ORIGINAL POST: 05/02/22; UPDATED 12/29/22 by Jennifer Okafor, BSc

Thrift store shoe shopping is a great way to score a deal on a pair of vintage kicks that will go with everything in your closet. The only caveat is that you should clean your thrift store shoes before wearing them.  

Shoes from the thrift store may be infected with fungus or bacteria, especially if they are made of leather or suede. The good news is that used shoes purchased from thrift stores or online auctions can be easily disinfected to remove any odors or bacteria that may have been present.

In this piece, we'll go over various strategies for sanitizing and reconditioning secondhand footwear.  

The importance of disinfecting used shoes and why you should do it

Pile of thrifted shoes Shot by Jakob Owens and shared on Unsplash

Always keep in mind that the shoes you find at a thrift store have already been worn by someone else. They might be exposed to bacteria and viruses that you have no way of identifying. You can't assume that the soles of used shoes haven't harbored bacteria or fungus since the last owner wore them.  

In addition to being painful, these infections can be difficult to treat. It's better to be safe than sorry when it comes to avoiding bacterial or fungal infections. Protect your feet and eliminate foot odor by cleaning and disinfecting your shoes each time you wear them. If you want your shoes to last, you should clean them often.  

Don't let that dissuade you, though. When you buy used shoes, you prevent the waste of raw materials that would have been used to make brand new pairs. There will be plenty of others in your position; the secondhand sneakers market is worth over billion.

In a similar vein, if you're looking for some new eco-friendly footwear options, you can check out the brands on our list of the best sustainable footwear companies Check out our top picks for the best vegan running shoes and the best vegan skate shoes for some new, cruelty-free options.

The proper way to clean shoes from a secondhand store

If you're going to buy a pair of used shoes, you should clean them thoroughly before wearing them. Now, let's take a look at some methods for restoring the shine to thrift store kicks.  

Care for shoes with detachable insoles

Keep an eye on the inner soles of your shoes first. To wash them, you will need a bowl, hot water, dish soap or liquid detergent, and a toothbrush (ideally one with hard bristles).  

First, take out the insoles and soak them in a solution of soap and water for about five minutes to get started. After that, wash it under cold running water and squeeze out the soap residue. When you're done, take your brush and scrub away any remaining stains. Watch for problem spots in the toes and address them. Lastly, remove the insoles from the shoe and hang them to dry in a cool, dry place. You should wait until they are completely dry to put them back in your shoes.

Molds are something you want to stay away from if your insoles show signs of being heavily watermarked or printed.  

Cleaning shoes by hand because they're so fragile

It's recommended to hand wash shoes made of delicate materials like suede or leather. This is so that wear and tear, such as that caused by a washing machine, won't occur. Avoid using wet wipes to remove any remaining soap residue and instead use a dry paper towel.

Suede footwear

There's no way to clean suede shoes in a washing machine because of how fragile the material is. Simple wipe downs with a damp cloth and a bit of water are all that's required for cleaning. One can use a suede cleaning block to remove dirt and stains.  

Soapy warm water and a soft bristle brush used in downward strokes can remove stubborn stains from suede. Then, dump the soapy water and start working on the stain with just water. Finally, let it dry in the open air without using any additional heat.  

You shouldn't soak your suede shoes. Particularly if they are extremely dry. White vinegar and a damp cloth will remove salt stains if you have them. Use a conditioner and a brush with soft bristles to condition them, too.  

Genuine leather footwear

It doesn't take much water to clean leather shoes. To clean the laces separately (if necessary), simply take them out of the shoes. In addition, take out the insoles and clean them as described above.  

Put a few drops of liquid soap into some water, and use that to clean your leather shoes. Then, make a soap lather on the shoe by wiping it with a clean cloth or soft sponge. Wipe away any surplus moisture and dry in a warm location. Your leather shoes can then be conditioned with a leather conditioner once they have dried completely.  

In-machine cleaning of soiled footwear

Machine wash dirty used shoes Artist: nam mau

You can simply throw your canvas, fabric, white sneaker, running shoe, or mesh shoes into the washing machine. Shoes that are machine washable often come out looking brand new. It's recommended that you hand wash any shoes made of plastic, suede, or leather.  

Take off your laces and brush off any loose dirt before washing your shoes. The next step is to put them through a delicate cycle wash with detergent and warm water. You should air dry your shoes after washing them. Don't put shoes in the dryer. Simply stuffing them with shoe blocks or a ball of newspaper will help keep them from creasing.

Restoring used footwear to its original cleanliness

Used footwear poses health risks due to the accumulation of bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms. In order to eliminate any lingering fungus or bacteria, disinfecting shoes is a necessity. The following are some methods for sanitizing secondhand footwear.  

Alcohol for rubbing

Shoes can be disinfected with rubbing alcohol. One of the most potent cleaners, it works wonders on even the most delicate footwear. Get some rubbing alcohol and wet a rag. Finally, use the cloth to clean the inside and outside of each shoe. The insoles can also be infused with alcohol.  

Sneakers can be cleaned with an hour of rubbing alcohol soaking followed by air drying. To remove stubborn stains and disinfect the shoes, you can also add a few drops of tea tree oil.  

