To Dry Clean Shoes, Or Not To Dry Clean Shoes?

Whether it’s your grubby white sneakers or that pair of dress shoes you wore to a rainy outdoor wedding, you may have found yourself staring into your closet and wondering whether it’s possible to dry clean shoes.

The short answer? Yes. It’s just as feasible to dry clean shoes as it is to dry clean the rest of your wardrobe. Your winter boots deserve as much care as your winter coat, don’t they? That said, some shoes may be more worthwhile to dry clean than others, and it’s important to check that the dry cleaner you wish to use offers this service.

dry clean shoes


Before you rush your shoes to the nearest dry cleaner, consider whether you can get the job done yourself. Dry cleaning services can add up if you have a lot of grimy sneakers, so you won’t want to bring your shoes in for every single scuff or stain. You may wish to reserve cleaning services for your most valuable or cherished pairs of shoes.

Many sneakers can be scrubbed with water and detergent, and some shoe parts (like laces and insoles) can even go into the washing machine. Always check the specific cleaning instructions on your sneakers before putting any part of them in the wash, though, and don’t use a cleaning method not endorsed by the manufacturer.

Ultimately, when it comes to getting sneakers squeaky-clean, a simple old toothbrush is your best friend! The short, stiff bristled are perfect for getting into grooves in the sole or cleaning textured fabric on the uppers.

Some sneaker companies claim you can throw the entire shoe in the washer–I say, do this at your own risk. While the shoes may have been designed to handle the washing machine, not all washers are created equally, and those with agitators run a particularly high risk of damaging your beloved footwear. Better to spend some extra time scrubbing than lose the whole pair!

Are your shoes made of leather, suede, or nubuck? Perhaps you are dealing with a stained set of heels, dress shoes, or boots. If so, you’ll want to make sure you use polishes, oils, and brushes that are particularly designed for cleaning this type of shoe.

Leather does best with saddle soap or other leather-specific cleansers, while suede relies on a special brush. A soft cloth with some oil or polish can return shine and flexibility to your leather shoes. In short, you don’t want to scrub away at your favorite suede boots the way you might a pair of Keds!

You can also treat both sneakers and leather or suede shoes with a waterproofing spray to help minimize future staining. Just be sure to fully read the instructions and make sure the spray is meant to be used on your shoes. This is a great option for shoes that are prone to water stains on the uppers.

One big thing to remember if you try any of these DIY methods is to always let your shoes fully air dry before you wear them again. This will help avoid odor and the need for further cleaning. Never, ever use heat to dry your shoes! It can cause the materials to break down and may even change the feel or appearance of your shoes.

Know When To Seek Help

Person holding up a help sign

Some shoes are just in a sorrier state of being than most of us are equipped to deal with at home. A toothbrush can do a lot, but it’s not a magic wand! If you find you just can’t get your shoes ship-shape on your own, go ahead and give your local dry cleaning company a call to see if they can handle the job. Then, hang your head in shame as you head over with your saddest sneakers and boots (just kidding–they’ve probably seen worse).

The dry cleaner will use professional cleaning products and careful attention to make your shoes look great once more–hopefully as good as they looked the day you bought them! A good dry cleaner will be realistic with you about what kind of improvements you can expect, how much they can do, and what the cost will be. Make sure to ask questions ahead of time and be clear about what you want.

If the first dry cleaner you speak with doesn’t seem to have a lot of experience with cleaning shoes, don’t be afraid to call around until you find someone who seems confident in their ability to help you. You may even manage to find a cleaner who views shoes as their area of specialty!

Don’t forget about cobblers, either. It might sound old-fashioned–or maybe you only think of cobblers as repairing shoes–but almost any cobbler can give your leather, suede, and nubuck shoes a great professional dry cleaning. Because they specialize in leatherwork, they will easily be able to make your dress shoes and boots look clean and cared for again.

Remember, while DIY methods can work in a pinch and are great for simpler cleaning jobs or less-favored pairs of shoes, they aren’t a replacement for a professional cleaning job. So, when in doubt, go ahead and dry clean those shoes! It will be worth it to have your favorite pairs look great and last you for years to come.

If you do want to put in some elbow grease at home, ask your dry cleaner or cobbler for recommendations on specific cleaning and conditioning products. They may even carry some brands that they can sell you for home use. Or, just make a point of dropping off your most-worn shoes for a proactive cleaning at the start and end of each season. It’s good for their soles (I’m sorry–at least I made it this far without a pun?). And, maybe it will remind you to drop your coats and jackets off, too! We all know you haven’t cleaned that winter parka in 6 years.

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