How to Clean Used Shoes and Disinfect Them Properly

Ever wondered how to clean used shoes properly? Finding a pair of well-kept second-hand shoes is an excellent way to save money and find rocking vintage footwear that you can’t bag elsewhere.

There are, however, issues to look out for, such as fungus and other bacteria. This is why it’s important to know how to disinfect used shoes.

We’re going to cover the most effective methods for cleaning used shoes so that you can wear them in no time.

How to clean, disinfect and sanitize used shoes include:

  • Why it’s important to clean used shoes.
  • How to hand wash delicate shoes.
  • Cleaning shoes in the washer.
  • How to sanitize used shoes.
  • Disinfecting shoes.


Cleaning Used Shoes

When you first buy a pair of used shoes, it’s essential to clean them to regain freshness. Depending on the shoes’ age and usage, there might be a few scuff or dirt marks to deal with.


Furthermore, bacteria, fungi and other viruses can be thriving within the soles, posing a health risk for you.


Cleaning the Insoles

There are a few ways you can tackle this task—you can learn more about it in our complete guide on how to clean smelly shoe insoles. However, we found this to be the most effective method. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • One large bowl.
  • Hot tap water (not boiling).
  • Laundry detergent or dish soap.
  • Hard-bristled brush (nail brushes are excellent for insoles due to the size).


The method:

  1. Remove the insoles from the shoes.
  2. If they’re very filthy, brush them to remove loose dirt and dust.
  3. Fill the bowl or container with hot water.
  4. Add a few drops of laundry detergent or dish soap and swirl it around until it dissolves completely.
  5. Place the insoles in the water and allow them to soak for a minute. Squeeze them a few times to work the water and detergent through.
  6. Take one insole at a time and scrub it using the brush. Repeat with the other.
  7. Flip the insoles over to clean the underneath.
  8. Once they’re looking clean, rinse them thoroughly under cold running water to remove excess dirt and soap.
  9. Place the insoles on a clean towel and allow them to dry thoroughly. You can also place them on a clothesline or a dish rack.
  10. Make sure the insoles are completely dry before popping them back into your shoes. Wet or damp insoles can quickly become a breeding ground for mold and other fungi.


Pro Tips:

  • If the insole is particularly grubby, don’t be afraid to scrub hard. Pay close attention to the area around the toes and heel since these tend to be dirtiest areas.
  • If the sun is out, place the newly-washed insoles outside to dry. The sun is an effective disinfectant—the intense UV rays kill bacteria.
  • On particularly stubborn stains, try a dab of toothpaste. Toothpaste has a lightening effect that won’t damage the material.
  • Insoles that have been worn for an extended time will mold themselves according to the previous owner’s feet. This can make the shoes less comfortable, therefore, many wearers choose to replace the insoles right away.

To see how to clean the insoles here’s a helpful video.


Cleaning Shoes in the Washer

Cloth shoes such as canvas, sneakers, running and fabric shoes can be washed in the washer. Check any labels beforehand or do a quick search to ensure the shoes won’t be damaged.


The method:

  1. Place the shoes in the washer and set it to a warm cycle with a low spin. This will prevent damage to the machine.
  2. Use a concentrated laundry detergent to remove stains and dirt.

Here’s a useful video that shows how you can wash your shoes in the washer.


Pro Tips:

  • Proceed with caution when using the dryer. The heat will trap possible smells in the fabric. It can also shrink the shoes, warp the soles or even melt the glue.
  • If possible, dry the shoes outside in the sun. You can also place them in front of a fan to speed up the process.
  • Add one or two towels to top-loading machines. This will help to balance the weight of the sneakers. Furthermore, the towels will act as gentle “scrubbers.”
  • Place the shoes in a mesh laundry bag to protect them from the washer.


Hand Washing Delicate Shoes

How to Clean Used Shoes

Leather, suede and other more delicate types of materials can’t be washed in the washer. Luckily, it’s easy to do it by hand instead. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Large bowl or container.
  • Warm water.
  • Laundry detergent or dish soap.
  • Brush or sponge.
  • Clean cloth.
  • Towel.


The method:

  1. Combine water and a few squirts of soap in a bowl or container.
  2. Dip the brush or sponge in the soapy solution and begin to scrub the shoes. Go around the outside, top and bottom. Then, continue with the inside.
  3. Wet a clean cloth and use it to remove excess soap from the shoes.
  4. Wipe down the shoes using a clean towel.
  5. Allow them to dry thoroughly in a well-ventilated area.


Pro Tips:

  • You can hand wash leather shoes; however, use minimal water and opt for a soft sponge instead of a brush. Finish off with some leather conditioner to bring out some shine. Read our article for more tips on how to shine shoes without polish.
  • To remove scuff marks from synthetic and real leather, make a paste using equal amounts of baking soda and water. Gently rub it on using a rag and wipe off with a damp cloth.
  • Salt stains can be erased with white vinegar on a wet cloth.
  • Take extra care with suede shoes. This material doesn’t react well when exposed to moisture. Use a limited amount of soapy water to buff out stains and always use downward strokes. If unsure, take your suede shoes to a professional cleaner.
  • Pencil erasers can remove dry stains from suede without damage.
  • Use cornstarch on suede for oily stains. Sprinkle it on and leave it to dry—the powder will absorb the stain and you can brush it off afterward.


