To wash or not to wash…THAT is the question!

6 Oct

I have found that runners are either VERY pro-washing or VERY anti-washing when it comes to the concept of cleaning their running shoes. Some of those in the anti-washing camp think excessive shoe washing can degrade materials and make your shoes look to squeaky clean and “newbie” like. While I have never really worried about looking like a newbie (since I am not terribly concerned what more seasoned runners think of me), degrading the materials of a $100 (or, often times, more expensive) pair of running shoes is a legitimate concern of mine. I spend a lot of time deciding on my running shoes, so by the time that I get them, I typically really love them and want to take care of them as best that I can.

Here is how I decide when and if to wash my shoes. First, it depends on which level of my Tier System into which they fall. Yes, I have a totally neurotic Tier System for my running shoes. If the shoes fall into Tier 1 or Tier 2, that means I actively use them to run in or work out in. These are the two tiers that I care the most about. In general, I really try hard not to wash my “good” running shoes. I am lucky in that I do not ever have a lot of sweaty shoe funk or odor, but there is the rare occasion that I will get caught in the rain/mud or run through something nasty and I just have to get the funk off of my shoes.

To clean my “good” running shoes, I use the following items:
• Big fat toothbrush (purchased from Whole Foods)
• Woolite
• 1 old medium sized towel
• 2 old washcloths

I start by running about 2-3 inches of warm water into my kitchen sink. I add about half a capful of Woolite and swoosh it around in the water.

Then I remove the insoles and laces from both shoes. The only part I clean is the shoe itself…not the insoles or laces.

Next, I VERY lightly dampen the outside of the shoe. I DO NOT at any point dunk the whole shoe in the water or allow it to get completely saturated. I use my big fat toothbrush to scrub the especially nasty parts of the shoe, namely the outsole and upper areas.

I use one of the washcloths to dab the moisture off the outside of the shoe. I DO NOT run the shoe under water to rinse out the Woolite. I figure it is mild enough not to need too much rinsing. Then, I roll up the washcloth and stuff it inside the shoe to help the shoe retain its shape. I repeat this process with the second shoe.

Then I place both shoes on my covered back porch to air dry with some fresh, outside air.

To clean the laces, I usually just toss them in with the next load of laundry that I run in the washing machine. I do not really “clean” the insoles. If I do anything to them at all, I might just set them outside overnight while the shoes dry on my back porch just to let them air out. I try not to get them wet or scrub them.

Before --> DIRTY!

After --> CLEAN!

I *promise* there is a difference. 😀

A lot of shoe stores will also try and sell you “sneaker wash” or “sneaker cleaner” but all that stuff just reminds me of when my mom used to make me shine my shoes for church when I was little. It is the last stuff I want to “paint” my running shoes with! I never throw my “good” running shoes into the washing machine. The foam rubber of the sole actually causes the shoe to float in the water so they do not really get as clean as you would think. Plus, you also risk the agitator of the machine tearing the fabric upper of your running shoes.

However, I do allow shoes that fall into Tier 3 or below to get tossed in the washing machine (without insoles or laces) and then I set them out to dry on the floor of my utility room. I never ever put any of my running shoes (no matter what tier) in the dryer.

Do you wash your running shoes? If so, how?

14 Responses to “To wash or not to wash…THAT is the question!”

  1. running on faith October 6, 2011 at 10:06 AM #

    good tips! I never wash my running shoes but they get quite muddy/stinky (especially in the summer) when I sweat a lot. I need to start though b/c I always seem to find mud and my shoes get dirty very quickly. I guess I figured the mud/dirt is a sign that I have been putting in my miles:)

  2. Gemma October 6, 2011 at 11:13 AM #

    I must admit I just take out the laces and insoles and chuck the whole lot in the machine on a cold gentle wash once in a while. If it hurts them
    I can’t tell the difference, but it makes them lovely and clean and is so much easier than handwashing..

  3. Gemma October 6, 2011 at 11:23 AM #

    Oh, and then I stuff them with newspaper for several hours to absorb excess moisture and help them keep their shape, before taking it out and letting them finish air-drying outside.

