Whether it’s a $400 pair of Common Projects or a $50 pair of Chuck Taylors, all sneakers have one thing in common: They get dirty. And there’s no miracle product to prevent that, according to Eduard Shimunov of Cobbler Express in the Financial District. “Unless you put a bag over them, there’s nothing really out there. Dirt is dirt. If you walk on the street, you’re going to get it onto your shoes.”
Even though you can’t really prevent them from getting dirty, you can still clean sneakers to get them looking more like new. There are of course lots of capable cobblers and sneaker-cleaning specialists who can do that for you, but many at-home cleaning methods exist, too — some of which cost about a third of the price of a visit to a professional. To find the best and easiest things for cleaning your kicks at home, we spoke to four cobblers and professional sneaker cleaners, who share their favorite solutions, brushes, and spot treatments below. (But to treat more serious damage like discoloring, you’re better off taking your shoes to a pro who can mix a custom dye to disguise it.)
Best overall sneaker cleaner
The two experts we spoke with who specialize in sneaker cleaning — as opposed to general shoe repair — cited Reshoevn8r by name as their favorite all-purpose sneaker cleaner. “This solution works well on mostly all materials — leather, suede, nubuck — and gets the job done when it comes to cleaning sneakers,” says Steven Tran, a cleaning expert at Jersey City–based sneaker cleaning and restoration shop Sole Fresh. Richard Brown — the founder of another sneaker restoration company, Proof Culture, which also makes custom sneakers — agrees, saying Reshoevn8r is an “everyday all-purpose cleaner” that’s mild and won’t leave behind much soapy residue. He adds that when “combined with a medium-bristle shoe brush or toothbrush,” the product “allows for a clean wash and maximum dirt removal on the products most commonly used in sneakers, like leather, nubuck, and rubber.” To use the cleaner, Brown says to dilute it with water, then “dip your cleaning brush in the solution, and gently scrub away the dirt on the sneakers, giving them a quick rinse so as to prevent water-logging of the shoes.”
Best everyday sneaker cleaner
The longer you go without cleaning your sneakers, the harder it is to get the dirt out, which is why Joe Rocco of Jim’s Shoe Repair in Midtown recommends using these every day (especially if you’ve got pricey sneakers). “They’re almost like baby wipes, but for sneakers,” he explains. “A lot of times the dirt stays on too long. If you have leather shoes and the wipes, you could just wipe the shoes every time you wear them because they’re going to get dirty every time you wear them — there’s no doubt. These will get the dirt off.”
Best brushes to clean sneakers
“Aside from the solutions, using the proper brush is key to cleaning sneakers,” says Tran. “Hard brushes should only be used on the undersole, and some midsoles. A medium brush can be used all around the sneaker, but should not be used on delicate materials such as suede, nubuck, or satin. A soft-bristle brush is key when dealing with delicate materials.” He says that while lots of companies’ brushes are similar, at Sole Fresh they usually use Reshoeven8r brushes, which you can buy in this convenient set of soft-, medium-, and hard-bristled options (it also comes with the brand’s cleaner that our experts like). “The important step in cleaning sneakers is, while brushing in a circular motion, letting the solution and brush work up a lather to break down the dirt and stains,” Tran says.
Best cloth to clean sneakers
Tran notes that, along with the brushes, you’ll want to “use a microfiber towel to lift and pick up the dirt and stains.” Any kind of microfiber cloth will do he says, noting that “sometimes using the microfiber towel to rub on a stubborn stain can lift the stain.” These microfiber cloths have some very high customer ratings, so they seem like a good place to start (and you can use them to clean all sorts of things, not just your sneakers).