Step-by-Step Guide: How to Clean Canvas Sneakers


Although some may perceive it as being materialistic or superficial, for many, buying a brand new pair of sneakers can bring about an unexplainable amount of immense joy! They feel good, they look good, and if the shoes in question are made of canvas material, they are extremely versatile, too! Unfortunately, for obvious reasons, shoes are prone to dirt and stains no matter how hard you try to keep them clean. While dark coloured canvas sneakers can go long periods of time without the presence of stains/dirt being noticed, white or light colours aren’t so lucky. Regardless of the colour, it’s important to clean your sneakers regularly if you want to prevent stains from becoming permanent, and keep your house clean for longer periods of time! 

The tricky part of cleaning canvas sneakers lies in using the right products, techniques, and cleaning tools in order to avoid damaging the material. Therefore, it’s advisable to do your research if you want to successfully remove dirt and stains from your sneakers in the safest manner possible. This calls for an in-depth, step-by-step process that you can follow for a truly effective clean.

NOTE: The cleaning guide we are sharing with you is specifically for canvas shoes; there are other methods for cleaning leather and suede sneakers, some of which may or may not be suitable for canvas.

Things You’ll Need to Clean Canvas Sneakers:

  • Cleaning product – liquid dish soap/laundry detergent
  • Old toothbrushes
  • Scrub brush with (soft) nylon bristles
  • Baking soda
  • Shallow basin
  • Stain remover (for fabrics)
  • White towel

Step One: Soak and Scrub Laces

Like the shoe itself, the laces also get stained and collect dirt. Attempting to clean them while still on the shoes will not be nearly as effective as soaking and scrubbing them separately. For this, make a mild cleaning solution of detergent and water, and allow the laces to soak until you’ve finished cleaning the shoes, or at least 15 minutes. When it’s time to clean the laces, use a soft-bristled toothbrush for scrubbing to avoid damaging the fibres.

Bear in mind that it can be rather difficult to keep the laces from moving around when brushing them on a flat surface; hence, we advise wrapping each lace around your hand and then brushing them clean. Be sure to flip the lace and brush the other side for a thorough clean. Thereafter, rinse the laces under running water and allow them to air-dry. 

If your sneakers have removable insoles, it would be easier to clean and rinse them off outside of the shoes. An old toothbrush and a mild cleaning solution can be used for this. Simply clean the insoles with gentle scrubbing; rinse them off, and leave to air-dry.

Step Two: Get Rid of Loose Dirt/Debris

Before you can start cleaning your canvas sneakers, make sure that they are completely dry. If you’ve trekked through muddy grounds, allow the mud to dry and harden so that it’s easier to remove. You can knock off dirt and debris with either a scrub brush, or simply tap the shoes together or on a hard surface. For stuck-on dirt, a brush will be more effective in removing as much debris from the outer material. The goal is to get off as much dirt as possible so that the following steps will be easier to complete, while also targeting stain removal.

Step Three: Scrub the Canvas

Now it’s time for the major part of the process – cleaning the canvas! A thorough scrubbing of the outer and inner parts of the material is important as this is where dirt, stains, and bacteria accumulate each and every time you wear them.  

Here are a few things to keep in mind when cleaning canvas shoes:

  • Avoid soaking the material in water for more than 15 minutes; this may weaken the fibres
  • Use minimal pressure when scrubbing
  • Avoid harsh cleaners
  • Do not use bleach or bleach-based products on canvas shoes unless they are white
  • Always clean the outsole of the shoe before cleaning the canvas material; you can use an old toothbrush for this
  • Try to brush in one direction as opposed to constantly scrubbing back and forth 
  • Be more gentle when cleaning around the stitching

To begin cleaning the canvas, rinse the shoes under running water and sprinkle a good amount of baking soda inside the shoes to neutralise any bad odours. Next, make the cleaning solution by mixing approximately 1 or 2 caps of liquid dish soap or laundry detergent in about 3-4 cups of water. Bear in mind that the strength of the cleaner will depend on the level of dirt and stains on the canvas. 

Using the scrub brush, dip it in the solution and clean the canvas with gentle scrubbing. Don’t worry about dark stains that don’t seem to be fading, we will tackle those next. Rinse off the shoe and repeat the scrubbing until you find that most of the dirt has been removed. 

Step Four: Spot Clean Stains

After a final rinse, you are likely to spot stains that aren’t ready to vanish just yet! Nevertheless, they can be removed with the right products and techniques. Depending on the colour of your shoes, you can apply two separate cleaning methods: 

White Canvas Sneakers 

First things first; when using bleach to clean white canvas sneakers, make sure that you wear the necessary protective gear such as gloves, long sleeves, and goggles. Bleach can cause skin and eye irritation, among other allergic reactions so it’s better to be safe than sorry! Secondly, it’s important that you dilute the bleach to avoid discolouration of your white sneakers. Typically, 1 part bleach to 6 parts water is advised when cleaning white canvas shoes. After you’ve made up the bleach solution, follow the steps below: 

  1. Pour a small amount of the solution over the stain and allow it to soak for a few minutes.
  2. Dip a clean toothbrush into the cleaning solution, place one hand in the shoe to support the underside of the material, and brush the stain in circular motions.
  3. Repeat the steps for stubborn stains and rinse off.

You can also use liquid white shoe polish to cover up stains that are too old or stubborn to remove.

Coloured Canvas Shoes

Getting stains out from a pair of coloured canvas shoes can be achieved with a fabric stain remover that does not contain bleach. It’s advisable to steer clear of this chemical when cleaning any coloured material as it could lighten the colour altogether. Most stain removers will have directions written on the label; however, if there aren’t any on the one you are using, follow the simple steps below to remove stains from coloured canvas shoes: 

  1. Apply the product over and around the stain; allow it to work on the canvas for 2-3 minutes.
  2. Take a clean white towel and dab or gently wipe over the stain to transfer it onto the towel; it’s advisable to wrap the towel around one finger when wiping to avoid dragging the stain around. 
  3. After the stain has been lifted or removed, hold the area over running water to rinse off the cleaner.

Step Five: Dry Your Canvas Sneakers Correctly

Considering the fact that you can’t wring your sneakers like you can a towel, soaked canvas will take a while to dry up completely. Depending on the weather and humidity on the day itself, canvas sneakers will usually dry up overnight if kept under a fan. During the damp climate, on the other hand, it may take two or three days. 

Here are a few ways to speed up the drying process: 

  • Blow-dry the sneakers for 10-15 minutes and leave them to air-dry; hold the appliance at least 1 ½ feet away from the shoe, and avoid exposing the material to very high heat
  • Keep white shoes in a clean and sunny area to dry; for coloured canvas sneakers, choose a shady spot
  • Place the sneakers on a window sill which usually gets a good amount of cross ventilation
  • Face a pedestal fan towards the sneakers and run it on the highest speed
  • Use a dry towel to absorb as much moisture from the canvas before air-drying
  • Stuff the sneakers with paper towels; replace them when soaked 

When your canvas sneakers are dry, replace the laces (and insoles if removed) and you’ll have a pair of clean shoes that smell great and look as good as new!

Karen Saunders


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here