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How To Clean Sandals in 15 Steps

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By: KURU Footwear

Sandal season is an exciting time of year! Warmer weather, more outside adventures, and beach vacations all call for this fun seasonal footwear. As you kick off your sneakers and slide into your well-fitting sandals, hygiene is something to keep in mind. We’ll teach you how to clean sandals thoroughly so you can do your thing in the sun without worry. 

While regularly cleaning your sandals may not be as intuitive as washing your feet and changing your socks, it’s an important part of maintaining healthy feet. Over time, the footbed of your sandals develops a buildup of dirt, sweat, dead skin cells, bacteria, and fungi. Without regular cleaning, your sandals may develop odors and compromise the health of your feet. So, let’s get started!

1. Gather Cleaning Supplies

As you get started, gather the supplies you will need to clean your sandals. The following are recommended cleaning supplies that work on a wide range of sandal materials:

  • Mild detergent or dish soap
  • Soft-bristled brush
  • Baking soda
  • White vinegar
  • A bucket
  • A few clean cloths
  • Sponge (optional)

Keep in mind that some cleaning products are suitable for some sandal materials and not others. For example, harsh cleaners like ammonia or bleach can damage leather while water will stain suede. Read the label on your sandals to see what materials they are made of so you can choose the safest cleaning products.

2. Brush Off Loose Dirt

Before diving into the deep cleaning process, make sure to get rid of loose dirt. The easiest way to do this is with a dry soft-bristled brush. Shoe cleaning kits generally include this type of brush, but you can also use a toothbrush rated as soft or extra soft. 

Begin by gently brushing the upper of each sandal. This will help release dirt or debris that would otherwise get mixed in with the cleaning solution you will be making in the next step.

As you brush each sandal, pay extra attention to crevices where dirt and debris tend to easily collect such as seams. Brush the sole of each sandal as well to remove loose dirt and pebbles from the tread.

3. Create a Gentle Cleaning Solution

Grab a bucket, fill it with warm water, and add a few drops of mild dish soap or detergent. This is a simple cleaning solution that will work on many different types of sandal materials, particularly synthetic materials like rubber, polyurethane, and mesh.

Natural materials like leather and suede will require a slightly different cleaning process. If you’re wondering how to clean leather sandals, all it requires is creating a simple 50/50 mixture of water and white vinegar.

If you need to know how to clean suede sandals or how to clean suede insoles of sandals, the rule of thumb here is to avoid using water. Water stains suede and can change its color. Instead, use a brush made for suede and dip a clean cloth in a small amount of vinegar to remove stubborn stains.

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4. Prepare Your Sandals for Washing

Your sandal may have some detachable parts like straps or embellishments. If this is the case, remove those and set them aside. There are also many sandals with removable insoles, so be sure to take those out and set them aside to clean separately. In the following steps, we’ll get into more detail on how to clean footbed of sandals.

5. Apply Cleaning Solution

You’ve already made your cleaning solution, either with detergent or white vinegar, depending on the material of your sandals. Now it’s time to apply the cleaning solution by dipping a cloth or sponge in the bucket and wringing out any excess liquid. 

Apply the solution to the footbed while being careful not to oversaturate it. Using circular motions, clean the entire surface thoroughly. You can rinse your cloth by dipping it back in the cleaning solution and wringing it out again. Repeat as necessary.

Other parts of your sandal will also benefit from the cleaning solution. Gently clean straps and hardware with the appropriate cleaning solution. 

6. Scrub Gently with a Soft Brush

With a soft brush or toothbrush, gently scrub the footbed and other areas in need using circular motions. Re-dip the brush into the cleaning solution as needed, ensuring the brush isn’t overly saturated.

To avoid damaging any of the materials of your sandals, be sure to only scrub gently. Gentle scrubbing, in combination with the use of a wet cloth or sponge, will still be effective in removing dirt and stains.

