How to Clean Canvas Sneakers

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Getting Started

woman's feet in white sneakers standing on dock
vaiv/RooM/Getty Images

Before you clean canvas sneakers, it’s helpful to understand what they are made of.

Canvas is made from hemp and is used for casual shoes and sneakers. Some "canvas" sneakers are made from cotton. Rubber is traditionally used for the sole. They are considered low-maintenance footwear.

What You Need

  • Nylon bristle brush or old toothbrush
  • Cleanser, such as laundry detergent, dishwashing liquid, or a "suede and fabric" shampoo
  • Nylon scrub pad
  • Baking soda
  • Plain paper
  • White cream shoe polish (for white canvas tennis shoes)

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Remove Excess Dirt and Laces

Cleaning Canvas Shoes
Remove Excess Dirt and Laces. Photo Illustration by Ellen Grusse

If the sneakers are muddy, wait until they dry before cleaning.

Knock off any loose dirt by smacking the sneakers on pavement or tapping the soles together over a wastebasket or newspaper, then wipe them with a damp cloth to remove any remaining caked-on dirt. Remove laces.

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Wash and Rinse With Water

Washing Canvas Sneakers
Washing Canvas Sneakers. Photo Illustration by Ellen Grusse

Rinse shoes with warm water inside and out. Scrub the canvas sneakers' outsides, insides, and liners gently with toothbrush and mixture of water and mild detergent. Rinse with clean cool water.

If scuff marks remain, scrub gently with the nylon pad. Rinse again. If the liners still retain foot odor, scrub them with a paste of baking soda and water. Wash laces in with a load of like-colored laundry.

Washing Canvas Sneakers in a Washing Machine

Some folks get good results by cleaning canvas sneakers in the washing machine, but most shoe manufacturers discourage machine-washing because it can break down the adhesives used to glue the shoe together.

Colored Canvas Sneakers and Special Detailing

When cleaning colored canvas sneakers, be sure to use a non-bleaching soap, and do a small spot test with your cleaning mixture to be sure it doesn’t fade or bleach out the color.

Sneakers with mesh inserts can be cleaned the same way as plain canvas shoes.

If your sneakers have leather detailing, dampen and clean the canvas as directed and use leather cleaner on any leather parts.

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Drying Canvas Sneakers
Drying Canvas Sneakers. Photo Illustration by Ellen Grusse

Stuff canvas sneakers with crumpled brown paper bags, paper towels or white office paper (not newspaper or colored paper because the ink will transfer).

Let them air-dry along with the laces.

Do not dry them near a fireplace or heater. Direct heat breaks down canvas fabric and causes shoes to become dried out and brittle.

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Add the Finishing Touches

Polishing Canvas Sneakers
Persistent stains on canvas sneakers can be touched up with shoe polish. Photo Illustration by Ellen Grusse

When the shoes are thoroughly dry, replace inserts and laundered laces.

If stains persist on white canvas sneakers, lightly dab on white liquid shoe polish.

Manufacturers may suggest spraying the tops of new canvas sneakers with a cloth care spray before you wear them. Your best bet for making your sneakers last as long as possible is to follow any care instructions included with them.