Turn tired trainers into sparkling sneakers with our tried and tested cleaning guide

From kitchen cupboard staples to an unexpected stain removal star, here’s how to bring new life to your forlorn footwear.

Whether it’s nipping to the corner shop or training for a couch to 5K, we regularly put our trainers through their paces. And when they’re worn in all weathers and exposed to a variety of terrains, pounding muddy paths or trekking dusty roads, it’s hard to keep them looking as good as new.

The good news is that although you may fear regular cleaning will damage them, there are plenty of clever ways to restore your trainers to their near-former glory. Whether it’s popping them in the wash or soaking them in the sink, we asked the experts how to clean trainers so we could put their tips to the test. Here’s what we discovered.

hands wearing yellow rubber gloves scrubbing black trainer over blue bowl filled with waterCredit: Shutterstock/FotoDuets
Keeping your trainers in tip-top condition isn’t too tricky

Hand washing versus washing machine

Both methods work, but precision is the key to success

To keep your trainers intact and protect your washing appliance, it’s all down to using the right products, the correct quantities, and the best temperature. What may be surprising is that even though you may assume a higher temperature is better for removing odours and bacteria, it’s safer to wash trainers on a cooler wash.

“Cold water and a gentle or delicate cycle are the best settings for your washing machine,” says Mariya Gurkova from cleaning company Fantastic Services. “You should avoid using hot water as it can weaken the trainers’ glue. Once the cycle has completed, remove the trainers from the machine.”


She also recommends removing the laces and insoles prior to the wash and placing all items in a laundry bag to protect both your machine and trainers. And when it comes to washing detergent, Gurkova says: “It’s always best to avoid using harsh chemicals. Use gentle, biodegradable soap or detergent to create an eco-friendly cleaning solution.”

If hand-washing, she also advises you keep the laces done up in the trainers so that they they retain their shape and avoid becoming tangled. “At the end, make sure to remove any soap residue from the trainers,” she adds, “by rinsing them under clean, running water. As soap residue may attract more dirt, ensure that it is washed away entirely.”

Once washed, air-drying is the best option for either method and you can speed up the process by stuffing them with newspaper to absorb the water. It will also help them to keep their shape.

Tempted to pop them on the radiator? “Keep in mind that radiators can damage the material if exposed to direct heat,” warns Gurkova.

Stain removal options

Shop bought or DIY? You have options

While stain removal products and fabric friendly laundry detergents will work on trainers, baking soda, white vinegar and lemon juice are kitchen cupboard staples we regularly recommend for stain removal.

Whether it’s cleaning a burnt pan or descaling a kettle, there’s very little this trusty trio can’t tackle. So it comes as no surprise that they can also help to lift stains and restore the white parts of your trainers.

What’s perhaps more surprising is that your bathroom also hides a stain removal star. Normally reserved for your pearly whites, toothpaste is also your trainer’s ‘sole mate.’

Not convinced? Neither were we until we tested it for ourselves.

How we tested

We used gloves, protected household surfaces with newspaper and thoroughly rinsed tools during the following testing process. Each cleaning agent was tested and then the trainers popped on a 30-degrees gentle wash at the end of the process. We used different trainers for each method tested.

How to clean white trainers with baking soda

Use it with water or white vinegar

Baking soda works wonders on stains when used with white vinegar or water, and applying it is easy. “Create a paste by combining baking soda and vinegar,” says Gurkova. “Gently scrub your white trainers with the solution, especially over any stained areas. It’s also good for removing odours,” she adds.

We tried this using two solutions: one with water, the other with white vinegar. You’ll need:

  • A bowl
  • An old toothbrush
  • White vinegar or water (one cup)
  • Baking or bicarbonate of soda (two to three tablespoons)

How much solution you make up will depend on the amount of staining you need to remove. In our test, the majority of both the upper and sole of the shoe was stained. We placed three tablespoons of baking soda into a bowl and added the vinegar or water a little at a time to make a paste-like solution.

Note: The vinegar made the soda fizz, whereas the water didn’t. You’ll also need less water to get the same paste-like consistency.

We used an old toothbrush and a little elbow grease to scrub away the stains, and repeated as necessary. The results? Both solutions turned grey and grubby into a winning white.


How to clean trainers with lemon juice (and sunlight)

Combine natural elements for surprising results

Prefer to call upon nature for your cleaning techniques? Another method proposed combines the naturally acidic powers of lemon juice with sunlight.

“If you want to whiten your white trainers you can do so by applying lemon juice to them,” says Gurkova. “Lemon juice is known for its natural bleaching properties. Just place the trainers in direct sunlight after squeezing the lemon juice on stains or discoloured areas. UV rays from the sun can enhance the whitening process. After the trainers are exposed to the sun, be sure to rinse them thoroughly.”

We tried this on a grubby pair of canvas trainers, applying the lemon juice with a clean paintbrush. After leaving them in direct sunlight for four to five hours, they did look a little brighter although we felt it may not have worked on deep-set stains. It may be worth trying another method prior to this if you have stronger staining, or popping them in the washing machine for a final cleanse.

How to clean trainers with toothpaste

Does it really whiten rubber soles?

“For cleaning your trainers’ rubber parts, use white toothpaste that doesn’t contain gel,” recommends Gurkova. “Gel-based toothpaste formulas will leave you with no results.” We tried this on a pair of running shoes that had seen better days and the results were quite exceptional.

When it comes to quantities, a little goes a long way so we applied a small amount of toothpaste to the rubber part of our trainers and scrubbed it with an old toothbrush.

Although it’s recommended you try to avoid going above the rubber onto the rest of the shoe upper, it’s not that easy. However, we didn’t experience any negative results from the toothpaste being on the fabric. And even though you can repeat the process for heavier stains, we found it worked well on the first attempt.

Once we’d scrubbed the soles, we rinsed them thoroughly with lukewarm water and as with the other trainers tested, popped them in the washing machine. The results? There’s no doubt that toothpaste is an everyday toiletry essential with near-brilliant white results.

What else do the experts recommend for restoring your trainers?

Gurkova recommends a ratio of 1:1 of water and hydrogen peroxide. Sports brand Nike recommend using a 3% hydrogen peroxide.

“Apply the mix directly to the stain,” says Gurkova, “and then gently scrub it with a soft brush or cloth. Allow it to sit for a few minutes before rinsing well and leaving to air-dry.”

Smol, the “planet friendly” cleaning brand, recommends its stain removal gel for canvas shoes. Apply a small amount of the gel using an old toothbrush to work it into the shoe upper. Rinse the shoe with water to remove any excess gel.

For leather trainers, Smol recommends using a diluted solution of washing-up liquid to scrub stained leather trainers. Use a clean cloth and/or toothbrush if you’re tackling grass stains.

Always try spot treatment methods on a small and inconspicuous area of your trainers first, or on a trainer you are less precious about. If in doubt, contact the brand directly for specific instructions and recommendations.

Camille Dubuis-Welch

Written by Camille Dubuis-Welch she/her


Camille is a freelance writer based in north London with her cat and two friends. She has been writing on lots of interesting subjects over the past few years, starting out with a travel blog and online fashion column when she was studying English Language and Italian at the University of Manchester.

Cam has been in love with everything interior design and garden-related since before she can remember. She previously worked for Yankee Candle, as well as Groupon, and is the former deputy editor of realhomes.com where she got to collaborate with some very inspiring DIYers and focus on small-space improvements. In her spare time she’s usually taking photos, painting, exploring art galleries – or another country – and since she completed her RHS Level 2 practical gardening course back in 2019, there is also a chance you’ll find her planting or pruning something outside, come rain or shine.