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How to Clean Running Shoes

By braniac

Running shoes should be considered more of a sports equipment than an object of fashion. Yet there is many good and practical reasons to keep your shoes clean. If you are not sure how to clean running shoes without permanently damaging them, this article should offer you several safe and proven methods to do so. Moreover, depending on how you clean your running shoes you can also learn about the limits of a particular cleaning method.


Some runners may not think about it this way, but there is several reasons to clean running shoes. Depending on the way how and how much your shoes got dirty, you should choose the appropriate cleaning method. I would say that the dirty running shoes can be divided in four basic categories or their combination:

  • STINKY RUNNING SHOES - this is a result of your feet sweating inside
  • DUSTY RUNNING SHOES - common to all trail runners, fine dust just penetrates the mesh covering your toes, sneaks in the shoe around your heel, simply gets everywhere
  • MUDDY RUNNING SHOES - here and there you step into a mud puddle, or have to cross wet lawn. The mud is basically just on the outer surface of the shoe
  • SWAMP RUNNING SHOES - if you enjoy running on a dark side and participate in races like Dances with Dirt when you run miles in swamps with sections of waist deep black stinky mud then this is your case.

Now you have to consider that your shoe has only certain useful life time, and if you choose too often too brutal cleaning technique this life time can be significantly shortened. On the other hand keeping your running shoes dirty can also significantly contribute to tear and wear. Therefore judge wisely how to clean your running shoes.


Bad odor of your running shoes is a direct consequence of fungus and bacteria living in your shoes of the sweat and skin particles your feet left there. These little creatures enjoy moist and warm environment and thus summer is usually perfect season. Bad odor may be the only harm to your shoes, but quite honestly you are asking for troubles in terms of athletes foot or other fungal infections. You may significantly reduce the risks by venting your shoes and letting them dry after each run, or using special anti fungal sprays. But the organic debris these fungi and bacteria so love will just keep piling up in your shoes. The best is then to wash your shoes in a washing machine from time to time. Yes, you read correctly, you should wash your running shoes in a washing machine. The idea is that you really want to flush your shoes with something which will dissolve all fatty residues such as skin particulates. You also want to flush out the dirt from the all the tiniest pores and scratches of the shoe cushioning and mesh. Thus washing your running shoes in a washing machine in warm (NOT HOT!!!) water with some "not-so-aggressive" detergent is the best option. Your running shoes will come out without any harm as new. Concerning the detergent, do not use anything with bleach, probably the best would be something organic. I use baby detergent. Do not tumble dry your shoes, and do not blow any hot air on them. Do not let them dry on a direct sun. Just put them on a dry place, stuff them for a couple of hours with old newspapers. After removing the newspapers, let the shoes open as much as possible. They will be dry before your next run. If you stick with warm water, gentle detergent, some "regular" washing cycle and natural drying your shoes can be washed in washing machine easily at least once a month. Your feet will thank you.


It can take just a single trail run during summer and your shiny white running shoes will look like you just ran through a dust storm. Most likely you wont be able to simply dust the shoes off, since the fine dust penetrated all the fabric on your shoes and is now deep in the fabric and cushion texture. Very likely when your running shoes were also wet from your sweat in which the dust particles nicely dissolved and were absorbed by all the soft material your shoes are made of. If you keep running with such shoes, you increase the pace of wearing out the inner environment of the shoe. You may be also more prone to blisters, since with each step there will be some dust particles coming out of the shoe fabric into your socks and then on your skin. The cure is simple - the dust needs to be flushed out. Of course you can throw your shoes into the washing machine, and with gentle approach described above you will get good, but very rarely perfect results. However, my personal experience is that in case of this really fine dust the better method how to clean such running shoes is to run in the rain. This cleaning method is only for hard-core runners who don't mind to get soaked. But running on a clean solid concrete or asphalt surface from one water puddle to the other will get your shoes clean better than the washing machine. It is the dynamics of each stride which pretty much compresses and expands the shoe with your stride frequency, flushing more and more dust each time your feet hits the ground. Regular running in rain is surely not for everybody, but most of the runners would be surprised by themselves when they would actually try it. Most of them would really enjoy it ... and their shoes would shine like new again. Moreover, running in rain is not only gentler to your shoes, but is also more environmentally friendly than the greenest washing machine.


Sometimes it is unavoidable to step into wet dirt, mud hole or just run across a muddy piece of road which is just being repaired and does not have any hard surface yet. Very likely you will pick up quite some quantity of mud on your shoes and it may feel like wearing some additional dumbbells. As long as the mud stays just on the soles or its sides you don't really care. It wears of quickly. But how to clean your running shoes if this mud is splashed over the fine mesh of your running shoes ? Or what if you sink so deep that virtually all the toe cap gets covered by mud ? Do not panic, thick mud usually does not penetrate the fabric of the shoe. If it does, then it never gets so deep like the fine dust. The easiest way to clean the shoes is just let the mud dry and then gently brush it off. If there is still a bit left, and the shoe does not shine as new, then washing machine will do the job even without any additional detergent. Please, never throw your muddy shoes right into the washing machine. Chunks of mud may contain grains of sand even small stones which can damage your washing machine. Use the brush first, then washing machine. If you don't want to bother with either of these cleaning processes and you don't live in a desert, you can again clean your shoes very efficiently by running in the rain.


This is an extreme case of running shoe soiling. You should never face such a problem unless you consciously crossed the line to the dark side of running. Swamp running shoes are shoes which were used in races such as Dances with Dirt. In this running legend most of the race goes on trails through the swampy wetlands surrounding Hell in Michigan. The course leads you through sections with waist deep black oily disgustingly smelly mud. When you get out, depending on your body height, you are covered with half inch thick layer of black stinky pulp from toes to waist, breast or even neck, and you have hard times determining if the bulk of mud at the end of your leg still contains the shoe or not. This is a very different mud than you are used to. It somehow does not dissolve that well just in pure water, and regular detergents do not penetrate well any shoes hardened by this sort of mud. Your best chances are to use some power washing equipment and virtually get the mud out of your running shoes by brutal force. Folks at Dances with Dirt know it, so following the most legendary swampy part called "This sucks!" there are several volunteers with ready power washers. But if that is not the option (for whatever reason) you do best to try to clean your shoes RIGHT AFTER THE RUN where you so heavily trashed them. If you let the mud dry or soak more into the fabric of your shoe, then you can never get the rotten smell out of them and very likely you will get some nice exotic fungus between your toes. In any case, after you washed your shoes the best you could, presumably in some nearby lake, river or stream, wrap them then in a plastic bag so they CAN'T dry. You want to keep them wet as much as possible, until you get home and you throw your badly injured running shoes in a warm and soapy bath of your washing machine. Be generous with the detergent and use warm water for sure. I still would hesitate to use hot water, but it may be the only option. Dry as usual, I will repeat myself, but the dryer or hot air is a no-no. As you can imagine these are the most drastic cleaning methods. Your shoes will survive, but I would not recommend to repeat more than once within the useful lifetime of the shoe. Runners who anticipate such extreme terrain usually switch shoes before and after the sections with these swamps and run through them in older running shoes.

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