and you may have to repeat the process to achieve the most optimal results!

1. Wash Shoes with Dish Soap and Water

An easy cleaning method for shoes that involves 2 easy ingredients and is surprisingly effective. Below are the steps on how to clean shoes with water and dish soap:

  1. In a bowl or cup, mix 1 part dish soap to 5 parts water
  2. Dip a clean white cloth, sponge (or old toothbrush for harder-to-remove stains) into the mixture
  3. Wipe the shoes in a circular motion, doing so more on dirtier spots of the shoes
  4. Wipe off the soapy water from the shoes with a damp cloth
  5. Allow to air dry before wearing 

This method is best for: white canvas, mesh, patent and rubber shoes.

FYI: You can substitute dish soap with detergent.

2. Use Baking Soda + Vinegar

Another way to clean your shoes and sneakers is by using a mixture of baking soda and vinegar. Here's how to use it to clean your white shoes:

  1. Combine 1 tablespoon each of vinegar, baking and hot water in a bowl into a paste
  2. Using a clean cloth or clean old toothbrush, rub the paste onto the shoes in circles, coating all the dirty areas of each shoe
  3. Leave the mixture on for a handful of hours in the sunlight until dry
  4. Remove the now powdery mixture by shaking the shoes or hitting the soles together and use a dry cloth or old toothbrush to remove any leftovers

Best used for cleaning white shoes made of: canvas, leather, PVC, suede shoes (use with caution on this last one!)

3. Try OxiClean (or Baking Soda + Hydrogen Peroxide)

I love OxiClean to remove stains on both clothes and white shoes for stubborn stains, but you can make your own to brighten up white knit or canvas sneakers. You can buy hydrogen peroxide (and baking soda!) at most pharmacies. 

  1. Follow my before cleaning instructions
  2. In a well-ventilated area mix half a tablespoon each of hydrogen peroxide and water, and 1 tablespoon of baking soda, creating a paste
  3. Using a clean sponge, cloth or clean old toothbrush, coat the dirty parts of the shoes thoroughly, rubbing the paste on in a circular motion
  4. Let the solution air dry for 30-60 minutes
  5. Shake off the dried mixture and repeat if necessary

NB: Using too much hydrogen peroxide can damage wool and cotton materials, so please proceed with caution!

Best used for cleaning white shoes made of: leather, canvas and PVC

4. Try Toothpaste to Clean Shoes

Toothpaste may work to make white shoes white again. Use white toothpaste in a non-gel form to avoid staining your white shoes with another color. 

  1. Follow my before washing instructions first
  2. Using a clean old toothbrush or sponge, rub a pea-sized amount of toothpaste in a circular motion over the stains.
  3. Let it sit for about 10-15 minutes so that the toothpaste soaks into the material
  4. Wipe off the toothpaste with a damp cloth and let the shoes air dry
  5. Repeat as necessary

Toothpaste is best used for cleaning white shoes made of: Sneakers (avoid on suede), canvas, leather

5. Use Makeup Remover

Using Makeup Remover Wipes to Clean White Shoes: 

A non-oily makeup remover wipe will work wonders on white sneakers and other footwear. Not only will these wipes remove old stains, but once on hand, you can even use them to remove deodorant stains from shirts and even clean your computer screen! 

I recommend Neutrogena oil-free cleansing wipes. These are cheap, fragrance & oil-free makeup remover wipes and will help get your shoes looking like new again. Just use the wipes as they are and voilà!

Best used for: spot cleaning most shoe materials.

Using Micellar Water to Clean White Shoes: 

Micellar Water is a popular makeup remover that can also remove stains from white shoes. Who'd have thoughts!? This water is especially effective on white tennis shoes, as it is made of purified water and moisturizers. 

  • Apply this solution in circular motions with a cotton ball and then wipe it off with a soft cloth.
  • Don't forget to follow my before and after cleaning tips too! 

