How To Clean White Shoes: Insider Cleaning Hacks 

By  Emily Konatella

LAST UPDATED - December 11, 2023

White shoes can add a fresh and stylish touch to any outfit, but they also have a reputation for being difficult to keep clean. Whether you're dealing with dirt, scuffs, or stubborn stains, it can be frustrating to see your once-pristine white shoes looking dingy and worn. But don't worry - cleaning your white shoes can be a breeze with the right tools and techniques. In this guide, we'll share some tips and tricks for getting your white shoes to look as good as new so you can step out confidently and in style.

6 Ways to Clean White Shoes

There are many methods for cleaning white shoes. Which methods to go with will depends on your shoe's material and design.

Washing Machine

Not all shoes are safe to wash in a washing machine, but many types of shoes can handle the process with proper care. Generally, a washing machine can safely wash athletic shoes, fabric shoes such as canvas shoes, and sneakers made from durable materials like leather, mesh, or synthetic fabrics. So the next time you want to clean white canvas shoes, toss them in the washing machine.

However, it's always important to check the care label or manufacturer's instructions to ensure the shoes are machine washable. Delicate shoes made from materials like suede or satin should be hand-washed or taken to a professional cleaner to avoid damage.

Dish Soap and Warm Water

You don't have to run to the store for a fancy product to keep your shoes in pristine condition. Instead, you can use what you already have in your kitchen. A small amount of mild laundry detergent or dish soap, and warm water will help you buff out stains and unsightly dirt. This method is versatile enough to clean white sneakers, sandals, or heels.

How to Clean White Shoes with Dish Soap and Warm Water

The technique below can be used on white-colored shoes that can handle mild soap. Follow the steps below to clean your white shoes with the dish soap technique. 

  1. Remove dirt. Remove large chunks of dirt or debris by hand before starting the process. Wear gloves for sanitation. 
  2. Mix mild dish soap with warm water. Combine a small amount of mild dish soap and warm water using a medium-sized bowl. Mix the formula with a spoon or spatula until it's fully blended.
  3. Clean with a brush or cloth. Dip a soft-bristled brush or cloth into the soapy water. Then, gently scrub the shoes. Pay close attention to any areas with stains or discoloration. 
  4. Rub the shoes clean. Using a clean damp cloth, rub the shoes clean of the soapy formula. Continue gently rubbing until all the residue is gone. If the shoes are durable enough, you can even rinse them under running water. 
  5. Repeat as needed. If there are still visible stains, repeat the process until they are clean.
  6. Dry the shoes. Allow the shoes to air dry in a cool, dry area. You can stuff them with paper towels to maintain their shape while drying. 

Check with the manufacturer if you are unsure whether this cleaning method is safe for your shoes.

Toothpaste and a Cloth

This technique is helpful for minor stains and scuffs on white shoes. 

To use this method:

  1. Apply a small amount of white, non-gel toothpaste to a damp cloth and rub it onto the soiled areas in a circular motion.
  2. Once you are done, use a different damp cloth to remove the toothpaste residue.
  3. Repeat the process as needed.

Allow the shoes to air dry completely before wearing them again.

A Magic Eraser

If you prefer to use something more advanced, try a magic eraser. This useful tool can help buff out stains in seconds. Keep reading to learn how to use one for your white shoes.

  1. Wet the magic eraser. Dip the eraser under warm running water to wet it. Squeeze out any excess moisture. You want the eraser to be damp without any dripping water.
  2. Rub onto stains. Gently rub the magic eraser onto the stains and scuffed areas of the shoes using a circular motion. Continue to do this until the stains are gone.
  3. Rewet the eraser. If the eraser begins to dry out during the cleaning process, rewet it and continue to buff out any stains. 
  4. Remove residue. Once you are done, remove any excess residue with a clean damp cloth.
  5. Air dry the shoes. Let your shoes air dry in a cool area. Make sure they are fully dry before wearing them again.

You can use this method regularly to avoid a buildup of stains and scuffs. 

Baking Soda and Hydrogen Peroxide

For tougher stains, use a mixture of baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, and water. Here is a step-by-step guide for this process:

  1. Remove visible debris. Before you start, remove any excess dirt or debris from your white shoes.
  2. Mix the solution in a bowl. Combine 1 tablespoon of baking soda and 1 tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide in a bowl. If needed, add water to dilute the formula. This mixture will create a paste.
  3. Apply the paste. Apply the paste onto the stained or discolored areas of the shoes using a soft-bristled brush or soft cloth. Scrub the formula into the soiled areas with circular motions.
  4. Allow the paste to penetrate. Let the solution sit on the shoes for 30 minutes to allow it to penetrate the stains.
  5. Wipe away. With a damp cloth, wipe away the residue until the shoes are completely clean.
  6. Repeat as needed. If your shoes are still stained, repeat the process.
  7. Allow airing dry. Store the shoes in a cool and dry place where they can fully air dry before their next use. 