If you’ve been wondering how to clean white sandals, the gentle scrubbing described here, combined with step 7, will work wonders and help restore the look of your sandals.

7. Target Tough Stains

Cleaning sandals is about more than just getting rid of sweat and bacteria. Your sandals may have stains from mud, oil, grass, coffee, or condiments. For these tougher stains that didn’t come out when you used the cleaning solution you created in step 3, you can make a simple and effective deep-cleaning paste. However, please note that this paste is not recommended for suede sandals.

To create the paste, start with a tablespoon of baking soda and slowly mix in water until a paste develops. Using the brush, apply the paste to the stains and let it sit for a few minutes before scrubbing. The baking soda is a mild abrasive that’s tough on stains, so remember to scrub gently.

Wondering how to clean cork sandals? This baking soda paste will do the trick!

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8. Rinse With Lukewarm Water

Now that you’ve spent time cleaning the footbeds, straps, and every crevice of your sandals, it’s time to give them a rinse. For most sandals, you can wipe them off with a clean cloth that’s saturated with lukewarm water. Sandals made entirely of rubber can be submerged in lukewarm water or held under a running faucet. You will probably see additional dirt and debris come off!

If your sandals contain suede or leather, it’s important to not immerse them in water. For leather sandals, dip a clean cloth in lukewarm water, wring it out completely, and wipe down the sandals. 

Suede sandals can simply be wiped off with a clean, dry cloth or gently brushed with a suede brush.

9. Wipe off Excess Water

If water remains on your sandals after you’ve rinsed them, make sure to use a dry cloth to remove as much of the water as possible. There may not be much water left over from rinsing unless your sandals are rubber and you ended up dipping them in water or under a running faucet. 

No matter how wet or dry your sandals feel, don’t twist or wring them out as this can damage and misshapen them. Step 12 will provide more details on the safest way to dry your sandals.

10. Apply a Specialized Cleaner for Stubborn Stains (Optional)

If you’ve reached this point in your sandal-cleaning journey and some stains remain, consider using a specialized cleaner designed to remove stubborn stains. You can find a suitable option online or at a local big-box retailer.

Make sure to select a cleaner that’s safe to use on the materials of your sandals and follow the directions on the bottle exactly to prevent any damage.

11. Deodorize (If Needed)

Wondering how to clean sandals that smell? It’s actually quite simple! Grab the baking soda and sprinkle enough to cover the entire footbed of each sandal. If needed, you can tilt the sandal around to ensure the baking soda is evenly distributed on the insole.

Now you’ll let the sandals sit overnight for the baking soda to work its odor-absorbing magic. If your sandals have a really strong smell, you can leave the baking soda in place for 24 hours.

Once the baking soda has had enough time to absorb odor, carefully carry your sandals to a garbage can and gently bat them inside to get the baking soda out. If there’s some dust left behind on the insoles, use a cloth to wipe it out. And that’s it—you’ve learned how to clean smelly sandals!

12. Air Dry Completely

After cleaning your sandals, it’s important to let them dry completely to prevent the growth of mold and odor. As tempting as it can be to throw your sandals in the dryer, the heat is damaging to many sandal materials and adhesives.

Instead, let your sandals air dry in a well-ventilated area away from direct sunlight. If your sandals have removable insoles, keep the insoles out to speed up the drying process. Your sandals will take about 24 hours to dry, but make sure they’re completely dry before wearing them or storing them.

Another way you can dry your sandals is by placing them in front of a box fan. This will be quicker and more effective if you position the sandals with the footbeds facing the fan.

13. Condition Leather or Suede Parts (If Applicable)

If your sandals have any leather or suede components, it’s strongly recommended you give those parts a little TLC. Both premium natural materials, leather and suede will maintain their sought-after look and feel if they’re properly cared for.

Leather is a durable material but, like skin, it loses moisture and can begin to crack over time. Consider using a leather conditioner to protect the leather and keep it looking its best. A general best practice is testing the conditioner on an inconspicuous area first before applying it to the entire sandal.

