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How to Clean + Disinfect Used Shoes from the Thrift Store

Last Updated: October 12, 2021

Finding a good pair of used shoes can be one of the most exciting things. Not only can you save a bunch of money, but it is also an excellent way to find vintage shoes that may not be in production anymore. 

However, buying a pair of used shoes means you also have to know how to clean used shoes. And no, we don’t just mean the outside. If you don’t clean inside used shoes thoroughly enough, lingering fungus, germs, and bacteria from the previous owner can actually spread to you.

So to make sure you avoid an issue with that, we’re going to go over how to clean your used shoes properly and get you onto living your best life with some new kicks in the process. 

How to Clean Used Shoes

Whether you want to take the lazy route or be extra thorough, we’ve shared a few top methods below for cleaning used shoes. 

Using the Washer

One of the most popular ways to clean used shoes is in the washer. Shoes made of fabric and canvas can be put in the washer, as well as running shoes and sneakers. 

However, if it’s done incorrectly, your shoes can become damaged (and so can your washer). Therefore, we’ve put together a quick how-to for cleaning your used shoes in the washer in the easiest way possible.

1. Place Shoes in the Washer on a Low Tumble

To start, place your shoes in the washer on a low tumble. A tip for this is to place the shoes in either a mesh bag or with a few towels in the washer to help balance the weight so that the load doesn’t run unevenly or cause damage to your washer. 

TIP: Take your shoe strings out before washing them! If you want your shoes to look as close to brand new as possible, buy some new laces!

2. Add Laundry Soap

Next, add your laundry soap. We recommend using a concentrated laundry soap as it will help to soak deep into the shoes and pull out bacteria the most.

3. Dry Outside

And lastly, once your shoes are done, dry them out. The best way to dry your shoes is going to be naturally. In front of a fan or out in the sunlight will help them to remain intact and last longer. If you absolutely have to use a dryer, do it on a lower heat to help avoid the chances of shrinking your shoes or melting the glue holding them together.

Cleaning Used Suede/Leather Shoes

Materials Needed: 

  • Bucket or bowl
  • Water and soap
  • Wet cloth
  • Dry cloth
  • Sponge or brush

If you have more delicate pair of shoes like leather or suede, you’re going to want to clean them by hand to ensure they are handled with proper care. Here is a quick guide to our preferred method of doing that.

1. Thoroughly mix water and soap together in a large bowl.

2. Dip your sponge or brush in the water and gently begin to scrub. Start from the outside and work your way out in gentle strokes to keep the shoes properly intact. 

For leather, use minimal water and a soft sponge for the best results. 

For suede, use minimal water and always stroke downward to keep the shoe intact.

3. Use a damp cloth to wipe away any excessive lingering on the shoes.

4. Dry shoes with a soft, dry cloth. 

5. Allow your shoes to air dry fully before use. 

Disinfecting Used Insoles

Materials needed: 

  • Bowl 
  • Hot water
  • Laundry detergent 
  • Brush

And lastly, we wanted to include a special section about the insoles. If you just got used shoes from the thrift store, you’ll definitely want to take some extra time to clean the insoles thoroughly, as this is the area where bacteria, fungus, and germs can be most easily transferred to you. 

1. Fill up the bucket of hot water and add your detergent. Mix together thoroughly.

2. Remove insoles from the shoe and brush off any loose dirt or grime ahead of time.

3. Submerge the insoles for a few minutes and then begin scrubbing them one at a time on each side. 

4. Once they have been scrubbed on both sides to satisfaction, wash them thoroughly with cold water.

5. Next, leave them to air dry or wrap them in a towel to help speed up the process.

6. Lastly, wait until they are fully dry before placing them back into your shoes.

The most important thing for cleaning used insoles is always making sure they are 100% dry before using them. A lack of doing so could create a playground for mold and other bacterias to thrive (which we definitely want to avoid).

Bottom Line

In conclusion, there are a few different ways when it comes to how to clean used shoes. Whether they’re leather or suede, there’s an ideal method for all of them that is easy to learn and do yourself. 

Overall, as long as you take the time to clean your shoes properly, used shoes can be one of the best accessories you will ever have in your closet. So take the time to show them a little extra love and you’ll be on your way to rocking some of the best shoes of your life in no time.

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