How to Clean White Sneakers

Keeping them fresh is easier than you think.

white sneakers
(Image credit: Getty Images)

take care of it

(Image credit: Hearst Owned)

Welcome to Take Care of It, where we'll share best practices for the upkeep and maintenance of luxury fashion purchases—because we know you want to keep them forever.

While beat-up sneakers had their moment (somewhere around the same time as side-swept bangs), white sneakers are arguably the “freshest” look when it comes to sneaker styling. However, nobody said being fly was easy. White sneakers definitely require some responsibility, since they look their best when kept pristinely clean. Intimidated? Don’t be. The name of this game is maintenance.

“I hate white sneakers, especially fabric!” says Asimenia Polychronakis, leather specialist at Minas Shoe Repair Shop in New York City, who is often asked to resurrect white sneakers after they've reached the point of no return. She mentions the popular advice of washing sneakers in the washing machine—but this can easily lead to disaster. Through the shop, Polychronakis has had to come to the rescue for what seemed like such an easy, at-home fix. She breaks down some easy steps to self-maintain sneaker excellence—mainly so she doesn’t have to do your dirty work.

Don’t Tumble Dry Your Sneakers

“People were throwing their designer sneakers in there and coming into the shop with deformed sneakers!” Polychronakis says.

The ol’ washing machine trick may have been intended for more simple, less expensive tennis shoes—not necessarily trying to transport luxury sneakers back to their original state. Polychronakis warns not be so causal about designer items: “Never put sneakers in the dryer, especially if they are leather and cost $500.”

Regularly Wipe Off Smudges

While the laundry method might do wonders on more simple sneaker styles, err on the side of caution when it comes to heat and tumbling. Or better yet, skip that part altogether and take early steps of prevention first.

The main objective is to keep your sneakers consistently white, which means a daily inspection and taking out any noticeable scuff right as you see it. But you don’t have to bring out the big guns too early. Polychronakis brushes off our panic: “Use a baby wipe if it’s a little dirt.”

For Heavy Duty Marks, Consult Cleaners

If the scuffing gets out of hand, it’s time to enlist the help of proper cleaners. Polychronakis has some go-to's: "Gonzo and Lincoln EZ cleaner are good for both fabric and leather. Dawn dish soap also does wonders.” She advises that if you're working with a fabric style, clean the whole sneaker (taking out individual spots can leave rings). This can easily be done with the cleaner, water, and an old-but-clean toothbrush all around the shoe. And then leave them to air dry (not in the dryer, please!).

Wear Socks With Your Sneakers

Not sure who needs to hear this, but...wear socks. With warm weather approaching, now is the time to invest in a pack of no-shows so you have them at the ready, or try to work out some sock styling to make it more of a look. Not to be gross, but socks will keep your sneakers crisp and white. Polychronakis has seen the good, the bad, and the ugly on this one. “Many times it’s the sweat stains that are hard to remove.” Not sure if we want to know the deets, but take it as a warning.

Best Products for Sneaker Upkeep:

Julia Gall

Julia Gall is the former Style Director at Marie Claire, covering all things fashion, as well as styling tips, wardrobe upkeep and sustainability. Check her out at @juliasgall.