Cleaning the bottom of shoes is vital to maintain their appearance and prevent tracking dirt and debris indoors.
If you’ve been thrifty and bought a second-hand pair of shoes, cleaning the soles is also a fast-track ticket to making them look brand-new. But what is the best way to clean shoe soles?
In this guide on how to clean the bottom of shoes, we give you four tried and tested methods that use basic household items.
From washing the soles of your shoes to bizarre methods that involve nail polish remover or toothpaste (trust us, it works!), here is all you need to know.
Things to Know Before You Start
Below are four step-by-step guides for cleaning the bottom of shoes. But before you start any of them, here are two must-know pieces of advice for beginners:
- Brush off loose dirt before attempting any of the below cleaning methods. Use a bristled brush or your hand to remove as much loose dirt, mud, or debris from the bottom of the shoes as possible before using any of the below cleaning methods. This makes the cleaning process more efficient and effective.
- Check your shoe’s care labels and guidelines first. The following methods are designed for rubber or plastic soles. Some shoes (especially those with specialised materials or electronics) might require specific care. Always refer to any care labels or guidelines provided by the shoe manufacturer before attempting to clean them.
Once you’ve done these two things, you can choose from the below methods and start cleaning the bottom of your shoes. They’ll look brand-new in no time!
Method 1: Bicarbonate of Soda & White Vinegar (Best for Deep Cleaning)
Using bicarbonate of soda (also known as baking soda, but not to be confused with baking powder) and vinegar to clean the bottom of your shoes is effective, especially for removing stubborn stains or odours. In fact, it’s the most successful method for deep cleaning and eliminating tough-set stains.
However, you should avoid using this method on shoes with sensitive or delicate materials that could be affected by the acidity of the vinegar or abrasive scrubbing.
Assuming you’re not dealing with delicate materials, here is how you can do it:
- In a bowl or container, mix a small amount of bicarbonate of soda with enough water to create a cleaning paste. The consistency should be similar to toothpaste.
- Dip a soft-bristle brush or old toothbrush into the bicarbonate of soda paste. Gently apply the paste to the bottom of the shoes, focusing on the areas with stains or dirt.
- Use circular motions to scrub the soles of the shoes, then let the paste sit for about 10 to 15 minutes. This allows the bicarbonate of soda to break down stains and odours.
- Pour a small amount of white vinegar into a separate bowl or container and dip the brush (you can use the same brush you used for the paste) into the vinegar.
- Gently scrub the shoe soles with the vinegar-soaked brush. The combination of bicarbonate of soda and vinegar will create a fizzing reaction that helps lift off dirt and grime.
- Dampen a clean cloth with water. Wipe down the shoe soles to remove the bicarbonate of soda and vinegar residue, then pat dry with a clean towel or paper towels.
- Check the shoe soles to see if the stains or dirt have been removed. If some areas are still dirty, you can repeat the process again.
- Once the bottom of your shoes are clean, allow them to air dry completely before wearing them again or putting them back into storage.
While bicarbonate of soda and vinegar are generally safe for cleaning, it’s always a good idea to test a small, inconspicuous area of the shoe sole first to ensure that there is no adverse reaction or damage to the material.
Method 2: Soaking & Scrubbing (Best for Light Cleaning)
If the bottom of your shoes are only a little dirty, you can get an effective clean using laundry detergent or washing-up liquid.
These detergents lift surface-level dirt from the shoes but won’t be as successful in tackling stains—they’re best for light cleaning only.
For a slightly deeper clean or to disinfect your shoe soles, add rubbing alcohol to the cleaning solution, as explained below.
Also, the longer you soak your shoes, the more effective the method is. Here are the steps you need to follow if using this cleaning process:
- Mix a small amount of detergent with water in a flat pan to create a soapy solution. You can also add a few drops of rubbing alcohol for tougher stains or to disinfect.
- Place your shoes in the soapy solution (ensure only the soles are submerged) and allow them to soak for up to 15 minutes. You can soak one shoe at a time if needed.
