How to Clean Running Shoes

muddy running shoesHow to clean running shoes

Wondering how to clean running shoes that are not looking or smelling their best?

There is nothing more exciting than opening the box of a brand new pair of running shoes. They are crispy clean, smell so new and are so comfy that you feel you could run in them forever.

Roll on a few months and it is a different story. 

Your running shoes are beginning to look grubby, the laces are going a nice shade of grey, the liner feels a bit rigid and the worse bit, is that they smell.

How to Clean Running Shoes - what NOT to do

 X Don't put them in the washing machine, even if the manufacturer says it is ok.  Chances are that the fabric or cushioning will weaken or any glue might dissolve. Laces however are alright to go in to the machine.

 X Never put your running shoes in a clothes drier. This will cause them to shrink or to become misshapen.

 X Don't leave your damp or wet running shoes in a pile to deal with "later". They will quickly start to go mouldy and smelly.

How to Clean Running Shoes

As soon as you get home, plan how your going to clean your running shoes. 

Muddy Running Shoes

If they are simply a bit muddy on the outside but are essentially dry, the easiest is to let the mud dry first. Place them in an airy place and leave them for a few hours. Once dry you can gently bang your shoes together to get rid of loose mud and then get a dry scrubbing brush and remove the rest. A toothbrush might also be useful for small crevasses.

If your running shoes are muddy but also wet on the inside, then you will want to deal with them straight away. If you don't then they could start to go mouldy and smelly. Remove the laces and the shoe liners so that the shoe can open up as much as possible. Laces and liners can be washed by hand (laces can also go in the washing machine) using a mild detergent and then hang them on the line to dry.  Now you will need to wash your running shoes (see next section).

Washing Running Shoes

Running shoes generally don't do well in a washing machine or clothes drier so AVOID them.

Hand washing is the answer.

What you'll need:
Bowl + warm water + Mild detergent/dish washing liquid
Scrubbing brush/tooth brush/sponge

How to clean running shoesHow to clean Running Shoes

Avoid totally submerging your shoe in the bowl of water but rather use the wet  brush/sponge to remove any mud or dirt. Don't be too rough on the upper shoe material as you could stretch or tear it but you can be a bit harder on the outer soles. Rinse with clean water when your'e done.

Drying Running Shoes

DON'T be tempted to use a clothes drier. Your running shoes will shrink. I've done it!

Open up your shoes as much as possible by removing laces and liners. Next grab a big pile of newspaper and roll the pages into balls and shove them into your shoes. Go right to the end and fill the whole shoe with paper. Place your shoes outside or in an airy place and tilt them so that the heel is slightly lower than the toe. I find that this helps the water to drain quicker. 

Leave your shoes for a few hours and then check the newspaper. If it is very damp, replace it with some dry paper. The newspaper will absorb the moisture and help to keep the shape of your running shoe. Most running shoes will dry within 24 hours. Try not to wear them until they are fully dry as otherwise they will start to smell.

If your running shoes smell, then read the section below for how to get rid of the whiff.

Smelly Running Shoes

If your'e wondering how to clean running shoes if they smell, read on. I've found that some of my running shoes smell more than others. Whether it is the material that the manufacturer uses or something that I do, I am never quite sure. I do know however, that if I wear gaiters my feet sweat much more and so my trail shoes do tend to smell more than my road shoes.

The smell in running shoes is usually caused by bacteria from a build up of sweat and debris. If left untreated, you are more likely to get bacterial and fungal infections on your feet so the quicker that you deal with it the better.

Here's how to clean running shoes if they smell


Bacteria thrives in moist environments. Always allow damp running shoes to dry out thoroughly between uses or after washing. If you can rotate between 2 pairs of running shoes that is even better.

If you have particularly sweaty feet, invest in moisture wicking socks and wear clean socks for each run. The material will help move moisture away from your skin and into the sock layer. Less sweat on your skin means less build up of bacteria and so less smell.

Ways to kill the bacteria:

  • Leave your running shoes to dry in the sun. The UV light has a sterilizing effect on fungal DNA.
  • Place your running shoes in the freezer overnight. This will kill off any bacteria. Then allow them to air dry naturally.
  • White distilled vinegar can kill some bacteria. Make a solution of vinegar and water (50/50) and spray lightly inside your running shoes. Leave to fully dry.

Ways to neutralise the smell:

  • My favorite way is to sprinkle bicarbonate of soda powder in my shoes. Make sure your shoes are totally dry, remove the liner and sprinkle in a couple of tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda powder into each shoe.   Make sure that the powder coats all the interior surfaces. Leave overnight and then repeat if necessary. Also sprinkle some powder on the liners. Before you wear your shoes, shake out the powder and replace the liner.
  • Sprinkle a couple of drops of Tea Tree Oil inside your shoes. Tea Tree oil has anti bacterial and anti odor properties. 
  • For a less messy idea, fill a pair of socks with some bicarbonate of soda powder, add a couple of drops of tea tree oil and then tie the socks. Place them in your shoes overnight.
  • Place a small handful of cloves inside a piece of cloth. Tie the cloth and place in your running shoes overnight.

Hopefully you are now armed with enough information on how to clean running shoes. Since they tend to cost quite a lot these days, it pays to treat them with a bit of tlc.

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