How to clean sandals

a man cleaning a leather sandal

Sandals are a footwear staple that every wardrobe should contain. Perfect for casual, leisure and formal occasions, no matter what you are doing, when temperatures start to rise, chances are these versatile shoes are your go-to footwear option. However, being such a popular type of shoe can come at a cost.   

Whether you wear a pair of sandals every day for a few months, only a few times a week, or even just when you go to the beach or on holiday, the truth is they will collect dirt, stains and other marks. They can start to harbour bad odours too, especially sandals without open sides. For this reason, keeping on top of maintaining your sandals by cleaning and washing them regularly is key if you want to keep them feeling and looking their best. Fortunately, this task doesn’t take much effort and can be done quickly in just a few steps.   

In this handy guide, we will look at how to wash sandals of all material types, before exploring how the insoles of your sandals can be cleaned, ensuring your favourite summer footwear stays as hygienic and fresh as possible.

How to wash sandals

There are many ways to wash and clean a pair of dirty sandals, whether they are made from leather, suede, fabric or canvas. That being said, the first thing you should do when it’s time to clean your sandals is check the care details that were provided when you purchased them. This is because some sandals - particularly those made from fabric or canvas - can actually be best cleaned in a washing machine. If you discover your sandals are machine-washable, simply place them inside an old pillowcase and wash them on a cold cycle using a small amount of laundry detergent.  

If your sandals are not machine safe, or you did not achieve the cleaning results you were looking for after a cold cycle, you should hand wash them. While the best methods to do this will depend on what your sandals are made from, as we will discuss in detail below, the first thing you should do when cleaning any pair of sandals is simply remove any obvious areas of dirt, mud or other debris using a soft-bristled shoe brush. Next, simply follow our material-specific cleaning advice:   

 -       Fabric and canvas sandals 

These are the easiest type of sandals to wash. After removing loose dirt and debris using a soft-bristled shoe brush, you will need a gentle laundry detergent, a bucket of warm water, an old toothbrush and some paper towels. To start with, simply dip your fabric/canvas sandals into the bucket of warm water and then gently scrub any marked or stained areas with the toothbrush.  

If the stains remain after this, refresh the bucket of warm water, this time adding two tablespoons of detergent to it. Repeat the previous step, making sure you scrub any stained areas. Once this is complete, carefully rinse any detergent residue off your sandals, and dab dry using the paper towel. These sandals should then be placed in the sun, or another warm location such as the airing cupboard, for a few hours before being worn again. This will ensure they are fully dry.  

 -       Leather sandals 

‘Washing’ leather sandals is not always possible, as leather doesn’t really mix with excessive water and soap. Similarly, some common household cleaning products can also damage leather, meaning it’s important to be extra careful when cleaning this type of footwear. For this reason, before trying to clean leather sandals with any liquid or soap, always attempt a smaller spot-clean after removing any dirt and debris using a soft brush. To do this, simply find any marks or stains on the leather you want to remove and gently rub these areas with a soft microfibre cloth - you will be surprised how many stains will simply fade away.   

If your leather sandals are covered in more stubborn stains, you may need to purchase a specialist leather conditioner. To use one of these products, add a few small drops of conditioner onto your cloth and gently rub the stained areas. After allowing the conditioner a few minutes to soak into the leather, dampen a clean cloth with water and remove all traces of the conditioner using a circular motion. Finally, allow your sandals to naturally dry in the sun. They should be looking as good as new.    

 -       Suede sandals 

Suede should not be washed, therefore when it’s time to freshen them up, a deep clean will have to do. Cleaning suede can be tricky, meaning you have to be extra careful when working with sandals made from this material. Once large pieces of dirt and other debris have been removed using a soft-bristled shoe brush, you will need to purchase a specialist suede brush. This can be used to remove marks, stains and scuffs - simply use it to slowly lift up the nap of the suede (bushing against the direction the suede sits), and then use a rubber eraser to gently scrub marks away.   

If this method does not work, drop a small amount of vinegar onto a paper towel and apply this directly to any stubborn stains. After the suede has been allowed to dry, use your suede brush to ensure the material is sitting in the correct direction.  

How do you clean the insoles of sandals?

The insoles of sandals can start to feature toe, foot and heel marks after a few weeks of wear, which can be especially irritating as, unlike with regular shoes, these insoles are typically viable when wearing open sandals. In order to remove these marks, and generally clean your insoles, you will need to follow a similar process to that for cleaning fabric sandals described above. This means you will need an old toothbrush, a wash cloth and, ideally, a shoe spray cleaner (although a regular upholstery cleaning spray should also work).   

Simply spray the stained insoles of your sandals with the cleaner, ensuring they are visibly wet but not completely drenched. Once you have allowed this cleaner to soak into the insoles for a few minutes, dip the toothbrush in warm water and use it to gently scrub the surface of the insoles, concentrating particularly on any stained areas. When the insole looks clean, dry it thoroughly using your clean cloth. This process may need to be repeated if the insole still looks marked, stained or unclean after it has been allowed to fully dry.

To keep your sandals clean and well maintained, it's important to establish a cleaning routine, as well as storing them in a dry place which will prevent dust and moisture accumulating, thereby ensuring your sandals will stand the test of time, looking fresh and ready to be worn when you desire.

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