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True grime: how to clean running shoes

Illustration of a pair of dirty Brooks shoes sitting in a puddle of brown mud.

Scuffs, caked mud, and grass stains on your running shoes are marks of pride. A little dirt here and there shows they’re getting good use, but don’t let it get out of control. Here’s how to clean running shoes and extend their life.

Rub-a-dub-dub, keep them out of the tub

First things first — do not, we repeat, do not machine wash or dry your shoes. Doing so seems like an easy way to get your running shoes clean but cutting corners in this way might set you back a pair of shoes. Tossing them in a spin cycle will definitely degrade the shoe material and could even damage your washer or dryer. Many newer washing machines have a hand-wash setting, but we recommend you just say no to machine cleaning your shoes in general.

It’s best to clean running shoes by hand, and all you need is some mild detergent and a damp cloth or brush. Follow the steps below to get your shoes looking squeaky clean:

1. Brush the bottom of your shoes to remove as much mud and dirt as possible.
2. Remove the shoelaces.
3. Gently use a damp cloth or brush to clean the uppers.
4. Rinse with warm water.
5. Remove the insoles and clean and dry them separately.
6. Stuff your shoes with newspaper. This helps them maintain shape and decreases drying time.

Following these steps will not only keep your shoes looking good but will help remove bacteria that cause offensive odours in your shoes.

Illustration of a bar of soap and a squeaky clean Brooks shoe covered in soap suds.

When to clean your running shoes

There isn’t really a set timeframe in which you should be cleaning your shoes — it depends more on the kind of running you’re doing.

If you’re on the trail, it’s a good bet that your shoes are picking up all kinds of mud and dirt. Of course, that’s not fun to look at but the bigger problem with mud is a loss of traction. Carrying a big ol’ cake of mud on your soles can put you at risk for slips and injuries. If you’re on the trail often, you should clean your shoes regularly to make sure they don’t impede your run. You’re not really going to encounter much dirt and mud if you’re a road runner, so your cleaning regimen may be based around combatting bad smells.

The general rule for when to clean running shoes is to do so when you notice a change in the way they feel, like if you’re carrying mud that outweighs your footwear, or if you start to notice that they’re beginning to smell.

Letting go

There comes a point in the runner-shoe relationship when it’s simply time to part ways. No amount of cleaning can resurrect a shoe that’s past its prime. Worn down shoes cannot properly support your joints. If you notice your legs and feet are extra tired after a regular workout, it may be time to replace your running shoes.

If it is time for a new pair, head over to the Shoe Finder to get matched up with your next perfect fit.

Illustration of a bucket, sponge, and bar of soap spread out on the floor sitting in clean water.