A Shoo-In For Shoe Care: How To Keep Your Sneakers "New"

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A Shoo-In For Shoe Care: How To Keep Your Sneakers "New"

STORY: Nicholas Yong
08 December 2022
Sneakers
PHOTO: UNSPLASH/GRAILIFY

I must confess, I’m a budding sneakerhead. While I don’t have a mountain of shoes at home (yet), I always stop by sneaker shops to look out for cool kicks or head online to try and find good lobangs.

Like all sneaker aficionados, I’m obsessed with keeping my handful of sneakers clean – as if I bought them yesterday. Even the tiniest speck of dirt needs to be eliminated. Honestly though, who doesn’t want to keep their “investments” looking brand new? For sneakerheads who are WFH, now you have no reason to procrastinate from cleaning up your prized collection. More so if you’re the proud owner of customised sneakers like those from TK Customs.

To make this sneaker cleaning guide easier, we’ve organised it according to common sneaker materials (from the easiest to the toughest to clean).

But first… stay away from the washing machine! Seriously bro, do not throw your kicks into the spin cycle; it’ll badly affect the shoes’ foam, making the cushioning less comfortable. Running shoes are usually the biggest victims. Give your sneakers the TLC they deserve: always handwash, gently where possible. Only the hardiest shoe materials (like canvas) can withstand the washing machine but it should be set to a gentle spin cycle and hung out to try. Speaking of canvas…

Canvas

Your beloved pair of Converse or Vans sneakers may be hardy, but they sure pick up dirt very easily. Don’t leave the cleaning to your mum (she had enough with your school shoes) – it’s much easier than you think. Use a sneaker cleaner, and brush the entire shoe liberally to remove the dirt. But if you want to use whatever you have at home, washing detergent mixed with water should be good enough.

Particularly for white canvas shoes, try mixing water, hydrogen peroxide (you can find this at a pharmacy), and baking soda in equal amounts. Mix it up into a paste, then apply all over the shoe. Leave it on for four hours then remove the hard stuff (not sure what this is? Crust?), and wipe off the rest with a cloth.

Before we continue… when we refer to “sneaker cleaner”, we’re talking about a water-based product most sneaker shops sell. Popular brands include Crep Protect, Reshoevn8r, and Jason Markk. These usually come in small bottles.

Mesh/Knit

Every mesh shoe owner’s worst nightmare is mud and grime getting trapped in the tiny grooves. Use a dedicated sneaker cleaner, or if you’re kiam, then try a mix of dish soap liquid with warm water. Brush the shoe with the solution without too much force, then get the soap off by using a damp cloth. A toothbrush is also a great tool to get rid of dirt stuck between the grooves. If you notice discolouration on your mesh sneakers, spot clean the area with white vinegar then leave them out to dry in the Singapore sun for an hour or two.

Leather

Leather kicks look sleek but can be a pain to clean and damage easily from abrasions. Try to clean stains as soon as you notice them with a wet tissue. Once you’re home, get out your trusty sneaker cleaner or mix up distilled water and dishwashing shop. Slowly rub the stain with a cloth until it comes out. For hard-to-remove stains, opt for a leather conditioner.

For white leather sneakers like Air Force 1’s, you can try using white toothpaste mixed with warm water. Apply the solution with a toothbrush to gently brush away dirt stains.

Suede

Among all the sneaker materials listed here, suede is the hardest to clean. I only own one pair of suede shoes and I’ve loathed cleaning them all the time. Sure, they’re velvety smooth but that also means it’s really hard to get dirt out. Also, the colour bleeds, so be careful if your suede sneakers have multiple colours.

To make life easier, get a suede brush. This helps remove dirt from the fibres easily. But if that doesn’t get the stain out, you can try a suede eraser. Use a clean rag afterwards to wipe off residue. Don’t be too heavy handed with cleaning or you’ll damage the suede.

White vinegar can do the job if you don’t want to buy specialised suede cleaners but it doesn’t work as well. Keep dabbing the white vinegar on the stain using a cloth, rinse with a damp cloth when you’re done, then leave to dry.

Dedicated sneaker cleaners work too, but instructions differ when it comes to treating suede, so read carefully.


While most people are focused on getting dirt out of a shoe’s upper, you shouldn’t neglect the non-obvious parts of your prized sneakers as well:

Outsole, under the shoe

You walk on the outsole, so it makes sense that all the grime of Singapore should find its way here. It’s unrealistic to hope for your outsole to be perfect (unless you apply a sole protector like Singapore’s own SGSoleShields). At the very least, try to clean the outsole using a sneaker cleaner or a mix of detergent and warm water. This part can take a beating, so brush hard to really get out stubborn stains.

Midsole, between the shoe

Black midsoles can easily be cleaned with water and detergent mix, but removing dirt and stains from white midsoles can be a headache. For white midsoles, use a Magic Eraser.

Got a pair of Adidas NMDs or an Ultraboost with the white Boost midsole turning yellow? Buy a white midsole marker pen! These midsole markers should magically breathe new life back into the Adidas midsoles. Fair warning: be patient as you’re “painting” the midsole. Apply masking tape to protect areas you don’t want paint accidentally getting onto, and do a few coats (with breaks to let the paint dry in between coats) to revive your shoes.

Inside the shoe

When your shoes start smelling like dead fish or something rotting, it’s time to clean them out. The bad smells come from bacteria and fungi caused by athlete’s foot and sweaty feet. Remove the insole if you can, then use a mix of water with detergent or white vinegar to clean it. Opt for the latter if it’s extra stinky inside, but detergent really gets out the dirt. To keep it smelling good, buy a shoe deodoriser. These come in bags, balls, and sprays, to really eliminate the rank bacteria.

Shoelaces

An easy one. Take them out. Throw them in the washing machine. You’re done!


Don’t forget to protecc

Now that your beloved sneakers are in pristine condition, it’s time to protect them from Singapore’s erratic rainy weather with a can of sneaker protector spray. Applying the protector makes your shoe rain repellent, and gives the pair an invisible barrier against liquids. Most of the top sneaker cleaning brands stock this, but why not #SupportLocal with homegrown brand LiquidGlass?

Now you can display your collection (and protect them at the same time!)

Shoe display boxes not only showcase your collection in all its glory, but also protects your precious pairs from dust and dirt (especially for mesh, suede and knit shoes). Look out for stackable DIY plastic shoe display boxes that you can get off Lazada or Shopee without breaking the bank.

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