We asked experts to share the best way to clean white shoes.

By Susan Brickell
Updated: April 09, 2019
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Over the years, white shoes have become a wardrobe staple for both men and women. These versatile kicks pair as seamlessly with a tee and denim as they do with dresses, and add a sporty vibe to any outfit. The one downside? White shoes show every scrape, scratch, and bump, and keeping them bright white can be a challenge. How do you even begin to clean white shoes—whether they're made of a cloth material like canvas, smooth leather, or suede?

While you might loathe hand-washing your clothes, this is the best way to care for your shoes. Whatever you do, don’t put shoes or sneakers in a washing machine. "The rough-and-tumble can not only damage your washing machine drum, but it can also damage your shoes and, in some cases, make stains even worse," says Sean Perry, founder of the London-based cleaning company Neat Services.

Bleach also might seem like a no-brainer for maintaining white kicks, but it can be too strong even when diluted, Perry says. Plus, bleach can ruin your shoes, clothes, and floors if you accidentally spill it. His advice? Enlist the help of gentler products like baking soda, white vinegar, and hydrogen peroxide.

Believe it or not, white toothpaste (we like this one) is another affordable household product that can help whiten spots on sneakers, says Marieta Ivanova, a cleaning and home improvement expert for Fantastic Cleaners Brisbane. Just make sure the toothpaste is a cream formula (as opposed to a gel) and doesn't contain micro-cleansing crystals or other small particles that could damage the fabric. To use, wet your shoes and apply toothpaste in a circular motion with a clean brush. After, allow shoes to dry and remove the paste with wipes or a wet rag.

Whether they're canvas, leather, or suede (or you just want to whiten stained laces or yellow midsoles), here are expert-backed strategies to clean your white shoes.

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How to clean white canvas shoes

Jennifer Gregory, a brand manager for the Neighborly company Molly Maid, recommends filling a bucket with one gallon of water, one cup baking soda, and a drop of laundry detergent to clean and whiten canvas shoes. Remove your shoelaces and soak both the shoes and laces in the solution for an hour. Next, use a cleaning brush (or toothbrush!) to scrub the interior and exterior of your shoes to help eliminate stains and odor. Finally, rinse shoes thoroughly and allow them to air-dry before lacing them back up.

How to clean white leather shoes

Trying to salvage a pair of white leather kicks? Use a cleaning wipe like Mr. Clean Magic Eraser ($14 for 8; amazon.com) to help remove surface stains, says Dave Bowden, founder of the style blog Irreverent Gent. Go over the shoe slowly and thoroughly, wiping in circles then following the length of the shoe from toe to heel. Next, use a separate wipe to go over the sole. If you're finding scratches in the leather, try covering them with white nail polish, he suggests.

How to clean white suede shoes

Clean suede shoes at home by using a suede and nubuck cleaning kit ($14 for 3; amazon.com) or a premium suede shoe cleaner ($45; amazon.com) to gently remove stains from the delicate fabric, says Jennifer Rodriguez, chief hygiene officer at Pro Housekeepers. Another tip? You can use the inner part of a hard, old piece of bread as an eraser, Rodriguez adds. "The porous surface can easily remove dirt while not damaging the shoes."

Athletic shoes

To keep white athletic sneakers looking fresh, clean them with wet wipes ($10; amazon.com) every time you wear them, which will help prevent dirt and dust from accumulating. If they're already slightly discolored, wipe them with baby wipes, rub the fabric gently with lemon juice ($10 for 2; amazon.com), and let them air-dry, say the experts at Top Cleaners. You can also soak them in a cleaning solution like Vanish ($18; amazon.com) for about 20 minutes before hand-washing.

Yellow midsoles

You can whiten dingy, yellowed midsoles with a lightening hair product like SalonCare 40 ($9; amazon.com), says Gigi Rodgers, a sneaker artist who works to renovate shoes. Tap the cream onto the midsole of the shoe generously with a brush, and then cover the treated area with plastic wrap. Place the sneaker near a sunny window to air-dry, letting it sit for a few hours or until the next morning. Remove the plastic, rinse off the formula, and dry with a spare towel.

Scratches

If white nail polish isn't concealing scratches on white shoes, Rodgers recommends taking a small piece of sandpaper that's 600-grade or higher (she uses 1500-grade sandpaper) and rubbing it over the scratch on the leather shoe until smooth. Clean the scratched area with a cotton ball and nail polish remover or 100% acetone ($3; amazon.com), which will remove the factory finish on the sneaker (it's what you want—don't panic!). Grab a bottle of Angelus Sneaker Leather Paint in white ($8; amazon.com) and a paint brush and apply multiple thin coats until you can't see the scratch anymore.

Shoelaces

To clean white shoelaces, remove them and place in a sink filled with hot, soapy water and a little OxiClean Stain Remover ($13; amazon.com), says Donna Smallin Kuper, a professional organizer and cleaning expert. Allow the laces to soak for at least 30 minutes and then rub them together to loosen any dirt. Finally, rinse and let air-dry or toss in with a load of white laundry.

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