How to clean canvas shoes in 3 steps

December 12, 2022

How to clean canvas shoes in 3 steps

Shoes get dirty. It’s one of those inevitable things in life. Try as we may to keep them clean and spotless, little bits of stain, debris, and general wear and tear is bound to be found eventually.

Thankfully, it’s fairly easy to clean most pairs of shoes, including canvas sneakers! Although the process isn’t hard, many people aren’t exactly sure how to go about shoe cleaning. If you’re in that boat, we’ve got you covered.

Here at Kizik, shoes are our specialty, so we’ve got some experience figuring out the best ways to clean them as well. When it comes to canvas shoes like the Prague, there are different considerations compared to leather or synthetic shoes. 

Today’s Kizik guide is focused on how to clean canvas shoes. We’re breaking the process down into three simple steps across the two most common methods: hand washing and machine washing.

Let’s get started!

Understanding your shoe: what are canvas shoes?

Before we clean our shoes, we should make sure we’re plenty familiar with them. Canvas is a type of fabric material that is densely woven in order to create a strong, durable material that can hold its shape and withstand plenty of rough use.

Most canvas fabric is made from cotton, linen, or hemp. Unlike the cotton or linen fabrics you might find in a t-shirt or blanket, canvas has a coarse texture. It isn’t a soft, skin-to-skin material, but one built to protect your feet from the outside world.

The benefits of canvas include breathability and a balance between durability and flexibility. Canvas can mold with the shape and movements of your foot but is still tough. Breathability allows air flow to keep your foot from overheating. 

Thanks to these qualities, canvas is a great material for versatile shoes that can handle active days as well as casual occasions.

Canvas shoes often incorporate other materials. At a minimum, some other material makes up the sole — rubber or rope, usually. A canvas upper is commonly partnered with full-grain leather or suede panels. Synthetic mesh panels are also added to some shoes for even more breathability.

Choosing your method: machine or by hand

Cleaning canvas shoes isn’t a one-size-meets-all science. There are two main methods that we’re going to need to choose between depending on the type of shoe we’re cleaning.

Machine washing is favored for being relatively low-effort and hands-off. This convenience is coupled with a need for more careful planning and extra patience since the shoes will need to dry for a while.

Hand washing is the safest way to clean canvas shoes but also takes more effort upfront. If you need to clean your shoes and wear them right away, this is the way to go.

The first factor to consider before we decide is whether your canvas shoes have other materials. Since suede and premium leather aren’t suited to washing machines, you should stick to hand-washing only if your canvas shoes include either of those materials.

Hand-washing is also ideal if your shoes have lots of delicate pieces. Fashion shoes, especially, may have lots of embellishments that could easily break away or deteriorate in even the gentlest machine wash cycles.

With those considerations in mind, let’s finally get into the steps for each method.

Hand-washing canvas shoes

To hand clean your canvas shoes, you’ll need only a few supplies.

  • Paper towels/hand towel
  • Brush (toothbrush or shoe brush) or sponge
  • Warm water (~two cups)
  • Soap (One tablespoon of mild laundry detergent or dish soap)

Step 1: Wipe the shoes down

Before we start using soap and water, we should remove as much dirt and debris as possible. Using dry paper towels or a soft towel, gently wipe down your shoes. We don’t want chunks of dirt or pieces of grass getting our brush excessively dirty, or else it will spread around the shoe as we clean it.

After an initial wipe-down, you can switch to slightly damp paper towels or a soft towel to get a bit more dirt away. Don’t get your shoes too wet at this stage unless you have to.

If your shoes are really muddy, you should spray them down with a hose or in a utility sink, if you have one, to remove most of the mud. This will add time to the process since you’ll need to let the shoes dry before they can be worn again, but it’s an essential step before we can get to brushing.

If your shoes have any really noticeable grass stains, stubborn grime, or scuff marks, you can pretreat them at this stage. Just rub some detergent or stain remover in by hand or with an old toothbrush. You can give the detergent up to half an hour to soak in before moving on to the next step.