- Dip a toothbrush into the soapy solution. Gently use the toothbrush to clean the shoes, scrubbing in circular motions and paying extra attention to the grooves and crevices.
- Inspect your shoes and repeat the previous step a few times if needed. Dirtier shoes or shoes with white soles often need scrubbing several times.
- Dampen a clean microfibre cloth with warm water and wipe down the soles to remove any soap residue. Once again, pay attention to any grooves and crevices.
- Pat the bottom of your shoes dry with a towel or paper towels. Allow the shoes to air dry completely before wearing them again.
Method 3: Nail Polish Remover or Toothpaste (Best for Scuffed Soles)
Both nail polish remover and toothpaste can be used to clean the bottom of shoes and are particularly effective in cleaning away scuffed marks.
However, both these products should be used with caution and only on shoe soles made from rubber or plastic.
To avoid damage and discolouration, test an inconspicuous area before using nail polish remover or toothpaste on the entire sole.
Assuming there is no harm to your shoes, here is how you can clean the bottom of your shoes using each method:
- Dampen a cotton ball or pad with a small amount of nail polish remover, OR squeeze a small amount of toothpaste (white, non-gel) onto the soles in the areas that need cleaning.
- Gently rub the stained or dirty areas of the shoe sole using either the dampened cotton ball (if using nail varnish remover) or a soft-bristle toothbrush (if using toothpaste).
- Focus on scuff stains or dirt that need to be removed, working in circular motions for several minutes until the marks start to lift. Avoid excessive rubbing or scrubbing.
- Skip this step if using toothpaste. Mix a small amount of soap with water. Dampen a cloth with the soapy solution and wipe down the sole to remove the nail polish remover.
- Dampen another clean cloth with lukewarm water and use it to wipe away the soapy residue or toothpaste residue.
- Pat the bottom of your shoes dry with a towel and allow them to air dry completely before wearing the shoes again or putting them back into storage.
Remember, nail polish remover and toothpaste should be used cautiously and only on shoe soles made of durable materials like rubber or plastic.
If you’re uncertain about using these products on your shoes, use one of our other cleaning methods instead.
Method 4: Bleach (Best for Shoes with White Soles)
Using bleach to clean white shoe soles can effectively remove tough stains and restore their brightness.
However, bleach is a strong chemical and should be treated as such. You must only use bleach to clean white rubber shoe soles, as it can cause damage to other materials.
Also, make sure to protect yourself. Wear gloves and, if desired, eye protection to protect your skin and eyes from bleach exposure.
You should also work in a well-ventilated area and do not mix bleach with other cleaning products, as this can create harmful fumes.
With the health and safety points out of the way, here is how to clean white shoe soles with bleach:
- Mix a solution of one part bleach to five parts water in a container. For example, 20mL of bleach with 100 ml of water.
- Before applying the bleach solution to the entire shoe sole, test it on a small, inconspicuous area to ensure it doesn’t cause discolouration or damage.
- Dip a soft-bristle brush or old toothbrush into the diluted bleach solution. Gently scrub the stained or dirty areas of the white shoe soles.
- Allow the bleach solution to sit on the bottom of your shoes for a few minutes. This will help break down stains and bleach the soles to help regain their original whiteness.
- Fill a sink or bucket with clean water. Dip a clean sponge into the water and use it to wipe away the bleach from the shoe. Rinse thoroughly to remove any bleach residue.
- Mix a small amount of mild soap with water to create a soapy solution. Dampen a clean cloth or sponge with the soapy solution and gently wipe down the shoe soles.
- Dampen another clean cloth with water and use it to wipe away the soap residue. Then, pat the shoe soles with a towel and let them air dry completely before wearing again.
Hannah is a freelance content writer with a passion for cleaning. She worked her way around Australia by cleaning hostels in exchange for free accommodation and used her cleaning skills to bag her a job as a chalet host for a luxury ski company in France.