How to Clean Running Shoes

Water and soap will do the trick for most mild mud stains. However, if you need a deep clean, you can use stain removal liquid or even bleach if the running shoes are white. Bleach can lighten coloured running shoes so take precautions.

How to Clean Running Shoes

Bleach is used to uplift the degree of colour with strong chemicals. It works to semi-permanently stain the material white while deep cleaning the surface to visibly increase the brightness of the material.

Just as your skin’s pores get clogged with dirt, so do shoes that are made out of rubber or leather! Rubber is a porous substrate, meaning that the ground’s properties seeps into the material, causing it to turn brown and stain. 

Leather is also a porous substrate, as it has a lack of coating and is prone to absorbing liquid. 

Staining occurs when the liquid matter (mud, sludge, grass colouration) is carried into the porous surface by darkening or discolouring the material.

There are various ways of applying an external substance to remove unwanted surface stains left on your running shoes from the outdoors. Some are more aggressive than others, depending on how badly stained the shoe is.

Ways to Clean Running Shoes

The following list contains stain removal procedures. Keep reading for further instruction on how to use these supplies to get mild or harsh stains out of your running shoes effectively.

  • Stain removal techniques (laundry stain-removal liquid)
  • Wet cleaning (soap and water or anti-stain detergent)
  • Chemical cleaning (oxalic acid)
  • Bleach (ideally for white running shoes)
  • White vinegar
  • Baking soda and hydrogen peroxide
  • Dishwasher Soap
  • Teatree oil
  • Tide to Go laundry stick

Guide on Stain Removal

Stains that have been on for years need harsher forms of stain removal such as chemical-based cleaning or bleach. Identify the fabric or material and what is acceptable to use on it.

Then, test the stain remover by using a q-tip or a sponge to see if the liquid removal will work. It’s important to test a part of the shoe before using the liquid all over your shoe’s surface to prevent unwanted damage to the material.

Instead of rubbing, dab the dirty area lightly. You can increase the pressure to see if the unwanted patch will come out easily or not, as rubbing may damage the fabric.

Always check your running shoes label if you decide to use bleach to see if it has any precautions about bleaching the material.

Don’t use fingernail polish remover, as the harsh chemicals can harm the fabric or texture.

Stain Removal Techniques

For these techniques, use a stain remover for cleaning your running shoes.

To Sponge, place the shoe with the darkend area on its back or sides on top of a rag or paper towels. Apply the remover overtop of the area with clean cloth. Avoid rubbing and smudging the dirty area. If you’re worried about spreading it, you can pat the area instead and push it firmly to extract more liquid.

After the stain is thoroughly removed, place the shoe beside a fan and under layers of dry towels to speed the drying process.

To soak, put the running shoe in a bin or container filled with cool water, unless the stain removal instructions indicate warmer water. Soaking is one of the most efficient ways to remove mild or harsh stains. The amount of time to soak the running shoe may fluctuate depending on how bad the stain is.

Soaked running shoes

Coloured items should be avoided from soaking for a long time to prevent the color from fading.

To flush, place clean, absorbent towels under the running shoe, then add the liquid remover in small amounts with a droplet dispenser. This is similar to soaking, as you just change the towels as you flush out the filth and wait for the liquid to absorb in the fabric.

Then, rinse out the remover from your shoe’s fabric at any water temperature. Set dry for however long it needs.

Amazon has a Laundry Stain Remover liquid that is natural and suitable for white or coloured shoes. It’s citrus-scented to deodorize the running shoe’s garment.

Last update on 2021-02-08 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Wet Cleaning

Wet cleaning, which involves the use of a liquid “wetting agent” where the liquid drowns out the dirt from the soap’s chemicals.

Wet cleaning is done by using a sponge to get out the grime by hand with soap. Or, using an anti-stain detergent in the washing machine to increase the washing force between liquid and surface stain.

Amazon has Anti-Stain Laundry Detergent in fresh, natural scents. It’s also free of synthetic fragrances and dyes, and mild enough to take out moderate stains from the outdoors.

Last update on 2021-02-08 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Chemical Cleaning

Oxalic acid may be used to get stains out of any shoe. Just pre-soak the chemical in cold water and put your shoes in a container for 1-6 hours, depending on the severity of the stains.

oxalic acid

Studies show that mixing chemicals with cold water speed up the cleaning process in opposition to using room temperature water. Besides, cold water is great for sustainability purposes in washing clothing or shoes to prevent deterioration.

The oxalic acid works by removing some of the hardest stains such as rust or iron, especially in leather or rubber.

Amazon carries OxiClean a stain remover containing oxalic acid for laundry and home items. It is fragrance, dye, and colour safe.

Last update on 2021-02-08 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Liquid Bleach

Liquid bleach is best used on a white pair of running shoes to keep them pearly white as you bought them. This is the fastest way to get out dirt from your running shoes. First, put your shoes in a container, fill with cold water and use ¼ of liquid bleach. Let it soak for 5 minutes.

You can use a toothbrush or any scrubbing utensil to get at the cracks and smaller creases.

Using toothbrush to clean shoes

Then, put the washing machine on in cold water. Simply pour ¾ liquid bleach into the washing machine and throw your white pairs of running shoes in. When it’s finished, your shoes will be visibly whiter.

