Whether they’re a prized pair of Yeezys or the beaten-up New Balances you wear to run errands, all sneakers get dirty. And there’s no miracle product to prevent that, according to Eduard Shimunov of Financial District shoe-repair store Cobbler Express — “unless you put a bag over them,” he says. “Dirt is dirt. If you walk on the street, you’re going to get it onto your shoes.”
For more serious damage like discoloration, take your sneakers to a pro, who can mix a custom dye to disguise it. For daily-wear scuffs, dirt, and stains, there are a myriad of effective cleaning products for all types of kicks. (And if you want to avoid stains in the future, take the extra step of waterproofing your sneakers after cleaning them.)
Best overall | Best less expensive solution | Best kit for suede | Best for high-end leather | Best less expensive for leather | Best cleaning brush | Best kit | Best wipes | Best spot cleaner | Best for insoles | Best for midsoles
What we’re looking for
Ingredients: Shoe cleaners aren’t required to list their ingredients, so it’s difficult to compare formulas based on what they include or exclude. Still, the information some brands provide about their makeup — whether a product is natural or synthetic, wax based or oil based — can be helpful if you have a sensitivity to a certain ingredient, or if you’re partial to a specific type of solvent or wax that has worked well for you before.
Intended use: Even the most basic sneakers are made of several different materials, from textiles and leathers to metal eyelets and rubber. A good sneaker cleaner can handle most of them: We’re favoring formulas that are equally effective on leather uppers, mesh paneling, rubber toe caps, and suede accents. The biggest division in intended use is between products designed for general use and those calibrated specifically for suede and nubuck, which are susceptible to water damage — “like having a shoe that’s a sponge,” per Edward Andrade of Cesar’s Shoe Repair. We’ve noted suede-appropriate picks below.
Application method: Choosing the right cleaner is half the battle; you’ll also need to apply it effectively to clean your upper, brighten your midsole, and remove grime from nooks and crannies in the stitching. “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,” says Steven Tran, a cleaning expert at Jersey City, New Jersey, sneaker cleaning-and-restoration shop Sole Fresh. Liquid solutions, foams, and creams all appear on this list, and we’ve also researched the best brushes and microfiber cloths for lifting dirt and debris.