Summer is in full swing, which means your sneakers are probably getting a good workout. All those hikes, ice cream drippings, and BBQ sauce stains can add up pretty quickly in these hot and busy months. Admittedly, it can be fun to wear a pair of canvas kicks to the ground, but sometimes you want to preserve the freshness of your sneakers for as long as possible.
There was a time when cleaning your sneakers meant throwing them into the wash or attacking them with some random household cleaning agent (and praying your shoes didn’t get ruined in the process). Nowadays, just as there are shoe care products for your dress shoes, there are also specialized products for sneakers. Here’s our guide to some of the more basic things you may want in a sneaker care kit, as well tips on how to keep your shoes looking spic ‘n span.
A couple of years ago, Jason Markk made their name off a specialized sneaker cleaning kit. The company has since expanded into a full shoe care line, complete with a service store in Los Angeles, but their kit remains as their best selling product. It costs about $15 and is fairly simple — just a bottle of liquid soap, gentle enough for any sneaker material, and a stiff bristled brush. And it’s been so effective at cleaning sneakers, it’s not only won over millions of sneakerheads, but also attracted market competitors. Today, you can get similar kits from companies such as Crep Protect, Reshoevn8r, and ShoeMGK.
There are a ton of YouTube videos comparing these different companies. We’ve only tried Jason Markk and Crep Protect — and frankly, we found them to be mostly the same. Complex’s “Don’t Believe the Hype” show, however, performed a series of blind tests, where they found Crep to perform a little better.
Crep Protect’s kit does come in a hard sided zip-case, which can be nice for storage. And it has a terry cloth and single-use wipe. Jason Markk’s kit is $2 cheaper and comes with about 20% more liquid soap. On average, the two are about even, in our eyes.
That said, all these companies have devoted followings for a reason. Their kits are reasonably affordable and simple to use. They’re safe and effective. And they work across a range of materials, which isn’t something that can be guaranteed with your household chemical concoctions. We’ve used these on everything from suede to leather to canvas. They’re even gentle enough on the knitted mesh uppers of Nike Flyknits.
To clean your sneakers, wet the brush in some clean water and apply a few drops of the cleaner directly onto the brush. Then scrub your shoes until you work up a lather. Repeat as necessary until you feel your shoes are clean. Afterwards, wipe your shoes down with paper towels. If you still feel there’s some cleaning solution left on your shoes, you can rinse the brush off and scrub your shoes down one or two more times. Once you’re done, leave them outside to dry, preferably in the sun (I usually stuff my shoes with some newspaper at this point to help them keep their shape). Like with leather shoes, you’ll want to give your sneakers a day of rest before you wear them again. Otherwise, if there’s any moisture left in your shoes and you flex them back and forth, you can prematurely break down the material (think of what happens with wet cardboard).
In the photos above, you can see how Derek’s Vans x Engineered Garments slip-ons look before and after he cleaned them with a Jason Markk kit. These kits run about $15 to $20, but honestly — they work like magic.
Removing Deep Stains from Canvas
If you find you have particularly stubborn stains in canvas, the spongiest of common sneaker materials, try a little at-home DIY. The toes of my Supergas have endured Lord knows what, but they’ have some deep-set discolorations to show for it.
For these heavier stains, mix equal parts white vinegar, baking soda, and water until you get a good paste. Then scrub the stuff all over your shoes. You can even dump your laces into the mix if they’re less than fresh. After a few hours of drying time, they’ll form a flakey layer. Shake them off and you’ll have sneakers fresher than before you applied some kitchen supplies to them. The solution isn’t always perfect, but it’s what I go for when I need to go nuclear.
If you want to nip the problem before it even gets to the bud, there are preventative measures too. The same places that sell sneaker cleaners will often have some kind of spray that will cover your shoes in science. That way, whatever would otherwise stain your shoes will just slide right off.
From what we can tell, these sprays aren’t too different from the waterproofers we often recommend for suede shoes. Which is to say, if you have something like Allen Edmonds Waterproofer or Nano Protector, those will likely be fine on sneakers. If you have canvas shoes, you can even use Scotchgard from your local hardware store.
Note, you don’t want to use these sprays on calf leather dress shoes. Unlike sneakers and suede shoes, calf leather dress shoes need to be conditioned every once in a while. If you spray the surface, it will be hard for the leather to soak up the conditioning agents it needs – which means it’ll be more likely to dry out and crack.
There are some other products here and there. To take care of the smell in an overly ripe pair of sneakers, try using Dr. Scholl’s Odor X, Odor Eaters, or The Laundress’ Sport Spray. If you need to freshen up the sides of your white soles, hit them with Mister Clean’s Magic Erasers (although, keep those things away from the uppers, as they’re a mild abrasive that can remove color). You can clean shoelaces in the laundry machine by throwing them into a mesh bag first. Reshoevn8r even has a specialized laundry detergent for sneakers, which … I mean, OK.
One thing to keep in mind is that all sneakers eventually die. Unlike fine leather goods, there’s only so much resuscitating you can do. Keep them clean should you wish, but recognize that most of them aren’t long for the mortal coil, especially if you wear them hard in summertime.