Better yet, you only have to do this once or twice. Bleach is proven to whiten, clean, fight stains and deodorize.

However, you shouldn’t do this too frequently or in high quantities as bleach can have harmful effects on the shoe’s surface over time. After the first bleach, you can use a wet or chemical cleaning tactic to sustain the whiteness of the running shoe.

Amazon has Clorox Bleach perfect for bleaching running shoes whenever they get extremely dirty. This bleach is compatible with all types of washing machines.


Last update on 2021-02-08 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

White Vinegar

White vinegar is a popular stain remover commonly used to take out surface stains among any item in your home, including shoes. This readily available item is the best alternative to these other products if you prefer to be environmentally friendly, without any chemicals involved.

However, white vinegar is better used for milder stains as chemicals work harder and faster as they are designed to get stains out.

Studies showed that a variety of commercial disinfectants were highly effective in fighting against bacteria found in dirt. The natural products were less effective than commercial household stain removers.

To use vinegar on your running shoes, simply put the vinegar in a spray bottle and spray your dirty running shoes. Then, rinse and scrub the smudges off with water. Learn more about how white vinegar can clean in the video below.


Baking Soda

Just as baking soda is used to whiten teeth, it can also be a great fighter against stains on any other surface. For best results, mix baking soda with hydrogen peroxide to bleach a running shoe.

Studies have proven that the local application of various mixtures of baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, and warm water provides a safe, immediate solution and discoloration of the thick material of the running shoe.

It is proven that the cleansing, bleaching, and removal of organic filths thorough scrubbing is attained through this mixture.

Put all three liquids in a small bowl. Stir until the baking soda mixes well into the water. Take your running shoe and use a cloth to pat and wash the dirty areas. Including the bottom of the shoe, sides, and front.

You can also soak your running shoes in the mixture, however not enough research has concluded this will work thoroughly to get harsh stains out. This is an ideal solution for milder stains.

Amazon carries a 3% Hydrogen Peroxcide to mix with baking soda to get ideal cleansed results on your running shoes.

Last update on 2021-02-08 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Dish Soap

Dish soap can be used for taking off grease and scum from your dishes, as well as any other dirty object. Running shoes may not have much grease, but the soaps fighting ability against bacteria can wash off the dirt with a little scrubbing.

Whether you step in mud or have snow stains, dish soap can work to clean it off right away, and at the same time freshen the scent with strong citrus smells.

Dish soap combined with baking soda can create a lighter complexion with the combination of cleaning chemicals. This is best used on white shoes with rubber or leather. You can mix half a cup of both products for an even mixture. Apply with a sponge and rinse.

For further washing of stains, add white vinegar to your mixture to increase the cleanliness of your running shoes.

Amazon carries an Ultra-Strength Dish Soap that will clean dirt and leave your running shoes cleaner than before.

Last update on 2021-05-22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Tee Tree Oil

Tee tree oil can be diluted and mixed into a spray bottle with water to clean household items. The antifungal and antibacterial ingredients can diminish the bacteria left from mud. Better yet, it can be used as a deodorizer with a natural smell of trees.

Simply put 10-12 droplets into the spray bottle and mix with water. Use a rag or paper towel to lightly wash your running shoes off with this do-it-yourself cleaning tactic.

If you wish to try this out, Amazon carries 100% Tea Tree Oil to create your washable spray mixture.

If you want your running shoes to smell even better, Amazon has a Foot Spray Bottle to refresh your shoe’s scent at your convenience wherever you go.

Naturenics Tea Tree Essential...

Last update on 2021-05-22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Tide to Go

The Tide to Go stick may not be the first thing you’d think of when cleaning your running shoes. However, if your running shoe is equipped with fabric material, the pen can take out fresh surface stains on your running shoe

stain removal stick

Use the pen by pressing the tip onto the dirt to release more of the content the harder you press. Mildly dab or rub the desired area to get rid of the discoloration. If need be, keep pressing the pen for an extra layer of stain remover power.

Amazon carries a Tide To Go Stick for Laundry to remove some of the toughest stains on fabric and as a bonus, you can take it wherever you go.

Last update on 2021-05-22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

The Bottom Line

Cleaning your running shoes can be made simple with these tips. All you need is the right supplies and a washing set up (or washing machine) for each type of fabric. Leather, rubber, and cotton are fabrics that most running shoes are made of and can be easily washed with chemicals or DIY ingredients like baking soda or dish soap.

If you spend a lot of time outdoors and in your running shoes, it’s easy to get them dirty overtime. Using one or two of these techniques can drastically change the appearance to look almost brand new, and take away the unpleasant smell.

Let us know in the comments if you have tried any of these ways to clean your running shoes, and share it with your friends who may benefit from this article.

About Gaurav Dhir

Gaurav Dhir, B. Tech, PGDCM is an engineer and MBA by training. A fitness aficionado, Gaurav follows a strict diet and exercise regimen to keep himself vigorously active. He loves playing sports and being outdoors. Gaurav is responsible for the health and wellness of 4 generations including his son, elderly parents and very elderly grandparents.