Note: Durability Matters is reader-supported. When you buy through affiliate links on our website, we’ll make a small commission, without impacting your price. Thank you. Learn more.
I thought buying white Nike Air Force 1s was the coolest thing ever. Truth is, buying them was a dream come true, and wearing them was really cool. Keeping them white, though? That was almost mission impossible.
I say ‘almost’ impossible because I figured out how. Thanks to my tenacity and determination to restore my dirty Air Force 1s to their former sparkly selves, I can now share with you several ways to get them clean and keep them clean.
Air Force 1s are made from rubber, leather, and textile. So careful consideration must be taken when determining what cleaning methods and detergents can be used.
I figured if my Air Force 1s got dirty, others would too. And if other people, like me, prefer shoes that look as good as new, then this guide to keeping Air Force 1s clean is sure to help! Before we get started with the detailed guide, I want to share three top tips:
- Remove shoelaces before washing.
- Regular spot cleaning will prevent your shoes from becoming stained.
- Don’t use hot water.
Cleaning Nike Air Force 1s
This article will detail five ways you can clean your Air Force 1s:
- Machine wash
- Hand wash
- Spot clean
- Stain removal
- Odor removal
1. Machine Wash
Step 1: Remove the laces.
Step 2: Insert a shoe tree into each shoe. For machine washing, I would recommend plastic shoe trees. Shoe trees will prevent your shoes from becoming misshapen and creased during the washing and drying process.
Step 3: Put your shoes in a laundry bag along with the laces. The laundry bag will protect the shoes from getting snagged. It will also prevent the laces from going missing. If you think putting your shoelaces in the laundry bag is overkill, answer this question—where did all those missing socks go?
Step 4: Add some detergent and select a delicate cold-water wash cycle. Put an old towel or two in the machine to prevent the shoes from being thumped around too much.
Step 5: Take the shoes out of the washing machine as soon as they are done to prevent them from getting moldy or smelly.
Step 6: Leave the shoe trees in your shoes so that they dry in shape. Put them in a light, airy place to dry. Do not use a tumble drier (although, there are ways to safely dry your shoes in the dryer), hairdryer, or heater to dry your shoes. If you leave your shoes outdoors to dry, make sure they are not in direct sunlight. If you leave them inside, make sure the area is well ventilated. If there is no ventilation, use a fan, but not a heater fan.
Machine Washing Tips:
- Don’t machine wash your shoes too often, as the leather and fabric will wear out the more you wash them.
- Examine the soles before you wash them. If they appear to be pulling loose, don’t use the machine.
- You can wash more than one pair of shoes at a time. Put each pair of shoes in their own laundry bag with their matching laces. As with laundry, don’t wash dyed shoes with white shoes.
2. Hand Wash
Step 1: Remove the laces.
Step 2: Insert a shoe tree into each shoe. For hand washing, you can use wood or plastic shoe trees. Shoe trees will help keep your shoes in shape and give you something hard to press against while you scrub.
Shoe tree insight: Some people say you can use newspaper instead of a shoe tree. I wouldn’t recommend it. If the newspaper gets wet (which it undoubtedly will), it will become soggy and useless at keeping your shoe in shape. Not to mention the risk of newspaper ink staining your shoes! Before you consider newspaper, I’d recommend you use your other hand. Just tuck your hand inside your shoe and press against the brush or cloth while you’re scrubbing.
Step 3: Fill a bowl with water. Add some sneaker cleaner and mix to dilute. If you don’t have a sneaker cleaner, you can use mild laundry detergent. I would recommend one teaspoon of detergent per two cups of water, but this isn’t a science experiment, so a little more or a little less won’t do any harm.
Outsole insight: Unless you want to change your soapy water after you’ve washed each shoe, I would recommend that you wash the outsoles last because they are the dirtiest part of the shoe.
Step 4: Dip a soft brush in the cleaning solution and scrub your shoes one little square at a time. A shoe brush, scrub brush, or old toothbrush will do the trick. Using this method, you can clean the entire shoe, including the heel, tongue, and midsole. Use the bristles to scrub between the sole and the shoe as well. Working this way, it won’t be necessary for you to dip your shoes into the detergent.
I would actually advise against dipping your shoes into the detergent because they will get soaking wet, and it will take very much longer for them to get dry.
Step 5: If stubborn marks don’t come off with a soft brush, try a medium brush, but we will talk more about stain removal in Point 4.
Step 6: Once you have washed everywhere, use a damp microfiber cloth to absorb the soapy water. Rinse the cloth often and squeeze out all excess water. Repeat this until your shoes are clean, or move on to Point 4 if they are stained.
Step 7: Put your shoes in a light, airy place to dry. You can leave the shoe trees in while your shoes dry. During the drying process, if you don’t have shoe trees, you could roll a small towel and prop that inside the shoes. If you put your shoes outdoors to dry, be sure they are not in direct sunlight. If you leave them inside, make sure the area is well ventilated. If there is no ventilation, use a fan, but not a heater fan. Never use a tumble drier, hairdryer, or heater to dry your shoes.
Check out the video below for a detailed hand washing procedure:
3. Spot Clean
The best type of cleaning is spot cleaning because it means your entire shoe is not getting wet. If you spot clean after every wear, you will find the necessity for deep cleaning will be diminished, prolonging the life of your shoes.
You don’t have to remove the laces every time you spot clean, only when the laces themselves require cleaning. Refer to our paragraph below that details the best way to wash shoelaces.
