How to Do Anything: Clean Your Sneakers Juuust the Right Amount

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“How to Do Anything” is Man Repeller’s how-to service franchise that rave reviews are calling “better than Google” (just kidding, this is our first one—but seriously, it’s like a search engine combined with a metaphorical pal who cuts out the ancillary information to tell you exactly what you need to know, and what’s better than that?).

One of my main takeaways from adulthood is that some things seem either too daunting or not noticeable enough to clean that you end up not cleaning them at all, and the suspicion that you should have been cleaning them this whole time is existential crisis-inducing to the point that it makes you delay investigating exactly how to start doing so. Prominent examples include: bras, air conditioners, and sneakers.

Maybe that’s just me, but I’m going to go out on a limb and surmise there are other fellow passably-clean-but-secretly-a-little-gross people out there who have neglected washing items that fall into this category. I’m not calling you out, just to be clear. The opposite, actually–I’m trying to establish that this franchise is a safe space for admitting you don’t know how to do something. Or anything! And I’m not just talking cleaning stuff, though that is the topic at hand for today.

Of the aforementioned hard-to-clean items that daunt and therefore haunt me, sneakers have been top of mind lately. Largely because I am a newly minted, self-proclaimed “sneaker person” (generous, perhaps, for someone who has only recently started obsessively wearing them in non-athletic scenarios), and the ones I’ve been wearing are already marred by some speckles of mud, but also because there’s a fine line between clean and too clean where sneakers are concerned. You don’t want to completely erase all the hard work you did to make them look cool and slightly worn-in, but you do want them to be clean enough that they aren’t smelly and don’t track dirt into the house. So what’s a gal in search of a fine line to do?

In pursuit of an answer, I reached out a group of geniuses who–in my experience–know how to do just about everything: my Instagram followers. True to form, I was inundated with helpful advice. About 50% of respondents recommended I check out the sneaker cleaning brand Jason Markk, so I noted that down quickly. But using products from a sneaker cleaning brand also felt like semi-cheating, so I was eager to apply the knowledge of a homespun expert as well. I found just that in a follower named Chloé, who told me she is passionate about cleaning her sneakers just the right amount, and does it religiously every night. Eureka.

To fully confirm that Jason Markk and Chloé’s methodologies were, in fact, effective, I decided to test them on really dirty sneakers–a canvas pair and a leather pair. Since I’m a sneaker noob and didn’t have the aforementioned goods, I procured some pairs from two dirty colleagues (JK they’re super clean) and got to work, using the following steps as a guide:

Chloé’s Homespun Method (For Both Leather and Canvas Cleaning):

This is basically how the sneakers looked pre-cleaning. Since you can’t smell them through the page, let me just say that “feet” definitely came to mind.

Step one: Start by wiping the excess/loose dirt with a dry paper towel.

Step two: Scrub the sole with an old toothbrush and some hand soap, making sure that all the big stains come off and that the sole is perfectly cleaned, front and back. Check if anything gross from the street is stuck under my shoes, and depending on how sticky it is, either scrub with a thick counter brush or apply water on that area and scrub with the toothbrush.

Step three: Delicately clean the entire sneaker with an old sponge soaked in a solution of warm water and laundry detergent, and use surface wipes to dab any excess.

Step four: Absorb leftover water with a paper towel (or fabric towel), and then let the sneakers air dry for a few days before putting them back in their original box. Never put the shoes out to dry in direct sunlight or underneath a heater. Try to place them in an open space so they can get all the fresh air they need.

Jason Markk’s Professional Method for Leather Cleaning:

Step one: Apply a generous amount of solution onto a brush and dip into water. Shake off excess liquid and begin brushing.

Step two: Wipe down and dry shoe with a towel.

Just the right amount of spick and span.

Jason Markk’s Professional Method for Canvas Cleaning:

Step one: Take a dry brush and gently brush the canvas. This removes any loose dirt and debris that can turn into stains when wet.

Step two: Apply Jason Markk sneaker cleaning solution on to the brush and dip into water. Shake off excess liquid and start brushing the canvas.

Step three: Use a towel to dry and soak up moisture. After, let shoes air dry.

I’m so confident in the hygiene of these post-wash, I would willingly place them atop my duvet.

The good news is that both methods were effective in terms of removing excess dirt and making both pairs of sneakers smell fresh as tangerines. The bad news is that my arm was sore the next day from vigorous toothbrush scrubbing. I would say that using the professional cleaning solution from Jason Markk is probably your best bet if you want cleaning a really dirty sneaker to veer on the side of easy, but if you’re down for a bicep workout, and/or if you get a sense of satisfaction from relying on basic cleaning supplies you already likely have on hand, Chloé’s approach is all yours.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go wait patiently for my Employee of the Month nomination–the only logical outcome after diligently cleaning my coworkers’ sneakers.

(Anything else you want to know how to do?)

Photos by Cody Guilfoyle. Prop styling by Sara Schipani.

Harling Ross

Harling is a writer and was most recently the Brand Director at Man Repeller.

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