Whether it’s a $400 pair of Common Projects or a $50 pair of Chuck Taylors, all sneakers have one thing in common: They get dirty. And there’s no miracle product to prevent that, says Eduard Shimunov of Cobbler Express in the Financial District. “Unless you put a bag over them, there’s nothing really out there. Dirt is dirt. If you walk on the street, you’re going to get it onto your shoes.”
Even though you can’t really prevent them from getting dirty, you can still clean sneakers to get them looking more like new. There are of course lots of capable cobblers and sneaker-cleaning specialists who can do that for you, but many at-home cleaning methods exist, too — some of which cost about a third of the price of a visit to a professional. To find the best and easiest things for cleaning your kicks at home, we spoke to four cobblers and professional sneaker cleaners, who share their favorite solutions, brushes, and spot treatments below. (But to treat more serious damage like discoloring, you’re better off taking your shoes to a pro, who can mix a custom dye to disguise it.)
Best overall sneaker cleaner
Reshoevn8r Shoe & Sneaker Cleaner
The two experts we spoke with who specialize in sneaker cleaning — as opposed to general shoe repair — cited Reshoevn8r by name as their favorite all-purpose sneaker cleaner. “This solution works well on mostly all materials — leather, suede, nubuck — and gets the job done when it comes to cleaning sneakers,” says Steven Tran, a cleaning expert at Jersey City–based sneaker cleaning and restoration shop Sole Fresh. Richard Brown — the founder of another sneaker restoration company, Proof Culture, which also makes custom sneakers — agrees, saying Reshoevn8r is an “everyday all-purpose cleaner” that’s mild and won’t leave behind much soapy residue. He adds that when “combined with a medium-bristle shoe brush or toothbrush,” the product “allows for a clean wash and maximum dirt removal on the products most commonly used in sneakers, like leather, nubuck, and rubber.” To use the cleaner, Brown says to dilute it with water, then “dip your cleaning brush in the solution, and gently scrub away the dirt on the sneakers, giving them a quick rinse so as to prevent water-logging of the shoes.”
Best everyday sneaker cleaner
Sneaker Lab Shoe Wipes
The longer you go without cleaning your sneakers, the harder it is to get the dirt out, which is why Joe Rocco of Jim’s Shoe Repair in Midtown recommends using these every day (especially if you’ve got pricey sneakers). “They’re almost like baby wipes, but for sneakers,” he explains. “A lot of times the dirt stays on too long. If you have leather shoes and the wipes, you could just wipe the shoes every time you wear them because they’re going to get dirty every time you wear them — there’s no doubt. These will get the dirt off.”
Best brushes to clean sneakers
Reshoevn8r Brush Shoe Cleaning Kit
“Aside from the solutions, using the proper brush is key to cleaning sneakers,” says Tran. “Hard brushes should only be used on the undersole, and some midsoles. A medium brush can be used all around the sneaker, but should not be used on delicate materials such as suede, nubuck, or satin. A soft-bristle brush is key when dealing with delicate materials.” He says while lots of companies’ brushes are similar, at Sole Fresh they usually use Reshoeven8r brushes, which you can buy in this convenient set of soft-, medium-, and hard-bristled options (it also comes with the brand’s cleaner that our experts like). “The important step in cleaning sneakers is, while brushing in a circular motion, letting the solution and brush work up a lather to break down the dirt and stains,” Tran says.
Best cloth to clean sneakers
AmazonBasics 24-Pack Microfiber Cleaning Cloth
Tran says, along with the brushes, you’ll want to “use a microfiber towel to lift and pick up the dirt and stains.” Any kind of microfiber cloth will do, he says, noting that “sometimes using the microfiber towel to rub on a stubborn stain can lift the stain.” These microfiber cloths have some very high customer ratings, so they seem like a good place to start (and you can use them to clean all sorts of things, not just your sneakers).
Best cleaning solution for leather sneakers
Jason Markk Premium Shoe Cleaner
In addition to the Reshoevn8r, Tran also likes this cleaner from Jason Markk. “This solution works well on leather sneakers, and has a nice smell to it,” he says. But stick to using it on smooth leather, not suede, he says. “We found that it does not work well with suede material from trial and error.”
Best cleaner for suede sneakers
Angelus Foam Tex Sneaker Cleaning Kit
For suede and other more delicate materials, Tran suggests using Angelus Foam Tex. “This is a foam solution we like to use on delicate materials that should not be heavily saturated. It works well on suede, where the material shouldn’t be heavily saturated with water, causing damage to the material.” Tran also says you can use this to clean Uggs.
Best cleaning cream for leather sneakers
Saphir Medaille d’Or Leather Renovator
Whether you use a cleaning solution or a cleaning cream comes down to personal preference, as both will help remove dirt from your shoes. If you typically prefer cream-based products, you could try Saphir — the same product, Rocco says, that “Hermès uses on bags.” He uses a rag or an old shirt to apply the cream to sneakers (a microfiber cloth would work just as well), and then rubs the sneakers with the cloth until the dirt comes out.
Best (less-expensive) cleaning cream for leather sneakers
Tarrago Shoe Cream 3-Pack
Rocco also uses Tarrago cream at his shop, and although it may not be as high-end as the Saphir, he says it will “do the trick.” This one would be applied in the same way as the Saphir, with a cloth and some elbow grease.
Best spot cleaners for sneakers
Clorox Bleach Pen
Tide To Go Instant Stain Remover Liquid Pen
If you’re spot cleaning or trying to reach some of the smaller bits of your sneakers — like the stitching along the sole — Brown suggests a Clorox bleach pen for white sneakers, or a Tide detergent pen for more colorful pairs.
Best product for cleaning scuff marks from sneakers
Eternal Professional Nail Polish Remover
For scuff removal, Brown recommends applying nail-polish remover to the scuff with a Q-tip. But to ensure that the nail-polish remover won’t discolor your shoes, he advises to first “test an inconspicuous area of the shoe for colorfastness before applying to the scuff.” And although you might want to use a non-acetone nail-polish remover on your nails, when it comes to sneakers, you may actually want to pick up a formula that does have acetone, which Shimunov says is a “last resort” at his shop for cleaning tough stains. But be careful: Shimunov also says acetone is “smelly and dangerous,” and that if you “inhale a lot of it you might get high.”
Best products for cleaning sneakers’ insides and insoles
Windex Glass Cleaner Trigger Bottle
Rocco warns against soaking the inside of your sneakers with soap and water when cleaning them. “I’m not a fan of soap on the inside,” he says. “I’m not saying it’s wrong, I just like the way my sneakers feel and I don’t want to change it.” Instead, he suggests using something else you may already have at home: Windex. “Windex is a cleaner, and even though you usually use it on windows, you can use it to clean the inside of sneakers. I would spray it on a cloth and then wipe the inside,” Rocco says.
OxiClean Versatile Stain Remover Powder
To clean removable insoles, Brown suggests simply “tossing them in the washing machine with like colors and OxiClean.”
Conair Battery-Operated Fabric Defuzzer
The Laundress New York Sweater Comb
The consensus among our experts is that it’s probably just better to replace laces, but if you really want to try cleaning them, Rocco says “you can wash them with mild soap and water and let them dry out.” If your laces are pilling, Brown recommends a lint shaver. The Conair Battery-Operated Fabric Defuzzer (which we’ve written about) could be used on laces. The Laundress Sweater Comb is another good, lo-fi option, too.
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