How to clean running shoes: A step-by-step guide

Plus, why should you clean running shoes and is it a good idea to wash running shoes in the washing machine?

Person scrubbing a shoe using soapy water
(Image credit: Vivobarefoot)

You've spent a lot of money on the best running shoes; it probably wouldn't hurt knowing how to keep them clean. Sure, running shoes won't stay box-fresh long after you start using them, but you can at least try to prolong the life of your favourite pair by keeping them odour-free and clean.

With our step-by-step guide and running shoe cleaning tips, you'll be able to keep your favourite Adidas and Nike running shoes clean. These running shoe cleaning tips can keep your trail running shoes and women's running shoes clean, too. Haven't bought your running shoes yet? Avoid these three running shoe mistakes and save yourself from discomfort and injury later.

Why clean your running shoes?

This is the icky part; after reading this, you’ll be running for the running shoe wash! Basically, if you don’t clean your running shoes, bacteria, body oils, and dirt can build up inside them, causing bad smells, especially if you keep your running shoes in a warm place.

It’s not the kind of impression you want to make in the gym or at your local running club. Personal hygiene aside, that’s not the only reason to keep them clean. The bacteria, body oils and dirt can start to rot the insoles, upper fabrics and stitching – oh dear wallet! This process speeds up even more if you regularly store your running shoes in a warm environment. 

How often should you clean your running shoes?

No one has time to meticulously clean their running shoes after every single run; once every 2-3 months is enough to combat the bacterial growth. Or sooner if you give them a sniff and it’s not what you’d call fragrant, or if fellow exercise enthusiasts are starting to give you a wide berth…that’s your cue to grab the cleaning products.

Which running shoe cleaning products should I use?

There are many running shoe washing products and kits on the market, but we recommend buying something eco-friendly; if you’re into running in the clean, fresh air and countryside, it’s nice to help keep it that way. In the video below, we use the Nikwax Sandal & Sports Shoe Wash, a deodorising active footwear cleaner that cleans and removes odours.

Please remember that this particular product is designed for non-waterproof shoes made from leather, fabric, synthetic, cork, rubber and plastic. There are cleaning products for waterproof shoes; even Nikwax has one. Always read the label before you buy a shoe cleaning product.

How to clean your running shoes?

Sorry, running through a puddle at the end of a run isn’t going to cut it, although this is a very effective first step to get rid of any caked-on mud. Instead, try this method to turn your smelly used running shoes into something more palatable:

  • Get busy with the outside hose in your garden to wash the worst off, or a bowl of warm water in a washing up bowl. 
  • Take a scrubbing brush and clean off any remaining crud, taking out the insoles and giving them a once over too. 
  • Grap the cleaning product of your choice and apply it generously over the shoe and insoles.
  • Rinse with clean water and hang to dry outdoors away from direct sunlight or stuff them with newspaper and pop in the airing cupboard, keeping the insoles separate to speed up drying times.

See – simple, quick, AND planet-saving. Your halo has never shined brighter.

Why can’t I put running shoes in the washing machine?

Well, you can…but you risk permanently damaging your washing machine drum AND your favourite pair of running shoes. It’s not overly recommended, especially, as it’s so easy to complete the above four steps, and you still have to brush all the mud off first anyway and remove the insoles and laces to wash them separately. If in doubt, always stick to hand washing, but if you’re keen to embrace technology, there are a few tips:

  • First of all, check the washing label to see if machine washing is a no go area with that particular shoe’s fabric and materials. 
  • Remove the insoles and laces and wash them separately in warm soapy water.
  • Use a very low temperature (i.e. 20-degree) and the slowest cycle possible to avoid the adhesives degrading.
  • Use a liquid detergent rather than a powder as specs can get left inside the shoe.
  • Chuck in a couple of towels to stop the shoes banging around and damaging the washing machine drum.
  • Hang to dry outdoors away from direct sunlight or stuff them with newspaper and pop them in the airing cupboard, keeping the insoles separate to speed up drying times.
Claire Maxted
Freelance writer

Claire Maxted is the co-founder and former editor of Trail Running magazine and the author of The Ultimate Trail Running Handbook. She currently runs the YouTube channel Wild Ginger Trail & Ultra Running, creating films packed with trail and ultra running advice, athlete interviews, gear tests and race recces. She hosts talks and awards and speaks at events and races.