How to clean your running shoes – without ruining them

Man wearing muddy running shoes
(Image credit: Shutterstock / Pavel1964)

Buying a pair of running shoes is just like buying any type of shoe. You can’t wait to wear them, but you also know, as soon as you walk out that door, the likelihood of them ever looking that clean again are slim to none.

While it’s going to be a tall order trying to keep them in a box-fresh state when you’ve put plenty of running time in them trudging through the rain and mud, there are ways to make sure they’re still looking in good shape.

Whether it’s your go-to shoes for long marathon training runs, ParkRun outings or the ones you lace up for race day, here’s some useful ways to clean your running shoes and not do damage to them in the process.

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1. Do not stick them in the washing machine

Let’s deal with this one straight away. Do not put your running shoes in the washing machine. For the sake of your shoes and your washing machine, it’s not a good idea. The process can cause the shape of your shoes to distort, so that once perfect-fitting upper may stop hugging your foot in all of the right places in the same way.

What you want to do instead is get your hands dirty to deal with those dirty shoes and get hand washing instead. That way you can be more precise about the elements of your shoe that need addressing.

Man removing insole from running shoe

Remove the insoles and laces from your shoes before you start cleaning (Image credit: Shuttetstock / New Africa)

2. Separate the running shoe's parts

You might have an upper that’s grubby, an outsole that’s caked in mud, or an insole that’s starting to give off a sweaty whiff. Decide what actually needs cleaning on your shoe and if possible remove parts where possible to make it an easier job to do.

If you’re tackling that upper, remove the laces and consider taking the insole out if it’s removable. If it’s the outsole that you need to deal with, you’ll want to do the same thing as well, especially if it’s particularly grimy. 

3. Gently clean the upper, insole and laces

So let’s get into that actual cleaning part. Ultimately, you don’t want to reach for cleaning products that include chemicals that could be harmful to the condition of your shoes. Keep things simple with mild soap and water, plus some tools depending on what you’re cleaning.

If you’re tackling the upper, grab a soft bristled brush (an old toothbrush should do the trick) and gently brush any dirt and muck off the upper. Gently is the key word here. After you’ve taken your time with that step, you can use that soap and water and a soft cloth to wipe things down, which you can follow up with a rinse before drying.

Pay close attention to the type of material that’s used in the shoe upper. For example, if you have a pair of Nike running shoes with a FlyKnit upper, you can use the same soapy solution, then use a clean cloth to rub gently on the upper in the direction of the knit.

If you’ve got an insole that’s starting to give off a whiff, remove it from the shoe and use some warm water and a small amount of washing-up liquid to wipe down and clean.

You can deal with those laces too by taking them out and then using some cold water to give them a good wash.

Woman cleaning a running shoe with a stiff brush

A hard brush is the best way to tackle a dirty outsole (Image credit: Shutterstock / SERSOLL)

4.  Grab a hard brush for a dirty outsole

Whether you’re eating up running time on the pavement or off-road, or a mixture of both, that outsole is inevitably going to get pretty grub. Mud, leaves, stones – it’s going to face carnage.

If you haven’t addressed that mess after your run and knocked the mud and dirt out of them, firstly, remove the laces and insoles. Then, leave them to dry off completely before grabbing a hard brush to tackle that grubby outsole. You could use a soft brush as well, but a hard brush will be more effective for cleaning. 

To finish up, you can tackle it with a blast of water from a hose, or turn the shower head on it to give them a good rinse.

5. Dry your shoes in the right environment

Once you’ve finished scrubbing, wiping and  hosing down that upper, insole, laces and outsole, make sure you pick the ideal place to help them dry off. Ideally, you’ll want to let them dry out in fresh air or in a well ventilated space, so if the conditions are clear, get them outside. Just make sure they're not in direct sunlight. 

If you’re not blessed with a garden or you don’t feel comfortable leaving them outside your front door, dropping them in an airing cupboard (if you’ve got one) should do the job too. Like the washing machine, keep them away from a dryer as it can damage your shoes.  

If you’ve taken out the insole and laces to clean the rest of your shoe, wait until they’re fully dried before you put them back in. If you’ve cleaned the upper,  you can also stick old newspaper or paper towels into the inside of the shoe to help speed up the drying process.

Two pairs of running shoes drying outdoors

It's best to let your shoes dry outdoors, out of direct sunlight (Image credit: Shutterstock / The Mariner 4291)

This article is part of TechRadar's Get Fit in 2022 series – a collection of ideas and guides to help get your new year's health goals off to the right start, whatever your current level of fitness.