The 11 Very Best Products for Cleaning Sneakers – New York Magazine

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Retailers

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.

Best overall

Coconut and jojoba oil–derived soaps | All-purpose | Liquid solution

Four of the sneaker-cleaning experts we spoke to cited Reshoevn8r as one of their favorite all-purpose cleaners. “This solution works well on mostly all materials — leather, suede, nubuck — and gets the job done,” says Tran. Waleed Cope, the founder of Soap Box, a Brooklyn laundry and sneaker-cleaning store, says the product can work miracles on retro Jordans, Adidas Ultraboosts, Yeezy Boost 350s, Balenciagas, and Nike Air Force 1s.

The naturally derived formula is mild and won’t leave behind much soapy residue, according to Richard Brown, the founder of sneaker-restoration company Proof Culture. He adds that, when “combined with a medium-bristle shoe brush or toothbrush,” the solution “allows for a clean wash and maximum dirt removal.”

Best less expensive shoe-cleaning solution

Photo: Courtesy of the Retailer

Coconut and jojoba oil–derived soaps | All-purpose | Liquid solution

Daryll Blanding, one of the co-founders of Clean Sneaker Care in Detroit, says that for him, Jason Markk’s all-purpose cleaner has a “slight edge” over Reshoevn8r’s. “It has really good conditioning properties” on leather, he notes. “It brings out the color and gives it a nice sheen.”

Tran also likes this cleaner for leather shoes, and says it “has a nice smell to it.” Blanding says the formula works well for suede too: “We get all types of dirt levels in the shop, and we’ve been using it consistently for the past two weeks, and it has been handling everything,” he says, including a pair of suede Yeezys.

Best shoe-cleaning kit for suede and nubuck

All-purpose; works well on suede and nubuck | Foam

For a suede-specific product, Tran suggests using the Foam Tex kit from sneaker customization company Angelus. “We like to use Foam Tex on delicate materials that should not be heavily saturated,” he says. (Tran also notes that the product works well on UGGs.)

Best cleaner for high-end leather

Contains beeswax and mink oil | Leather | Cream

Saphir is the “the crème de la crème of shoe care,” according to shoemaker Lauren Brinkers, and its Renovateur cream has a cult following among cobblers and footwear experts. (It’s also the product that Joe Rocco of Jim’s Shoe Repair in midtown says “Hermès uses on bags.”) Rocco uses a rag or an old shirt to apply the cream to sneakers, and then rubs the sneakers with the cloth until the dirt comes out.

Best less expensive leather cleaner

Contains beeswax and calendula wax | Leather | Cream

Rocco also uses this cream by Spanish brand Tarrago, the maker of our best-in-class waterproofing spray, and says that it “does the trick.” The cream also comes in an impressively wide color range on the brand’s website — from melon green to fire-truck red — which can help tailor your shoe-cleaning routine more closely to a pair of brightly colored sneakers.

Best sneaker cleaning brush

Photo: Retailer

Walnut handle, hog’s-hair bristle | Cotton mesh, suede, premium leather

“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.”

Social-media specialist and sneaker enthusiast Zach Higgins, the fiancé of former Strategist staffer Chloe Anello, says the Jason Markk brush is his “one brush to rule them all.” (The brand also makes a stiff-bristle brush, below, for heavier-duty jobs.) He has had problems with the wood handles of similar Reshoevn8r brushes splitting, but he says the Jason Markk version is sturdy and “perfect to clean a whole shoe.”

Photo: Retailer

Best starter sneaker-cleaning kit

Photo: Retailer

All-purpose | Liquid solution

The Jason Markk starter kit is “the most complete care system as far as consumers taking care of their sneakers at home,” says Blanding. This one comes with our favorite brush; a foaming cleanser, which works on suede as well as other materials; and a microfiber cloth. “They hands down make the best microfiber towel,” Blanding says, “which is what you want to use when you’re cleaning your sneakers, because it doesn’t leave lint and things like that behind.”

Best sneaker-cleaning wipes

$13 for 12

All-purpose | Single-use wipe

The longer you go without cleaning your sneakers, the harder it is to get the dirt out, which is why Rocco recommends using these every day. “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.” Blanding is also a big believer in sneaker wipes. “I’ve been carrying some form of a wipe for the past 15 years,” he says.

Best spot cleaner

Hydrogen peroxide–based; bleach-free | Textiles | Pen

If you’re doing a quick spot cleaning on a textile like canvas or mesh on your way out the door, or trying to reach some of the smaller bits of your sneakers — like the stitching along the sole — Brown suggests a Tide detergent pen.

Best for cleaning insides and insoles

Insoles | Spray

Rocco warns against soaking the inside of your sneakers with soap and water when cleaning them. “I’m not a fan of soap on the inside,” he says. “I’m not saying it’s wrong; I just like the way my sneakers feel, and I don’t want to change it.” Instead, he suggests using something else you may already have at home: Windex. “You can use it to clean the inside of sneakers,” he says. “I would spray it on a cloth and then wipe the inside.”

Best for cleaning midsoles

Photo: Retailer

Melamine foam | Non-delicate materials | Sponge

A sneaker-cleaning hack I learned from a former roommate: Magic Erasers. The melamine sponges are abrasive, so avoid using them on any delicate, scratch-prone surfaces like leather or suede, but a thorough cleaning with a Magic Eraser works wonders on a dingy white midsole or rubber toe cap. (I take awful care of my sneakers and have gotten a pair of white Reeboks pristine with just a Magic Eraser.)

Our experts

• Edward Andrade, owner of Cesar’s Shoe Repair
• Daryll Blanding, co-founder of Clean Sneaker Care
• Lauren Brinkers, shoemaker
• Richard Brown, founder of Proof Culture
• Waleed Cope, founder of Soap Box
• Zach Higgins, sneaker enthusiast
Joe Rocco, owner of Jim’s Shoe Repair
Steven Tran, cleaning expert at Sole Fresh

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