At KOKOLU, we love colorful, sustainable accessories — but sometimes, nothing looks better than a classic white sneaker. If your once-shining pair of stylish white kicks are starting to dim, it’s time for a little TLC.
White sneakers seem to have the worst luck when it comes to keeping that box-clean look, attracting dirt, dust, grime, and scuffs quickly. Thankfully, it’s easy to freshen up white sneakers so you can strut out in your favorite shoes every single day. Read on for step-by-step instructions on two simple methods for cleaning sneakers that’ll work with tons of materials, including KOKOLU’s eco-friendly recycled PET Fiber.
What Do I Need for Cleaning White Sneakers?
First things first: it’s time to gather your supplies. Most of the tools we recommend should be readily available, so you can do this whenever the moment feels right. We get that it’s important to keep your shoe’s shape intact as you restore its shine, but you can get everything you need with just a few household items.
For cleaning, we recommend grabbing some ordinary dish soap, as it’s more than capable of cutting through grime and loosening up anything that’s stuck around over time.
Some people reach for white toothpaste or professional stain removers, baking soda and white vinegar are two great and all-natural ways to avoid using harsher shoe cleaning chemicals when you really need a stronger whitening treatment to extend the lifetime of your sneakers. For any bloodstains or mild yellowing, a little hydrogen peroxide in hot water might help, too.
In terms of tools, you’ll need an old toothbrush or two (or a shoe brush if you have it). A suede brush might be necessary for suede shoes, but for everything else from canvas shoes to white leather sneakers, these stiff bristles will provide just the right amount of friction to lift off any dirt and grime. Next, a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser is a great all-in-one tool to really restore your shoes to their former glory, no matter the material.
A clean cloth and some paper towels will help you save time cleaning any excess water, soap, or dirt — because keeping your space clean is just as important as keeping your shoes sparkling.
(If you’re worried about anything else getting dirty while you’re working, working outside and in the sunlight is a great idea. You get to soak up some vitamin D, and you don’t have to risk making a mess in your kitchen or living room.)
How Can I Maintain My Sneaker’s Shape?
For any sneaker cleaning method, maintaining its shape is simple — as long as you don’t just throw them in the washing machine and call it a day.
Stuff your sneakers with some crumpled or balled-up towels (or really anything you have on hand). If you have a shoe tree handy, that’s even better!
If you don’t put a little somethin’ in your shoe to keep everything in place, your sneakers might warp. Since the whole point of cleaning your sneakers is to keep them looking awesome for a long, long time, we want to avoid sacrificing their shape during the drying process. Thankfully, it’s easy to protect them with this tiny bit of prep.
How Can I Clean the Surface of My White Sneaker?
We know beauty isn’t just skin deep, but surface cleaning is an important first step towards refreshing your white sneakers’ shine.
Start by laying out your workstation by covering the ground with cloth towels — they’re a more sustainable option than their paper counterparts! Then, knock your shoes together to loosen any packed in dirt and grime.
To really prep your shoes for a scrub, remove the shoelaces and set them to the side. Use a dry toothbrush or shoebrush to remove that loosened dirt and dust from the outside, midsole, and uppers.
Next, mix one or 1.5 teaspoons of dish soap into one or two cups of water. Put this solution to work by dipping a clean toothbrush or shoebrush in the solution and lightly scrubbing the outsole, midsole and uppers in a circular motion, wiping off any water when necessary. There shouldn’t be too much in terms of excess, but it’s always great to keep your area (and your sneakers) as neat and tidy as you go along!
Focusing on the Sole
When cleaning up the sole, it’s best to use the brush method as a starting point to remove all the buildup possible. Then, with any notoriously tough stains like grass stains or bloodstains, a magic eraser submerged in your soap solution should create a satisfying chemical breakdown of any built-up grime. This finishing touch will whiten and brighten your shoes, providing wearability for months to come.
A Little Love for the Laces
Submerge your laces in your cleaning solution until they are fully damp. Next, use the toothbrush upon any especially dirty spots. Finally, using a simple massaging method with your hands will allow the solution to work its magic and rejuvenate those laces. We recommend rinsing them in clean warm water and allowing them to dry on a towel.
