The sobering reality of white trainers

If you’re anything like me, you love white kicks. Me personally, I’m usually found donning a pair of Reebok Classics in almost every situation, but really, the possibilities are endless when it comes to white trainers. Whether you’re old school like me, or prefer to rock something a little more on trend. A Yeezy 350 Cream or one of the many Off-White adaptations from Virgil Abloh’s ‘The 10’ Collection with Nike are never out of the question. The one issue, however, that is ever present for fans of washed out colourways is how to keep them clean. Usually do I ponder the question; how to clean white trainers? And it turns out, on further inspection, it’s not so hopeless after all.

The problem with white is, everything shows up. Every spec of dirt, stain, scuff, smudge, they all paint a white trainer like a canvas. Whereas with darker colourways, you might be able to get away with a lot more of all the above, white trainers in comparison are unfortunately lit up like a Christmas tree. Everyone who buys white trainers knows this going in, there are a number of certainties in life; death, taxes and your white kicks getting dirty. More than any other styles, they really are like dirt magnets.

There are of course two natural responses to this rather unsettling but inevitable truth. You can try and protect your precious kicks from harm – something that will initially feel like a positive decision, reserving them for fair weather wear only, but regrettable will only ever lead to heart-wrenching disappointment. When a couple drinks in the pub leads you clubbing, or you get caught out as the weather changes. A much more proactive response is to develop an understanding of how to remedy the situation when your kicks inevitably get dirty.

Soap, water and a touch of elbow grease

You may have assumed that people who have managed to keep their white trainers, as white as the day they were taken out the box, either, don’t wear them enough, or possess some magical qualities. This, of course, you will be pleased to hear isn’t the case. In fact, there are a lot of very simple ways to the answer the question; “how to clean white trainers”. The first of which is the most basic of which; soap, water and just a touch of elbow grease. All you need is everyday dish soap – the same sort of stuff you use for doing the washing up – and mix that with some warm water. Alternatively, white vinegar is an adequate substitute for the dish soap.

Apply your cleaning solution to a cleaning sponge, and then you are good to go. This method works best on leather shoes, but can work well on a range of materials, like rubber or plastic. It’s best to wipe in short back and forth motions on the affected areas and for particularly troublesome scuffs and stains. The best thing to do is to switch to a stiff-bristled toothbrush (obviously one you aren’t wishing to use), once you are happy with the results use paper towels to remove any excess liquid and let your trainers are dry. This method although time-consuming is very good for cleaning small specific areas and can be tailored to your needs dependant on how firmly you scrub. Word of warning however, scrub too much and you might damage the shoe, so don’t overdo it!

Bleach, toothpaste, and baking soda

No, not all at the same time, but if you’re looking for an option that is slightly more, well, chemical then I’ve got a trio of alternatives. For the bleach, just dilute 1 part bleach in 5 parts water, and then follow the steps as outlined in the previous method. Please be careful with the bleach, make sure you are carrying out this in a well-ventilated room, and don’t under any circumstances over do it with the bleach. Too much bleach could leave your lovely white trainers with a very unwelcome yellow tinge. Similarly, the bleach method isn’t suitable for coloured trainers as it does have the tendency of fading colours.

Moving onto toothpaste, you can put that old toothbrush I mentioned previously to an even better use by deploying some Colgate on your white trainers. Make sure to get your shoes slightly damp before you apply the toothpaste so it can foam up. This works best of fabric and mesh trainers, so are perfect for runners. In terms of the type of toothpaste you can use, it has to be a non-gel toothpaste that is white. None of this red-white-blue stuff you see in the TV adverts. Anything like that may leave stains on the white trainers you are trying too hard to keep white.

Lastly in the trio is the baking soda method. Reminiscent of chemistry class, it requires you to mix baking soda, vinegar and hot water in a bowl until it forms a thick paste. As the vinegar and baking soda combines it will begin to fizz (this is a good sign). Once you are happy with your mixture, apply it to your trainers in the affected areas and leave to dry onto the shoes for approximately 3-4 hours. It is best to leave your shoes in natural sunlight until you can scratch off the dried paste with a fingernail. Once at this point, bang your shoes together to remove the dust, and use a dry brush if required.

In the washing machine

If your shoes are particularly dirty, smelly and generally in need of a serious revamp, then you can always turn to the trusty washing machine. It is less labour intensive and very effective if deployed correctly. How to clean white trainers in the washing machine do I hear you asking? It is very simple indeed. It is all in the preparation. To make sure you don’t damage your washing machine, make sure you remove any surface debris like dry mud with a damp rag. After you’ve done this remove the laces and insole from your white shoes (if required wash these separately).

Lastly place the shoes inside a pillowcase in a mesh bag or my personal favourite, a pillowcase, along with something to pad out the remainder of the washing machine drum-like towels to prevent your shoes from bashing around inside and becoming deformed. The most important aspect of this method is the setting you put your washing machine on for. Make sure you use a setting with little to no spin, making use of the extra rinse feature if available to remove any additional soapy residue from your shoes.

Here are a couple don’t to consider also; don’t use a hot wash as it may compromise the glue around some of the panels or between the upper and midsole of your shoes, and don’t use fabric softener as the colours may stain your shoes. I’d recommend that the washing machine method only be used on canvas and leather shoes, try to avoid washing real leather shoes in the washing machine.

Ways to prevent the need for cleaning

If you are one of these people who doesn’t even want to think about how to clean white trainers then there are some preventative measures you can go through in order to make this knowledge slightly less of a necessity for your white kicks. You may or may not be already aware that there are numerous products on the market that protect your shoes against all kinds of dirt and decay. For the most part, they generally work via some sort of spray that creates an invisible film on the surface of your trainers that protects them from dirt, stains and liquids. In much the same way we wear a raincoat to be stop our skin from getting wet. This of course isn’t a one time fix and needs to be reapplied regularly, but it definitely greats a barrier against a lot of the feared dirt, dust and general grime that can damage your white trainers.

Aside from protective products for your shoes the last tip I am going to give you is all about storage. Where you keep your shoes is paramount in assuring how well they are kept in general terms. Off duty kicks are usually for the most part stored in shoe bags and boxes which if you didn’t already know, isn’t ideal for their (pardon the pun) shelf life. There’s microscopic dust and dirt floating around everywhere, especially in enclosed spaces like closets, over time, shoe materials – especially knit, suede, and mesh – collect these dust particles, which eventually affect the overall look of your trainers. So it is best to keep your white trainers in more open environments given them, and the space around them area to breathe freely.