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How to wash running shoes

Dirty running shoes. Are they the mark of a runner who has braved the elements, raced a wet, muddy, wild track and has a story to tell, or is it the mark of a runner who simply does not look after their gear? Whether it’s badge of honor or negligence, when you want them clean, what’s the best way to do it?


Keeping your running shoes clean depends on several things: how dirty they are (and from what), the material of the shoes, and the method in which you wash them. Shoes should definitely not be over-washed, but leaving shoes muddy and sweaty after a run can damage the rubber and weaken stitching, as well as become a breeding ground for mold and other fun things.


There are two main types of “dirt” when it comes to running shoes. The first is from nature. The mud, the earth, the things you brush up against when out on the run like leaves and water. The second kind of dirt is from you: the runner. This is your sweat, blood, rubbing oils and anything else you have on you that rub onto and into your shoes. Sweat is also the main cause for smell in shoes, with barefoot runners often having the strongest smelling shoes.


Remember that running is no clean sport, and as most running is done outside, there’s always going to be some level of dirtiness involved.


That said, looking after your shoes can prolong their life and give you support and function for far longer than those that have been mistreated. For more, see our guide on when to replace your running shoes here


Three popular methods for washing shoes are listed below, based on how precious your shoes are versus how dirty they are, as well as amount of time and effort needed to get them ready for the next run.


1. Rub down method
There’s nothing better for you than a rub down after a run, so what about one for your shoes too. After a run where the dirt has covered the shoe, use a “shoe-brush” (an old tooth brush is perfect) and give the shoes a cleaning, removing the heaviest build ups of dirt and mud. Clapping the shoes together sole to sole removes dirt easily and effectively, and after that, put them in a dry place (with laces undone and inner sole taken out if possible) and wait for the dirt to dry before using your (dry) shoe brush to remove the rest of the dirt. This is the fastest way to have shoes ready for their next adventure, and requires only a few minutes after the run, once the shoes are dry.


2. Machine wash method
A common question is "Can I machine wash my running shoes?".

There are some types of running shoes out there that ask the wearer not to wash them in the machine. But generally, if that warning is absent, a cold machine wash without detergent should not damage the shoe (or the glue, which is actually the part effected by the detergent). This method is for shoes that have been covered with dirt or sweat. Maybe they smell or have lost their new-shoe look. Maybe you absolutely killed it in a muddy, gritty trail run. Whatever it is, you don’t have the time or patience for a hand wash, and these shoes are in need of a proper clean.

Before you do throw them in to the cold wash, follow the steps below:

1. Clap the soles together to remove as much mud and dirt as possible (as this can damage some machines).

2. Remove the inner sole and tie the shoe laces together so they don’t become tangled.

3. Put all the parts in a washing bag and then into the machine they go.

4. Set the temperature to around 30 degrees and don’t go with the fastest spin cycle to avoid excess stress on the shoes.

Once washed, stuff them with newspaper (to maintain shape) and leave them somewhere to dry naturally and usually after two days, they should be looking good and ready to use.


3. Hand wash method
This one is obviously the most time-consuming, both because of the hands-on basis of washing the shoes and the longer dry-time without a spin cycle like in a washing machine.

Maybe your shoes are not so dirty, or they come with explicit instructions not to be washed in a washing machine. In either case, hand washing is the best way to clean your shoes carefully. 

Just like with the machine wash, remove the insoles and laces. First wash off any debris, then put everything into the sink filled with warm slightly soapy water (natural laundry powder should be fine with most shoes and their glue types). Use a toothbrush or cloth to get into the gritty parts and lightly squeeze around the edges, front and heels of the shoes. Rub the laces between your hands and give the insoles a gentle squeeze too. Let the shoes drain in the empty sink then re-squeeze to remove excess water. Dry in a warm airy place and put scrunched up paper inside the shoe to help speed up the process and hold the shape of the shoe. Depending on where they are left to dry, they should be finished and dry within two to three days.


Happy cleaning.

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