To keep your suede sandals in tip-top shape, apply a suede conditioner with a soft brush or cloth. Make sure the conditioner is evenly distributed. Afterward, you can apply a protective finish to shield the suede from future contact with water and stains.

14. Final Touch-Ups

After your sandals have dried, inspect them for any spots or stains you may have missed. If there’s something you’ve missed, you can repeat some of the steps above until you’ve achieved desired results. Otherwise, great work! Your sandals should look and smell fresh.

As part of final touch-ups, a clean brush can be used to restore texture. Suede and other napped materials will be most in need of this. Special brushes are made for suede that lift and refresh the fibers. Gently brush in one direction until you’ve gone over the entire area.

15. Clean Your Feet

Last but not least—foot hygiene. Regularly washing your feet is important to overall foot health and it also plays into extending the freshness and lifespan of your sandals. Washing your feet before wearing sandals goes a long way, especially when you’ve just thoroughly cleaned the sandals.

When you wash your feet, use a gentle soap and scrub brush. Dirt and bacteria tend to accumulate between the toes and under the nails, so focus your attention on those areas. Your feet can also benefit from regular use of an exfoliant or pumice stone to remove dead skin cells, along with hydration practices.

Storing Sandals Properly

When sandal season has come to an end and you’re ready to set them aside for future beach days, proper storage is key to extending their lifespan. Before storing your sandals, be sure to clean and dry them completely.

The following storage tips will help ensure your sandals remain in top condition and ready for their next use.

  • Choose the Right Environment: The ideal environment for storing sandals is one without extreme temperatures and humidity. Damp or humid areas can encourage mold and mildew growth, so a garage or storage unit is not recommended. A cool, dry place—like under your bed—is best. 
  • Maintain Shape and Material Integrity: Without proper storage, your sandals may become creased or misshapen. To help your sandals keep their shape, you can use shoe trees or stuff them with acid-free tissue paper. If your sandals have straps, fasten them to prevent creases and other damage.
  • Avoid Direct Sunlight: Prolonged exposure to direct sunlight can fade colors and weaken materials—leather and suede are particularly susceptible to damage from the sun. 
  • Separate Storage for Different Materials: Group and store sandals of similar materials together to prevent the transfer of color or texture. For example, leather is often dyed after the tanning process, and this dye can transfer to other materials like rubber or even lighter-colored leather. Additionally, if sandals with rougher textures are stored with sandals of softer materials, there’s the possibility of the softer materials becoming marked with various indentations and impressions.
  • Use Breathable Storage Bags: If you decide to store your sandals inside bags, choose a breathable material like cotton over plastic. Sealed plastic bags can trap moisture inside and encourage mold or mildew growth.
  • Regular Inspection and Maintenance: When you store your sandals for extended periods of time, it’s a good idea to regularly check them for signs of damage or a need for cleaning. You might find that moisture has gotten to your sandals or shifting has happened and they’re now crushing each other. With regular inspections, you can discover storage issues early on and reverse their effects.
  • Seasonal Rotation and Storage: Consider the climate and typical weather patterns of your area. During warmer months, opt for lightweight and breathable sandals, while transitioning to closed-toe or more durable options during cooler seasons. Before storing sandals for the off-season, ensure they are thoroughly cleaned and dry to prevent any dirt or moisture from causing damage while in storage.

How to Clean Sandals FAQ

How can I clean the footbed of my sandals?

To clean the footbed of your sandals, start by taking out the insoles if they’re removable. Create a solution by mixing mild soap or detergent with warm water and use a soft brush or cloth to gently scrub the footbed, paying extra attention to any areas with stubborn stains or dirt buildup. 

Once cleaned, wipe the footbed with a clean, damp cloth and allow it to air dry completely before wearing the sandals or storing them. If needed, you can also use a specialized cleaner to remove tough stains that didn’t come out. For lingering odors, sprinkle baking soda on the footbeds and let it sit overnight or longer.