Makeup Remover is best for minor surface stains on: white tennis shoes, sneakers, leather, suede and rubber shoes.

6. Use a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser

I love how easy it is the use a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, but even more how effective it is on so many surfaces. Including cleaning white shoes!

Feel free to use a generic melamine sponge if you don't have the Mr. Clean brand. Here's how to use one:

  1. Follow my before-cleaning instructions outlined at the beginning of the post
  2. Dip a clean new Magic Eraser into a bowl of clean, warm water, squeezing out the excess water
  3. Rub the erase on the top of the shoes in a circular motion, including the tongue of the shoes or sneakers if you have one, finishing off with the sides of the sole
  4. Air dry and enjoy your sparkling white shoes!

Magic Eraser is best for: rubber shoes and rain boots, white canvas and leather sneakers and shoes.

7. Brighten White Shoes with Bleach

Gentle, no. Effective, yes! Bleach is removing stains from white shoes, but it's last on my list for a reason. Bleach fumes can irritate the mouth, eyes, lungs and skin, while also staining fabric and clothing.

Clean white shoes with bleach in a well-ventilated area (outside is best), wear gloves and protect your eyes, clothes, and the surface you're cleaning the shoes on. 

That being said, bleach and water will make your white shoes sparkle again and effectively remove some of the toughest stains!

Make sure to use household bleach only (sodium hydroxide) rather than chlorine bleach, which can cause yellow stains. Here's how to effectively use bleach to clean white shoes:

  1. Follow my “before” cleaning instructions 
  2. Protecting yourself and any surface as outlined above, mix 1 part bleach and 5 parts water
  3. With a clean old toothbrush, gently scrub on the bleach solution in a circular motion over the whole shoe upper, paying particular attention to the more stained areas
  4. Let the shoes air dry in a well-ventilated area (preferably outside) and enjoy!

Bleach is best for cleaning: white canvas and mesh shoes.

Steps After Cleaning White Shoes:

As important as the steps prior to cleaning, here are a few tips to dry and maintain your shoes after you've finished cleaning them. 

– Let the Shoes Airdry

After you've cleaned your white shoes, you need to let them dry. Do so by placing your shoes in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.

Leave them there for several hours or overnight, giving them plenty of time to air dry. Make the drying process quicker by using a fan. Read more about how to dry shoes in my other post.

– Waterproof Your Shoes

Save yourself the hassle of dealing with cleaning dirty white shoes with waterproof shoe spray. Designed to repel liquids and dirt, it will slow down the dirt accumulation on your white shoe and spare you the cleaning time. 

Learn how to use waterproof shoe spray and which are the best waterproof sprays for shoes on the market, in my dedicated post. Looking for more to make your shoes water and stain-proof? 

Check out my other post on all the methods on how to waterproof shoes, including using wax and other hacks.

How to Clean White Shoes (by Shoe Material)

Infographic that shows how to clean white shoes by material with 5 images.

While it might seem simple, white shoes require unique cleaning methods. Depending on the fabric, you'll need different cleaning methods for leather, canvas, and mesh. 

Additionally, the way to clean each component of the shoe is different. You'll need to clean the upper body of the shoe as well as the laces and the soles separately. 

Of course, not all white shoes are created equally and what material the shoe is made of can determine if the above methods will be conducive to cleaning them. 

For instance, silk shoes are much more delicate than leather or mesh. Sturdier fabrics can also be more challenging to clean and will require more aggressive cleaning products or techniques than others. 

Below you will find how to clean white shoes based on the shoe's fabric and material, including shoe outsoles and shoelaces, and whether any of the above methods can or should be used. 

How to Clean White Leather Shoes

How to clean white leather shoes is a question that I get asked a lot. And it's actually pretty easy to do! You'll need a soft cloth, white vinegar, water, and baking soda. You'll also need a toothbrush or other soft-bristled brush. 

