White shoes are the best and worst things to ever happen to our wardrobes. When they’re fresh, clean, and crisp, they go well with just about anything—even after Labor Day. But the minute they get one scuff, or get a single drip of coffee spilled on them (or blood, depending on how your weekend went), your anxiety shoots you right in the foot.
Luckily, just because your shoes got a little dirty doesn’t mean you have to light them on fire and toss them in the trash. Here are 8 ways to clean your all-white shoes.
Use a Pencil Eraser
Just like when we make mistakes on paper, pencil erasers work great on shoes. The eraser will pull dirt and scuffs out of a rubber soul, and believe it or not, works wonders on suede. The gentle friction pulls the dirt out of the suede, as well as “fluffs” it to make it look like new again.
Wash Them in a Washing Machine
This remedy is fairly well known by now, but until you try it, it sounds like a great way to ruin a home appliance. For those of you whose still haven’t put them in, believe us, it works really, really well. Take the laces and insoles out of your shoes, then toss the laces and the shoes inside a washing bag together. Set it to Hot/Cold, and wash using detergent or bleach (or a healthy mix of both). When they’re done washing, let them air dry, and then voila—good as new!
Harness the Power of the Sun (And Hydrogen Peroxide and Baking Soda)
This method takes a little elbow grease and involves some wait time, but it’s one of the more magical methods we know. Mix a tablespoon of baking soda, a half tablespoon of water, and a half tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide together in a bowl until it becomes somewhat pasty. With a soft-bristled toothbrush, thoroughly scrub the mix onto every inch of the affected shoes—really get in there good. After that, paste on a second solid layer, and then leave the shoes in direct sunlight for three to four hours. Come back, smack them together to beat the caked-on paste off of them, and you should be left with shoes that look brand-spankin’ new. Fuck yeah, science!
Use WD-40 to Loosen Up Stuck-On Gunk
If you have stuck-on gunk on some spendy leather shoes, this method works wonders—if you’re careful. Essentially, the solvents and chemicals in WD-40 break down oil-based products, paints, and other potentially shoe-ruining things. Just a quick word to the wise: When removing things like tar or other stuck-on gunk, use WD-40 (or other solvent) sparingly. Last thing you want to do is turn it into a big diluted smudge mark. For instance, if you managed to get some fresh blacktop tar on your Jordans, this should be fine. If you got some tar on your Italian leather loafers, use JUST enough to break down the debris, and then gently wipe it away with a cloth. WD-40 is a mineral oil, so there is a risk of staining softer leathers. Be smart, here.
Good Old-Fashioned Soap and Water
You’d be surprised what a little warm water, soap, and a stiff brush can accomplish with the right amount of elbow grease. Dish detergent is better than hand soap or bar soap because it has more surfactants (detergent molecules) in it. That means it’ll break down dirt, grease, and whatever else you managed to get on your shoe better than regular soap. You can scrub thoroughly with warm water, detergent soap, and a washcloth first, and then use a stiff brush to dig in and get the rest. (photo cred. Courtney’s Craftin&Cookin)
Use Vaseline to Not Just Clean, But Condition Your Leather Shoes
This should be common sense to most people, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned in life, it’s that’s what is common sense to us might be a life-changing revelation to others. So, let us be loud and clear here—DO NOT USE VASELINE ON ANYTHING OTHER THAN LEATHER. Anyway, now that we got that out of the way, petroleum jelly (like Vaseline) is a classic way to clean dirt, debris, and scuffs out of leather, while also conditioning and preserving it. A small dab of Vaseline, gently rubbed into the surface of your leather shoes, will not only remove superficial scratches, scuff marks, and dirt, but will also soften and condition your leather and prevent it from cracking in the future! Leather is skin, after all. (photo cred. Courtney’s Craftin&Cookin)
Mr. Clean Magic Eraser and a Little Dish Soap
When you think of Mr. Clean, you typically think of the weird-looking bald-headed fellow who runs around cleaning kitchens or stands around looking like a magic genie. Well, one of his products, the Magic Eraser, is an absolute must-have in shoe cleaning. The magic eraser is simple—wet it and start scrubbing. That’s it. The microscrubbers help lift the dirt out of all the small cracks and crevices, and if you need any extra help digging into leather or canvas, you can get the “Extra Durable” version, or the “Foaming Kitchen Scrubber” one. And if worse comes to worst, a little dish detergent will help drastically. We know it sounds a little far-fetched, but these things will get pizza sauce out of your white canvas shoes—100 percent.
Send Stains to Minty-Fresh Hell with Toothpaste
No, we’re not bullshitting you. Toothpaste works surprisingly well as a shoe cleaner. The only thing to keep in mind her is that it can’t be a fancy new-age gel paste. Standard Colgate works well—even the green spearmint stuff. Dampen a wash cloth and wet the shoe surface. Try to get as much of the dirt and debris off as possible. Then, with an old—or new—toothbrush, take some toothpaste and scrub vigorously. Every now and again, wash the brush off and scrub things with just the wet brush. It’ll take some time, as the toothpaste will need to “get friendly” with the fabric/rubber/leather, but after a thorough scrub and rinse, your kicks should look damn near brand new again.