Skip to content   Skip to footer navigation 

How to wash shoes in a washing machine

Here's what you need to know before chucking your runners in the wash.

shoes in garment bag being placed in washing machine - with laces on
Last updated: 16 August 2021
Fact-checked

Fact-checked

Checked for accuracy by our qualified fact-checkers and verifiers. Find out more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Need to know

  • You can wash some shoes in your washing machine, but you shouldn't just chuck them in and hope for the best – check the wash instructions first
  • You're going to need to clean off any excess dirt beforehand, and remove the laces and soles
  • Opt for a cold wash and liquid detergent to help prevent colours from running and undissolved detergent from lodging in the crevices of the shoes

Whether you can wash your shoes in a washing machine largely comes down to the material of your shoes. We've found that cotton, canvas, polyester and nylon shoes (like runners and sneakers) have some capacity to be washed in a washing machine, while leather, suede and satin shoes require other cleaning methods.

Before you begin your quest for brighter, whiter sneakers, there are some important things to consider, from the type of detergent and washing machine setting to use, to whether you can dry your shoes in a dryer once they're washed.

Top tips for cleaning your running shoes

Follow the below advice to avoid damaging your shoes (and your washing machine).

cleaning_shoe_with_a_bristle_brush

Clean any dirt from the shoe with a clean soft brush or rag.

  • Look at the wash instructions on the shoes and follow them – they're essential.  
  • Clean the outside of your shoes with a clean brush or rag to get rid of any excess dirt.
  • Take off the laces, as the colour can run into the trainers – you can wash the laces separately in a delicates bag so they don't slip into the seal or behind the drum.
  • Remove the soles and wipe them clean, as sometimes these cannot be washed.
  • Wash your shoes with something else, like a towel, so the shoes don't bounce around and cause any damage to your washing machine.
  • Use a front loader washing machine if possible – they're much gentler than most top loaders.
  • Use a liquid detergent – powder detergent is likely to get stuck inside your shoes and not dissolve properly, unless you dissolve it beforehand in water and add it to the wash.
  • Use a cold wash – a warm or hot wash will leave your shoe fabric misshapen and can make colours run.

What's the best washing machine setting to use when cleaning shoes?

You're going to want to use the delicates or hand wash setting. This has a higher water usage, which is what you want sluicing around your shoes.

removing_inner_sole_insert_from_running_shoe

Remove the soles before cleaning your shoes – they take forever to dry.

fill_washing_machine_with_liquid_detergent

Use a liquid detergent to prevent powder residue from lodging in the crevices of the shoe.

Other wash programs commonly use much less water and rely on the friction of other clothes rubbing against each other to clean, which won't work for the inside of your trainers.

The hand wash or delicate settings have lower spin speeds, and sometimes no spin at all. If you can make sure the spin speed is off or at the lowest possible spin, this reduces the risk of your shoes bouncing around too much and damaging the drum of your washing machine (or damaging your shoes). 

Make sure you have something else in the machine when you wash your shoes, like a towel, so that it softens any tumbling action.

Cold water settings are best to use for shoes as well, as this will reduce the risk of colours running through the fabric of the shoes. There's also the chance of a warm or hot wash making the fabric shrink and making your shoes no longer fit. If your washing machine doesn't have a cold setting, use the lowest temperature setting possible.

Do different shoe manufacturers have different instructions for cleaning?

In short, yes. It's why we strongly encourage anyone thinking of washing their shoes in a washing machine to check the wash instructions. You'll sometimes find these underneath the tongue of the shoe.

checking_label_under_tongue_of_shoe

Check under the tongue of the shoe to see the instructions for washing.

Sometimes these labels wear out over time, in which case you should check the brand's website as any major manufacturer will include wash instructions – if not for your exact shoe, then for shoes more generally.

Both Adidas and Asics do not recommend washing shoes in a washing machine – instead, they suggest cleaning the shoes manually with a mild detergent rubbed on. They recommend air drying the shoes in the shade, as drying them in the sun can lead to yellow staining and the outer sole becoming warped.

They do, however, state that you can wash the shoes' insoles and laces in a washing machine within a pillowcase or delicates bag.

Nike recommends the same advice as Adidas and Asics, and also that you avoid putting your laces or insoles in the washing machine and clean these manually as well.

Does the type of washing machine make a difference when washing shoes?

Front loader washing machines tend to be gentler in the way they clean, which will reduce the potential for damage (to the machine or your shoes). Front loaders also have better controls on spin and temperature, which should be at low and cold respectively.

Top loader washing machines are rougher with clothes and shoes as most models clean by agitation. There are a few that are called impeller, but these are a minority on the market.

You can tell the difference by what's inside the top loader. If it has a central column, it uses that to agitate both clothes and shoes in the washing cycle, and it tends to be rough about it.

If it has a flat base at the bottom, this is an impeller, which is a little gentler on clothes and shoes alike. You'll want to make sure you read the shoes instructions to make sure you can use a top loader.

In some cases the instructions may not indicate it so you'll need to make sure you just use cold water and reduced spin if possible, as well as gentle or hand wash programs. Make sure you bulk up the load with more towels so it's not as rough on your shoes.

Can you put shoes in the clothes dryer or on a heater?

This will depend on your shoe instructions as hot air might warp some shoe fabrics. It also depends on your dryer. Some dryers come with racks that can either sit inside your dryer or at the vent outside – most are internal. 

You can put shoes onto these racks to speed up the drying process, which is handy if you've been out in wet weather or you've just put your shoes through the wash. These dryers will generally have a cool air option too, which is required for safe drying.

We don't recommend putting your shoes directly on a heating source or even close enough to warp the fabric or rubber as many heaters may do

We don't recommend putting your shoes into a dryer without the drying rack, because the tumbling action and heat could alter both the fabric and rubber of the shoes and they simply won't fit as well any longer.

In fact, we don't recommend putting your shoes directly on a heating source at all, or even close enough to warp the fabric or rubber as many heaters may do. 

If you want to stay on the safe side, you're going to have to dry your shoes outside or inside and have some patience with this, especially in winter. Outside in the wind is best, and letting them hang from one end then switching to the other end of the shoe (perhaps by a peg on the clothesline) will help your shoes dry the fastest.

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE