Little black dresses, good pairs of jeans, and leather jackets are some of the pieces often hailed as timeless heroes in fashion, and though perhaps not always as celebrated in the upper echelons of the industry, so too is the humble white sneaker. The sneaker game and rise of streetwear as high fashion have elevated the simple shoe to icon status. And though sneakerheads on social media have popularized the upkeep of leather and synthetic textile shoes, canvas white sneakers pose a whole different set of care instructions. Knowing how to clean white canvas shoes properly ensures that they last as long as possible — either kept in your closet for special occasions or until you’ve worn them so much the soles are falling apart.
Not only have white sneakers transcended generations and trends in all of their different forms — the dad sneaker, the skate shoe, the high-top, the platform, the basketball shoe, the lace-up deck sneaker, the slip-on, the running shoe, and so on — they are a common thread in all tiers of style. They can be found on city streets as functional casual wear, as well as at fashion weeks and film festivals, red carpets, and even the Met Gala. Canvas is the most utilitarian textile when it comes to white sneakers. Think: Converse, Vans, Superga, Keds, and Feiyue. They tend to be more affordable — although there are plenty of luxury iterations, too (Maison Kitsuné, The Row, Saint Laurent, Acne Studios, to name a few) — as well as long-lasting and sturdy.
Like a dependable canvas tote bag, white canvas sneakers will last through some wear and tear. “The thing about canvas is that it’s meant to get beat up,” Zachary Pozniak, the vice president of operations at Jeeves New York and the face of the dry cleaner’s viral TikTok account, explains to TZR. “It’s a shame that sneakers are almost always white, so it’s always going to get dirty, but they're meant to take a beating, which is kind of nice.”
At the same time, though, they can be a pain to keep clean and looking fresh simply because of the makeup of the material. “Canvas is typically made from tightly woven cotton,” Jason Mark Angsuvarn, the founder and original sneaker care technician of Jason Markk, a premium shoe care company, tells TZR. “Although it's a durable material, canvas unfortunately tends to hold onto embedded dirt and stains. It can be one of the tougher materials to clean, but the key is to treat stains as soon as possible.”
Below, expert tips, tricks, and care instructions for cleaning white canvas shoes to make sure your kicks stay fresh and vibrant for as long as you keep putting them on.
How To Maintain White Canvas Sneakers
Though it is inevitable that your white canvas sneakers will look less clean over time, lest you keep them on the shoe rack forever, there are some preventative measures you can take to slow down the aging and dirtying process.
When it comes to taking care of white sneakers, Angsuvarn recommends investing in a solution that will protect against stains — such as Jason Markk’s premium water and stain repellant Repel — and spraying a couple coats on a fresh pair of canvas shoes before you wear them for the first time. “The best advice I can give you is to be proactive and apply a quality stain repellent before wear,” Angsuvarn says. “This will protect your sneakers from accidental spills or if you find yourself caught in unexpected weather. White canvas is a magnet for dirt and stains, so your best bet is to protect them before wearing them out.”
If you’re really dedicated to keeping your kicks clean, he also suggests some small upkeep each time you take them off. “Another tip is to give your sneakers a quick dry brush with a soft bristle brush after every wear,” Angsuvarn says. “This will help keep top layer dirt and dust from accumulating.”
How To Clean White Canvas Shoes
There are a few different methods and a slew of tricks out there on the internet that will help clean up dirty white canvas sneakers. But for the sake of vetted expertise, here is how the pros recommend you go about it.
To begin, prepare your shoes by getting rid of any extra debris that may have accumulated on them. “Be sure to give the entire canvas upper a thorough dry brush with a soft bristle brush before applying any solution or water,” says Angsuvarn. “This will remove any top layer dust or dirt that would have otherwise seeped into the material when wet.”
Next, use a soft bristle brush with a cleaning solution and start scrubbing the entire surface, really working it into the shoes. The cleaning solution you use can be anything from one specifically designed for shoes or just a simple at-home cleaning spray. “Take any good stain spray remover (like Shout, OxiClean, or anything you have around the house), spray that in, and rub it in with some kind of cleaning brush — a gentle toothbrush always works,” Pozniak says. “With those kinds of stain cleaning solutions, a lot of them have enzymes in them, which take a while to start working, but they do an amazing job against food and liquid stains.”
After that, Angsuvarn says to rinse the upper of the shoe under running water, and repeat the scrubbing and rinsing process as needed. If you’re dealing with a deep stain or layers of grime, try to treat the stain as soon as possible. “The first step is to dampen a microfiber towel (or paper towel) with cold water and begin to blot the stain,” Angsuvarn explains. “Try to soak up as much of the stain as possible. Then give the shoe a deep clean using the process noted above.” Just note that acidic stains such as hot sauce, wine, or ketchup tend to be more difficult to remove.
Pozniak also recommends letting your shoes sit for a minimum of eight hours or even a whole day before rising them. Leaving the cleaning solution on to work its way into the fabric won’t harm it at all. You can also use hydrogen peroxide and dish soap for really tricky stains. Following that, you can wash your sneakers in the washing machine on cold with your favorite detergent if spot cleaning, soaking, and rising wasn’t enough.
One you’re done with the cleaning and rising process, it’s time for drying, which is a very essential step in making sure your shoes don’t get ruined. “Use a microfiber towel to dab and twist the material, soaking up as much liquid from the material [as possible], and allow it to air dry,” Angsuvarn says. “You can also use a hair blow dryer on low heat setting to speed up the drying process and to help avoid any water stains.”
Air drying or using very low heat is essential. One thing you should avoid, even if you’re tempted for the sake of ease, is throwing your damp sneakers into the dryer. “I would absolutely not tumble dry it — that’s going to likely crack or ruin the rubber soles,” Pozniak says. “It’s also definitely not super good for your dryer.”
Another thing you should avoid, according to Angsuvarn, is bleach. Although there are some differing opinions on this, he says that no matter how bright the bleach leaves your sneakers looking right after you wash them, the long-term outcome won’t be as nice. “Bleaching the canvas may produce positive results initially, but is likely to turn the canvas yellow with time,” he explains.
All in all, learning how to clean white canvas shoes the proper way is actually pretty simple. Whether you invest in professional shoe cleaning products or just reach for household items, you can easily keep your canvas kicks looking fresh and clean for all of your white sneaker fits to come.