How to wash smelly shoes

No matter how much I try to keep my shoes clean and odour free, I still end up with shoes that are not particularly pleasant to smell. This usually happens in the summer, when it’s warm enough to wear shoes without socks. And this is, apparently, the problem!
Hot weather, combined with sweat, creates bacteria, which produces a stinky smell. Getting rid of the smell from your shoes only solves one part of the problem, because if you wear them again without socks, in heat and for a longer period of time, it will happen again.

But, I digress….

How do we wash smelly shoes to make sure the stinky smell actually disappears?

Washing shoes in a washing machine

The best way to wash shoes is in a washing machine, but you need first to check that your shoes are O.K with heat and that they can be washed. Some cheaper brands have shoe seams glued rather than sewn, and hotter washing machine setting might damage glue. If in doubt, check with the shoe manufacturer.
Generally speaking, you can safely wash fabric trainers and synthetic materials, but I would be careful about washing anything with real leather. Hot water often makes the leather to shrink, which is going to destroy your shoes.
To wash your smelly shoes, remove the shoelaces and the insoles and place everything in an old pillowcase and tie it with a string (or use a wash bag instead). Add some other washing, like dirty trousers, towels or something that you don’t mind getting close to your stinky shoes!
If you are washing your shoes for the first time and you are not sure how well they can take the wash (and high temperature), run the washing machine on a shorter program (synthetic material or woollen programme) with 30-40 C. Programme with anything around 50 min -1.5 hr is a good start.
Use just a washing powder (or a washing liquid), but never a fabric conditioner as this might clog up the fabric material on your shoes.
Once you know that your shoes can take the washing machine treatment, you can run them through a programme with 60C temperature. The 60C temperature is much better in getting rid of the bacteria, which creates that horrible shoe smell.
Leave your shoes to air dry in a warm place before you wear them again.

Washing your shoes by hand

Since not all shoes can be washed in a washing machine, washing by hand is another good option of how to get rid of the smell from your shoes.
Like with washing machine wash, remove the insoles and shoelaces and leave everything to soak in a bowl of medium-hot water and some washing powder (or washing liquid). If you are travelling or don’t have a washing powder at hand, you can also use normal soap (just slice or grate a little bit of soap into the hot water), shower gel or shampoo.
Leave everything to soak for 20 min or so. After that, start washing your shoes by rubbing them together or use a soft brush to get rid of any dirt. Make sure you wash the inside of your shoes and the insoles, which is where the bacteria and what produces that horrible smell.
Rinse several times with clean, warm water to make sure that all soap has been rinsed off. Leave to dry on the sun or in a warm place until completely dry.

Washing smelly shoes by sponge method

Some shoes, such as expensive running shoes, technical shoes, real leather or nubuck shoes, are not suitable for long contact with water. This makes it slightly trickier to wash them, but it’s not completely impossible. The best way to wash such shoes is to use a wet sponge lightly soaked with washing liquid and to wipe and dab the shoe with the sponge. Since we are trying to remove the smell from our shoes, concentrate on the inside of your shoes, making sure you don’t wet your shoes too much in the process. Rinse the sponge clean and keep dabbing and sponging your shoes until they look clean and outdoor free. Don’t be tempted to use too much washing powder or liquid as you’ll need to spend even more time to rinse and clean the shoes with a sponge with clean water. Leave to try naturally.

How to prevent your shoes from getting smelly again

Now that your shoes are beautifully clean let’s have a look at how to prevent them from getting smelly again!

Wear socks with your shoes

I know how tempting it is to wear shoes without socks, especially in the summer. It looks so much cooler and why wear the extra layer of ‘clothes’ when it’s so hot, right? Well, you might be surprised how comfortable it’s to wear socks with your shoes even in summer, and if you choose the right pair of socks, they will even look pretty cool!
The best styles include running or gym socks, which have a low cut style but are made to withstand long days and hard workout.

Don’t wear the same shoes every day

Not wearing the same shoes every day works, because the shoes have the chance to recover, dry and naturally neutralise any odour.

Treat your shoes with baking soda

Baking soda is a very useful cleaning product, and it can also neutralise stinky smells. The easiest way to use the baking soda is to sprinkle it to your shoes when you take them off in the evening. Leave them overnight or even longer and let the baking soda to do its magic. The baking soda powder will absorb moisture from your shoes and neutralises the smell too. Make sure you tip all the baking soda from your shoes before you wear them again.