For years, decades even, neon sneakers were all the rage. These days, whether because of the normcore trend, the popularity of Marie Kondo, Kanye West or just the tides of fashion, sneakers are all about the back-to-basics all-white look. We’re seeing this across the board from bigwigs like New Balance, Adidas and Nike to fashion-forward sneaker brands like APL — all-white (or mostly white) styles are among the most consistently difficult to snag. This poses one obvious problem: how to keep white sneakers white.
Image: Courtesy of New Balance
Pre-treat New Sneakers to Keep Them Clean
One of the easiest ways to prevent dirt and grime from settling on white sneakers is a pre-treatment. “The minute you take your shoes out of the box, it’s important to pre-treat them with a stain and water repellent like Jason Markk Repel Spray,” says founder of wardrobe editing service The Wardrobe Refresh Robyn Wellikoff.
“If you could protect your new $165 APL sneakers, wouldn’t you?” asks founder and COO of HEX Performance Drew Westervelt. His brand’s detergent doesn’t just remove stains, it helps protect fabrics, even synthetic ones, by leaving an eco-friendly, nonallergenic molecule behind that helps prevent future stains. To clean and protect sneakers, Westervelt recommends cold water with a small dose of HEX Performance Advanced Laundry Detergent and air-drying. He assures us that all sneaker fabrics can be protected — and as a former pro lacrosse player, he knows a thing or two about dirty shoes. “Think about how you might apply Scotchgard to carpets and furniture; the idea is to prevent dirt and grime from sticking. It doesn’t mean the shoes will never get dirty, but it’ll be easier to get them clean,” he says.
How to Remove Stains From Sneakers
If you’ve missed the preventative window, Westervelt suggests using an old toothbrush or cloth and a small amount of detergent with some water to brush off dirt and scuff marks around the sides of the shoe. If you don’t want to go the toothbrush route, another go-to for sneaker buffs is Jason Markk’s Essential Kit. Each kit can clean up to 100 pairs of sneakers. Keeping Tight Wipes on hand to use immediately after staining occurs will make the cleanup task easier. “I strongly suggest wiping off stains or scuff marks as quickly as possible,” says Wellikoff. “The longer they remain, the more they will penetrate into the fabric or leather.”
Can Sneakers Go in the Washing Machine?
The official word from APL, and this holds true for most performance brand sneakers, is that its white sneakers can go in the washing machine, but not in the dryer as they should be air-dried. For tough stains, pre-treat spots with HEX Performance Laundry Odor & Stain Fighter before washing — and don’t forget to remove insoles before washing. “White canvas shoes (like Keds, Toms and Converse) can handle a washing machine with cold water and then there are shoe brands like Allbirds, who pride themselves on being fully machine washable for easy care,” says Westervelt. When it comes to non-performance sneakers, however, like leather Adidas Superstars and basketball-type shoes, those shouldn’t be machine washed.
Will Washing Sneakers Affect Performance?
One question remains: if washing gets out your stains, does it also wash away functionality? No one wants running sneakers that you can’t run in or cross trainers that will compromise your knees. “It doesn’t happen on every cycle or every shoe, but it’s possible for the machine to damage the shape and adhesive,” says Westervelt. “There are things you can do to help keep shoes safe in the machine. First, place them in a laundry bag (or even a pillowcase) for washing. Add a towel to the load to help cushion the tumbling. Wash in cold water and a delicate cycle. And finally, air-dry your freshly whitened shoes over a vent or in fresh air. It’s important to avoid high heat, so don’t tumble dry them.”