The Ultimate Footwear Cleaning Guide: Maintaining Different Types of Shoes

Proper shoe care is essential for extending the life of your footwear and keeping them looking their best. At Footwear etc., we offer a range of cleaning products to suit various types of shoes. This comprehensive guide will help you understand how to clean different types of footwear and recommend some top solutions for each category.

Introduction to Shoe Cleaning

Cleaning your shoes regularly not only enhances their appearance but also helps maintain their structure and longevity. Different shoe materials require different cleaning techniques and products to avoid damage and ensure effective cleaning. Abrasive cleaners can damage or destroy sensitive types of shoe materials and so careful attention to cleaning techniques is necessary.

Why You Need to Clean Your Shoes

Regular cleaning removes dirt, salt, and other debris that will degrade shoe materials over time. Proper shoe care often prevents the buildup of bacteria and odors, helping to maintain more proper foot health. Additionally, cleaner shoes will help to enhance the overall appearance and to extend the life of your footwear investment.

How to Clean Different Types of Footwear

1. Leather Shoes

Leather shoes, although durable and versatile, require specific care to maintain their luster and to prevent cracking.


  • Remove Dirt: Use a soft brush or cloth to remove surface dirt.
  • Clean: Apply a leather cleaner, such as the Unisex Apple Leather Care Leather Conditioner, using a soft cloth. Work in small circular motions.
  • Condition: After cleaning, apply a leather conditioner to keep the leather supple.
  • Polish: Use a suitable leather polish to restore shine.

Additional Tips:

  • Avoid Using: Harsh chemicals like alcohols or undiluted bleaches, detergents, and soaking leather in water for extended periods.
  • Preparation: Use shoe trees to maintain shape and absorb moisture when not in use.
  • Oils: Use mink oil or neatsfoot oil to help shine and condition leather shoes. Olive oil is often also used to polish leather shoes in a pinch.
  • Storage: Store in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight to prevent fading and cracking such as in a shoe closet.

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2. Suede and Nubuck Shoes

Suede and nubuck shoes have a soft, velvety texture but can be more challenging to clean due to their delicate nature.


Additional Tips:

  • Avoid Using: Water and shoe submersion style cleaning methods as they can cause stains and damage.
  • Preparation: Use a suede eraser for tougher stains and scuffs.
  • Storage: Store in a breathable shoe bag to prevent dust buildup.

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3. Fabric and Canvas Shoes

Fabric and canvas shoes are casual and comfortable but can easily become stained.


  • Pre-treat: Spot clean stains with a mild detergent or fabric cleaner.
  • Wash: For deeper cleaning, remove laces and insoles, then hand wash or use a gentle machine cycle with cold water.
  • Dry: Air dry, avoiding direct sunlight to prevent fading.

Additional Tips:

  • Avoid Using: Bleach or strong detergents that can damage the fabric.
  • Preparation: Use a soft brush to remove surface dirt before washing.
  • Storage: Store in a dry place to prevent mildew and mold growth.

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4. Athletic Shoes

Athletic shoes often accumulate dirt and odors from regular use such as mud, dirt, bacteria, mildew, and more.


  • Remove Insoles: Take out the insoles and laces.
  • Clean: Use a soft brush and mild soap to clean the surface. For stubborn areas, use the Unisex 10 Seconds Proline Foam Cleaner.
  • Deodorize: Sprinkle baking soda inside the shoes and let sit overnight, then shake out the next day.

Additional Tips:

  • Avoid Using: High heat or direct sunlight to dry, which can damage the materials.
  • Preparation: Use mesh bags if washing in the machine to protect the shoes.
  • Storage: Store in a ventilated area to keep them dry and fresh.

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5. Specialty Shoes (e.g., Hiking Boots)

Specialty shoes like hiking boots require specific care to maintain their waterproofing and support, as these can wear down over time if not properly maintained.


Additional Tips:

  • Avoid Using: Detergents and solvents that can degrade the waterproofing such as abrasive cleaners and harsh alcohols.
  • Preparation: Remove insoles and laces before cleaning.
  • Storage: Store in a cool, dry place and stuff with newspaper to maintain shape and absorb moisture.

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Understanding Different Shoe Care Products

Everyday Cleaners and Conditioners

These products are designed for regular maintenance to keep your shoes clean and conditioned.

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Protective Sprays

Protective sprays help to repel water and stains on your footwear, extending the life of your shoes. You can apply them as preventatives for your footwear, ensuring a longer-shelf life for your collection.

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Specialty Kits

Specialty kits include multiple products tailored for specific materials or comprehensive shoe care.

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Comparison Chart: Shoe Materials and Best Cleaning Products

Shoe Material Best Products to Use Common Cleaners Avoid Additional Tips
  • Mild soap solution
  • Leather cleaner
  • Harsh chemicals
  • Detergents
  • Soaking in water
  • Use shoe trees to maintain shape and absorb moisture
  • Use mink or neatsfoot oil for added shine
  • Store in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight
  • Suede brush
  • Mild soap solution
  • Vinegar (for tough stains)
  • Water-based cleaners
  • Detergents
  • Solvents
  • Use a suede eraser for tough stains and scuffs
  • Store in a breathable shoe bag
  • Brush regularly to maintain nap
  • Mild detergent
  • Fabric cleaner
  • Bleach
  • Strong detergents
  • High heat drying
  • Remove laces and insoles before washing
  • Air dry, avoiding direct sunlight
  • Pre-treat stains before washing
  • Mild soap solution
  • Athletic shoe cleaner
  • Harsh chemicals
  • High heat drying
  • Use mesh bags for machine washing
  • Remove insoles and laces before cleaning
  • Air dry in a ventilated area
Specialty (Hiking)
  • Mild soap solution
  • Specialty boot cleaner
  • Detergents
  • Solvents
  • High heat drying
  • Remove insoles and laces before cleaning
  • Stuff with newspaper to maintain shape and absorb moisture
  • Store in a cool, dry place

Additional Tips for Shoe Care

Leather Shoes

Always condition after cleaning to keep the leather supple. Regular polishing helps maintain a good shine and protective layer. Polish every couple of weeks for frequently used shoes, or more often as needed.

