I appreciate being able to work from home for several reasons, including those that not many people consider. One of the worst parts of my old 9–5 came when I removed my shoes at the end of the day. I’ll admit that I was occasionally lax about my foot care, and if I didn’t consider it while I was out and about, my shoes would smell terrible by the time I took them off.
My issues with occasional smelly shoes were hardly unique. But no matter how common it is, there’s no getting used to that off-putting stench, and you don’t need to force anyone else to put up with it. If you’re struggling to keep your kicks fresh and odor-free, I’ll break down how to clean inside of shoes in the most effortless and effective way possible.
Before You Begin: Shoe Cleaning Tips
- Take the shoe apart. Removing laces and insoles allows you to give your shoes a complete cleaning with less hassle
- Keep it simple. You don’t need nor want harsh and potentially damaging cleaners to keep the insides of your shoes adequately clean
- Dry your shoes. Moisture allows bad bacteria and fungi to thrive and create foul odors
- Store your shoes properly. An extra step after taking your shoes off at the end of the day will ensure they’re ready to use the next time you need them
How To Clean Inside of Shoes
Before cleaning the inside of your shoes, remove the insoles. If you’re at the point where you need to give your shoes a thorough cleaning, you should also remove the laces. You can wash these separately, and taking them out of the shoe will make it easier to clean up to the shoe’s toe and under the tongue.
Tip! Odor-causing pet hair and dust can work their way into shoes as they transfer from your socks. If it has been a long time since I cleaned my footwear, I’ll often vacuum them out before washing them to remove debris. I follow up by loosening any stuck-on material with a soft toothbrush and vacuum again. For any remaining stuck-on material, a quick pass with some packing tape typically clears it away.
Top Recommendation: Soap and Water
The most straightforward way to clean your shoes is with mild dish soap or liquid laundry detergent. Soaking isn’t necessary in many cases, though athletic shoes, canvas sneakers, and many other shoes can handle a deep wash.
Tools and Materials
- A soft toothbrush or small nylon brush
- Mild dish soap or laundry detergent
- Clean cloth
How To Clean the Inside of Your Shoes With Soap and Water
Mix 1–2 drops of dish soap in a cup of warm water. Take out the removable insoles from your shoes. Dip an old toothbrush or small nylon brush in the soapy water, and gently scrub the inside of the shoes and the insoles thoroughly. Rinse the soap residue with a damp cloth. Air dry the insoles and shoes overnight, keeping them separate.
How To Dry the Insides of Your Shoes
Air drying your shoes in a well-ventilated area away from direct sunlight, with the insoles separate, is the best way to protect the material. If you’re in a hurry to use your shoes, here are a few ways to speed up the drying process:
- Pack your shoes with newspaper or paper towels. Stuff and wrap your shoes with newspapers to wick away moisture. Replace them every 1–2 hours or when the paper becomes overly wet
- Use a hair dryer. Pass a hair dryer on low heat over the shoes for 5-10 minutes to speed up drying
- Put them near a heat source. Hang your shoes and insoles near a radiator or heater, keeping them at a safe distance to prevent damage
- Set your shoes near a fan or dehumidifier. In the warmer months, place your shoes in front of a fan or on top of a dehumidifier. Cut and bend metal hangers into hooks to hang your shoes in front of the fan’s grate so air blows directly into them at full force. Alternatively, tie the shoe’s lace through the heel loop and then onto your fan
Can I Dry My Shoes in the Sun or Dryer?
Sunlight is a natural disinfectant and dryer, an efficient tool for finishing the shoe-cleaning process. At the same time, it can irreversibly damage and discolor sensitive materials like leather and suede. I don’t recommend it. But, canvas, fabric, and synthetic materials are generally okay to dry in the sun.
The dryer is a similar story. While it may be safe for some shoes, it will deteriorate certain materials and destroy the glues holding them together. Check your shoes for care instructions to see if the dryer is safe. If so, the most any shoe will tolerate is usually low heat.
I prefer a shoe drying rack, but you can dry virtually any shoe safely in a dryer that has an air-dry option. Use a mesh dryer bag for shoes to prevent the shoes from banging around in the rotating drum. Otherwise, you can lace your shoes together and suspend them against the inside of the dryer by pinning the laces in the door.
Vinegar and Water
Distilled white vinegar is a handy deodorizer and household cleaner. It’s a safe and easy-to-use solution for unclean shoes. Mix distilled white vinegar and water in a 1:1 ratio in a spray bottle. Spray the insides of the shoes, and let them air dry.
If you have removable insoles, you can soak them in the vinegar solution for an hour or so before rinsing and drying. You can also get pretty good results by spraying them down with your solution.
