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Running shoes get dirty. But don’t let it bother you too much—look at the grime as a sign that you’re putting in good miles. But if your shoes get so dirty or smelly that you’re just dying to wash them, there are ways to clean them safely.
“Skip the washer and dryer,” says David Bond, who’s designed running shoes for adidas and K-Swiss, and is a co-founder of Ampla footwear. Bond explains that running shoes use a water-based cement to hold them together. “If you submerge them in water, like in a washing machine, or put them in the dryer, the shoe will start to disassemble.”
For similar reasons, Bond also says to steer clear of spraying your shoes with a hose, or letting them dry in the sun. “It’s just not good for the shape of the shoe,” he says. Instead, take a wet washcloth and wipe down the outside of your shoe, treating your kicks like you would your car.
Ultrarunner Mike Wolfe has run some of the muddiest, muckiest terrain around. He lives and trains in Montana, where mud season, plus summer thunderstorms and long winters, mean his shoes get pretty darn dirty. And while he says “you can usually just run the dirt off” by doing more miles on a dry day, he has some tried-and-true tricks.
For one, he suggests wading in shallow water toward the end of your run to loosen and remove the mud. If there are patches of snow around, dragging your feet through the snow works, too. “Finding a sharp stick and digging dirt off the outsole like a horse and horseshoe works,” he says, “and so does letting your shoes dry out completely, then banging them together or on the ground to get the dirt off.”
Get the Stink Out
“The majority of shoes these days have Ortholite sockliners made with antimicrobial properties, which helps fight odor,” says Bond. But if your shoes start stinking for whatever reason—maybe you’ve worn them without socks, or maybe they’ve been wet too long and start smelling like mildew, or maybe they just stink—replacing the insole can help.
Otherwise, using a mild soap and a toothbrush can fight the stink (and get your shoes cleaner). “A baby wipe or some Oxyclean also works,” says Claire Wood, senior product manager of performance running footwear for New Balance. “Take the sockliners out to spray them down, and let them dry thoroughly,” she adds.
Dry Your Shoes
If you’ve cleaned your shoes by using a damp washcloth or toothbrush, or they got wet on a rainy run or in the shallow puddle you used to get off some mud, it’s important to dry them completely. Again, skip the dryer and the heat of direct sunlight.
“Take out the insoles, if you haven’t already, and stuff the shoes with newspapers,” Wood says. The newspaper helps absorb moisture. Moisture can contribute to a stink build-up, which you’re trying to prevent in the first place. Plus, the quicker your shoes dry, the quicker you can get back out running.