The Right Way to Wash Shoes in the Washing Machine (and Mistakes to Avoid)

published Dec 23, 2023
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Pair of sneakers in washing machine, closeup.
Credit: Epov Dmitry

Have your bright white kicks turned into a dingy, asphalt-colored mess? Don’t worry — there’s a simple way to wash them. Just use the washing machine. I asked two experts, Jess Farinha, founder of London House Cleaners, and Lina DaSilva, founder of Toronto Shine Cleaning, about the proper way to wash your shoes in the machine. Here’s the process they shared.

Quick Overview

How to Wash Shoes in the Washing Machine

  • Step 1: Prep your shoes by removing the laces and insoles and removing any loose debris.
  • Step 2: Put your shoes in a mesh bag or pillowcase to avoid damage to the washer. You can also add floor mats or towels.
  • Step 3: Use a gentle cycle and cold water.
  • Step 4: Air dry your shoes.

How to Wash Shoes in a Washing Machine

Here’s how you can go about washing your shoes in a washing machine in four simple steps.

Step 1: Prep your shoes.

Before getting anywhere near the washing machine, remove the laces and insoles of your shoes. Those will be washed separately. (When DaSilva washes these, she puts them in a mesh bag so they don’t get tangled up or damaged among other laundry.) Then, take a soft-bristled brush and lightly scrub off any loose dirt or debris.

Step 2: Add some protection.

Put your shoes in a mesh laundry bag or in a pillowcase — that way they won’t bang around inside the machine. You can also add some floor mats or towels to the machine to help give some cushion around the shoes and protect both them and the drum of your washing machine.

Step 3: Pick the washer settings.

Use a gentle cycle and cold water. Otherwise, the heat or excessive tumbling could damage your shoes. You’ll also want to use a mild detergent so the shoe materials are protected. Check them after one cycle; you may decide to run a second wash.

Step 4: Air-dry.

No matter what, don’t put your shoes in the dryer! Take them out of the wash when they’re done and air-dry them. Make sure they’re in a spot that doesn’t get direct sunlight and that’s well-ventilated.

Mistakes to Avoid When Washing Your Shoes

Farinha and DaSilve also shared some common problems people run into when washing shoes in the washing machine. First, you need to make sure you can clean them in the machine to begin with. Leather and suede shoes should be cleaned by hand, along with any shoes that have delicate embellishments or might get damaged in the wash. Heels and flip-flops, for example, might be better off being hand-washed.

Once you’re ready to wash, make sure you aren’t using hot water, which Farinha says can warp shoes or cause the glue to melt. And don’t use bleach or other harsh chemicals, which can discolor or damage the fabric.