A good pair of shoes or boots is a lot like an investment that pays back huge dividends; they keep your feet free from pain, they give you plenty of support, and they keep your feet and lower legs healthy. But like any investment, they have to be taken care of the right way.

And unfortunately, for a lot of people, that just means tossing them in the washing machine with regular laundry detergent, if they even clean them at all. With that in mind, we thought we’d put together this nifty shoe and boot care guide so you can be sure you’re taking care of your shoes – and, by extension, your feet and body – the right way.

How to Take Care of Leather Footwear

As we’ve mentioned over in our Boot Buying Guide, there are several different types of leather – full grain, nubuck and suede – and they’re all a little different in terms of how rugged they are. But for the most part, you can clean them all the same way.

First and foremost, though, you should never put your leather footwear in the washing machine, unless they’re already pretty beat up and you don’t care how they end up looking afterwards (but if they’re already beat up, it’s probably time to replace them, no?).

To clean your leather footwear, follow these simple tips:

  • Start with a brush. Brushing your shoes or boots to remove dirt should be done anytime you notice an accumulation of dirt.
  • Use soap and water when needed. Use a brush with lukewarm soap and water to clean the outside if they are particularly muddy or dirty. You can also purchase Leather Cleaners, which may suit your shoes better than soap and water. 
  • Let them air dry completely. Let the shoes or boots air dry completely at room temperature before wearing again. This may take 24 hours or more – don’t be tempted to wear them while they are still damp. Wet leather, when placed near a heat source like a radiator, heating vent or fireplace, can become brittle and shrink, resulting in cracks and other damage.

How to Take Care of Shoes Made of Mesh or Synthetic Materials

Cleaning shoes made of mesh or synthetic materials isn’t going to be that much different from cleaning leather shoes or boots. The big debate here is whether or not you can machine wash them. If you search around on the internet, you’ll find that plenty of sites will tell you that it’s fine to machine wash your shoes, and just as many will tell you not to.

Like leather footwear, we do not recommend machine washing mesh or synthetic shoes, and here’s why:

  • Synthetic materials aren’t quite as durable as leather, and they can take a beating in the washing machine. This can cause damage that compromises the shoe's integrity, longevity and ability to support the foot.
  • Warm water from a washing machine can damage the glues used to hold parts of the midsole and outsole together.

With that said, you may still want to machine wash your shoes. And if you must, we recommend doing it on the gentlest cycle with cold water and a mild detergent.

Otherwise, follow the steps above for cleaning leather shoes.

But What if My Shoes Stink?

It happens, we get it.

While there are many products you can purchase at your local pharmacy or big box store that are made for knocking down shoe odor and most of them will work just fine. Just a quick word of caution though: if you decide to use a pair of shoe inserts that fight odor, just understand that they are made only to fight odor and not to provide support or any physical benefit to your feet. If you add the odor inserts on top of your regular orthotic shoe inserts, they can decrease their effectiveness or make your shoes uncomfortable.

Our recommendation is that you take steps to keep shoe odor from appearing in the first place:

  • Always let your shoes dry completely before wearing them again. Sometimes you get caught in the rain or accidentally step into a puddle. If that’s the case, let your shoes air dry completely before wearing them again. Odor-causing bacteria love moist, dark places, and wearing damp shoes is begging for odor. Breathable materials, like those found in the Apex Women's Fitlite Collection and Men's Fitlite Collection, tend to carry moisture for less time.
  • If you can, alternate between the shoes you wear each day. Even if you don’t step into a puddle, your feet still sweat during the day and that invites odor-causing bacteria. If you can, try to wear a different pair of shoes each day to give your shoes some time to air dry. 
  • Always wear socks. Socks absorb a lot of the sweat our feet produce and they’re the first line of defense in protecting our shoes from odor. Check out Copper Cloud Socks for a good pair of odor-fighting, moisture-wicking, antibacterial socks.

Cleaning Them Not Cutting It?

If you’ve cleaned your shoes or boots following the steps above and they still look pretty rough around the edges, it may be time to for a new pair of shoes. Shoes usually only last about a year, or 300-400 miles, so if your shoes are that old, or have traveled that kind of distance, then cleaning them isn’t going to make them look (or feel) brand new.

Our suggestion? Get a brand new pair of shoes!

Shop our Most Popular styles, designed for healthy foot functions and superior comfort today!