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How to Clean Trainers and Sneakers

Cleaning sneakers, trainers and running shoes made simple


Whether you call them trainers, creps, treads, kicks, sneakers or running shoes, athletic footwear helps us to look good and keep fit. But getting the most out of our sportsshoes means getting them dirty. Luckily the SonicScrubber team has some top tips for keeping trainers box-fresh and match fit.


Can you put trainers in the washing machine?

When trainers are caked in mud it can be tempting to throw them in the washer and hope for the best. But we don’t advise that you do. Many running shoes combine different fabrics and glues that can get water damaged or degraded in the washing machine.

You can also damage your washing machine if you’re unlucky or clog up the filter, which will just give you another cleaning job to do.

Some sneakers have washing instructions inside, normally on the inner tongue or a label which can be under the insole. But if in doubt, leave them out.

For trainers that say they can be machine washed, it’s a sound idea to remove any caked on, loose or dry dirt before putting them inside the drum. This will help prevent clogging filters, pipes or leaving and debris in the machine, which might transfer onto your next load of washing.

The fast way to do this is with the SonicScrubber Footwear System. Its head oscillates 10,000 times a minute, to lift dirt and save you elbow grease. Unlike a toothbrush or kitchen scrubbing brush, SonicScrubber Footwear System has interchangeable heads and bristles designed for cleaning footwear and have different levels of abrasiveness.

To reiterate, we don’t recommend machine washing trainers, particularly not any that have suede or leather trim or which cost you a lot of money. But if you decide to take the risk, once you’ve removed as much of the surface dirt as you can, we recommend removing the laces and handwashing them. This will prevent the laces getting caught between the rotating drum and the door seal. If your trainers have removable foam insoles, take these out and hand wash them too.

Put a small amount of a mild detergent in a dosing ball, ideally a ‘colour’ laundry detergent, since these contain less bleaching agents. Put the dosing ball in the washing machine with your trainers. 

If you can, place your trainers inside a wash bag, then put the bag containing them into the washing machine drum. This will help prevent any parts of your trainers snagging inside the machine, reducing the risk of either your trainers or washer getting damaged. 

Another tip is to throw a couple of hand towels into the drum with your running shoes. This will help cushion the impact of the trainers hitting the inside of the drum and may help reduce the sound of banging trainers in your washer too. Wash your trainers on a low temperature, no more than 30 degrees, using a delicates or hand wash cycle and the lowest possible spin speed. 

Under no circumstances tumble dry trainers, the heat of a tumble dryer can cause them significant damage. Overheating trainers can cause them to become brittle when they dry and start breaking up. You can also melt or burst any cushioning gel or air sacs inside your shoes. Don’t stick them on a hot radiator after washing either, it can dry out oils and glues within the materials used to make your trainers. After washing, blot excess moisture with a towel or microfibre cloth and leave your sneakers to air-dry at room temperature.


Let them dry out fully before wearing them and your patience will be repaid with a clean set of heels!

In summary:

  • Use a SonicScrubber to remove any excess dirt
  • Check for washing instructions inside your trainers
  • If in doubt, leave them out. Handwashing is a safer option
  • Remove laces and insoles
  • If you can, put your trainers inside a wash bag
  • Put some small towels or face cloths in the machine with your shoes
  • Use colour friendly detergent in a dosing ball
  • Wash at a low temperature on a delicates or hand wash cycle
  • Do NOT tumble dry or put trainers on hot radiators

    The BEST way to clean sneakers

    The best way to clean sneakers and trainers is to hand wash them using a SonicScrubber and mild detergents such as washing-up liquid and bicarbonate of soda. You might also want to get some microfibre cloths, some white vinegar and a suede or sneaker cleaning eraser for any stubborn stains. 


    The SonicScrubber Footwear System comes with a powered, waterproof, easy to grip handle and the following interchangeable brush heads:


    The large long brush:

    Wider, with flexible bristles, this brush is great for removing large amounts of dirt from soles and uppers.


    The medium brush: 

    Designed for grime on midsoles, outer soles and uppers.


    The cone brush:

    A brush head with harder, pointy bristles, to get into joins, grooves and treads.


    The long (soft) brush:

    A narrow brush, with longer, flexible bristles that are kinder on soft or delicate fabrics.


    So, now we know the right tools for the job, let's go through our six steps for sparking sneakers:


    STEP 1

    Remove the trainer laces and any removable insoles.

