How to Clean Cloth Shoes (Fabric, Canvas)

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Cleaning dirty shoes at home doesn’t have to feel like an impossible chore. Learn how to clean cloth shoes (fabric and canvas shoes) at home easily with items you already have on hand.

how to clean cloth shoes

If you have multiple children, the odds are that you might be trying to extend the life of their wardrobe. Clothing can add up quickly, especially when it comes to shoes!

As a mom of soon to be three boys, I was shocked with how expensive kids shoes can be… and also how quickly they can outgrow them out of the blue. I knew buying new shoes for each child wasn’t an option for us at this age, because babies and toddlers barely wear each pair before they need another size.

Instead, learning how to clean cloth shoes was a much better choice. With just a few simple supplies and some easy steps, you can easily clean fabric and canvas shoes at home.

Note: Some links may be affiliate links. That means I may make a commission if you use my links to purchase, at no extra added cost to you! I only recommend products that I personally love and believe in.  Full disclaimer here.

kids sitting in shoes

How to Clean Cloth Shoes

While there are multiple types of shoes that kids wear (including leather and suede), the steps outlined in this article are JUST for cloth shoes, including fabric and canvas. This article was written with the knowledge in mind that the shoes my own children (as well as most of their friends) wear 99% of the time fall under the category of cloth shoes.

Cleaning cloth shoes is easier than you might think, and can breathe new life into a pair that might otherwise need to be tossed out. All you need is a little warm water, dishwashing detergent, an old toothbrush or soft brush, and some paper towels.

When it comes to cleaning cloth shoes, these steps will work for any kind of fabric or canvas shoes. While many parents toss dirty shoes into the washing machine, the truth is this isn’t actually the best way to clean shoes.

It can damage the tumbler or agitator of the machine, as well as cause damage and tears to the shoes. More annoyingly, your shoes might come out still looking stained and dirty despite going through the wash!

So in this article, we are going to walk you through the very easy steps of how to clean cloth shoes by hand.

First, Brush Off Excess Dirt and Debris

Before you start trying to clean fabric shoes, first be sure to remove any excess dirt, soil, mud or other debris off the shoe fabric. This can be done with a rag, old towels or dry paper towel. For extra dirty shoes, remove the laces and wash those separately.

Mix Cleaning Solution

Mix two cups of warm water with one teaspoon of dishwashing liquid or mild laundry detergent in a small bowl. Stir well to combine the cleaning solution.

Clean Shoes by Hand

Dip the toothbrush in the soap solution and, working in one small section at a time, lightly scrub the fabric. Tip: work with the grain of the fabric and try not to get the shoe too wet to prevent spotting.

Remove the Soapy Residue

Take a paper towel or damp cloth moistened with plain water and wipe down the entire shoe after you finish cleaning it with the toothbrush. You might need to do this several times to get all of the soapy water solution off.

If it’s easier, you can also rinse the shoes with plain cold water, but keep in mind this will mean the shoes will take longer to dry.

Air Dry Shoes

Blot the fabric with a dry paper towel or rag to remove excess moisture before allowing the shoes to air dry. Avoid direct sunlight and heat.

Stuff dry paper towels into the toes of the shoe to help them hold their shape until they’re completely dry.

Sneakers and Tennis Shoes

Athletic shoes and sneakers will hold up in the washing machine on the gentle or delicate cycle and typically can be washed this way as long as you aren’t concerned about every stubborn spot coming off the fabric.

To help protect your washing machine, you can place them in a garment bag first and then add a heavy-duty laundry detergent (our family uses Tide).

Remove the inner soles and laces and wash these separately. Extra stinky shoes can also be soaked in a 50:50 white vinegar-water solution first. You can also try an OxyClean soak to help control odor, which I’ve found helps a lot of my kid’s smelly items.

kids playing tug of water

Frequently Asked Questions about How to Clean Fabric Shoes

How do you clean dirty cloth sneakers?

Follow the steps above to clean dirty cloth sneakers. Combine warm water with dish detergent or mild laundry detergent to create a soapy mixture. Soak a rag or use an old toothbrush to gently scrub the dirty shoe. Rinse with a wet cloth and allow to air dry.

You can also place dirty cloth sneakers in the washing machine to clean them.

Are cloth shoes machine washable?

Yes, most cloth, canvas and fabric shoes can be cleaned in the washing machine. However, depending on how dirty the shoes are, they might not get clean looking this way. That’s why in this article we recommend washing your cloth shoes by hand.

If you want to wash your shoes in the washing machine, be sure to put them in a mesh bag first to protect them and the inside of your washer and use the gentle cycle, like this mesh laundry bag.

How frequently should you clean your shoes?

Experts recommend that if your children wear their shoes on a daily basis, they should be cleaned once a month. Not only does this keep them looking newer longer, but it can also cut down on fungus and odor.

How do you keep white cloth shoes clean?

Any parent can tell you that white sneakers and white canvas shoes get dirty the very first time kids wear them. To keep them looking fresh and clean, you actually don’t need to use bleach!

First be sure to remove any loose dirt with a soft cloth. Mix two tablespoons of white vinegar and a tablespoon of baking soda with one cup warm water to create a thick paste. After the fizzing has stopped, dip a soft toothbrush into the paste and gently scrub the shoes in a circular motion.

Once you’re finished be sure to rinse the shoes with clean water or wipe off with a wet cloth. Blot with a towel to remove excess water. Stuff the toe with paper towels to help maintain the shape of the shoes and air dry.

For extra tough stains, you can try a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser or a cotton swab dipped in hydrogen peroxide or if needed, a tiny amount of bleach. Keep in mind this is just for regular canvas shoes. Learn more about affordable barefoot shoes here.

clean white shoes

Cloth Shoe Cleaning Supplies

Sometimes it’s easier to just buy some cleaning supplies for your shoes. Here are a few cloth shoe cleaners you can find on Amazon:

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Cleaning Canvas Shoes Is Easy

I hope this article showed you that it’s easier to clean canvas shoes than you might think. There are multiple effective ways to try. Experiment with what works best for the shoes you have. With just a few simple ingredients, you can help extend the life of your kids’ shoes.

If you found this article useful, please pin it on Pinterest or share on social media to help more parents learn how to clean fabric shoes too.

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