How can I clean smelly sandals?

To clean smelly sandals, start by sprinkling baking soda generously over the entire footbed of each sandal, making sure to cover it completely. Let the sandals sit overnight, or up to 24 hours for strong odors, to allow the baking soda to absorb the smell.

Once the baking soda has had time to work its magic, gently shake the sandals over a garbage can to remove the baking soda, and use a cloth to wipe away any remaining residue. With this simple method, you now know how to clean stinky sandals!

Can sandals be washed?

While many sandals contain materials not recommended for machine washing, it’s absolutely possible to wash them by hand. With a few cleaning products and supplies you likely have on hand, you can deep clean your sandals so they look and smell fresh.

How do you clean women’s sandals at home?

To clean women’s sandals at home, begin by removing any excess dirt or debris by gently brushing them with a soft-bristled brush. For fabric or synthetic sandals, you can hand wash them using a cloth dipped in a mixture of mild soap and water, then air dry them away from direct sunlight. 

For leather or suede sandals, use a gentle vinegar solution, and follow up with conditioning or brushing as needed. Finally, ensure the sandals are completely dry before wearing or storing them to prevent mold growth.

How often should I clean my sandals?

For sandals that you wear frequently, aim to clean them at least every two weeks. Other sandals that you don’t wear as often can be cleaned as needed and before storing them.

How to clean leather sandals?

To clean leather sandals, start by brushing them with a soft-bristled brush to remove any loose dirt or debris. Next, mix a solution of white vinegar with warm water and use a soft brush or cloth to gently scrub the leather straps and footbeds. Be careful not to saturate the leather with the solution.

After cleaning, wipe the sandals dry with a clean cloth and allow them to air dry completely away from direct sunlight or heat sources. Finally, you can apply a leather conditioner to keep the leather supple and moisturized.

How to clean suede sandals?

To clean suede sandals, start by gently brushing the surface with a suede brush to remove any loose dirt or debris. If there are stains, use a suede eraser or white vinegar on a clean cloth to gently blot the affected areas. 

Allow the sandals to air dry completely, and then brush them again to lift and restore the suede’s texture. For stubborn stains or to refresh the suede’s appearance, consider using a specialized suede cleaner and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

How to clean rubber sandals?

Rubber sandals can be cleaned in several ways, including using the washing machine. Skip this route if your sandals have any type of embellishments or you’re not willing to risk damage.

The safest way to clean rubber sandals is by using a mixture of mild soap and water and gently scrubbing them with a clean cloth or soft brush. Rinse them with clean water and let them air dry completely.

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Prioritize Foot Health and Comfort

Regularly cleaning sandals is essential not only for maintaining their appearance but also for promoting foot health. Over time, sandals accumulate dirt, sweat, dead skin cells, and bacteria, which can lead to unpleasant odors and conditions such as athlete’s foot. By keeping sandals clean, you reduce the risk of bacterial and fungal growth, minimizing the likelihood of developing foot-related issues and skin irritation.

Additionally, proper cleaning and maintenance of sandals can help prolong their lifespan, ensuring that they continue to provide adequate support and protection for your feet. For individuals prone to conditions like plantar fasciitis or heel spurs, wearing sandals with compromised support or cushioning can aggravate symptoms and lead to increased pain or discomfort.

Now that you know how to clean sandals and recognize the importance of keeping them clean, you can enjoy your comfortable, supportive sandals while reducing the risk of foot conditions—ensuring your feet stay happy and healthy.

Sourcing

  • How to Dry Shoes Fast with Newspaper, in the Dryer & More. wikiHow (July 2023)
  • How to Remove Odor from Your Shoes with Baking Soda. wikiHow (December 2023)
  • How to clean suede shoes at home without ruining them. USA Today (December 2023)
  • How to Clean Sandals. wikiHow (December 2023)
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