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How to wash shoes in the washing machine: Our expert tips and tricks

A toothbrush and soapy water will only get you so far – here’s everything you need to know about cleaning shoes in your washing machine

The best way to clean shoes in a washing machine is something most people will wonder about at some point. Perhaps your child’s favourite trainers have had an unfortunate encounter with a muddy puddle (or worse), or maybe your once-white gym shoes are beginning to look a bit grey and tired. Either way, you need to do something about it.

Sometimes a simple scrub in the sink will suffice. But when that dirt has really started to build up, or if there’s a nasty stain involved, the washing machine is probably your best option. If you’re anything like most people, you might be unsure exactly how to go about it without causing damage to the shoes, washing machine or (heaven forbid) both.

Thankfully, washing shoes in the washing machine is usually perfectly safe, provided you follow a few all-important rules. In this guide, we’ll arm you with all the knowledge you need in order to get your shoes sparkling clean again without causing any damage in the process. Keep scrolling to find out how.

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How often should I clean my shoes?

Put simply, as often as they need it. Prevention is better than cure, so staying on top of things and giving your shoes a scrub regularly is always going to be the best option, but if you do need to get the washing machine involved, we would suggest doing so no more frequently than a couple of times a year.

Shoes are notoriously difficult to dry out, which can occasionally result in unpleasant odours, and even careful machine washing will cause them to degrade more quickly than hand cleaning. This is why we would advise you to use the washing machine only when you’ve exhausted all other options.

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Will the washing machine damage my shoes?

Yes and no. Firstly, it very much depends on the type of shoes you want to wash. Footwear made with leather, suede or any other material susceptible to water damage is not a suitable candidate for the washing machine, and ignoring this WILL result in damage to your shoes. If the shoes in question are made from canvas, cotton or synthetic materials like nylon mesh and polyester, then you can go right ahead and machine wash them without concern.

The main thing to keep in mind is that you don’t wash them on too hot a setting, as doing so could cause shrinkage. To avoid this, always make sure to wash any shoes on a low heat, or even a cold setting. We would also recommend removing the insoles and cleaning them separately by hand.

Will my shoes damage the washing machine?

The thought of a pair of heavy shoes banging around in your washing machine’s drum is enough to put a lot of people off washing their shoes this way, but it’s highly unlikely to cause any damage to the appliance. In fact, most washing machine brands have entire pages of their websites dedicated to information about washing shoes, the key takeaway from all of them being that it’s absolutely fine to do so.

One measure you can take to prevent any potential problems is to place your shoes into a special mesh bag, or even just a pillowcase before washing. Not only will this help to prevent laces from becoming a tangled mess, but it will also lessen the ferocity with which the shoes tumble around during the cycle.

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Should I remove the laces from my shoes before washing?

If you use a bag or pillowcase to wash your shoes then there’s no need, but it certainly doesn’t do any harm, and it could even result in a more thorough clean.

If you do decide to wash your laces separately, pop them in a bowl of warm water with a few drops of detergent, give them a good scrub by rubbing them together in your hands and then let them soak. You can then remove them, wring them out, rinse them and pop them on a towel or some kitchen roll to dry.

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What detergent should I use to wash my shoes?

There’s no need to use anything particularly fancy. Simple liquid detergent or laundry pods – the same ones you use to wash your clothes – will do the trick. That said, powder detergents are best avoided as they can sometimes fail to dissolve properly and stick to shoes leaving residue behind.

If you’re washing white shoes in an attempt to restore them to their former glory, you could throw in a bit of stain remover to help expedite the process.

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What setting should I wash my shoes on?

As tempting as it may be to stick your shoes on a hot wash to get them as clean as possible, this could end up doing more harm than good. As mentioned above, using water that is too hot could result in shrinkage, which is definitely something to be avoided.

Instead, select a nice gentle setting with a low heat and slow or no-spin cycle to minimise the risk of damage to shoes and machine.

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How should I dry my shoes after washing them?

Throwing your shoes in the washing machine is OK, but the tumble dryer… not so much. The heat with shrink fabric, warp rubber and melt glue, leaving your favourite trainers a literal hot mess.
Instead, always air dry your shoes. This can be a lengthy process, but you can speed it up by stuffing them with some newspaper or paper towels to absorb excess moisture and placing them near (but not too near) a heat source. If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere with warm weather, you could even let the sun do the heavy lifting for you.

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