Whether you’re a seasoned sneakerhead or wear the same pair of Reeboks day in, day out, all shoes are bound to get dirty. Luckily, there are many products available to get your runners — or sneakers, as the devout call them — looking box-fresh again.
at O’Sullivan, a Kerry-based sneaker customiser at @TheStylingIrish, says shoe care should begin the moment you take a new pair home.
“From the get-go, have them stuffed to keep the shape,” he says. “It prevents creases and when you don’t have creases, the leather doesn’t crack, so you don’t get these dents where dirt can get in. That’s the first port of call.”
You can use shoe trees, such as the affordable ones from Sneaky (€4.99, SneakyBrand.eu), but Pat says newspaper will work just as well, absorbing moisture and keeping the shoes aired each time you change the stuffing.
Even if you haven’t been quite so diligent about cleaning before, you can get started any time. Cliff Mann and Stephen Ryan are hosts of the Tight Knit Sneaker Podcast and note that sneaker cleaning can be as easy or as hard as you make it. For really intensive jobs, there are professionals like the Dublin-based Sneaker Surgery, which specialises in repairs and restorations, but there is plenty you can do at home for regular maintenance.
Here, we asked sneaker collectors and restorers how they keep their shoes in pristine condition.
On a budget
The cheapest option, Pat notes, is “elbow grease — hot water, Fairy washing-up liquid and a good scrub”. This method works best with one part Fairy liquid to 10 parts water, according to Robbie Fidgeon-Kavanagh, founder of streetwear brand Emporium Dublin.
However, Sneaker Surgery owner Gareth Murray adds that it’s all too easy to get the ratio wrong, which can lead to panic.
“If you end up putting too much washing-up liquid into the water and let it dry on a pair of white canvas or white mesh, you could end up with brown spots when they dry. People think they’ve ruined them, but it’s just that the detergent has dried on them. All it takes is another clean and it will come back out,” he says.
Another wallet-friendly option is the Vanish Stain Bar (€4.79, SuperValu), which Cliff says “makes a huge difference across most material-style shoes”, and is particularly effective on mesh toe boxes.
“I would wet the area of the shoe, rub the Vanish bar over it, then use a cleaning brush or toothbrush to scrub out the dirt and wipe the excess down using a cloth. Leave it dry naturally,” he says, adding that it’s best to use the Vanish bar on white shoes.
Cliff raises the “lazy” method of using the washing machine, on which our experts are split. Pat calls it “madness”, and warns against putting shoes with metal details like the Air Force 1 inside, as the buckle can weaken the door glass.
But Cliff says he “absolutely loves the results” on his Air Max 1 and 90 models and “the felt mudguards come away real nice and clean, along with the white mesh toe box”.
He removes the laces and insoles, scrubs shoes with the Vanish bar and washes on a low cold wash, as a hot wash could damage the glue and lead to sole separation. He recommends checking out the Sneaker Laundry Bag (€20.95, reshoevn8r.co.uk), which “protects sneakers from damage in the washing machine”.
The safest bet, our experts agree, is to use a dedicated sneaker-cleaning solution. For an extensive starter kit, Pat likes the Essential Shoe Cleaning Kit from Reshoevn8r (€35.95, reshoevn8r.co.uk), featuring a cleaning solution, microfibre towel and soft, medium and stiff bristle brushes.
“That’s what I would recommend. Slightly dilute it down with water and then use a brush to start scrubbing and build up that foam,” he says. “At the start, you get the brush to take off all the heavy stuff and then you can work down and get into the small little crevices and details. The final wipe is with your damp microfibre cloth and then you can dry it off with the other side of the cloth.”
Scottish company SneakersER was the other most frequently cited brand, with Gareth saying it’s the next best thing to the industrial products he uses in the Sneaker Surgery.
“I would highly rate that for the consumer — it’s a one-stop sneaker solution,” he says of its Premium Sneaker Cleaning Solution, which safely cleans suede, leather, mesh, nubuck, canvas and knitted uppers. It is sold individually (€14.95), or for beginners, Gareth recommends one of the kits, such as the duo, including a soft to medium bristle brush (€20.95, SneakersER.com).
“SneakersER are the best in the business when it comes to the full product range, and their liquid cleaner that you mix with water is far better than any other foam cleaners on the market,” Cliff says, adding that the Protecter Aerosol (€14.95, SneakersER.com) “works better than most [repellent sprays] as well”.
Robbie says “you can’t beat Jason Markk soap”, which is available as part of a Premium Deep Cleaning Kit (€20, Size?), while Cliff also likes the Happy Sole Sneaker Cleaner Spray (€10.99, TheStylingIrish.com). “That’s a brilliant spray to use, especially on the midsoles which gather up a lot of dirt, and it removes it very well. It’s the best midsole cleaner I’ve ever used,” he says.
For day-to-day use, Pat, Cliff and Stephen all recommend Sneaky Wipes (€4.99, SneakyBrand.eu), which have a textured side for removing dirt and a smooth side to wipe clean. “I would consider them the best wipes out there,” says Cliff, adding that he gives his sneakers a light wipe after each wear.
Take care when cleaning delicate materials by rubbing gently with the wipes rather than scrubbing. “I had a nightmare with this in the past where I cleaned the suede and colour ran from the suede into the white mesh on the shoe and completely ruined the mesh,” says Stephen.
SneakersER sells a range of Midsole Paint Pens (€14.95) in many different colours that Stephen recommends for touching up the midsole. “If the paint chips off or if you get scuffs on the midsole, the marker will freshen it up and have it looking brand new.”
For eliminating odours, Gareth uses a handheld steamer, but he says deodorisers will work well too. On a budget, he suggests the Scholl Fresh Step Shoe Spray (€5.25, pharmacies) or for a more high-end option, he recommends the SneakersER Neutralising Deodorant (€12.95).
Suede is particularly delicate, so Robbie likes to use a suede brush such as the Jason Markk Suede Cleaning Kit (€17, Size?), which includes a rubber eraser to lift dirt away. “You don’t want to put water on dyed suede, and most things just brush out,” he says.
Cliff and Stephen use the SneakersER solution and brush, and warn that brushing too hard can ruin the fabric, making it flat or removing clumps.
“Don’t oversaturate your brush,” says Gareth. “You want to try clean it dry first, use a suede rubber or eraser and then when you’re going in with a liquid, use as little liquid as possible. If you clean the suede, it goes crispy and you might think you’ve ruined them, but you need a stiff bristle brush, which will make the suede lovely and soft again.”
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