How to Restore Shoes

When it comes to restoring shoes, there are a number of different approaches based on the kinds of shoes you’re looking to restore. It could be that you’re looking for ideas on how to clean sneakers. Or maybe you need advice on whether you should pay to resole old shoes or buy new. This article will address all of that and more.

Why write about how to restore shoes

There are a number of reasons that I wanted to tackle this topic of restoring shoes. The biggest one was this: about 10 years ago I got terrific boots from Rockport Cobb Hill. These were everyday boots that lace up above my ankles and I could wear them with pretty much any outfit.

Also, even though I need wide-width shoes for women, these boots technically did not come in the extra-wide width my feet required. However, the single-width boot fit my feet beautifully. As often happens when I find shoes I love, Cobb Hill stopped making the boot. When I got word that these were being discontinued, I bought as many pairs as I could afford.

Fast forward nearly a decade, and all of them have worn out. I’d had each pair resoled at least once. But the leather is cracking, the grommets are pulling out of the leather and the soles need resoling again. However, since I cannot find a replacement boot from Cobb Hill or any other shoe manufacturer — one that fits my double-wide foot — I’m taking a last-ditch effort to restore these beloved shoes. Recently, I brought them to a local cobbler for that. This is the before picture.

before restoring pics of cobb hill shoes boots
Before pictures of my Cobb Hill boots. Photo credit: Leah Ingram.

I know that DSW has a shoe repair service. They work through a Texas company called Cobblers Direct.

However, when I visited my local DSW location in South Portland, Maine, they had no idea how to take my shoes for resoling, restoring and repairing. If and when they or I get that figured out, I’ll update this article.

Finally, I know that for some people, restoring shoes means simply cleaning them up so they look new. So, this article focuses on not only legit shoe restoration but also how to clean shoes, specifically tennis shoes or sneakers. This includes how to clean suede sneakers and getting white tennis shoes looking brand new.

Why you should make it a habit to clean shoes

Did you know that if you let your tennis shoes stay dirty, your running shoes could wear out faster? It’s true. Also, dirty sneakers look terrible. If you’re a sneakerhead for whom it is important to always have good looking kicks, then you’ll definitely want to get in the habit of cleaning your shoes.

Washing the sneakers with a washing brush and washing powder.
Photo credit: YayImages.

For one thing, dirty sneakers or ones that haven’t had time to air out after exercise can be gross. You don’t want to put on the sneakers you wear to play pickleball, only to discover they smell so bad that you can’t stand to be in the same room with yourself. Imagine what your partner will think.

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This olfactory memory brings me back to when my daughters were playing high school sports. I can remember many a Monday morning, getting in the car for work, and being hit by a wall of odor from their sweater cleats and sneakers that they’d left in there from the weekend. It’s just like dealing with sweaty workout clothing — if you don’t give them the chance to air out and dry, they are going to smell for ever.

There’s another reason you should learn how to clean your sneakers. If you don’t keep them clean, you could be contributing to your kicks having a shorter lifespan. According to experts at Nike, when dirt, dust and who knows what else gets stuck in the nooks and crannies of tennis shoes, it can cause sneaker material to degrade faster.

That being said, with many sneaker types, you cannot just toss them in the washing machine. Many brands with thick soles, such as Hoka sneakers, specifically warn against machine washing. It seems that the twisting and turning and spinning of a wash cycle ruins the inner workings of running shoes. The only part you can safely put in the washing machine? The shoelaces.

How to clean sneakers

When it comes to how you clean your sneakers, it all depends on the materials. For example, canvas tennis shoes — think Converse or Vans — can go in the washing machine. However, running shoes with thick soles and the following three materials must be washed by hand:

  • Suede
  • Mesh
  • Leather

Cleaning suede sneakers

If you purchased a pair of vintage Puma suede sneakers at a thrift store, you don’t want to risk ruining your find by cleaning them the wrong way. That’s why it’s important to understand how to clean suede sneakers. Start by giving them a good brushing. However, not any brush will do. 

Since it is easy to scratch or damage suede, Good Housekeeping recommends using a suede brush to remove any surface debris. These brushes are usually made with a wooden handle or spine and have softer bristles than other shoe brushes. Suede brushes are designed to clean off the suede without ruining the nap — that’s the part that makes suede soft to the touch. Also, always brush with the grain.

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02/19/2024 06:36 am GMT

You can buy a brush made for cleaning suede sneakers on Amazon. Also, I’ve seen complete shoe cleaning kits for sale at Costco, like this one.

shoe cleaning kit sold at costco
Shoe cleaning kit at Costco. Photo credit: Leah Ingram.

Costco Membership Deal via Groupon

The best deal on a Costco Membership right now is through Groupon. When you sign up, you’ll get your one-year membership plus a $40 Costco Digital Shop Card for free.

In case you didn’t know, the Costco Shop Card is the store’s gift card. You can use it in store or online.

This offer is for new Costco memberships only or for former Costco members whose membership expired more than 18 months ago. So, if you’ve moved, there wasn’t a Costco nearby and you let your membership lapse for more than 18 months, you’re good to go to sign up for this deal again!

Also, you can avoid the lines at your Costco location by signing up for this Groupon Costco deal. This was the crowd at the new Costco in Maine near where I live. Yikes!

lines at costco on opening day
Photo credit: Leah Ingram.

