How to clean canvas shoes

Canvas shoes are a wardrobe staple that can be worn year-round. From classic Converse sneakers to boat shoes and slip-ons, canvas footwear offers breathability and comfort in a range of casual styles. However, the fabric can easily get dirty from everyday wear. Learning how to clean canvas shoes properly will keep them looking fresh and new for longer.

With the right techniques and products, you can remove stains, brighten dingy canvas, and restore your shoes’ appearance. It’s easy to clean canvas sneakers and shoes at home without taking them to a professional cleaner. This comprehensive guide will teach you how to clean both white and colored canvas footwear.

clean canvas shoes

Why Regular Cleaning is Important

Canvas shoes are comfortable, flexible, and lightweight. However, the cotton fabric is very porous and prone to getting dirty. Canvas easily absorbs dirt, oil, grease, and other grime from the ground as you walk. Even the cleanest streets and floors contain germs and bacteria that transfer onto your shoes.

Regular cleaning kills microbes and removes stains that can discolor the fabric over time. While it may seem easier to spot clean canvas shoes occasionally, deep cleaning them every couple of weeks will help maintain their condition. Clean canvas shoes last longer, look nicer, and stay hygienic for your feet.

Cleaning also removes odors that build up inside canvas shoes from sweat and bacteria. Smelly shoes are unpleasant to wear and can even transfer to your feet and socks.

Here are some of the key benefits of regularly cleaning your canvas sneakers:

  • Keeps fabric bright and white, or true to color
  • Prevents permanent stains from setting in
  • Removes odors and bacteria
  • Extends lifespan of shoes
  • Restores grip and traction of soles
  • Makes shoes more comfortable to wear
  • Maintains hygiene for your feet

Without regular cleaning, canvas shoes can end up dingy,stained and smelly very quickly. Putting in the small effort to clean them routinely will maintain their look and wearability.

Supplies Needed

Cleaning canvas footwear by hand is very simple. You likely already have the necessary supplies in your laundry room. Before learning how to actually clean canvas sneakers, gather the following:

For Cleaning

  • White vinegar or bleach (for white shoes)
  • Warm water
  • Mild laundry detergent
  • Soft bristle brush
  • Old toothbrush
  • Bucket
  • Paper towels
  • Old towel

For Deodorizing

  • Baking soda
  • Unscented baby powder

For Protecting

  • Fabric protector spray

Other Helpful Items

  • Magic Eraser
  • Antibacterial spray
  • Washing machine (optional)
  • Laundry dryer (optional)

Having all these cleaning solutions and tools on hand will make cleaning canvas shoes a breeze.

Step-by-Step Cleaning Instructions

Follow these simple steps to thoroughly clean both white and colored canvas sneakers and shoes:

Step 1: Remove Shoelaces and Insoles

Start by untying and removing the shoelaces from each shoe. If there are any inserts or insoles, take those out as well.

Removing shoelaces allows you to fully open up the tongue and upper of the shoes to clean the inside. Any inserts and insoles should be cleaned separately to eliminate odors.

Step 2: Mix a Cleaning Solution

Now it’s time to mix your cleaning solution. The ingredients you use depend on whether you are cleaning white or colored canvas shoes:

For white canvas shoes:

  • Mix hot water, 1⁄4 cup of bleach, and 1-2 tablespoons of laundry detergent in a bucket.

For colored canvas shoes:

  • Mix warm water, 2 tablespoons of vinegar, and a few drops of laundry detergent.

Bleach helps eliminate stains on white canvas shoes, while vinegar is a gentle cleaning agent safe for colored fabrics. The laundry detergent in both solutions acts as a degreasing agent to remove dirt and oils.

Step 3: Clean the Uppers

Use an old toothbrush dipped in the solution to gently scrub the canvas fabric uppers of each shoe. Make sure to clean all surfaces including the tongues, sides, heels, and any logos or embellishments.

The toothbrush allows you to apply light agitation to loosen ingrained dirt in the canvas fibers. Be careful not to brush too hard or use a stiff scrub brush, as the rough canvas fabric is delicate and can pill or tear.

As you scrub, check the toothbrush for any dirt it collects. Re-dip in the solution as needed to keep the brush saturated. The cleaning agents will start dissolving oil, grease, and other grime.

Step 4: Hand Wash the Soles

Canvas shoes should be hand washed rather than machine washed to avoid damage to the shoes.

Use an old towel or soft bristle brush dipped in the cleaning solution to scrub the rubber soles and edges of each sneaker. The soles pick up the most dirt and will need extra attention.

Make sure to get into crevices and along the edges of rubber soles where grime loves to hide. The detergent will cut through caked-on dirt.

Step 5: Rinse Shoes

Once the canvas uppers and soles are scrubbed clean, rinse away all the cleaning solution. You can do this by wiping shoes down with a wet towel or rinsing under running water.

Make sure to rinse off all the soap and bleach or vinegar mixture. Leftover residues can damage the canvas over time.

Step 6: Stuff Shoes with Paper Towels

After rinsing, remove any excess water by stuffing paper towels into the toes and tongues of the wet shoes. The towels will absorb moisture and help the shoes retain their shape as they dry.

Change out the towels as needed if they become saturated. You want the interior fully lined with dry paper towels.

Tip: Avoid blow drying canvas shoes, as the heat can damage the fabric and cause it to shrink. Air drying is best.

