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The Best Ways to Salvage Your Muddy Sneakers

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Photo: The Workshop by Lucy (Shutterstock)

If your sneakers are extremely dirty but you don’t want to replace them, there are ways to get them back into good shape, if maybe not to their just-out-of-the-shoebox glory days. But with the right tools and materials, you can get pretty close. These are the best ways to restore and revitalize a pair of truly gross kicks.

Use a corkscrew to get mud out of crevices

Before you get into the nitty gritty, start with the big picture: removing as much mud as possible. One of the best tools to clean mud off the bottoms of your sneakers is a corkscrew. Its thin tip allows you to really dig in there and scrape caked in mud out of narrow crevices, and its metal constitution will prevent it from snapping or breaking like a toothpick or another disposable object.

Use a melamine sponge on rubber soles

A melamine sponge (which is the same thing as the branded Magic Eraser) is denser than a regular sponge, with tiny pores that give it a sandpaper-esque quality. For best results, start by wiping any big chunks of mud off with a paper towel or rag, then wet the melamine sponge and gently rub it over any discolored spots on the rubber soles. Try to avoid the sneaker fabric if possible, to avoid scuffs. It’s also a good idea to work over a trash can, to catch any debris from the crumbling sponge.

Wash or replace your shoelaces

One of the easiest and cheapest ways to revitalize any pair of shoes is to replace the laces. You can throw your shoelaces in the washing machine if you’d like (stick them in a mesh bag first to keep them from getting tangled), but avoid the dryer, as the heat could melt the aglets.

Be mindful of the material

Not all sneakers are created equal. If you’re going to do a deep clean, you’ll want to use products that will work well with your sneakers’ material. (Self Magazine has a thorough guide for what to use when.)

For mesh sneakers: Use a dry brush to remove any excess dirt. Mix together baking soda and vinegar and apply it to the soiled spot and let it sit for about 15 minutes. Then, gently scrub for several minutes with a soft brush, then wipe clean with a soft, damp rag. Let the sneakers air dry.

For synthetic leather sneakers: Soak a rag in warm water and mild laundry detergent and wipe down the dirty areas. Then, gently scrub the area with a brush for a minute, working in the detergent, before wiping the sneakers clean with a soft, damp rag to remove any remaining detergent. Let the sneakers air dry.

For knit sneakers: Avoid both brushing and laundry detergent (because chemicals can be too harsh on the fabric). Instead, use a soft cloth and a bar of mild bath soap. Soak the cloth in cold water and use it to gently rub soap into the stains. Once the stains have been lifted, wipe off any remaining soap with a damp towel and let them air dry.

For canvas sneakers: Use a toothbrush and a cleaning paste made out of baking soda and warm water. Dip the toothbrush into the mixture and scrub the sneakers until they’re clean. Let the sneakers dry with the cleaning mixture still on. Once dry, wipe away any remaining hardened baking soda deposits with a damp cloth.

Put baby powder or baking soda in them overnight

Shaking a dash of baby powder or baking soda in each sneaker overnight will allow the product to absorb musty odors left behind by accumulated moisture. (Just one of many uses for baby powder that don’t involve your baby.) Do this every so often to keep your sneakers smelling fresher, even if they haven’t recently been caked in mud.


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