  1. Follow the before cleaning instructions outlined at the beginning of the post
  2. To start, mix equal parts water and vinegar in a bowl
  3. Dip your cloth in the mixture and wring it out so that it's damp but not dripping 
  4. Then, gently rub the cloth over the dirty areas of your shoes. Be sure to go over the entire shoe, including the sides, toe, and heel 
  5. After you've gone over the entire shoe with the vinegar mixture, it's time to move on to the baking soda 
  6. Sprinkle baking soda on each shoe, coating them well and use your brush to work it into the leather. Brushing the baking soda will help to loosen any dirt or grime that's stuck to the leather 
  7. After you've scrubbed each shoe with baking soda, go over them one more time with your damp cloth. This will help to remove any residual baking soda
  8. Finally, let your shoes air dry in a cool dark place, away from direct sunlight

Other methods to clean white leather shoes:

  • Soap + Water
  • Magic Eraser
  • Toothpaste
  • White Sneaker Cleaner
  • Face Wipes
  • Micellar Water

How to Clean White Canvas Shoes

White canvas shoes may be versatile, but they tend to collect more grime than other materials. 

Laundry detergent mixed with baking soda is your best bet for cleaning canvas shoes. It's an easy method that uses items you already have at home. 

Since you'll be cleaning them often, using detergent is a safe and effective method to use for multiple cleanings.

  1. Follow the before cleaning instructions outlined at the beginning of the post
  2. In a bucket or tub of warm water, add a couple of tablespoons of detergent + 1 cup of baking soda. 
  3. Dipping a clean white cloth old toothbrush (for tough stains) into the solution, gently scrub at the stains in a circular motion.
  4. Once you've scrubbed away the stains, rinse the shoe upper in warm water using a clean cloth with clean water to wash out the cleaning mixture.
  5. Air dry and enjoy!

Other methods to clean white canvas shoes:

  • Oxiclean or Shout
  • Vinegar + Baking soda 
  • Soap + Water
  • Magic Eraser
  • Bleach + Water
  • Toothpaste
  • In the washing machine

How to Clean White Mesh Shoes

I love my white mesh sneakers, but goodness, do they get dirty, fast! Thankfully, due to their synthetic material, they are straightforward to clean with laundry detergent and water.

To clean smaller stains:

  1. Follow my before cleaning instructions
  2. In a bucket or tub of water, add 2 tablespoons of laundry detergent or dish soap and mix well.
  3. Dip a soft cleaning brush, toothbrush or clean white cloth into the mixture and spot clean the shoes, using gentle circular motions.
  4. Rinse of the soapy parts with a clean damp cloth
  5. Allow the shoes to air-dry

For tougher, all-over stains*:

  1. Follow the before cleaning instructions
  2. In a bucket or tub of water, add 2 tablespoons of laundry detergent or dish soap and mix well.
  3. Submerge the top of the shoes into the water mixture, and the surface with a soft cloth white submerged.
  4. Rinse the top of the shoes with clean, soap-free water warm or cold water. You can do this under the tap or by submerging the top of the shoes again in a bucket or tub of clean water.
  5. Dry off the excess water on the mesh shoes by patting them with a clean cloth or towel
  6. Let the shoes air dry

*avoid this more aggressive method for mix-material shoes, such as those with leather or suede upper parts. 

Other methods to clean white mesh shoes:

  • Toothpaste
  • Vinegar mixture
  • Sneaker cleaner
  • Shaving cream
  • Bleach + Water

How to Clean White Satin Shoes

Lightly hand washing your white satin shoes is your best bet with such a delicate fabric. You will need a soft brush, liquid soap, water, a towel and a small bowl and to follow these 4 steps, after you've done your spot test.

  1. Use the brush, gently rubbing it against the upper shoe and heel material, to remove any potential dust, dirt or debris from your shoes.
  2. Mix 2 tablespoons of gentle liquid soap (Castille or Woolite detergent are great) with 1-2 tablespoons of water in a bowl, mixing well.
  3. Dip your towel into the solution and squeeze out excess fluid. 
  4. Begin rubbing it gently against your white satin shoes, making soft movements.
  5. Continue cleaning with the towel until you've removed all of the stains. With a separate towel, dip it in warm water, squeezing out the excess liquid, and use it to remove the excess soap from the previous soapy solution used to clean.

