Each thrift store trip is unique because you never know what treasure you will find. Some of the most exciting and high-value finds can be located in the shoe department of thrift shops.
Whether you picked up a pair of tennis shoes, flats, heels, sandals, boots, or any other type of shoe, you will need to know how to clean them.
After all, you don’t want to be running around in someone else’s germs! Although it may seem like a daunting task, it is worth it to see old, thrifted shoes come back to life.
With these simple steps, you’ll have clean thrifted shoes in no time.
Reasons To Clean Thrifted Shoes
If you pick up a pair of used shoes from the thrift store, you don’t know the past life that they lived. For that reason, it is a good idea to clean the shoes before wearing them.
Whether it is the smell of thrift store musk or just plain old stinky feet, you’ll want to clean the shoes to get rid of the bad odor.
This especially applies to athletic or tennis shoes which tend to get the most wear and log the most miles.
Fungal Infections And Bacteria
If you pick up a pair of shoes from the thrift store, they may also come with different fungi or bacteria attached to them. If you wear your thrift store shoes before cleaning and disinfecting them, these germs can transfer onto your feet.
Who knows, the previous owner could have been rocking the shoes with some serious athlete’s foot. This is why it is also a good idea to wear a clean pair of socks if you are in a pinch and need to wear the shoes ASAP for any reason.
Tips For Thrifting Shoes
When it comes to picking out the perfect pair of shoes, there are a few things you should be on the lookout for.
First, inspect the bottom of the shoe, also known as the outsole of the shoe. This is the part of the shoe that makes contact with the ground. Check for excessive wear throughout, or for any patterns of uneven wear.
Also, check for any cracks in the outsole material. If it is a leather shoe, that means it is dry-rotted. This is typically not able to be fixed.
Next, check for the insole. Has the original insole been removed? If so, do you have one you can replace it with?
Throughout the shoes, check for any rips or holes as these will likely be difficult to repair.
Lastly, check the price. Does the condition of the shoe and the amount of wear match the price?
If all of the above seem to check out, this may be the perfect pair of shoes to pick up. If there is excessive dirt or staining, this may or may not be a deal breaker.
That is because, with the tips below on cleaning, you may be able to rescue a not-so-good-looking pair of shoes.
Quick Cleaning Tips
If you are in a time crunch or find thrifted shoes in good condition, there are a few bare minimum actions you want to take.
Spray your shoes with a disinfectant spray like Lysol. This will assist with cleaning and sanitizing the shoes, ridding them of any germs that you do not want to carry into your house.
Any brand of shoe sanitizer spray will do, not just Lysol. Alternatively, you can run Clorox wipes over the entirety of the shoes as another way to clean and disinfect.
Sprinkle baking soda into the insoles of the second-hand shoes. Baking soda is a natural deodorizer that will help with any bad smell from old sweat and/or bacteria.
In addition or as a replacement to the baking soda, spray a deodorizing shoe spray on the inside of the shoes. Again, this will help rid any smells from the past life of the shoes.
On the market, there are many natural and essential oil based shoe deodorizer sprays if you are aiming to avoid harsh chemicals.
A UV light is not as readily accessible but is highly effective. Plus, it doesn’t require any elbow grease to disinfect your shoes.
SteriShoe makes an in-shoe UV light that claims to kill up to 99.9% of germs. With this tool, you can rest easy when you slip into your thrifted shoes for the first time.
If you want a quick, overall clean that also doesn't require much manual labor, you can opt for the washing machine. if you choose this route, here are a few tips.
First, remove the insoles and laces. You will want to wash these two items separately. Next, place the shoes in a mesh garment bag. Place the shoes in the washer along with a few other items, like old towels.
Avoid using dark colors if you put white shoes in the washer. Use a delicate wash cycle with cold water.
Continue reading for a full, in-depth guide on deep cleaning different types of shoes you may pick up at the thrift store.
Cleaning Athletic Shoes
Options of Supplies Needed:
- A large basin or bin that fits the shoes
- Dish soap or laundry detergent
- A toothbrush or other soft-bristled brush
- Baking soda
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Bleach spray
Cleaning The Insoles
First, check if your shoes have removable insoles. If so, work on these first.
- Remove the insoles from the shoe and place them off to the side.
- Obtain a basin that will fit the insoles when laid flat.
- Mix together hot water with dish soap or liquid laundry detergent.
