If you’ve been wearing your shoes outside and they’re covered in mud and dirt, give them a rinse with cold water to remove some of the gunk before we move on.
Next, remove the insole insert. Odds are that this insert has absorbed a lot of smelly sweat, so let it air out and sprinkle some odor-absorbing baking soda on it.
You should remove the laces so that they won’t get caught on anything in the washing machine, but if you really must leave them in or are too lazy to take them out, make sure that you tie them. If you do remove the laces, put them in a mesh bag to stick into the washing machine, too.
Now it’s washing machine time! Toss your shoes into the washing machine with cold water and a non-abrasive cleaner like Woolite or any liquid detergent. Choose a gentle cycle. Those shoes are going to get tossed around in the washing machine, so to reduce their bouncing and maybe reduce some of the noise, you can throw a couple of towels in with the shoes. Don’t forget to put your mesh bag of laces, too, if you removed them earlier.
Once they’re out, resist all urges to put them in the dryer! The dryer, or any heat, is what can ruin your shoes. Leave them out to air dry, possibly in front of a fan if you want to speed up the process. You can also crumple up newspaper and put it inside the shoe: the newspaper will help the shoes to retain their shape as they dry and the absorbent newsprint will help the shoes to dry faster. Don’t leave them in the sun to dry – heat is really not good for wet shoes!
If you don’t have access to a washing machine or you want to be extra-gentle on your fancy performance shoes, you can hand wash them. Fill a sink part-way with a little liquid detergent in cool water and use it, along with a soft brush (a new vegetable brush or toothbrush will do the trick if you don’t have a proper shoe brush) to clean the inside and outside of the shoes. Rinse the shoes with cool water and allow to air dry.
If you need to kill bacteria or athlete’s foot, follow the washing machine instructions but use a little Pine Sol (or any pine oil cleaner with at least 80% pine oil) and warm water (the pine oil cleaners need warm water to be effective.) Pine oil cleaners are safe for shoes and clothing, but be careful with the water temperature and keep it just to warm, not hot.
Some people swear by cleaning shoes in the dishwasher, but this is risky. The heat and strong sprays will definitely clean your shoes, but it can also damage or fade them (especially leather ones.) Just avoid this.
So go clean your shoes. Your nose and anyone who comes in contact with your gym bag will thank you.