Step 2: Add soap and scrub

At this point, we can go ahead and mix our cleaning solution. Stir the soap and clean water well, so you don’t see any clumps of soap sitting in the water.

Now, dip your brush or sponge into the solution. You don’t need to absolutely soak it. Just a bit of solution will do. A toothbrush is an excellent tool for the job since it lets you focus on small areas at a time and is conveniently available in most cases. Special shoe-cleaning brushes or a cleaning sponge can also work.

As you scrub your shoe, do so gently in a motion that follows the grain of the canvas. If you can’t see the grain of the canvas, you can use soft circular motions, kind of like brushing your teeth!

Give even treatment across areas of your shoe, including your insoles. Too much and/or too aggressively scrubbing in one area may lead to spotting (irregular areas of discoloration).

Step 3: Dry and detail

While your shoes shouldn’t be too wet, unless you used an oversaturated sponge, you can let them dry for a short time before wearing them. If there is excess soapy residue, wipe it away gently with paper towels. 

You might also stuff paper towels into your shoe to help absorb any liquid inside, but don’t leave them too long, as this might actually slow the drying process.

Don’t forget your shoelaces! Laces need to be cleaned as much as the rest of your shoe, but scrubbing them with a brush isn’t going to be productive. You can clean laces by removing them and letting them soak in the same cleaning solution used for the rest of the shoe. If you’re really in a rush and looking to work efficiently, start soaking the laces during step one.

Machine washing canvas shoes

Using a washer to clean your canvas shoes is less involved than hand-washing, but it could be damaging to your shoes or washer if you don’t keep a few crucial things in mind.

Remember that if your shoes include leather, suede, or other delicate materials or parts, they aren’t suited to a machine washer. Muddy shoes should also be rinsed with a hose and attacked with a scrub brush before being put into the washer, as chunks of mud or loose dirt can clog your washer.

Step 1: Prep your shoes

Start by unlacing your shoes. Laces can get tangled in the wash, which could cause all sorts of problems. You can add your laces to the load if you put them in a mesh washer bag, or you can soak them in a soapy solution as described in the hand-washing section.

If your shoes have removable soles, take those out at this time too. If the soles are machine washable, you can include them in the load, but you should still remove them from the shoe to ensure the most thorough clean.

Speaking of thoroughly cleaning, lace-up shoes do best with the tongue lifted so that the soap and water clean inside the shoe as fully as possible.

You should also wash your shoes along with towels, jeans, or similar durable items. A load of shoes only could unbalance or damage your washer.

Step 2: Wash

Canvas shoes should work well with most detergents. Certain types of bleach solutions can be added to tackle stubborn stains on white canvas shoes in a white load, and disinfectants can also be included to get extra germs out and deep-clean canvas sneakers (which is recommended if you're using your shoes for exercise).

Set your machine to a gentle wash cycle with a slow spin speed if possible. This reduces any chance of damaging your shoes or unbalancing your machine. You can use warm or cold water — either will do. 

Step 3: Dry

The drying step is the most time-consuming part of getting your old canvas shoes to look like a brand-new pair. Since the glue used in the construction of most shoes, including canvas shoes, can melt, you should avoid clothes dryers that dry with heat.

The safest way to dry shoes is to let them air dry. Avoid direct sunlight or direct heat sources (such as hair dryers or hot air vents). Patience is the best practice, here.

Final remarks

Whether you’re cleaning Kizik Pragues or another pair of canvas shoes, always check the cleaning instructions before getting started. For our Pragues, which are canvas and leather shoes, use a clean cloth or soft-bristled brush and soapy water to tackle tough stains. Rinse and air dry. The leather portions should be spot-cleaned with a damp cloth only.

For more helpful step-by-step guides and DIY cleaning tips, stay tuned to our Kizik blog! Check out the rest of our collection for more innovative styles like the Prague that combine comfort, convenience, and a versatile look for everyday excellence. 


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Written By: Chris Fry

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