You know, until you take those kicks out for a spin and mud, coffee, and food stains enter the picture. Tragic, I know.
Before you totally lose your sh*t let me introduce you to Jeff Esquillo—owner of Soul Fresh, a sneaker cleaning service in New Jersey.
Whether you’re trying to rehab suede, leather, or mesh, Esquillo is here to make all your sneaker dreams come true.
Food-stained white sneakers
Dish soap + Water
If you’re dealing with a white leather shoe that has some nasty food stains, like these white Reebok Freestyle Hi sneakers, Esquillo says you’ll need:
From there, remove the shoelaces and place them in a small bowl that’s filled with water and two to three tablespoons of dish soap (he recommends Dawn, FYI). After dipping the laces a few times, take one side in each hand, and rub them together to help scrub out the stains. After a few rounds of this, let them soak and get to work on the rest of the shoe.
Next, time to clean the under sole. Esquillo says you should remove any “rocks, dirt, or debris stuck in the sole using a small tool, like a mini screwdriver or other pointy object.” From there, he grabs his firm-bristled brush, dips it in the soapy water mixture, and scrubs.
Esquillo advises wiping the shoe down with a white microfiber cloth—yeah, the type of cloth matters: “The microfiber towel is great for picking up the dirt stains on a white shoe,” says Esquillo. Repeat the process of scrubbing and wiping as many times as needed until your shoes look fresh. Then, move on to the midsole (the side of the sole) and do the same.
Now it’s time to clean the top of the shoe, a.k.a. the upper. Once again, break out your scrubby brush—but this time go for a medium or medium-firm brush—and get to work scrubbing (goodbye, nasty coffee stains!) Again, keep scrubbing and wiping until that shoe is sparkling. This usually doesn’t take more than one go, but Esquillo says that once the shoe is dry, you can use a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser to clean up any leftover stains.
To finish off the shoe, put the clean, dry, laces back in place. And voila! A shoe that’s ready to make its comeback.
Dirty suede sneakers
Brass brush or magic eraser
There’s no denying that suede can be a real PITA. But it’s no match for Esquillo’s clever cleaning tricks.
If you spill food on a pair of suede sneaks, try not to panic and start frantically scrubbing at them. “You’re actually pushing the dirt into the suede” says Esquillo.
Instead, gently wipe the excess junk off the shoe, and let it dry (that is, if it’s a wet stain like food or mud). Then, grab your secret weapon: a brass brush. Slide this special tool over the affected area, to help get rid of any remaining dirt and particles.
Once you’ve taken care of this step, you can start to clean the shoe more thoroughly. Again, start with your undersole. For this step, you can use a medium-firm brush, dipped in a foam cleaner (Esquillo recommends Foam Tex Gentle Foaming Cleaner by Angelu). Scrub the sole of the shoe until it’s clean, followed by the midsole.
Next, comes the slightly more challenging part: the suede upper. “You’ll take the soft brush, and avoid using too much of the foam cleanser, because you don’t want it to get too damp and ruin the suede,” says Esquillo. “Just enough that it’s moist but not too damp, and then start scrubbing normally.”
Scrub lightly, until you start to see the stain get lighter. Since you don’t want to get the shoe too wet, let it dry before attempting another round of cleaning. While the shoe should look significantly better after the first wash (a.k.a. not a spaghetti murder scene), it can take anywhere from three to four rounds of washing and drying before your sneaker will look close to it’s original glory.
And if you’re just dealing with everyday dirt stains, Esquillo says all you need is a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. When the shoe is dry, “You just rub it wherever the dirty area is.”
Filthy mesh shoes
Those light mesh sneakers are cute AF and breath super well, but the second you hit a puddle of mud on your run—that upper gets wrecked. Seriously, it’s like the mud sinks into every freaking crevice. (Can you tell I’ve been there before?)
When it comes to mesh sneakers, Esquillo recommends you start by (yes, you guessed it) removing those laces and giving them a nice bath.
While they’re soaking, start cleaning the undersole, but here’s where things get a little different. A pair like these Adidas Ultraboosts feature an undersole and midsole made of a soft rubber. To clean them, “Use a medium firm brush or soft brush—so you don’t damage the material.”
Then, it’s time to clean that cringe-worthy stain on the mesh upper. “Mesh uppers are tough,” says Esquillo.”It definitely takes multiple cleaning sessions. One tip that we recommended is grabbing a microfiber towel and wrapping it around two fingers. Scratch at the mesh with your fingers, and the microfibers should be able to help pick up the dirt.”
Similar to the white sneakers, you’ll use a dish soap and water solution to wash these sneakers. Dip your soft brush in the soapy solution, and move it in a circular motion over the stain. Scrub and wipe until it starts to return to it’s original color. Again…this could take a few attempts, so be patient.
Once you feel good about the clean, let those bad boys dry, and lace them back up.
Need more inspo? It’s Transformations Week on WomensHealthMag.com! For more amazing beauty, fitness, and weight loss transformations, check out the rest of our Transformations Week collection.
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