Last Updated: September 14, 2017 | This Article May Contain Affiliate Links

From Meh To On Point: Here’s How To Clean Your Shoes The RIGHT Way

I remember being 14. I don’t remember it fondly, but I remember that age.

I was super concerned about friends, doing well in school, and keeping up with the latest Survivor episodes.

I was also becoming super concerned about girls.

I knew that I started to like them. I knew that I had an interest in certain “aspects” of girls that were starting to develop. I knew that I dreamed about having a girlfriend.

But I didn’t know how to get a girl to like me (or talk to me).

I remember this one time that I had a girl who was (SHOCKER) actually interested in me. She gave me her phone number, and I made sure that nobody was on the dial-up internet so I could call her on my corded home phone.

Yes, this was a few years ago. Don’t judge.

I actually scripted out a list of things that we could talk about. If the conversation went stale, I simply thought I would refer to my next item on the list.

That conversation didn’t go too well, IIRC.

But so did a lot of my interactions with the females back then. I just wasn’t tuned in to what the girls paid attention to.

Nowadays, I’m much more aware of what the opposite sex is interested in.

And I direct my attention to the same things.

Did you know that girls love to watch your shoes? Women tend to look at two things first when seeing a guy: they notice his eyes, and they notice his shoes.


Women notice a guy’s eyes because they want to see if he’s attractive. They can usually, by the eyes, gauge how attractive they are.

So, if eyes are the window to a guy’s looks, then his shoes are the window to his style.

Guys listen up:

Girls pay attention to the shoes you are wearing as a sign of how much you care about your looks. You might have a great pair of pants, a killer shirt, but you can undo your entire outfit with a bad pair of shoes.

Want to ensure celibacy for life? Wear crocs everywhere you go.

Girls like a guy who cares about their appearance, and they judge your shoes as a good sign of that attention to detail.

I reason it works like this:

If you want the girls to start paying attention to you, maybe you should start paying attention to what they care about.

You need to care for your shoes. Even if you already have a partner, it’s time to start caring about your appearance for your own sake.

And the state of your shoes matter.

Let me guess:

You just looked at your shoes.

If you didn’t before, you did just now.

Are they clean? Do they have smudges? Are they marked, stained, or scuffed?

All those marks from normal wear and tear start to deteriorate your shoes. And those marks might convey something that you don’t want to convey.

So, you need to clean your shoes.

It can be tricky. It can be a little more work to clean, compared to simply throwing your stinky rugby shirt in the washing machine. It will involve some thought, effort, and maybe a product or two that you don’t have just yet.

But the result is worth it. A clean pair of shoes help pull together a look, and also makes it look like you’ve got it all together.

So, let’s have a look at what it’s going to take to clean your shoes and get rid of shoe stains.

Cleaning Stains off Different Shoe Styles

Here’s the tough thing about putting together this guide:

Shoes come in all types and makes. Your shoe is different from my shoe, and it requires a different approach.


Canvas shoes are an essential fashion item for any guy. Even if you don’t know that it’s fashionable to wear canvas.

The problem is that there is such a range between shoe styles. You can get a cheap $2 pair from Target to act as slip-ons. Or you could find a rare pair of Chuck Taylor Converse that could set you back a few hundred bucks.

It’s a good item to have in your wardrobe. They can be casual, fun, and they can be paired with many of your outfits.

Best of all, they’re easy to clean and maintain.


If you’re only going to do two styles of shoes, you absolutely must have a leather shoe as one of them.

Leather is such a ubiquitous material, and it can work in so many varieties. There’s anything from leather cowboy boots to leather Oxford brogues (a must-have item for any guy’s wardrobe, but that’s another topic).

And regardless if you’re wearing it for its durability, or its look, you need to know how to clean leather shoes. They can make or break dates and interviews, sometimes, even before it happens.


Synthetic shoes appeal to a number of people, including vegans. I was randomly browsing the other day, and I came across this whole sub-section of people who truly love vegan rain boots. It’s a thing!

Synthetic shoes not only work for those who are opposed to wearing leather, it also appeals to those who are tight-of-pocket.

Synthetic shoes look and feel like high quality materials, but at a fraction of the cost of real leather. They also suit those with allergies or intolerances to certain fabrics and materials.

They also are much easier to clean than a leather shoe. They don’t react in the same way as leather, but they polish nicely with a touch of petroleum jelly and elbow grease.

(Don’t actually apply elbow grease. That’s just a euphemism for scrubbing)


The real appeal of mesh shoes is that they are light. Like I’m talking Olympian-runner light.

You pick up a pair of mesh shoes, and you’ll forget that you’re holding them.

So if you’re into athletics, running, or training, a good pair of mesh shoes helps with your workout. The pair of shoes can breathe really well, wicking away moisture from your stinky, sweaty foot.  They also don’t weigh your foot down when doing strenuous tasks.