Suede/Nubuck Shoes

Brushing regularly helps keep the nap looking fresh. Use protective sprays to repel water and stains.

Fabric/Canvas Shoes

Spot cleaning is key for fabric shoes in order to prevent deep stains. Machine wash occasionally as needed for deeper cleaning but make sure to always air dry instead of the dryer.

Athletic Shoes

Regularly deodorize athletic shoes to keep them fresh as they are prone to sweat accumulation. Avoid direct sunlight or high heat as these can degrade the materials over time.

Specialty Shoes (Hiking Boots)

Maintain waterproofing by regularly applying regular waterproofing treatments. Proper drying and storage are both crucial to extending the lifespan of these types of shoes.

These tips and products will help ensure that each type of shoe material remains in good condition, providing comfort and longevity. For the best results, always follow the specific care instructions provided by the specific shoe manufacturer. To view all shoe brands available at Footwear etc. click here.

FAQs About Shoe Cleaning

How often should I clean my shoes?
Clean your shoes as needed, but a general guideline is to clean them every few weeks or whenever they appear dirty. Depending on how frequently you wear your shoes and where you use them, this can vary quite a lot.
Can I use household cleaners on my shoes?
It's best to use products specifically designed for shoes to avoid damaging the material. Avoid using harsh alcohols and bleaches on unknown shoe materials.
How do I remove odors from my shoes?
Use a deodorizing spray or sprinkle a little baking soda inside your shoes overnight.
Can I wash my shoes in the washing machine?
Fabric and canvas shoes can often be machine washed, but always check the manufacturer’s guidelines. Materials such as leather should not be put in the washing machine.
Which cleaning materials should I avoid using?
Avoid using bleach, harsh detergents, and solvents on any type of shoe. Stick to products specifically designed for the shoe material.
How do I prepare dress shoes for wearing?
Use shoe trees to maintain their shape and condition the leather with a high-quality conditioner. Polish them to enhance shine and protect the leather.
How should I maintain and store my shoes?
Clean your shoes regularly, condition leather shoes, use protective sprays, and store them in a cool, dry place. Use shoe trees or stuff them with newspaper to maintain their shape.
What oils can help shine certain shoes?
Mink oil and neatsfoot oil are excellent for shining and conditioning leather shoes. Apply sparingly and buff with a soft cloth.
Can I clean my shoes in the dishwasher?
No, the high heat and harsh detergents used in dishwashers can damage your shoes.
What should I do if my shoes get wet?
Dry them as quickly as possible. For leather shoes, use a towel to blot excess water and let them air dry away from direct heat sources. For suede and nubuck, gently blot the moisture and use a suede brush once dry.
How can I prevent my shoes from smelling?
Use moisture-wicking insoles, rotate your shoes to allow them to dry out completely between wears, and use a deodorizing spray regularly.
Can I use the same cleaner for all types of shoes?
No, different materials require specific cleaners. Using the wrong cleaner can damage or destroy your shoes.

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Eco-Friendly Shoe Cleaning

As environmental concerns grow, many people seek eco-friendly ways to clean their shoes. Here are some tips and products that are both effective and gentle on the planet.


  • Choose Natural Cleaners: Use products with natural ingredients that are biodegradable and free from harsh chemicals.
  • DIY Solutions: Create your own cleaners using household items like baking soda, vinegar, and mild soap.

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Additional Tips:

  • Avoid Overuse: Use only the amount of cleaner necessary to avoid material waste.
  • Sustainable Materials: Opt for brushes made from sustainable materials like bamboo or recycled plastics.

Preparing Shoes for Different Seasons

Different seasons bring different challenges for shoe maintenance. Here's how to prepare your footwear for optimal performance year-round.


  • Protection: Use waterproof sprays to protect against snow and slush.
  • Cleaning: Remove salt stains with a mixture of water and vinegar.


  • Refresh: Give your shoes a thorough cleaning to remove winter grime.
  • Condition: Use conditioners to restore moisture lost during the dry winter months.


  • Breathability: Opt for breathable insoles to keep your feet cool.
  • Cleaning: Regularly clean your shoes to remove sweat and odor.


  • Waterproofing: Reapply waterproof sprays to prepare for rain.
  • Maintenance: Check for and repair any damage sustained during the summer.

Advanced Shoe Care Techniques

For those looking to take their shoe care to the next level, here are some advanced techniques and tips.

Reconditioning Leather:

  • Deep Cleaning: Use a leather cleaner followed by a conditioner to restore old, cracked leather.
  • Polishing: Apply a high-quality polish and buff to a shine.

Restoring Suede:

  • Stain Removal: Use a specialized suede eraser to tackle tough stains.
  • Color Refresh: Apply a suede color restorer to bring back the original color.

Sole Repair:

  • DIY Kits: Use sole repair kits to fix worn-out soles and extend the life of your shoes.


  • Wax Treatments: Apply a wax-based product to add an extra layer of waterproofing to leather shoes.

Top Products for Shoe Cleaning

Explore our top-selling shoe care products to keep your footwear looking its best.