Taking the Stink Out of Shoes

By Leah Fisher Nyfeler – June 1, 2014

Being an athlete in Austin in the summer means sweating in your shoes. Even dedicated gym rats need to clean those indoor shoes and that goes double for trail runners, who are fording creeks and playing in the dirt regularly. Caring for shoes becomes a necessity, especially when you factor in expense; it’s important to make that investment last. But how best to clean those shoes? AFM reached out to Christopher Gunderson, a fixture of Austin’s running scene, who’s helped with some of the Runner’s World shoe reviews and has been the local Brooks rep for the last eight years.

Gunderson’s instructions come with a personal disclaimer: “First off, I’ve cleaned maybe ten pairs of running shoes in 30-plus years of running. So my bias is toward letting them become worthy of donning a haz-mat suit. This state would probably be right before you retire them to your 25th pair of grass-mowing shoes.” What follows are Gunderson’s tips for properly cleaning shoes for those who prefer to keep them in better shape.

  • Retire an old toothbrush. Remove the laces and insoles from shoes.
  • Dip toothbrush in a small cup with of 2 ounces of water mixed with 2 ounces of liquid laundry detergent.
  • Scrub the offending substances from the shoes, moving inside and out, top to bottom. Continue scrubbing until as they are as “clean” as needed.
  • Find a power-sprayer (outdoors, something like a garden hose attachment works best). Use the highest setting and the least amount of water to remove the soap from the shoes. Rinse off the laces and insoles as well.
  • Set shoes, insoles, and laces outside to dry, BUT NOT IN DIRECT SUNLIGHT.
  • Allow ample drying time. Use powder or stuff with newspapers or old dryer sheets to hasten the drying process.

Why this painstaking process? Why not simply throw the offensive footwear in the washer and dryer? Gunderson explained that submerging shoes is not good for the midsoles, which he said can actually take on water. In addition, the glues used in shoes are heat activated and may also become loosened by using too much detergent. This also explains why placing shoes in the dryer and leaving them in direct sunlight are bad practices.


  • Put wet shoes in plastic bags or any closed container, such as a gym bag.
  • Go sockless—opt for cotton or natural fiber socks, as these clean better and can help with athlete’s foot (which thrives in warm, wet conditions).
  • Skimp on foot care; make sure that feet get a chance to breathe and any problems (blisters, cracks, fungus) are addressed right away.
  • Store dirty or wet shoes in the trunk or closed space—the combination of heat and lack of air circulation will make everyone sorry.

Additional tips

Sometimes, a nice rinsing is all that is needed. Simply put the hose inside the shoe and let the water flush those offensive shoes out. A regular, quick rinse can help keep dust from the trail around Lady Bird Lake at bay.

Remember:  You can always replace insoles if they get too smelly.

When drying, turn shoes over and lean them against something to help drain water faster.

Have two pairs of shoes to alternate.  When the same shoes are worn every day and soaked with sweat each time, it’s hard to keep on top of the stink.

Can’t wash them?  Try filling shoes when not in use with dryer sheets or a commercial product, such as Stuffits antimicrobial inserts, to help keep odor down.



Related Articles