So, you have discovered the perfect pair of shoes in a rummage sale or thrift store, and you are eager to flash them to your friends. Wait. Don’t wear them just yet. Buying used shoes is a gamble. You never know what else you purchase along with the shoes, no matter how fab the design. Considering that someone else’s feet have been in them, you may as well be inheriting athlete’s foot or BacteriaLand. The same could also apply when you share your shoes with a friend or family member. As long as the feet sweat inside the shoes, the risk is there. So, how can you disinfect your shoes before you start walking around in style? With a little bit of TLC and these tips!
1. Take Them out in the Sun
One of the best things you can do is just stick them out in the sun for 2-3 hours (the longer, the better, though). Sunlight is considered to be a great natural disinfectant so you would be good to go after a few hours of shoe-baking in the sun! This means that if you have bought your shoes at a yard sale on a hot summer day, chances are they are already sanitized by the time you get your hands on them!
However, if you want to take it a step further, there are other things you can also do to make sure your new (used) shoes are in a cleanliness state that makes you feel super comfortable to wear them.
2. Wash Them
First, remove the insoles and toss the shoes in the washing machine in the gentle cycle (if they are machine-washable) or hand-wash them if delicate (i.e. leather or suede). If you wash them in the washing machine, use warm water and a strong detergent, making sure you remove the shoe laces. Then let them air-dry rather than using the dryer for that purpose. However, there are shoes that you can toss in the washing machine and clean with a disinfectant cleaner. No matter how you clean them, always apply anti-bacterial spray after the shoes are dry.
In the second case, prepare a mixture of warm water and liquid laundry detergent in a small bowl. Soak a sponge (or a rag) in the mixture and scrub away visible stains and dirt. Wipe the shoes down with a fresh rag and rinse. Lay them on a towel or near a window and let them air-dry. For suede shoes, you must be extra careful. Clean the suede with a soft bristled brush or a rag, in downward strokes. This will help lift stains easier. If you don’t feel comfortable washing them yourself, you can always ask for a professional cleaner’s help.
Tip: When you are done scrubbing, rinse the insoles off with warm water. If this is not enough to remove the nasty smell, then sprinkle some baking soda in a plastic bag (2-3 tablespoons per shoe) and put the shoes in. Shake well so that the baking soda spreads evenly, and leave overnight. The next morning, pour any excess baking soda out of the shoes and wear. Or you could soak them in a mixture of water and vinegar for a couple of hours, then wash with soap (to get rid of the vinegar’s scent) and rinse.
3. Use Chemicals
There are three ways to disinfect your shoes using chemicals. You can apply rubbing alcohol, bleach or antibacterial spray (or even a combination of all three).
Bacteria and germs can be destroyed if you soak your sneakers in rubbing alcohol. If your shoes are made of a more sensitive fabric/material, then use a rag to scrub them down gently with rubbing alcohol. Your may also pour a cup of rubbing alcohol onto the shoes and place them in direct sunlight for a couple of hours to dry the alcohol.
Bleach, on the other hand, is an excellent option to disinfect the inside of the shoes and kill fungus and germs, providing you don’t spray any of it on the outside (bleach will stain or discolor the shoes). For that reason, you will need a small spray bottle so you can direct the product only to the inside of the shoes. Mix one cup water with ¼ cup bleach, spray, and allow the shoes to dry completely.
Finally, there are some great antibacterial/antifungal sprays that can sanitize shoes and eliminate odors and fungus (i.e. athlete’s foot), such as Clorox, and also disinfect their inside. Spray the shoes and let them dry completely. Then you are good to go. It should be noted, though, that antibacterial sprays usually disinfect surfaces that are not porous.
Additional Tips & Warnings:
1. Some chemicals may change the material they are applied onto. So, always check the label on the shoes before you use any chemical.
2. If you come across used shoes that have a strong odor, it’s best to stay away and choose another pair.
3. Only use one chemical when disinfecting your shoes. Mixing more than one could cause unwanted reactions and damage the shoes (even cause respiratory problems). If you want to apply two chemicals, make sure the shoes are completely dry after using the first chemical before you apply the other.
4. To deodorize your shoes and get the stubborn odor out of them, add a bit of vinegar in the soapy water mixture you wash them with (see above). Once you are done washing them, rub them down with white vinegar (use a rag). Don’t be discouraged if you can still smell vinegar. That smell will fade soon.
5. To give your shoes a nice fresh feel and scent, dryer sheets are the ideal product to use. Out 2 sheets in each shoe and forget your smelly used shoes for a few days. Then remove the sheets and put on your shoes. This method is very effective on dress shoes that you cannot just soak in vinegar. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t use it in every other type of shoes!