Like walking to the nearest Starbucks.

But dirt can get trapped in the mesh, and does require more than a wipe to properly clean.


The only real reason to wear rubber shoes is for its waterproofing.

But I’ve learned this about rubber footwear.

You can buy a cheap pair of rubber boots or you can splurge on the latest Hunter brand boots, costing you way more than I dare to even type. But you should only wear them to outdoor music events.  And then only to be seen wearing them. That is, if Kate Moss is any sort of role model.

Rubber shoes aren’t hard to clean, but you need to be certain that you have an actual rubber shoe, and not a synthetic version.


OK, if you’re not the type to put a lot of care into their footwear, I would steer you away from suede shoes.

They are, at best, labor intensive. Suede shoes require plenty of upkeep and tender care. To give you an idea of just how intensive it can be to care for suede shoes, there is such thing as a suede shoe brush.

It’s a real product.

The problem is that although suede is closely related to leather, in that they come from the same place, suede is much more vulnerable to scuffs, marks, and stains. The real issue is water marks.

That’s your enemy.

You should always use a gentle brushing motion to remove dirt and stains. You can also use something like white vinegar or rubbing alcohol for those deep stains. They will remove the ground-in dirt without leaving any water marks.

In fact, if you don’t care for your suede shoes, you can easily lose them entirely to unfixable stains and marks.

Hybrid Shoes

This shoe is more common now. It’s what it sounds like – a hybrid of different types of materials. You’ll probably find that these shoes, while looking good, are harder to clean because they require more than one technique.

DIY vs. Store-Bought Shoe Cleaning Solutions

In your searches to remove shoe stains, you probably found this:

A new DIY treatment for your shoes that promises to do better and clean brighter than any store-bought product.

One, don’t believe everything you read on Pinterest. (I read that once on Pinterest)

And Two, the hype might actually be true.

Yes, I know you’re surprised, but cleaning your shoes with a homemade solution can sometimes be as effective as anything you can actually pay money for.

But not always.

Let’s review just a few of the options you have to clean your shoes.

Baking Soda

Have you ever tasted baking soda? It tastes like a milder, gentler version of salt.

That’s because baking soda is a salt.

And you’ve probably already heard that baking soda is one of the most convenient ways to clean a canvas or mesh shoe.


Because baking soda does two things.

  • It acts as an abrasive. When you combine soap and water, the fats in the soap dissolve, not giving you something with which to scrub those particles of dirt away. Baking soda retains those particles so you can really get into those stains with vigor.
  • Baking soda also kills odors. Baking soda (if you’ll remember from your chemistry class) is a base. And because most smells are acidic, the baking soda neutralizes the acid, effectively removing the smell, not just masking it.

Combining baking soda with water, or a bit of laundry detergent lets you get at those scruffy tennis shoes or scuffed canvas shoes. As a first cleaning attempt, I would recommend you start with baking soda to use in your routine to maintain a good clean.

Washing Machine

If you don’t have the time to scrub your shoes, or if you have a few pairs to wash, you can certainly toss those shoes into the washing machine. Canvas shoes and mesh shoes are excellent choices for the washing machine.

Be sure to remove the laces of any shoe you put into the machine. Not only are you exposing the tongue to all that built-up dirt and grime, you also aren’t risking getting the laces caught in the machine’s components.

A cup of detergent powder (and a splash of bleach for your white shoes) will get rid of most of your major concerns.

Be sure to let your shoes air dry, and don’t toss them in the dryer.

Shoe Cleaning Kit

You can buy shoe cleaning kits online (like this one), and you can use the same cleaning solution for more than one type of shoe.

Most kits come with a solution and a brush. It can be a little more expensive, but it’s nice to have the tools to do a proper job. That way, you don’t have to worry about accidentally grabbing your partner’s toothbrush, when she definitely was not done using it. (Sorry, honey).

The best part about using one of these kits is that they cover a wide range of shoe types. You can use the brush and solution for canvas, mesh, leather, and suede shoes.


If you’re going to get serious about looking after your kicks, I’d recommend using a shoe wipe. It’s an individually packaged wipe that you can keep with you all the time.

There are a couple benefits.

First, you don’t have to wait until you get home to take care of a stain you got on the go. Simply unwrap the wipe, and clean it away. Good wipes have a cleaning solution in them with micro-dots to scrub the stain.

Second, if you don’t have to wait for a full clean and dry, which can take time. You can simply wipe the serious stains off without needing to remove your shoes from rotation. Wear them as soon as you’re done.

You can also buy specific leather wipes to care for that nice pair of shoes that you only wear on big occasions.

Got a date tonight and just noticed stains on your shoes? Wipe them away.

Got scuffed while waiting in line to see the new Star Wars movie? Wipe that up.