Keep in mind this method can bleach certain materials. Test a small patch first or contact the manufacturer to make sure this technique will not discolor the shoes. 

Water And White Vinegar

The acidity of the vinegar helps to break down dirt and grime on the shoes, while the water helps to rinse away the vinegar and any dirt particles. This method is gentle enough to use on both canvas and leather shoes, but it's always important to spot-test any new cleaning method on a small, inconspicuous shoe area before applying it to the entire surface to avoid any damage or discoloration. 

Here's a step-by-step guide for the best way to clean your white shoes:

  1. Remove any loose dirt or debris by using a soft-bristled brush or a dry cloth.
  2. Mix a solution of equal parts water and white vinegar in a bowl.
  3. Dip a soft cloth into the solution and wring out any excess liquid.
  4. Gently wipe the shoes with the damp cloth, paying extra attention to any stained or dirty areas.
  5. Rinse the cloth with clean water and wipe the shoes again to remove any vinegar residue.
  6. Stuff the shoes with clean paper towels to help them maintain their shape while they dry.
  7. Allow the shoes to air dry in a well-ventilated area, away from direct sunlight or heat.
Clean white shoes

Source: Pexels

Best Cleaning Methods Based On Material

How To Clean White Leather Shoes

Cleaning white leather shoes requires a gentle touch and the right tools to avoid damaging the delicate material. Before cleaning your white leather shoes, it's best to check with the shoe brand or manufacturer for recommendations.

Clean With Plain Water

To thoroughly clean your white leather shoes, remove the laces, insoles, and embellishments. Next, dip a high-quality cotton or microfiber cloth into plain water and wring out any excess moisture. Begin wiping down the entire shoe, paying particular attention to the seams and other areas where dust and dirt accumulate. As you clean, switch to a clean area of the cloth to prevent soil transfer. Once the shoes are clean, leave them to air dry for at least 15 minutes.

Clean The Soles

Gently moisten the melamine sponge and delicately clean the edges of the soles. Remember to avoid using the sponge on the leather portions of the shoes as it may damage the top layer of the leather.

Remove Dirt and Marks

Wet a clean cloth and apply a small amount of soap to create a rich lather. Gently work on one small section at a time using a circular motion, starting from the toes and working toward the heel. 

Using baking soda as a gentle abrasive cleaner removes stubborn scuff marks. Sprinkle baking soda onto a damp cloth and rub the mark gently until it disappears. Keep your leather shoes looking new and shiny with this simple cleaning method.

Rinse And Dry

Remove any remaining soapy residue with a clean cloth dipped in plain water. Be sure to wring out the cloth, so it's not too wet. Then, allow the shoes to air-dry in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.

If you're still not satisfied with the level of whiteness, simply repeat the cleaning steps until you achieve the desired result. Keep your shoes looking fresh and clean with this easy cleaning method.

How to Clean White Suede or Nubuck Shoes

White suede and nubuck shoes aren't as bright white as other materials. But they still need to be cleaned regularly to maintain their color.

Remove and Loosen dirt

Use a soft-bristle brush like an old toothbrush to gently remove any loose or embedded dirt from the shoe's surface.

Rub Away Scuff Marks and Stains

Next, use a soft art gum eraser to rub away any scuff marks and stains gently. Avoid scrubbing and take your time to remove the stains gradually.

If the eraser fails to remove the stains, dampen a cloth with distilled vinegar and gently rub the affected areas. Finally, blot the treated area with a paper towel to absorb any excess moisture.

To remove any oil stains, apply a generous amount of cornstarch or talcum powder to absorb the oil. Let it sit for at least an hour, and repeat as needed.

Dry And Buff

After cleaning, it's important to let the suede shoes dry completely. Once dry, use a suede brush to restore the nap and remove any matted areas. This will help restore the suede's texture and give it a fresh look.

How to Clean White Canvas Shoes

Hand wash Or Machine Wash

White canvas shoes can usually be cleaned in a washing machine, but it's important to hand-clean shoes with leather or suede trim, beading, or rope soles. The harsh agitation of the washing machine can damage embellished shoes and even loosen the glues used in their construction. To avoid ruining your favorite pair of white shoes, it's best to stick with hand-cleaning.