Getting Into the Insole
We know this section is on getting that surface squeaky clean, but what’s on the inside counts, too.
If you’d like to handle the insole, simply remove it, soak it in the solution, and use the toothbrush to lift up any larger impressions or stains from daily wear. Submersion in the solution will also help address the smell of sweat, lengthening their usability and returning some of their former comfortability.
Of course, our GreenKsole® with sixty-four air holes designed for extra breathability will stay comfortable for the long term no matter what you put it through — no special treatment required.
After allowing them to air dry for a full eight hours, re-lace your shoes and prepare for compliments. Your sneakers should’ve returned to their former glory, helping them last another season as your go-to footwear.
How Do I Make My Shoes Really, Really White Again?
Are your shoes nice and clean, but still lacking that once-brilliant white color? Looking for a sure-fire method to brighten up your favorite pair?
A mixture of baking soda and white vinegar is all you need to return the rest of that shine if our last method only got your shoes most of the way back to brand new. Say goodbye to stubborn stains for good, and hello to clean white shoes.
Your workstation will stay the same, just swap your dish soap and water solution with a mixture that’s equal parts water, baking soda, and white vinegar. Gather one tablespoon of baking soda, one tablespoon of white vinegar, and a tablespoon of warm water.
After we finish that surface cleaning, just grab a small bowl and begin mixing these three ingredients into a rough paste. Next, use an old toothbrush and scrub the paste into the surface of the white shoes. You want to completely cover the tongue, outsole, midsole, and uppers, then move the shoes into direct sunlight. It’s always a great idea to move your sneaks as the day goes on and the sunlight shifts— the more direct sunlight the better!
Laces, Round Two
When focusing on the laces, you can again submerge them into the paste mixture. Mix and massage the paste into the laces, then allow them to sit for a few hours in the sun, too.
You’ll notice those laces stiffen up in the sun, but that just means it's working! This is the whitening power of the mixture taking effect. If they feel strange or brittle, it’s the chemical work of carbon dioxide breaking down many of those tough to fight stains and odors.
The Finishing Touches
After allowing both the shoes and laces to sit in direct sunlight for up to eight hours, clap your newly white shoes to loosen the now-hardened mixture of baking soda and vinegar. Finally, use a cloth, dry toothbrush, shoe brush, or scrub brush to remove any excess.
For the laces, you can knock off the hardened paste and rinse them with cold or warm water, then let them dry on a nice cloth.
This method is great for renewing and prolonging the quality of your material, as this method is safe for white canvas, soft cloth, suede, white leather, and any other material under the sun (pun intended). This method also takes advantage of the natural, tried-and-true method of the sun acting as a whitening agent. Nature really does give us everything we need!
How This Method Also Fights Odors
The baking soda and vinegar serve two purposes: whitening and deodorizing the shoes.
A tip for fighting some unpleasant or weird smells in the insoles is to include about one teaspoon of baking soda inside the shoe. Evenly distribute the baking soda along the inside of the shoe while allowing it to sit preferably overnight or for a minimum of two hours.
The baking soda will work to extract and neutralize any unpleasant odors caused by bacteria. After this time, you can just discard the baking soda in a trash can, and remove the rest with a vacuum, or toothbrush, focusing on the corners and crevices.
Shine Bright Like a Diamond
We hope these simple whitening tips help you get your closet staple shoes back to tip-top shape. Extending the life-cycle of your shoes is an awesome way to stay sustainable by sticking with your old faithful pair of kicks for years to come.
Of course, buying stylish and comfy KOKOLU shoes is another great way to shop with the Earth in mind — our shoes are 100% sustainable from their dope dying processes to their recycled foam heel cup designs. It’s the best of all worlds: fashion, wearability, and a low carbon footprint you can be proud of.
This easy-to-follow guide on how to clean white sneakers is here to help you get the most out of your favorite shoes, no matter where you roam.