There’s no feeling quite like unboxing a pristine pair of white sneakers. But inevitably, the brand-new appearance is short-lived. Just one saunter to the local shop is usually enough to add a scuff or two. While this isn’t disastrous, as the scratches and grass stains increase, you might wonder whether your once-white trainers were a sensible investment.
If you’re someone who favours a low-maintenance wardrobe, then maybe not. But by arming yourself with a few clever cleaning hacks and a toolkit of protective products, you can make your white kicks last a lot longer than you think. Committed to bringing you the best advice out there, I approached the director of Sneakers ER, a brand focused on lengthening the lifespan of your trainers.
With a flagship store in Glasgow, a ‘sneaker laundry’ and Liverpool and two additional cleaning services at Selfridges’s London and Manchester locations, Alan Lynn and his team are bona fide masters in bringing tired sneaks back to life. Here, he shares his most valuable tips and the holy grail products your shoe collection will thank you for.
I’m looking to buy a new pair of white sneakers. Which type is the easiest to take care of?
“Leather is usually the easiest material to care for. I’d recommend treating your sneakers after purchase using a conditioning wax to keep the leather nice and soft. It will also waterproof them, meaning they’ll last longer. When your sneakers start to look tired, just apply a little more with a cloth and they will pop again.”
Talk me through the process of cleaning white leather sneakers at home, step by step.
“First, take a bowl and add 200ml of lukewarm water and a small amount of a cleaning solution. Take out your laces and place them in the bowl to sit, then remove the insoles from your sneakers. Use a dry brush to dust off any loose dirt or grime, then dip the brush into the cleaning solution and scrub the uppers. Use a microfibre cloth to remove any standing water or foam and repeat this process a few times for best results.
Then, lay the insoles on a flat surface and use the same process as you did with the uppers—maintaining the insoles is hygienic and helps prevent odours. Keeping the shoe in an upright position so no dirty excess water runs onto the uppers, scrub the soles. We clean these last to avoid contaminating the solution before cleaning uppers.
Rub the laces vigorously in your hands to create a foam, then lather and wipe them with a microfibre cloth. If stubborn stains remain, simply lay them on a flat surface and scrub them with a brush.
Leave everything to dry at room temperature (it’s important not to use artificial heat or radiators). Once dry, replace the insoles and lace up the sneakers, finishing with a quick deodorising spray to give them a fresh scent.”
What can I do to protect my sneakers and make them last longer?
“It’s simple: protect them when new. Most people ignore this, but just like with high-end designer shoes, sneakers should be polished after purchase. For most materials including suede, mesh and leather, you can use our superhydrophobic protector—gone are the days of harmful aerosols that not only pollute the environment, but also just sit on the surface and fall away as soon as you start wearing your sneakers. We have some sneakers in our lab that were protected four years ago and are still waterproof.”
What are your top tips for cleaning canvas sneakers?
“Canvas sneakers are notoriously the hardest to clean. It’s all about patience and elbow grease; we start by using a dry brush to remove any dirt or mud. Scrubbing this while wet would only spread it over the surface. Then use our sneaker cleaning solution to brighten the sneakers. We recommend shaking the brush well first to remove water so you’re not saturating the sneakers. A handy tip is to use a hard plastic bristle brush as it gets under the surface of the canvas and, in our experience, works really well.”
How can I cover up scratches on the surface of my white sneakers?
“Unfortunately, it’s not just as easy as throwing on some white paint and off you go; there are so many shades of white and finishes. In our sneaker laundry at Selfridges, we do this daily by mixing and matching colours. We then sand down the surface, fill cracks and paint over the offending scratch. On bigger jobs, we also do the other shoe so they match exactly. We have a huge range of sneaker paints and finishes as well as custom paint pens for you to have a go at home.”
My sneakers have started losing their shape—is there anything I can do to avoid this?
“Shoe trees are great, and they work just as well with sneakers as shoes. After cleaning, we sometimes use shoe trees on badly shaped sneakers. When they dry overnight they will mould to the shape.”
How often would you recommend replacing the laces?
“A fresh pair of laces is always a good idea, though sometimes we recommend against it on older vintage sneakers because they can look out of place. We see more and more people buying multiple pairs to swap out their laces on Air Jordans and Dunks. A bright colour like mint or baby pink can really make an all-white sneaker stand out.”
When should I take my sneakers to a professional cleaner?
“We would recommend bringing your sneakers to us if you’re not confident cleaning them yourself or are worried that you may ruin an expensive pair of sneakers. We will always do our best to advise on the best service but at the same time, we have a whole range of care products and are happy to guide people through doing it themselves at home.”