Remove Any Removable Parts

Before starting to clean your shoes, removing any removable parts, such as shoelaces, insoles, and decorations, is essential. Soak the laces in a bowl of hot water with a teaspoon of heavy-duty laundry detergent. Meanwhile, you can hand-wash or replace the insoles. This way, you'll be able to clean the shoes thoroughly without worrying about damaging any removable parts.

Rinse Before Tossing In the Washing Machine

If you're looking to clean your white shoes in the washing machine, it's important to prep them properly before tossing them in. Start by rinsing any mud or dirt with a hose to prevent it from clogging your washer. For heavily stained areas, use a soft-bristle brush to work laundry detergent or make a baking soda and white vinegar paste and rub it into the canvas before washing.

If you'll be spot-cleaning your shoes, skip ahead to the next step. But if you plan on using the washing machine, put your shoes in a mesh laundry bag and wash them together with a load of white towels using your regular laundry detergent. Consider using chlorine or oxygen-based bleach, baking soda, or hydrogen peroxide for extra whitening.

You should wash your white shoes with other white items like towels. Select warm water and the normal cycle, and use regular laundry detergent. But be sure to choose a lower spin cycle speed to help keep your washer in balance.

Spot Clean

To spot clean white canvas espadrilles and other shoes that are not washer-friendly, create a solution by mixing 1 teaspoon of laundry detergent in 1 quart of warm water. Use a microfiber cloth to dip into the solution and scrub away any soil on the inside and outside of the shoes. After the shoes are clean, use another cloth dipped in plain water to wipe away any soapy residue and complete the cleaning process.

Dry White Canvas Shoes

Once you are done, allowing them to air-dry after cleaning is important. Keep them away from direct sunlight, and don't be tempted to use a tumble dryer on high heat, as this can cause the glues used in construction to melt. To speed up the drying process, gently wipe the shoes down with a towel to absorb any excess moisture.

Try stuffing the toes with nylon mesh to help the shoes maintain their shape. This can also help prevent the shoes from becoming misshapen during drying.

How to Clean White Patent Leather or Vinyl Shoes

Patent leather, a type of leather that has been treated to achieve its glossy finish, can be cleaned using the same techniques that work with vinyl or other man-made shoe finishes.

Wipe Down

Using a gentle touch, dampen a soft cleaning cloth with plain water and carefully wipe down the shoes to remove any surface dirt or grime.

Remove Scuffs and Stains

Apply a small amount of acetone-based nail polish remover on a cotton ball and delicately rub any discolored or scuffed areas. A mixture of 1 tablespoon of baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon of water can be made into a paste to remove any scuffs or stains gently. Rinse the area with a clean damp cloth and plain water for a final touch.

Clean the edges

To clean the edges of patent leather shoes, create a solution of warm water and dishwashing liquid. Dip an old toothbrush in the solution and gently scrub the soiled fabric edges. After scrubbing, wipe away any soapy residue with a clean damp cloth to finish. This cleaning method is especially useful for patent leather shoes that have edges finished with grosgrain ribbon, which can quickly become dirty and stained.

Give It A Shine

For a quick fix to make patent leather shoes look new again, apply a small amount of petroleum jelly onto a soft cloth and gently rub it into the leather. This will restore the glossy finish of the patent leather. Use a dry cloth to buff the shoes and give them a high shine.

Cleaning Tips

Stubborn Stains

To brighten and clean white fabric shoes, such as canvas, bleach can be an effective solution. However, it is important to always spot-test on a small area first to make sure your shoes react well and avoid any unwanted damage. If you are planning to use a bleach solution, be sure to wear rubber gloves.

Gentle On White Mesh Shoes

White mesh shoes are more delicate than canvas shoes. To clean white mesh shoes, use softer cleaning tools, and don't scrub too harshly.

Use Stain Remover Pen/ Bleach Pen

Instead of creating a cleaning solution to remove stains, you can try stain remover pens instead. However, this will depend on the type of fabric you are dealing with.

Spray Your White Shoes With A Protector

Consider using a shoe protector spray to help prevent future stains. White canvas or fabric shoes can benefit from upholstery protectors.

About the author

Emily is a fashion consultant, designer and creative director with more than 15 years experience creating, designing and developing clothing & jewelry. From managing pageant shows to turning concepts into actual designs, she has experience with almost all fabric types and jewelry designs and is in touch with the latest fashion trends.


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