Rubbing alcohol is a simple solution for cleaning the inside of shoes that smell. The solution lingers just long enough to kill off some bacteria causing the stink. It evaporates fast. Leave it in your shoes overnight, and they’ll be dry and odor-free by the morning.
Combine 70% isopropyl alcohol and water in a 2:1 ratio in a spray bottle. Shake the bottle to mix the solution well, and spray the inside of your shoes. Let the shoes air dry completely before wearing them.
A simple wet wipe can sufficiently clean shoes when you’re in a rush to refresh the insides. Disinfecting wipes like those from Clorox or Lysol will kill many of the odor-causing bacteria and fungi while leaving a mild, pleasant scent.
You can also use gentler, non-sanitizing baby wipes if you’re worried about damaging sensitive materials like leather or suede shoes.
How to Deodorize Stinky Shoes
In most situations, cleaning shoes is more an issue of deodorizing than stain removal. A commercial odor remover typically offers the most efficient and reliable results, a wise investment for chronic shoe smells. But you have plenty of household options as well.
If your primary problem is a pungent foot odor rolling out of your sneakers whenever you take them off, try one of these hassle-free deodorizers to toss in your shoes at the end of the day:
- Baking soda. Sprinkle baking soda to clean inside your shoes, letting it absorb moisture and odors for a few hours or overnight. You can also put removable insoles in a large plastic bag with baking soda for deeper deodorizing
- Baby powder. Leave a layer of baby powder in your shoes overnight to remove odors. If you don’t have any, you can use corn starch, one of the popular essential ingredients in many modern baby powder products
- Freeze your shoes. Place your shoes in a clean freezer bag and freeze them overnight. The freezer will make any microbes inactive, reducing the smell for several hours, if not all day. It’s not a long-term solution, but it’s a quick fix
- Dryer sheets. Stuff one or two dryer sheets in each shoe overnight
- Citrus peels. Add fresh lemon or orange peels to the insides of your shoes to supply a bright citrus aroma
- Cat litter. Fill a pair of pantyhose or thin socks with kitty litter to absorb moisture and odors
For more handy tips and tricks on DIY deodorizing for shoes, check out our article on effective shoe odor removers!
Shoe Maintenance Tips To Prevent Odors
Sweat and bacteria are the primary contributors to odors and discoloration inside your shoes. While cleaning and deodorizing are essential in maintaining them, tracing the problem back to the source will keep these concerns to a minimum.
With proper foot care, you won’t have to clean your shoes as often or as much. The following are a few ways I’ve solved my foot odor issues and several other techniques worth trying:
- Alternate shoes. Constantly wearing the same shoes doesn’t give them a chance to dry completely. Moisture is what allows bacteria and fungi to grow
- Change socks frequently. Switching into fresh socks 2–3 times a day will ensure they don’t get overly wet and can continue absorbing foot moisture
- Replace insoles. Insoles are one of the most absorbent parts of the shoes and the first victim of foot sweat. Replace old, smelly insoles, and consider an odor remover option if you have persistent issues
- Apply foot powder. Using foot powder on your feet and socks will absorb sweat and neutralize odors throughout the day
Your Shoes and Socks May Be the Problem
Tight, non-breathable shoes can cause anyone’s feet to sweat excessively, creating heat and moisture that accelerate bacterial growth. If your shoes are ready for replacement, prioritize light, airy fabrics for your next pair.
Meanwhile, certain sock materials will increase breathability and moisture-wicking qualities. For me, a switch to merino wool helped considerably with comfort and sweating issues. You can also confront advanced issues with copper-infused socks. Copper is an antimicrobial feature that binds tightly to sock fabric. If you suffer from conditions like athlete’s foot, copper-infused socks can significantly reduce microbial colonies and offer relief in only a few days.
Why Should You Clean Inside of Your Shoes?
Cleaning inside your shoes is one crucial step in avoiding embarrassing foot odors. Keeping your shoes dry and clean not only enhances comfort but also prevents foot issues that could exacerbate odor and sweat. By removing dust and dirt, particularly beneath the insole, you eliminate abrasive debris that can degrade and weaken the shoe’s material.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Is It Safe to Machine Wash Shoes?
Machine washing takes longer and leaves the risk of damage, but the hands-off convenience can be hard to resist. In general, you can clean athletic shoes, canvas shoes, and other synthetic or plant-based fabrics in a washing machine. Animal-based materials like suede or leather shoes can typically only handle gentle hand washing with limited water.
What’s the Best Way To Remove Stubborn Stains From Inside Shoes?
Spot-cleaning shoes with soap and water will typically remove any minor stains from the inside of your shoes. Dabbing on hydrogen peroxide with a soft cloth can also lighten and remove numerous organic marks while rubbing alcohol can help dissolve ink and scuff stains.