Insecticidal mist

Killing the fungus on your shoe is as simple as spraying it with disinfectant. To prevent the disinfectant spray from staining the outside of the shoe, spray it inside. It's important to differentiate between a disinfectant spray and a deodorizing shoe spray, which both aim to eliminate odors.  

White sneakers can be disinfected with bleach. Simply mix it with water in a spray bottle, and then use it to disinfect shoes or remove stains. To protect the shoe's color, never use bleach.  

Squirt-on antibacterial

Spraying the inside of your shoes with antibacterial spray is a good way to keep them clean. Cleaning supplies such as Clorox wipes and Lysol spray are great for disinfecting footwear. They're potent enough to eliminate germs and bad odors simultaneously. Insoles require extra care because they tend to harbor the most bacteria. When finished, hang it up to dry or, for a quicker option, pat it dry with a clean towel.

Wear socks

Keeping your feet free from fungi is as easy as wearing clean socks. Do not put on wet socks. Consider switching to socks that can absorb sweat instead. Socks made of man-made fibers, such as bamboo or hemp, are also wonderful alternatives. The dyes used in some socks may contain chemicals that cause odor and moisture retention. Wearing white socks may help you avoid this. To sum up, you need moisture-wicking socks.  

UV light 

Fungi are easily killed by ultraviolet light. The tool is useful for detecting fungi even in newly smelling shoes. The tool is effective against fungi and will also stop them from multiplying. Putting the shoes in the UV light and turning it on is all that's required. Only after a brief delay will sanitation be performed. Keep your eyes away from the UV light while using the device.  

Vinegar made from apples

The sugar in apples is fermented to create this. Several eco-friendly personal care products, including shampoo, use apple cider vinegar as an ingredient. It's also possible to use them as effective disinfectants for your used footwear by spraying the insides of the shoes with the solution.  

Sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda

Used shoe insoles can sometimes have an unpleasant odor due to the accumulation of sweat, dead skin, and bacteria. To eliminate unpleasant odors from used shoes, baking soda can be an effective deodorizer. Place the insoles in a plastic bag and sprinkle baking soda over them. Put it outside to dry for the night. In addition to baking soda, you can use a disinfectant.  

Lint rollers

Dryer sheets can be used to mask unpleasant odors in used shoes if they are left inside for a few days. When you're ready to put on your clothes, you can take off the sheets. For dress shoes, which shouldn't be submerged in disinfectants, dryer sheets are the best option. A second option is to have a professional cleaner handle them.  

Most people don't think about it, but when you go outside in public, you're exposing your shoes to all sorts of gross stuff, including dirt, bacteria, and even viruses, which you can then bring back into your house. Ensure that the soles of your shoes are clean and free of germs before bringing them inside.

Take them off in the fresh air and wash them with a cloth, some soap (better yet, laundry detergent), and warm water to get rid of any dirt or debris. When you're done washing it, put it outside to dry.

Then, use a disinfectant spray and a clean cloth to wipe down the area. Soles can be disinfected with a bleach spray or hydrogen peroxide. You should let them air dry for a few minutes after disinfecting them before bringing them inside.  

Cleaning and sanitizing worn footwear: the dos and don'ts

When deciding how to best sterilize shoes purchased from secondhand stores, keep the following in mind:

  • Don't scrub the used shoes' soles too hard when cleaning or disinfecting them. This is done to protect the surface from scuffs and tears.  
  • Suede, leather, and plastic shoes cannot be washed in a machine.  
  • Shoes that have been worn should be cleaned thoroughly before being washed in a machine to prevent lint buildup.
  • To keep your colored shoes from fading, you should never use bleach or hydrogen peroxide on them.
  • Never put on shoes if your socks are wet.  
  • Use caution when donning previously worn footwear without socks.  

It's important to take a few things into account before visiting a thrift shop in search of affordable, gently-used footwear. There are a few things to keep in mind while searching for pre-owned footwear.  

Have a plan

Keep a pair of socks in your purse while you shop for secondhand shoes. In two ways To begin, if you want to make sure the shoes are a good fit, you should try them on while wearing socks. If you don't try on socks with the shoes you're considering purchasing, the shoes might not be a good fit. Second, when trying on shoes, wearing socks will prevent your feet from coming into direct contact with any potential germs.  

Bottom-up vigor

You should then examine the sole of the shoes you plan to buy. Make sure they're neat and not too beat up. Whether you're shopping for sneakers or flats, it's important to make sure the soles aren't too worn down. Make sure there is no imprint of your foot on the inner sole. In conclusion, secondhand shoes are a good option.   

Verify that the shoes are of high quality and a good fit.

Carefully examine the used footwear you intend to purchase. Make sure they are of high quality and in good condition. Make sure the shoes are the right size for both of your feet. Shoes made of leather or suede are more likely to conform to the wearer's feet over time. You should check that the used footwear doesn't have a foul odor and isn't completely worn out.  

Consensus and Remarks

There are a number of advantages to buying used shoes. You can buy shoes at a discount and still get a unique style that's hard to find in stores. They benefit the planet in other ways as well. But before putting them on your feet, you should give those old pairs of kicks a good scrub and disinfect them. The above advice should help you clean your shoes to a satisfactory degree so that you can put them back into service immediately.  

Pin Me:

Pin Image Portrait How to Clean Thrifted Shoes