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How to Clean Canvas Shoes

Canvas shoes are one of the most popular footwear choices for both men & women, largely because they’re comfortable, stylish, and above all, versatile enough to wear with practically any outfit. But if you’re wearing them every single day, they’ll quickly accumulate dirt, stains, and odors.

The good news is that a bit of dirt isn’t the end of your favorite shoe. Cleaning canvas shoes is actually quite simple, and with a few common household ingredients and a bit of elbow grease, they’ll look as good as new.

We’re going to guide you through how to clean canvas shoes with three tried and tested methods that are guaranteed to leave your shoes looking fresh and clean. Whether you prefer hand washing, machine washing, or spot cleaning, we have you covered. We’ll also share a few tips at the end on how to keep them clean in the future, so you won’t have to clean them as often. Let’s get to it.

Preparing Your Canvas Sneakers for Cleaning

Before you start vigorously trying to scrub the stains away, take a breath. It’s necessary to prepare your canvas tennis shoes to be cleaned. This step will give you the best chance of success and protect your shoes from any further damage. Here's what you need to do:

  1. 1. Remove the laces & insoles from your canvas sneakers so that you clean the shoe itself without the laces becoming tangled or getting in the way. In fact, you can just throw both the laces & insoles in with your next load of laundry to clean those – so easy.
  2. 2. Use a soft-bristle brush or an old toothbrush to gently brush off any loose dirt, dust, or debris from the surface of your shoes. Pay special attention to the crevices and seams – this is where most of the buildup occurs.
  3. 3. Take a close look at your canvas sneakers and identify any specific stains or spots that need extra attention. The cleaning method you use will be based on the number of and depth of those stains, so make a mental note. 
  4. 4. If you notice any tough stains or spots, pre-treat them before cleaning your shoes. Use a stain remover or a gentle soap solution to target these areas. Apply the solution directly to the stain and let it sit for a few minutes to loosen the dirt.
  5. 5. Before applying any cleaning solution to your entire shoe, test it on a small, inconspicuous area first. Especially if you’ve never used this cleaning solution on canvas before, you can “spot test” a small area of the sneakers without ruining the entire sneaker in the off-chance that the solution is damaging.

Once you’ve done these, it’s time to move onto the main event: bringing your canvas sneakers back to life.

How to Clean Your Canvas Shoes: 3 Tried & Tested Methods

All of these methods are equally as effective, whichever you choose is truly a matter of preference and how dirty your canvas sneakers are.

Method 1: Hand Washing

Hand washing your canvas shoes is an effective way to remove dirt and stains, and our recommended method in most cases. It gives you more control over the cleaning process compared to a machine wash. Here’s how to do it:

  1. 1. Fill your sink with warm water; avoid using hot water as it can damage the adhesive and shape of your shoes. Cold or room-temperature water is just fine.
  2. 2. Add a small amount of mild detergent or gentle soap to the water. Make sure to use a product that is suitable for delicate fabrics.
  3. 3. Place your canvas shoes in the soapy water and gently move them around them. Use your hands or a soft brush to scrub away dirt and stains. Pay extra attention to the areas that are particularly dirty.
  4. 4. Once you have cleaned your shoes, rinse them thoroughly under running water to remove any leftover soap residue.
  5. 5. After rinsing, gently squeeze out excess water from your shoes. Avoid wringing or twisting them – this will deform the shape. Stuff your shoes with white paper towels or old newspaper to help them retain their shape as they dry. Place them in a well-ventilated area and allow them to air dry completely away from the sun.

Method 2: Machine Washing

If you prefer a more convenient and time-saving approach, machine washing can be a suitable option for cleaning your canvas shoes. However, it's important to note that this method may not be suitable for all types of canvas shoes, so check the manufacturer's instructions before proceeding. Here's how to machine wash your canvas shoes:

  1. 1. You should’ve already done so, but be sure to remove the laces & insoles before tossing your shoes into the washing machine. This will prevent tangling and ensure a more thorough clean.
  2. 2. To protect your shoes during the wash cycle, place them in a mesh laundry bag or pillowcase. This will prevent them from getting tangled with other items and minimize the risk of damage.
  3. 3. Set your washing machine to a gentle cycle with cold or lukewarm water. Avoid using hot water, as it will cause the glue to weaken and the colors to fade, causing your shoes to wear down faster.
  4. 4. Add a small amount of mild detergent to the washing machine. Avoid using bleach or harsh chemicals, as they can damage the fabric of your shoes.
  5. 5. Once the wash cycle is complete, remove your shoes from the laundry bag and let them air dry away from direct sunlight. Avoid using a dryer, as the heat can shrink or warp the canvas material.

Method 3: Spot Cleaning

Spot cleaning is great for small, fresh stains. You can quickly clean them without soaking the shoes completely and having to wait hours for them to dry. This is how we recommend you spot clean them:

  1. 1. Locate the specific spot or stain that you want to clean on your canvas shoes.
  2. 2. Create a cleaning solution by combining equal parts of water and mild detergent or a specialized sneaker cleaner. Mix well to create a soapy solution.
  3. 3. Dip a soft cloth or a soft-bristle brush into the cleaning solution. Make sure it is damp, not soaking wet.
  4. 4. Using gentle circular motions, scrub the targeted area to lift the dirt or stain. Be careful not to apply too much pressure, as it may damage the fabric.
  5. 5. After scrubbing, blot the area with a clean, damp cloth to remove any excess soap residue.

If you follow these methods, whichever you prefer, you can effectively clean your canvas shoes and make them look brand new again. However, they may not stay clean forever, so we’ve put together a few more tips to help you prolong their lifespan.

Additional Tips & Tricks

These tips will not only help you maintain the cleanliness of your shoes but also extend their lifespan. Let's dive into some of these handy tips:

 - To prevent dirt and dust from building up on your canvas shoes, make it a habit to lightly brush them with a soft-bristle brush after each wear. This will help remove surface debris and keep your shoes looking fresh.

 - Avoid using harsh chemicals, bleach, or strong detergents. These can damage the fabric and cause discoloration. Stick to mild detergents or specialized sneaker cleaners that are gentle on canvas.

 - Always allow your canvas shoes to air dry naturally. Avoid using direct heat sources or placing them in the dryer, as this can cause shrinkage or distortion of the fabric.

Stuff them with white paper towels or old newspapers. This will also assist in absorbing excess moisture.

 - Consider applying a fabric protector spray to your canvas shoes after cleaning. This can help repel dirt, water, and stains, keeping your shoes in better condition for longer.

 - Direct sunlight can cause the colors of your canvas shoes to fade. When drying or storing your shoes, choose a shaded area to protect them from prolonged exposure to sunlight.

 - Don't forget about the laces! Clean them separately using the hand washing or spot cleaning method. You can also replace old or worn-out laces to give your shoes a fresh look.

 - When not in use, store your canvas shoes in a cool, dry place. Avoid squishing them or piling other items on top of them, as this can distort their shape.

 - Use shoe deodorizers or place odor-absorbing inserts inside them. This will help combat any unpleasant odors that may develop over time.

 - Know when it's time to retire your shoes: Despite proper care, canvas shoes will eventually wear out. Pay attention to signs of excessive wear, such as holes, frayed stitching, or significant loss of shape. When your shoes reach this point, it may be time to replace them.

 Nobody likes to stain their favorite pair of shoes, especially if they’re white. But with these tips, you won’t have to stress every time you step in a puddle or get a bit of dirt on your sneakers. You can easily clean your canvas sneakers and turn them into a pair that looks as good as new.