- Let the insoles soak for 5-10 minutes.
- Take a soft bristle brush or toothbrush and scrub any stains on the insoles while in the solution.
- Wring out the insoles.
- Rinse with cold water, continuing to wring them out to rid all of the soap.
- Hang dry by hanging the insoles over a hanger or clipping them with a pants hanger
Cleaning The Rubber Sole
The sole of the shoe is the lip between the outer shoe material and the ground. This area of the shoe typically sees a lot of wear, but due to its rubber material on most athletic shoes, you can see a lot of progress.
Baking Soda And Hydrogen Peroxide
In a bowl, mix 2 parts baking soda with 1 part hydrogen peroxide and 1 part warm water. Combine this mixture until it forms a paste.
Use a toothbrush to scoop out some paste and apply it generously to the soles, rubbing it in a circular motion. Let the paste sit on the soles for about 15 minutes or until hardened.
Remove any excess chunks of the hardened solution with your hands. Then, rinse off the rest of the solution with warm, clean water.
You may need to repeat this process until you achieve your desired results.
If the soles of the shoes are white, consider using a bleach spray to bring back their pearly white shine. Spray a small amount of bleach on a toothbrush and scrub it onto the sole.
Alternatively, you can use a Comet powder bleach cleaner by mixing it with water. If you do decide to use a bleach spray or solution, be careful to only use it on the sole if the rest of the shoe is not white.
If you are concerned about getting bleach on the rest of the upper part of the outside of the shoe, consider using a magic eraser on the sole. These can work wonders and really bring out the true color of the sole again.
Rinse off the soles between cleaning to see progress or if you’ve achieved the color you want.
Cleaning The Outsole (Very Bottom Of The Shoe)
Although you may not think of deep cleaning the bottom of the shoes, this is where a lot of loose dirt, grime, and bacteria can be picked up by the previous wearer.
Luckily, you can do a quick and easy soak.
- Gather your dish soap and basin we talked about in the insole step. Make sure the shoes can sit flat on the bottom.
- Fill the basin with water and dish soap solution. Run your hand through the water to mix the soap in.
- Insert the shoes into the soapy water, just covering the soles. If the water hits the fabric part of the shoes, dump some water out.
- Let soak for approximately 30 minutes.
- Take the toothbrush and brush away excess dirt and grime.
- Rinse with water, and set the shoes out to dry.
Cleaning Suede Shoes
Cleaning suede is a sensitive process due to them being delicate shoes. In order to clean your suede shoes, there are a few supplies you will need:
- Suede brush
- Suede eraser
Step By Step
- Use the suede brush over the entire outside of the shoe. This will loosen any surface dirt and grime, giving the shoes a refresh.
- For tougher areas or stains, use the suede eraser. Use gentle, circular motions on the problem area to buff it out.
Pro tip: if you do not have a suede eraser, a pencil eraser is a great substitute!
- Mix together a vinegar solution consisting of one part vinegar with two parts water. Use cool or cold water, not hot water.
- Use a clean cloth or cotton ball to apply the solution to the problem areas. Again, use gentle circular motions with the damp cloth, avoiding too much pressure.
Cleaning Leather Shoes
For cleaning leather, even vintage shoes, you will need a combination of the following supplies for this delicate material:
- Leather cleaner or dish soap
- Leather conditioner
- Soft bristle brush or sponge
- Clean cloth
- Rubbing alcohol
- The best way to start is to test your leather cleaner on an inconspicuous area.
- Use the clean soft bristle brush to clean any surface dirt and grime.
- Apply the leather cleaner onto a clean cloth. Apply in light, circular motions.
If you do not have leather cleaner, mild dish soap is a good alternative.
- Apply leather conditioner by obtaining a new clean cloth, and applying a small amount of the substance onto the cloth
- Apply the leather conditioner in gentle, circular motions throughout the shoes.
- Lastly, use one final new clean cloth to buff the leather.
Alternatively, if these second hand shoes are not heavily soiled, you can opt for just using a rubbing alcohol solution for its disinfecting properties. Mix three parts rubbing alcohol and one part water.
Use a clean cloth to dip into the solution, and rub over the entirety of the leather upper shoes.
Now you know the cleaning process for all different types of shoes! Although it may take some scrubbing and time, it is so worth it to watch your secondhand shoes turn into new, clean shoes that are ready to wear!