Got dumped by the girl you just met on Tinder? Sorry, I’ve got nothing for you.


Oh yes, I know what you’re thinking.

Does that still exist? Isn’t that a Sesame Street profession?

No, actual cobblers still exist!  Check your local Yelp for some recommendations.

Here’s why:

A cobbler can handle any type of issue you may have.

I’m not just talking about stained tongues and dirty laces. I’m talking about re-soling your shoes, fixing torn lace eyelets, and repairing damaged heels.

They polish and shine up leather, suede, and synthetic shoes as well. Take care of those Oxford brogues by leaving them with the cobbler for a couple days. It’s worth the extra money to feel like you are wearing a brand new pair of shoes again.

Shoe Cleaning Methods

Ok, let’s get to the nitty-gritty of removing the nitty-gritty.

  • Laces – The first step to taking care of your shoes is to remove the laces. Like I mentioned before, your laces cover up parts of your shoes, and they probably hide a good amount of gunk.Remove your laces before you attempt any sort of cleaning. It’s better to use a separate bowl to soak your laces overnight. Simply mix some water with a couple spoonfuls of laundry detergent (and bleach if you have white laces). Dip the laces in and let them soak for a few hours. Scrub with a brush if you really need to remove the build-up on the lace.
  • Dirt – Your job will become so much easier if you can remove the excess dirt before you even begin. Give your shoes a good shake and clobber to get rid of any excess dirt. Take them outside, smack them together, scrape in between all the grooves. Get into all the tread to remove any last bit of dirt you can.
  • Start Your Cleanse – Whether you’ve gone for the baking soda, the shoe cleaning kit, or the wipe, now is the time to use it.Go over every part of the shoe with your cleaning solution. Take the time to lift the tongue, get under the eyelets, and apply it on the sole as well. If you’re using a paste, scrub it into the worst areas and let it sit for a few minutes.Leather Shoes – you can apply a combination of water and white vinegar to buff away the stains. A soft cloth can also be perfect when applying a light covering of baking soda. You need the gentle abrasion to remove stains but not to mark up the shoes.Synthetic shoes – you can use a petroleum jelly to buff away scuff marks as well as removing dirt and grime.
  • Brush – Using an old toothbrush or a shoe brush, gently wipe away the stains and the cleansing agent. Start off gentle at first to get rid of the surface stains. If you have deeper stains, repeat the process of applying the agent and scrubbing again.This isn’t about scrubbing hard, but being consistent. Let the cleansing agent do its job, and you simply are wiping away the dirt.Absolutely do not use a hard, bristled brush (unless on suede). The bristles can easily scuff and mark your shoes. Even on suede shoes, use caution and a gentle approach to remove ground-in dirt.
  • Dry Out – Unless you’re using a shoe wipe, you need to let your shoe dry. While wet, simply set the shoe out in a sunny place (or inside a dry area) for a few hours to completely dry the shoes.Do NOT put your laces in the shoe until they are completely dry.Do NOT put your wet shoes in the dryer. It can weaken the seams and damage the structure of your shoe.Do NOT wear wet shoes. That just feels gross.

wearing the right shoes

Wearing the Right Shoes

Now, you should have clean shoes. Do you have the ability to maintain a clean shoe?

It depends on how you wear them.

It doesn’t make sense that you should wear your Royal 1s, your original Jordans, or your Double Monk shoes when playing with your kids at the park.

Yeah, they look cool, but they’re going to get wrecked.

Save your shoes for the appropriate situation. What does that situation look like?

Are you meeting LeBron James? Wear your BapeStas. Are you dating someone way out of your league? Show up in Loake Clint brogues.

Keep your Air Force Ones at home, because that’s just shoe cruelty to wear them out.

If you’re wearing the right shoe at the right time, you won’t have to worry about excessively cleaning your shoes.

But of course, cleaning your shoes can become a habit. I’m guessing that if you subscribe to /r/sneakers, you already have an obsession with clean shoes.

For the rest of us guys, you should try to clean your shoes once a week. If you’re not wearing them that often, the cleaning routine can be as simple as a quick scrub with a shoe wipe to get rid of any major marks.

Cleaning shoe stains goes far beyond taking care of your footwear. It’s about having a balanced approach to life. When you clean your shoes, you’re demonstrating to everyone that you care about how you look.

When you care about your appearance, that does have the good side effect of catching the girl’s eye, but do this one for yourself.

It’s worth it to look after yourself. And that’s the most attractive thing you can do.

Shawn Burns | @toolsofmen

Hi, I'm Shawn! A beard and shave enthusiast! I am an aspiring writer that wants to give guys great tips on how to pick up better grooming habits! From beard oil to using a double edge safety razor (yes I do get rid of my beard every now and again), I wanted to create this site where readers can get great information about men's grooming.

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