This video illustrates how to clean leather shoes.


How to Sanitize Shoes

Leftover germs and bacteria aren’t welcome in our shoes. These can cause unpleasant odors to form as well as spread bacteria throughout your house as you walk around. Here are a few effective disinfecting methods to try:


Rubbing Alcohol

With delicate shoes, simply wet a section of cloth with rubbing alcohol and gently wipe the inside and outside of the shoe. If needed, you can spray a small amount of alcohol on the insoles—alcohol evaporates faster than water, it also dries dry quicker.

Sneakers can be soaked in rubbing alcohol without damaging the material. Allow the shoes to soak for an hour, remove and leave them to air-dry.



Bleach is a very powerful disinfectant. However, you should always dilute it with water and never apply it to colored shoes.

You can make your own disinfectant spray for shoes by mixing a tablespoon of bleach in a spray bottle filled with water. Give it a good shake and it’s ready to use.

Spritz the inside of your shoes and allow them to dry.


Antibacterial Spray

If you have an antibacterial spray at home, you can quickly disinfect your shoes. Spray the insides, paying close attention to the insoles. Leave the shoes to dry.

We recommend using Lysol spray for shoes. This product is effective at killing a large number of bacteria, without damaging your footwear.

Lysol Fabric Disinfectant Spray, Sanitizing and Antibacterial Spray, For Disinfecting and Deodorizing Soft Furnishings, Sundrenched Linen 15 FL. Oz
  • DISINFECTANT SPRAY ELIMINATES 99.9% OF VIRUSES AND BACTERIA: Lysol Fabric Disinfectant Spray is tested and proven to eliminate 99.9% of viruses and bacteria; including COVID-19/Coronavirus* (*Use as directed); EPA Reg #777-127.
  • FABRIC SANITIZING SPRAY FOR SOFT FURNISHINGS: This spray disinfects and removes odor causing bacteria on soft furnishings in your home including sofas; area rugs; couches; pet beds and car seats.
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  • A LEADER IN DISINFECTION: Looking for some of our other great household disinfectant cleaning products? Try Lysol All Purpose Cleaners; Lysol Disinfectant Spray and Lysol Bathroom Cleaners (packaging may vary).


Frequently Asked Questions

How Do You Clean Thrift Store Shoes?

If you’ve been feeling wary about buying a pair of shoes from the thrift store, here’s an easy way to clean and disinfect them quickly:

Use a damp cloth to wipe the inside and outside of your shoes. Mix 20 drops of tea tree oil with rubbing alcohol in a 1-ounce squirt bottle. Tea tree oil has antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties, making the oil ideal for disinfecting thrift store shoes.

Squirt the mix inside and outside the shoes. Leave them to dry.


Can I Use Clorox Wipes to Clean My Shoes?

Unlike common beliefs, Clorox wipes do not contain chlorine bleach. They’re, therefore, an excellent option when it comes to refreshing used shoes.

Give the shoes a good wipe on the inside and outside. Consumers particularly use Clorox wipes to clean sneakers.


What Do Bowling Alleys Use to Disinfect Shoes?

Boxes for Clean Used Shoes

The shoes found in bowling alleys can be hosts to multiple microorganisms, such as bacteria, fungus and the human papillomavirus. HPV is a common virus that causes warts.

How the bowling alley disinfects the shoes varies depending on the place and their preferences. At the very least, bowling alleys should use some type of antifungal spray or powder ideally between every use.

Here are some tips you can follow to help protect your feet:

  • Wear moisture-wicking socks that create a barrier between the shoes and your feet.
  • Bring your own disinfectant spray or wipes and sanitize the shoes quickly before wearing them.
  • Avoid bowling shoes if you have open sores or blisters since you’re more likely to catch an infection.
  • If the shoes feel damp or have a bad odor, don’t feel shy to ask for a different pair.


How Do You Disinfect Used Sandals?

Fabric sandals and flip-flops can be washed in the washer using a delicate cycle, cold water and a small amount of detergent. Furthermore, you can add a cup of white vinegar to help remove any funky smells.

If you’ve bought delicate sandals, such as leather, give them a quick wipe with a disinfectant.


How to Disinfect Shoes From Fungus

After cleaning the shoes thoroughly, you can use an antibacterial or antifungal spray to sterilize shoes. We recommend using a Lysol spray or mixing a tablespoon of bleach with water in a spray bottle.

Apply it to the entire inside of the shoe and allow it to dry.



Buying second-hand shoes from charity and thrift stores are an excellent way to help out others and become more eco-friendly. You never know, you might just find a hidden gem such as a pair of vintage shoes or designer heels.

Cleaning and disinfecting used shoes is essential due to bacteria, fungi and viruses that could be present. While some shoes such as leather and suede require a more delicate approach—sneakers and running shoes can be thrown in the washer.

We’ve shared multiple ways to clean used shoes as well as how to disinfect shoes from the thrift store. We hope you found it helpful. We’d love to hear your thoughts. Don’t forget to share so others also can learn how to clean used shoes.


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