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How to Wash Kids Shoes

By: Sheryl Cannes
Updated on: February 02, 2024

Dirty shoes are a fact of life. The whiter they are, the quicker they get soiled, too. However, a little cleaning know-how can go a long way to maintaining and extending the life of your kids’ shoes.

Before you start, not all children’s shoes can be cleaned in the same way. The shoe’s materials determine the best course of cleaning action. We’ve included several cleaning methods to account for different types of kids shoes. We’ve also included a section specifically targeted at reducing shoe odor.

6 Easy Cleaning Tips for Kids Shoes

Soak Those Kids Shoes

Slippers, slides, jellies, and anything else that’s plastic or plastic-like easily come clean with a good soaking. Stubborn dirt may require the addition of dish soap to the water. Dish soap is also a good option if oil or grease is involved. The dish detergent removes grease and oil from shoes just as well as it does from dishes.

After soaking your kids’ shoes, grab a cloth, rag, or old toothbrush, and scrub those areas that still haven’t come clean. Toothbrushes work well because the bristles reach into the cracks and crevices that hide dirt.

Use Baking Soda and Water

Sometimes you need light grit when soaking and soap aren’t enough. Baking soda is a natural option that doesn’t bleach fabrics, and it absorbs odors. It’s also inexpensive and easy to find at your grocery store.

Mix the baking soda with water to create a stain-removing paste. Gently scrub your childrens’ shoes and rinse the residue away when you’re done.

Consider a Shoe Brush

Toothbrushes work well on shoes, but if you want something more specialized, invest in a shoe brush. They come in different shapes, sizes, and bristle types. Sets of two or three are surprisingly inexpensive.

Different types of bristles are designed for different purposes. Stiff hair brushes are made to lift polishing creams and work them into the leather, while softer goat hair bristles remove dust. With kids’ shoes, the goal is to get them clean, not necessarily to polish them. Look for a brush with soft bristles made of horsehair or a synthetic material like nylon. All you need are soft bristles with enough strength to reach into the shoe’s detailing to remove dirt.

General Stain or Spot Remover

Most general laundry stain and spot removers approved for fabric work on canvas shoes as well. Check the stain remover’s manufacturer instructions. Some require you to dilute the cleaner and create a cleaning solution rather than directly applying the cleaner to the fabric.

You can also create your own stain remover to wash sneakers by mixing a small amount of powdered laundry detergent with water. The resulting paste can soak and scrub out stains.

If, by chance, your children’s shoes are leather, do not use any stain remover unless it specifically says it’s designed for leather. Leather easily gets damaged by water or chemicals.

Magic Eraser

It’s almost like puddles attract white shoes. Gorgeous, bright white shoes and soles get grayed the first time your child steps on the playground. However, a favorite from other home cleaning tasks, the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, works wonders on rubber soles. It gets rid of stains and dirt to make the shoes look new. Be careful with it, and try to stay away from any fabric, plastic, or leather, which could get damaged.

In Desperation: The Washing Machine

The washing machine might be your first instinct, and your instincts aren’t entirely wrong. Many kids shoes are machine washable, but washing machines are hard on shoes. If you want the shoes to last, it’s best to try a few other cleaning methods before turning to the washer. The washing machine works for fabric shoes with rubber soles. They’re a no-go for leather or jellies.

Before you toss in the sneakers, take out the laces. Laces get tangled around other clothes, and the aglets (the small plastic ends) can potentially get caught in the holes in the washing machine.

Always use a gentle cycle, and place the shoes in a pillowcase or mesh bag designed for delicate items. Make sure to balance the load before hitting start. The shoes may be dirty enough that you don’t want to wash clothing with them. If that’s the case, wash several pairs of adult shoes and kids shoes together, or balance the load with rags or towels.

Use liquid laundry detergent instead of powder to wash shoes. Powder tends to be harsh and could damage the shoe’s stitching or materials. Liquid detergent is also more likely to dissolve completely, so you’re not left with powdery residue on the shoes.

No matter what kind of shoes you throw in the washing machine, do not put them in the dryer. Heat destroys all kinds of materials, including the glue used to hold your kid’s shoes together. Opt for air-drying instead. In warm temperatures, you can put the shoes outside in a shady place where warm, dry air can remove excess moisture without exposure to direct sunlight.

Cleaning Special Occasion Shoes

Kid’s shoes are less likely to be made of leather for a few reasons. One is that kids outgrow shoes quickly. It’s also less likely because kids are hard on shoes and many parents avoid buying overly expensive leather shoes. However, kid’s shoes can be made of leather, especially special occasion or dress shoes.

Treat the leather like you would a pair of adult leather or suede shoes. A shoe shining kit that includes polish and brushes works just as well on kids’ shoes as adults. In many cases, kids’ shoes have pleather rather than real leather. Try cleaning the pleather with a soft brush to remove scuff marks and stains.

Hit Shoe Odors Hard

Odor removal isn’t the same as general cleaning, but it’s almost more important. Shoes are known to harbor some nasty bacteria that create quite a stink. Odor problems usually start with moisture problems. Bacteria love dark, moist areas, and your kids’ shoes are like a playground. You’ll have more success if you keep the shoes dry rather than covering up odors with a deodorizing spray. Below are five other tips you can consider to minimize shoe odors.

Make a Baking Soda Ball

Baking soda naturally absorbs odors. Fill a regular coffee filter with baking soda, and tie the filter closed with a rubber band. Place the “ball” in the shoes to lift out moisture and odor. You can add a drop or two of essential oils like lemongrass or pine oil to not only remove odors but replace them with something a little more pleasant.

Cotton Balls

Place cotton balls inside the shoes to absorb moisture. Again, you can add essential oils to the cotton balls to deodorize, too.

Plain Sunshine

The sun is your natural dryer. If the weather is right, leave the shoes outside to dry to get rid of moisture and prevent bacterial growth. But don’t leave them out too long as excessive sunshine may damage the material or change its color.

Hit the Freezer

Place the shoes in a sealed plastic bag and leave them in the freezer overnight. The cool temperatures kill many of the bacteria that love warm, dark places.

Stock Up on Deodorizers

Kids shoes can still smell even if you’ve got a good routine to keep moisture at bay. Try leaving a sealed bath bomb in the shoes to cover the odors. Or, place a dryer sheet in each shoe and leave it overnight. You can also include a dryer sheet inside a closet or other enclosed shoe storage space to help with odor problems.

Plain bar soap works as a deodorizer too. Place a bar in the shoes, and its porous surface absorbs odors and leaves behind a clean, fresh scent.


Shoe management isn’t a problem that goes away. It’s something you’ll be dealing with as long as you have children at home. If you build a good cleaning and deodorizing system that includes regular purging of outgrown shoes, everyone will be happier and more punctual.


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