How to Wash Shoes in the Washing Machine

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If you’ve ever stared down at your feet while wearing a particularly well-loved (read: dirty) pair of sneakers, you’ve probably wondered, “Can you put shoes in the washer?” Because they bear the brunt of any active lifestyle, shoes can quickly become a home for dirt, bacteria, and odors. 

When your favorite pair of shoes is getting a little funky, it is okay to put them in the washer and let a machine do your dirty work for you. However, cleaning your shoes in the washer machine is not as simple as throwing them in and letting the appliance do its thing. Like regular laundry, you can take steps to protect your shoes and increase the likelihood of a squeaky-clean outcome. 

American Home Shield® is here to walk you through how to clean shoes in the washer properly so you can avoid damage to your shoes and your washing machine. 

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Step 1: Check the tags. 

Before washing shoes in the washing machines, check the tags (usually found under the tongue of the shoe) or the manufacturer’s website for recommended cleaning steps. Even if you think the shoes are washable, some aren’t made to go in the washing machine. Likewise, certain materials require specific handwashing methods. Make sure the shoe type and material are fit for your washing machine.

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Step 2: Remove laces and insoles. 

Take out the shoelaces and insoles from your shoes. Laces can become tangled in the washing machine, and many insoles are delicate, removing them is best.

Clean the laces and insoles by hand by scrubbing them with dishwashing soap or liquid detergent and a soft brush or rag. Allow them to air-dry completely before you return them to their rightful place. Alternatively, you can place the laces in a mesh garment bag along with your sneakers.

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Step 3: Pre-treat the soles. 

Use a soft brush to remove any dirt or debris on the soles of your shoes.

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Step 4: Load the machine. 

Place the shoes in the washing machine. Pro tip: Washing shoes with several old towels balances the load, prevents your shoes from banging around during the cycle, and ensures your shoes won’t be impacted by new-towel dye.

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Step 5: Start the wash. 

When learning how to wash shoes in the washing machine, remember that a delicate, cold-water cycle is best and will help keep your shoes free from harm. Avoid powder detergent, which can get caught in shoe soles and shoelace holes. Instead, use liquid detergent or laundry pods.

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Step 6: Air-dry your shoes. 

After the wash cycle is complete, it’s time to dry your shoes. 

A word of warning, though: Don’t put your shoes in the dryer. Dryer temperatures can damage the glue that holds shoes together. High heat can even cause certain fabrics or materials to shrink, permanently warping your shoes and affecting their fit and performance. 

To properly dry your shoes, find a cool, sunny, and well-ventilated space and leave them there. Stuff some small towels inside your shoes to help them keep their shape as they dry. Generally, you should only wash your shoes when you can allow enough time for them to air-dry completely. Otherwise, you are just creating a moist environment for funky bacteria to thrive. If you need to speed things up, you can aim a fan or blow-dryer at your sneakers. 

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Step 7: Reassemble. 

Once your shoes are clean and dry, add the soles and laces back in. Then, rock your spotless kicks.

What NOT to do When Washing Shoes in the Washer

While cleaning your shoes in the washing machine may seem simple, there are several things you must steer clear of during the process. Here is a quick summary of the main things to avoid:

  • Never put fabrics like leather or suede in the washing machine.

  • Do not use warm or hot water cycles. Hot water can warp your shoes, damage the fabric, and cause colors to run.

  • Do not use a powder detergent since it may not dissolve properly and could get caught in your shoes. 

  • Do not put your shoes in the washer without first removing the laces and insoles. Insoles should be hand-washed, while laces should be either hand-washed or kept in a separate laundry bag or pillowcase in the washer.

  • Do not put your shoes in the dryer. Dryers can damage shoe glue and warp their shape. 

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Alternatives to Washing Shoes in the Washing Machine

It’s normal to feel apprehensive about putting your shoes in the washing machine. If your shoes aren’t washer-friendly, or you simply don’t want to risk damaging them, try one of the following methods to clean your shoes by hand:

  • Hand-wash fabric shoes. Use a solution made of one teaspoon of dishwashing liquid and two cups of warm water to hand-wash fabric shoes. Scrub the shoes using the solution and a toothbrush, then wipe them off with a paper towel to dry. You can also wash your insoles using this mixture.

  • Use vinegar for leather shoes. Use equal parts distilled white vinegar and cold water to clean leather shoes. Wipe down your shoes with a cloth dipped in the solution. Then, let them air-dry.

  • Deodorize. If you want to tackle your shoes’ odor, you can try deodorizing them instead of giving them the full washing treatment. Shoe deodorizers like the Poo-Pourri Shoe Odor Eliminating Spray, Woodlore Cedar Shoe Fresh Inserts, and Odor-Eaters Odor-Destroying Insoles are great store-bought options. For a homemade deodorizer, sprinkle your shoes with baking soda and let them sit overnight. Any malodorous smells will be minimized—if not eliminated—by morning.

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Final Thoughts 

Using your washer to make your shoes squeaky clean is easy and efficient, but it doesn’t come without risks. When learning how to wash shoes in the washing machine, be mindful of factors like shoe material, wash cycle type, and appropriate drying methods. If you are ever in doubt, wash them by hand.

It’s also important to perform washer and dryer maintenance to ensure that your machines stay in tip-top shape for all your laundry needs. Consider signing up for a home warranty plan that includes warranty coverage for your washer and dryer. A washing machine warranty helps ensure peace of mind and budget protection. American Home Shield helps cover the cost to repair or replace covered parts of your home systems and appliances when they break down due to everyday wear and tear. So, if you need help draining water from the washing machine or the appliance is broken, simply submit a service request, pay your Trade Service Call Fee, and we’ll send a technician to your home to diagnose the issue.

Learn about American Home Shield, our comprehensive coverage, and our flexible pricing and plans. See the plan contract for coverage details, including service fees, limitations and exclusions. Charges for non-covered items may apply.   

Frequently Asked Questions

What types of shoes can I put in the washing machine?

Shoes made from canvas, nylon, cotton, and polyester should be fine to throw in the washing machine. Most sneakers and tennis shoes are made from fabrics that can take the rough and tumble rigors of a machine wash. 

Certain shoes don’t belong in the washer, like those made from leather, suede, rubber, and vinyl. Hand-wash or spot-clean them instead of putting them in the washing machine.

Do I need to add disinfectant to my wash cycle? 

This is a matter of personal preference. Adding disinfectant to the wash cycle is wise if your shoes are particularly pungent and you are prone to suffering from fungal infections like athlete’s foot. To prevent nasty bacteria and fungi, try adding a pine oil disinfectant at the beginning of the wash cycle. The disinfectant needs to be at least 80 percent pine oil, and you’ll need to run the washer on a warm water cycle for it to be effective.

Which type of washing machine is best for washing shoes?

Front-load vs. top-load washers: Which one reigns supreme for your footwear? Front-load washing machines tend to be gentler and have better controls on spin and temperature.

Most top-load washing machines clean by agitation, which can be rough on your clothes. The exception is impeller models, which don’t feature a central column (the agitator). Impellers tend to be rare, but they are gentler on your clothes and shoes. This isn’t to say you should ban your shoes from your top loader—if you use your best judgment and stick to a delicate cycle with cold water, your shoes should be fine. 

AHS assumes no responsibility, and specifically disclaims all liability, for your use of any and all information contained herein.

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