    STEP 2

    Use the SonicScrubber, without any liquid or detergent, to remove as much dirt and debris as possible. We recommend doing this outside, over a hard surface or over newspapers or towels, to make it easier to clean up any dirt that flies off.


    Use the right brush-head for each part of your shoes and avoid using the more abrasive brushes on any delicate surfaces.

    If the treads on your soles are caked with mud or have small pieces of gravel or other items in hard-to-reach crevices, which is proving stubborn, use some mild washing-up liquid and warm water to scrub them out. Then, rinse them with water

    Once you’re done, wipe the trainers down with a moist microfibre cloth and rinse the SonicScrubber brush heads clean under a tap.


    STEP 3

    Check for any stains that look like they’re going to be particularly stubborn. 

    To pretreat stains on your shoes before fully washing them, you can create a mild cleaning solution with half a cup of water and a tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda. For oily or grimy looking stains, mix a quarter of a cup of water with a quarter of a cup of white vinegar and a tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda. Give the mixture a stir. 


    Put the medium brush-head on your SonicScrubber, or the long, soft head for more delicate fabrics. Wet the bristles and dip it in some baking soda. Gently and briefly rub it into the stain, wait about 10 to 15 minutes. Then with the softer head, dip the brush in your cleaning solution and use a circular motion to clean off the bicarbonate and the stain. Don’t push too hard on the brush head. Rinse and wipe your trainers  with a clean, damp microfibre cloth or towel.


    Be extra careful when it comes to cleaning more delicate materials on your trainers, such as leather, knitted fabrics or suede. For leather uppers, only use the soft-long brush and test an inconspicuous area first. Consider using a special shoe cleaning eraser or leather conditioner to remove stains from leather uppers before trying any other solutions. To avoid damaging the leather, always scrub gently. You might want to apply a leather conditioner or polish afterwards.


    Suede is a very delicate fabric that easily absorbs moisture and can be quick to stain, so it’s a good idea to prevent stains from happening in the first place by applying a suede protectant. If you do have suede stains try dry-brushing with the softest available brush first, since water can stain the fabric. If the soft brush doesn’t work, try one a little stiffer but be careful that you aren’t ripping out the suede fibres. Be gentle and test a small area first. Your next option is to try a specialist suede rubber. If your stains aren’t shifting with dry cleaning, try working them out with a bit of rubbing alcohol, white vinegar or a suede-cleaning solution, but test a small area with a cotton bud first and always be gentle.

    STEP 4

    If you still need to clean your shoes after the steps above, make a mild cleaning solution, in a sink, bathtub or bowl,  by mixing warm water with a small amount of washing-up liquid or a mild hand wash detergent. For white trainers you can consider using warm water with a couple of large spoons of bicarbonate of soda mixed in. 


    The water shouldn’t be warm but not hot and only use a small amount of detergent to avoid discolouration of materials or damaging oil and glues in the shoe. Use your SonicScrubber brush heads to clean every area of your shoes, then rinse them and wipe them down with a microfibre cloth or towel.


    Use a dry towel or microfibre cloth to blot as much moisture as possible.


    Put your trainers on a towel to air dry at room temperature.

    STEP 5

    The next step is to handwash your laces. Whilst wearing cloves, run the laces gently between your forefinger and thumb to remove any dried or caked on dirt, don’t press too hard so you don’t push dirt into the fibres. 

    Next, put your laces in some warm water and washing-up liquid to soak for a couple of minutes. Next, wearing waterproof gloves, massage some washing up liquid and water into the laces. Rinse them in clean water and repeat if necessary.

    For white laces that are heavily stained, you can pre-soak them for longer and consider using bicarbonate of soda, a whitening pre-wash solution that’s suitable for handwashing. 


    STEP 6

    If you removed your insoles, it’s time to give them a clean too. Trainer insoles are often surprisingly delicate, so we recommend dry brushing any surface dirt off first with the soft SonicScrubber long brush head. Rinse them gently in your mild cleaning solution, rubbing the insoles gently between your fingers. Rinse off the cleaning solution, with lukewarm water and leave your insoles to air dry at room temperature, outside of the trainers. 

    Don’t tumble dry them or put them on a hot radiator.


    Happy cleaning!


    We hope you found our trainer cleaning guide useful.


    The SonicScrubber Footwear System is powered to clean shoes from tongue to tread and everywhere in-between. It's available from the SonicScrubber store, Amazon, eBay and other great retailers.