Step 1: Insert a shoe tree.
Step 2: Using a damp microfiber cloth, wipe all visible dirt, including the midsole. If a dirty mark remains, mix a bit of detergent with water and, dipping a soft brush in the soapy mix, try to remove the mark by gently scrubbing the affected area only. Use the microfiber cloth to soak up the soapy solution. Repeat until it’s clean.
Step 3: Shoes should be left to dry properly, even after a spot clean. That is what it’s best to clean the shoes immediately after you wear them and not just before you need to wear them again.
4. Stain Removal
If you discover a tough stain that didn’t come clean after completing the regular washing instructions in Points 1 and 2, you can try the following stain removal ideas.
- Use a medium to hard bristled brush with the soapy solution.
- If you have white Air Force 1s, you could try using a Magic Eraser instead of a brush if you prefer.
- Using a cloth, you could apply a small amount of neat detergent directly to the stain. Allow the detergent to sit awhile and lift the stain.
- Scuff marks can be removed using a microfiber cloth. Wrap the cloth around your index finger, dip it into the cleaning solution and rub scuff marks. You may need to push a little harder and really persist. Unfortunately, if it is not a scuff mark but a scratch, and an interior layer of leather is exposed, you will not be able to remove the mark, and too much rubbing or scrubbing could actually make it worse.
- Tough stains can be removed using white non-gel toothpaste. Place a small blob of toothpaste over the stain. Rub it into the fabric using your finger. Remove the stain by rubbing the spot with an old wet toothbrush. Wipe the toothpaste off with a damp cloth.
- You can mix baking soda with white toothpaste if you encounter a really stubborn stain.
- Lighter fluid can be used to remove chewing gum or paint from the sole. I would recommend that you wear rubber gloves while working with lighter fluid.
First, use a toothpick to scrape off as much of the gum or paint as you can.
Next, using a clean towel dipped in lighter fluid, scrub the remaining gum or paint from the sole. Once the gum or paint is gone, rinse the sole under fresh cold water and allow the shoes to dry.
Warning: Only use lighter fluid on white shoes.
5. Odor Removal
To prevent your Air Force 1s from getting smelly in the first place, practice healthy foot care. Wearing socks, even secret socks, will help. When you are not wearing your shoes, store them in an airy place. Cedarwood tree shoes are a great shoe closet accessory as they absorb excess moisture and deodorize your shoes at the same time.
If you notice your shoes are getting a bit smelly, you can store them in an airtight container with a bowl of baking soda or clean cat litter for 24 hours. Both these substances absorb odors.
If they are really smelly, fill the inside of your shoes with baking soda or clean cat litter. After 24 hours, follow our machine-washing guide in Point 1.
The Best Way to Wash Shoelaces
If you are not using a washing machine to wash your shoes and laces, you could soak your shoelaces in the soapy water you use to wash your shoes. I wouldn’t recommend this if your shoes are really dirty and your laces are white. They may become stained while soaking in the murky water.
I use a squirt of liquid detergent and wash my laces the same way I wash the palms of my hands—rubbing my palms together with one lace between them. When they are clean, I simply rinse them with fresh water and hang them up to dry.
You can soak white laces in bleach and detergent if they are badly stained. If you don’t like using bleach, you can use a solution of water and white vinegar.
Additional Air Force 1 Cleaning Tips
Well-worn Air Force 1s may develop yellow stains as they get older. These stains can be treated with baking soda and vinegar paste. Have you ever wondered why baking soda and vinegar work well as a cleaning agent? When the two are mixed, the acid breaks down the soda, releasing carbon dioxide gas that can help lift dirt from the surface. Not only is this combination ideal for a deep clean, but it also works for odor removal. Mix one part baking soda, one part white vinegar, and one part water to form a paste.
Using a soft-bristled brush, rub the paste onto your shoes using small circular movements. Let the paste sit on the shoes for about five minutes. The paste could become flaky and dry, making it easy to brush or wipe off.
Lemon juice works similarly to the baking soda and vinegar solution, also taking care of stains and odors simultaneously. After using this treatment on your shoes, they should have a fresh white appearance.
How do I reduce shoe odor?
The best way to prevent smelly shoes is to leave them to air or store them in an airy place. Cedarwood shoe trees absorb excess moisture and freshen shoes. If the shoes are smelly, you can use baking soda or clean cat litter to absorb odors.
Can you put Air Force 1s in the washing machine?
Ideally, no. The rigors of machine washing will take their toll if done too often. If you choose to machine wash your shoes, insert shoe trees, and put them in a laundry bag. Wash on a delicate cycle with an old towel to prevent the shoes from banging against the side of the machine.
Can I put Air Force Ones in the dryer?
No. The heat will damage them. Ideally, keep your Air Force 1s away from all direct heat sources, including hairdryers, heaters, and even direct sunlight.
Why do Air Force 1s turn yellow?
Over time, colors fade, and whites turn yellow. One way to prevent your white shoes from turning yellow prematurely is to spot clean them after every wear and deep clean them when necessary so that they don’t stain.
How can I stop my Air Force 1s from creasing?
Wearing shoes will cause them to crease. However, you can prevent unnecessary creasing by inserting a shoe tree while you’re not wearing your shoes. Don’t leave your Air Force 1s lying around where they will get trodden on, and don’t pack other shoes on top of them.