Terms and Conditions

  • After purchase you’ll receive an email from Costco confirming your membership details. To pick up your membership card, stop by the membership counter at any Costco location and bring a copy of that email with your photo ID. Incentive will be emailed within 2 weeks after sign-up to qualifying members.
  • You’re receiving a One-Year Costco Gold Star Membership
  • A membership card for the Primary Cardholder and one additional Household Card for anyone living at the same address, over the age of 16
  • A $40 Digital Costco Shop Card (valid at Costco locations and
  • Valid only for new members and those whose previous memberships (Primary and Household) have been expired for at least 18 months or more.
  • Please allow up to two hours to receive your confirmation email from Costco. You must have either your Costco or Groupon confirmation email to receive your physical membership card at a Costco location.
  • A physical membership card is not required to shop online or receive your incentives.
  • Incentive includes a $40 Digital Costco Shop Card
  • Digital Costco Shop Card will be emailed within 2 weeks after sign-up to qualifying members.
  • Digital Costco Shop Card will be emailed to the email address provided by the Primary Member at time of sign-up.
  • Not valid for the renewal of an existing Costco membership.
  • To purchase this package, you must be 18 years of age or over, and agree to Costco’s Membership Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy.
  • All sales final.
  • $40 Digital Costco Shop Card is not redeemable for cash, except as required by law. Digital Costco Shop Cards are not accepted at Costco Gas Stations, Car Washes, or Food Court Kiosks.

Again, this a Groupon-only deal for a Costco membership.

Other warehouse club memberships

Perhaps you prefer to shop at another warehouse club because it is more convenient to where you live than Costco is. Good news: Both BJs and Sam’s Club have Groupon deals right now for memberships. Plus, both tend to have gas stations where members can get a cheaper price when filling up the gas tank.

How to clean mesh sneakers

Even though your children may grow out of their youth-size shoes before the mesh wears out, you still want to get as much life out of those sneakers, running or basketball shoes as possible. You probably paid a decent amount when you bought them.

Gena Lazcano of Ginger Casa has two teenage boys who love white shoes. “I’ve tried a lot of things to get them clean,” she said. She learned the hard way the importance of hand washing her sons’ sneakers. “I put one pair of white shoes that had black fabric on it into the washing machine,” she recalled, “and the black ran onto the white. It was awful!”

Cleaning leather tennis shoes

Like suede shoes, brush your leather sneakers first before washing them. You can use a soft bristle toothbrush to get rid of dust and dirt. Then, mix dish soap with warm water, dip the toothbrush in the mixture and scrub the sneakers.

You can use rags or a soft towel to blot any remaining moisture afterwards. This is an important step, because if you leave leather wet, it will shrink. Finally, if your leather sneakers are white, you can use special shoe polish made for white leather, such as the kind from the Kiwi brand.

How to clean white sneakers

cleaning sneakers on blue background depositphotos
Photo credit: Depositphotos.

The first step in cleaning white sneakers is brushing as much dirt off the surface as possible. Like with leather shoes, you can use a soft toothbrush for this task. 

Once they’re as dirt-free as possible, here’s what Runner’s World says you should use next — a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. They call it one of the best sneaker cleaners for getting white tennis shoes looking brand new again. Moisten the Magic Eraser and use it to get rid of any scuffs or stains.

Another way to whiten your sneakers? Leave them out in the sun. Zuzana Paar of Best Clean Eating likes to dry tennis shoes in the sun. “You get even more brightness,” she said. Gena Lazcano agreed: “Sunlight for drying and whitening works well, too.”

Even though you might not think to use a shoe polish-like product on white sneakers, that can work. For example, Kiwi makes a shoes whitener that you can use on all kinds of footwear. This includes:

  • Leather
  • Vinyl
  • Canvas
  • Nylon

Years ago, I did a media tour for Kiwi to talk about their shoe care products. Here is an outtake from a TV interview I did with FOX 29 in Philadelphia. We filmed at a local Target store, and I showed how frugal it was to clean up sneakers, versus buying new.

leah talking about kiwi shoe cleaner on fox 29 philadelphia outtake

Attack stains as soon as they happen

If you’ve ever spilled something on a rug, then you know the importance of cleaning a carpet before the stain sets in. It’s the same with sneakers. 

For example, if you’re out during a rainstorm and your sneakers get caked with mud, you’ll need to clean them off as soon as you get home. This is especially important with light-colored shoes, like white or tan sneakers. They’ll absorb the color of mud and, left as they are, will likely never be their original color again.

However, with leather or suede sneakers, you’ll need to take extra steps. Since you cannot wash these tennis shoes in a traditional way — such as soaking them in water — you should remove as much mud as possible first. Then, blot the moisture. After that, let the shoes dry fully before brushing away any remaining dried dirt.

Protect sneakers for the future

The next time you buy new sneakers, tennis shoes or any footwear, you can try a preventative step to keep them cleaner longer. How? Spray them with a water-repellant product for fabric like Scotchguard. Kiwi also makes a similar kind of product to protect suede and leather shoes specifically.

Even if you take that extra preventative step, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of regularly cleaning your sneakers and tennis shoes. That way, you can extend their lifespan. Also, you will always have spiffy-looking footwear to wear.

Portions of this article originally appeared on Food Drink Life.

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