Step 7: Let Air Dry Completely

Once the shoes are stuffed with paper towels, allow them to air dry fully before wearing again.

It can take 12-24 hours for canvas shoes to dry completely. Leaving them to dry overnight is ideal.

You can speed up the drying by placing shoes in front of a fan or in a cool, dry spot with good airflow. Avoid putting wet canvas shoes directly into sunlight.

Do not put damp shoes into storage. Storing them before they are totally dry can cause mold and bacteria growth.

Step 8: Deodorize Inside

Even after air drying, the inside of canvas shoes can still retain odors. Sprinkle a light coating of baking soda or unscented baby powder into each shoe once dry.

The baking soda or baby powder will help absorb lingering odors and sweat to keep shoe interiors fresher.

You can repeat this deodorizing step regularly without cleaning the shoes to maintain freshness between washes.

Step 9: Use Fabric Protector Spray

Once shoes are fully dry, spray the canvas fabric uppers with a fabric protector spray. This coats the fibers to repel water, dirt, oil, and stains in the future.

Let the protectant dry as directed on the product label before wearing shoes. Fabric protector spray adds a helpful shield to keep your cleaned canvas shoes in optimal condition.

Cleaning Tips for Stubborn Stains

Certain stains like oil, grease, grass, and mud can be tricky to remove from canvas shoes. Here are some tips for getting rid of tough, set-in stains:

  • Oil/grease stains – Before washing, rub a small amount of baking soda into the stain. Let sit for 15 minutes before scrubbing with detergent. The baking soda will help absorb and lift the oily stain.
  • Grass stains – Make a paste with laundry detergent and warm water. Gently rub it onto the grass stain using an old toothbrush. Let sit for 10 minutes before washing.
  • Mud stains – Let muddy shoes dry completely first so the mud is easier to brush off. Use an old toothbrush to scrub off dried mud before washing shoes.
  • Scuff marks – Rub white vinegar onto scuff marks using a soft cloth or toothbrush. For rubber soles, use a Magic Eraser.
  • Bacteria and odors – Spray inside shoes with a 50/50 vinegar and water solution. Or rub shoes inside and out with rubbing alcohol.

Spot treating tough stains first helps ensure they don’t set permanently into the canvas fibers during washing.

Machine Washing Canvas Shoes

While hand washing is best, you can occasionally machine wash canvas sneakers and shoes if needed to thoroughly clean them.

Follow these tips for machine washing canvas footwear safely:

  • Wash on a gentle, delicate cycle with cold water
  • Don’t wash shoes with other clothes or fabrics
  • Use a laundry bag to protect shoes in the machine
  • Only use a mild detergent, no bleach
  • Air dry shoes away from direct sun
  • Stuff shoes with towels before drying to retain shape

Check that any logos, embellishments, or stitching are securely attached first. Remove shoelaces and any inserts before washing.

Limit machine washing canvas shoes to only once every few months. Frequent machine washing can damage shoes.

Deodorizing and Disinfecting Tips

To keep the inside of canvas shoes fresh between washes, use these simple deodorizing and disinfecting tricks:

  • Sprinkle baking soda or baby powder inside to absorb odors
  • Stuff with crumpled newspaper when not being worn to absorb moisture
  • Use UV shoe sanitizers that kill bacteria and odors with UV light
  • Spray mildly inside with rubbing alcohol or an antibacterial spray
  • Place dryer sheets or charcoal bags inside shoes overnight

Rotate between a couple pairs of canvas shoes rather than wearing the same ones daily. Giving shoes a day or two to air out helps prevent buildup of odors.

Best Canvas Shoe Cleaning Products

Having the right shoe cleaning products on hand makes cleaning canvas sneakers much easier. Here are some recommended cleaners for canvas fabric:

Cleaning Solutions

  • Jason Markk Premium Shoe Cleaner – Gentle all-natural formula designed for canvas and knit shoes.
  • Reshoevn8r Laundry Detergent – Plant-based detergent made specifically for washing sneakers.
  • Pink Miracle Shoeclean – Removes stains without abrasive scrubbing. Safe for white and colored canvas.


  • Reshoevn8r Brush Kit – Includes soft bristle brushes perfect for scrubbing canvas fabric.
  • Jason Markk Standard Brush – Firm hog hair bristle brush ideal for canvas and rubber soles.
  • SneakerSer Brush Set – Comes with 4 brush sizes for cleaning all sneaker surfaces.

Other Helpful Cleaning Tools

  • Crep Protect Cure Cleaning Kit – Bundle includes brush, cleaning solution, and protective spray.
  • SneakerBalls Shoe Deodorizers – Reusable balls that freshen shoes without chemicals.
  • Closte Magic Sponge Eraser – Similar to a Magic Eraser but for cleaning sneakers.

With some simple cleaning techniques and products, you can keep your canvas shoes looking and smelling fresh. Regular cleaning also helps retain the traction of soles for safer wear. Just be sure to allow canvas shoes plenty of time to fully air dry before using them again after washing. Your feet will thank you for taking good care of your canvas kicks!

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As the founder of Clean It Spotless, I am Melissa Walker, a leading expert in removing tough stains from fabrics, carpets, and upholstery. With over 10 years of experience in the cleaning industry, I have developed my own natural, non-toxic stain-fighting formulas that lift stains while preserving the integrity of the underlying material. My stain removal tutorials are widely read online, and I have appeared on local TV segments demonstrating my techniques. I also present popular stain removal workshops at community centers and schools.

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