  4. ERIC October 6, 2011 at 12:45 PM #

    why dont you wash the laces? I dont mind washing laces… and I use stuffits in mine to dry them out. Great accessory for runners (and for at camp)

  5. deepsouthrunner October 6, 2011 at 2:31 PM #

    I have never gotten my shoes dirty enough to feel compelled to wash them. HOwever, if that does happen, I will come back to this post! 🙂

  6. Duffy Reese October 6, 2011 at 6:12 PM #

    I love this! Must admit I have never been a sneaker washer. Just feels psychologically/emotionally wrong somehow; like I’m defiling the sneaker’s character by cleaning/hiding the war wounds?? But if I were a washer, I would SO have a tiered system for the sneaker fleet! : )

  7. Jenny @ Simply October 6, 2011 at 6:37 PM #

    I don’t wash my shoes out of pure laziness. The thought of having to relace my shoes is enough of a task to have me running in the opposite direction 🙂 On that note though, I ran on a wet trail last weekend and my running shoes could definitely use a scrub down, but I’ll wait until after the race on Sunday because who knows, it could be lucky mud 🙂

  8. The Insole Store (@TheInsoleStore) October 6, 2011 at 8:24 PM #

    Good Article Katie… I prefer the cleaning route too. Looks like your just wearing a regular shoe insole. Have you ever tried a good shoe insole or orthotic arch support? Let us know your thoughts.

  9. Katherine October 6, 2011 at 8:55 PM #

    I’ve had to wash mine after a couple very wet/muddy runs, and one extremely unfortunate trip to Whole Foods where a girl dropped a container of seafood stew and it splashed all over my feet. From what I understand, it’s okay to throw everything in the washer, as long as the temp isn’t hot, and as long as you let everything air-dry. I also take them apart piece-by-piece, and wash with regular detergent. Works well for me!

  10. BananaBuzzbomb October 6, 2011 at 8:59 PM #

    Glad I’m not the only one with tiers for my shoes. 🙂 Personally I don’t tend to wash my tier 1 shoes since I only wear them for running. If I run in the rain I consider them washed. As for the lower tiers, which tend to be my last pair of running shoes, I’ll throw them in the washer if need be. I use these for Muddy Buddy races, etc.

  11. Ginny October 6, 2011 at 9:02 PM #

    I do not put mine in the washer until I no longer run in them. I sweat a LOT, like dripping sweat, so I do hose my shoes down every day in the summer. I rotate 3-4 pairs, so the wet pair has time to dry before the next run. I’ve always thought it was the agitation of the washer that breaks the shoe down, not the water???? hmmm! I dunno!

    With my rotation of shoes, I’m now getting between 500-600 on my shoes, so I don’t feel the hosing down is hurting. Sometimes I even soak them in a mop bucket with detergent and then rinse, and let dry.

  12. keath October 6, 2011 at 9:55 PM #

    Woolite, huh? I might just give that a try. In general, I’m in the don’t-wash camp, but not because I think anything will degrade, just because my road shoes don’t get dirty enough in their lifespan (800-1200 miles) for me to care. It’ll be interesting to see what sort of luster gets restored with actual soap. 🙂 My trail/mud/rain shoes usually see enough rain to wash the trail off them, but they get simple hose down after a mud run; I just pull the insoles and laces, hose down the components individually, and let them dry. I set the insoles on the dehumidifier and stuff newspapers in the shoes.

  13. Cals December 15, 2011 at 10:35 PM #

    I have been wearing a pair of Asics Nimbus 13′s that were starting to smell really bad this summer. I had just started the running workout with my g/f. We had jogged over to her parents house and we removed our shoes. Upon entering her home, her mother commented about the odor that was filling the entrance at the door. She said, “Someone has really smelly shoes.” She laughed and took them out on the back deck. We spoke for a while and asked me if I was wearing socks; since I was standing back on the deck barefoot. I told her no and she explained way my shoes were so smelly. She said the linings of the shoes get sweat soaked and bacteria breeds like crazy with the dead skin and oils from the feet causing the foul odor. She gave my some foot powder for my shoes. Near the evening, she brought my shoe to the front door and commented on how they were still damp. As I put them back on, she said that a good way to contact Athletes Foot also. I got back home and throw them in the washer and they came out smelling better without them being destroyed. I think I will now wash them by hand like you described. Plus, what is a good sock to wear. I’ll have to check them out.


  1. About The Time I Took My Mizuno’s in the Shower with Me, Or: How To Clean Your Gym Shoes – livesimplybyannie - June 14, 2012

    […] credits: unknown, Mizuno, Katie Runs This, Jason Markk, Nike  Share this: Pin ItLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. Filed Under: […]

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