You can also try Oxiclean, vodka, baking soda and even vinegar to remove stains from white satin shoes. Read my dedicated post on all methods on how to clean satin shoes

How to Clean White Shoelaces

Whether you're lacing up a brand new pair of sneakers or giving your old favorites a fresh start, it's important to know how to clean white shoelaces. An easy method on how to clean white shoelaces is by using OxiClean. This is my favorite cleaner to make all-white shoe parts white again!

Clean Shoelaces with OxiClean

  1. Mix the correct ration of OxiClean to 1 cup of warm water in a bow (check the packages for exact directions)
  2. Add the laces and swirl them around, letting them soak overnight
  3. Rinse with cold water
  4. Hang them to dry and enjoy your bright white laces again!

Clean Shoelaces in the Washer

Don't have the time? If your laces are made of cotton, polyester or nylon, you can also put them in a small mesh laundry bag and wash them with your whites. Air dry on a towel or laundry rack, rather than shrinking them in the dryer.

Other methods to clean white shoelaces:

  • Baking soda + vinegar + water
  • Use a bleach + water

How to Clean White Soles of Shoes

There are so many shoes with white soles, such as sandals, oxfords and most notably, sneakers. One downside of white soles is that they come in contact with dirty floors and concrete sidewalks and get dirty very quickly. Literally after the first wear.

Cleaning white shoe soles with detergent is my go-to method to get soles white again!

  1. With an old dry toothbrush or shoe brush, loosen any dirt or grime that built upon the sole's surface. 
  2. Make sure to get into the dents of the shoes. Remove any pebbles stuck in the outsole with a toothpick.
  3. In a bowl, mix together some warm water and a mild laundry detergent. Dip a clean cloth into the mixture and use it to wipe down the soles of your shoes
  4. Once you've removed all the dirt and grime, rinse the shoes with clean water and allow them to air dry.

Other methods you can use to clean white leather shoes:

  • Use a Magic Eraser 
  • Baking Soda + White Vinegar 
  • Baking Soda + Laundry Detergent
  • Use Makeup Remover
  • Use Nail Polish Remover

How to Keep White Shoes Clean – 4 Tips

  1. Use waterproof shoe spray
  2. Regularly clean your white shoes & wipe away any dirt immediately after wear
  3. Store your white shoes in a cool, dry place in a dust bag
  4. Avoid wearing white shoes in rain, snow or grass.

Final Thoughts on How to Clean White Shoes

Collage with cropped view of woman's feet wearing white sneaker shoes.

The best way to keep your white shoes from getting yellow or dirty and keeping them white is to never wear them, ha.

Jokes aside, white shoes can be a struggle to maintain and keep clean, as they come in direct contact with the ground. Especially when it comes to wearing white boots outfits in the fall or winter!

And whether it's dust, soot, dirt or grass, there are plenty of elements that are more than happy to soil your perfectly bright white shoes! 

White shoes are some of the most fabulous and stylish, albeit delicate shoes you can wear. I suggest simple white sneakers in my post about what to include in a capsule shoe wardrobe, as they are shoes that go with everything.

I avoided buying any white pairs for a long time until I found out how to care for them & keep them looking white and new.

Hopefully, this post on how to clean white shoes made of leather, satin, canvas, mesh and more has lessened any fears you may have about purchasing (and wearing!) white shoes. 

DisclaimerThe methods listed in this post on how to clean white shoes at home should be used with caution. ShoeTease and its partners are not liable for any damages to persons or property arising from any of the advice given in this post. Follow the advice at your own risk. For best results, have your white shoes cleaned by a professional.

xo ShoeTease

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