How to Clean Your Sandals

Authored by Adam Sherman

When the days start to get warmer you are likely to find yourself spending much more time in your sandals. Considering the wide variety of sandals available, all designed for different uses and purposes, there are endless chances of getting them dirty. While outdoor hiking sandals and athletic sandals are built to be appropriate for all terrains, regular use is bound to leave them dirty and smelly.

While the best way to clean your sandals depends largely upon the material they’re made of, there are various quick and easy ways for you to maintain their quality. Because I wear my sandals on a daily basis, I need to make sure I keep them in tip top shape. If I let them stay dirty and don't take care of them, they'll fall apart much faster. Today we’ll be focusing on two of the most common materials used in sandals- leather and rubber. Here are a few of the best methods you can use to properly clean your sandals.

Removing Dirt and Grime from Sandals

The first step in making your sandals look as good as new is the same regardless of material type- removal of loose dirt and grime. If you’ve spent many summer days on the hiking trail, for example, it’s quite likely that there will be a significant amount of dirt or mud built up. I don't consider it a successful trek unless my shoes and feet are caked in dirt, and I really believe that the dirtier my sandals are, the better. Because I love to hike with this mantra, it's important for me to take care of my sandals post-hike just like I take care of my muscles and body. Shoes need treatment just like your hair and nails.

Luckily, cleaning your shoes is easy. It only takes me a few minutes, and I actually love washing my sandals after I finish a big hike. I get to see just how much mud I've collected! You will find this first step to be easiest with the use of a bristled brush. Take your sandals outside and get rid of the larger bits of loose grime with the brush. Make sure to scrub both the top and bottom of the sandal and every space in between.


The more dirt you are able to remove in this first step, the easier time you’ll have later in the process. With all this being said, make sure not to scrub too hard as leather can be scratched easily.

Cleaning Leather Sandals

Taking Care of Leather Discoloration

Leather is one of the most durable, long-lasting materials used in a high-quality sandal. Unfortunately, when your leather sandals get dirty, they also tend to show dirt and water stains very easily which can make them lose their appeal. You don't walk around with stained clothes, so why would you walk around with dirty shoes? I always make sure my shoes, and clothes, are stain free before leaving the house.


Leather sandals can be a tricky case as leather can’t simply be thrown in the wash. Leather and water simply don’t mix and you can all but destroy your sandals if you aren’t careful. So how do you keep your leather sandals clean while avoiding unnecessary damage?

Because leather tends to show spots of discoloration from contact with water, your sandals may have areas that look diminished in quality without necessarily being “dirty”. If you have identified spots like this on your leather sandals, you will have to use a specific cleaning method.


For the best results, you can use equal amounts water and vinegar on discolored spots as a cleaning solution for these spots. Simply dab these areas with the solution to reduce discoloration. But be careful- too much and you stand the risk of saturating the leather and causing even bigger problems.

Removing the Stains on Your Leather Sandals

Now it’s time to really do a deep cleaning on the dirtier areas of your leather sandals. Depending on the types of environments you’ve worn your leather sandals in, there could be anything from mud to unsightly liquid stains to remove. It is important to consider which type of stain you will be dealing with in the cleaning process before you begin.

For smaller stains, you can use liquid or dish soap for the cleaning but should absolutely avoid using bar soap as it’s high levels of PH can dry out the leather. If you’re dealing with a larger stain, you’ll want to stick with a cleaning solution more specialized towards leather material- leather conditioner. You can easily find leather conditioner at your local shoe store and with a little elbow grease, you can have your leather sandals looking as good as new in no time.

Here's a good video on how to remove stains on natural leather:


Make sure you let your sandals dry completely after the cleaning. If you clean your leather sandals and then immediately put them back on, any remaining wet spots will be a magnet for more dirt and debris to stick to. Instead, give your sandals time to dry by letting them sit in the sun (but not the direct sun as this can cause the leather to crack).

Maintaining Your Leather Sandals

Your leather sandals are clean now but you will have to repeat the process again when the dirt begins to build up. This doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t take preventative measures to reduce the chance of too much grime and stain build up!


You can purchase a leather preventative in the form of a spray that can be applied to your sandals to make them more resistant to stain and water damage. It is important to protect the sole of your leather sandals in this process as a leather preventative could tarnish this material. You can do this by stuffing your sandal with a covering such as newspaper before spraying.

Cleaning Rubber Or Synthetic Sandals

Rubber and synthetic sandals are much easier to clean and maintain than leather sandals and minimal effort is required. Synthetic material can be exposed to water, for example. In fact, that’s why they are used in many water-resistant shoes such as water shoes. The cleaning process is as easy as using a washing machine and rubbing alcohol. If I ever feel lazy about cleaning my rubber or synthetic sandals, I try to remind myself just how easy the process is. A little bit of effort goes a long way. If you can manage to go to the store to buy laundry detergent, then you can clean your shoes! Cleaning footwear is as easy as stepping into the shower or doing laundry.


Start by setting your washing machine on the delicate cycle. Although it’s easy to wash rubber shoes via your washing machine, you should still take not to cause any damage to the structural makeup of the sandal. You should also avoid putting sandals in the washing machine that have extra pieces like beads as these are likely to be removed in the process. It's always better to rinse your shoes with your hands. Besides, I love getting my hands dirty just as much as I love getting my feet dirty!


For the best results, use a cold water cycle, a regular amount of detergent as with any load of laundry, and ¼ of a cup of distilled white vinegar. The white vinegar will perform as an effective odor-reducing solution. You can then run the washing machine as you usually would and should have clean sandals in no time. Don't worry about keeping the sandals clean during the trek, just make sure you clean them once the trek is finished.

Cleaning Your Rubber Sandal’s Footbed

The footbed of your rubber sandals are a breeding ground for bacteria and is also a space especially prone to debris build up.

With a cotton-ball, take some rubbing alcohol and use it to wipe down the footbed of your rubber sandal. This will kill germs and act as a secondary defense against smelly odors. This will also make it easy to get rid of stains and dirt.

To get rid of any leftover residue from the rubbing alcohol, you should then wipe the footbed down with a clean, damp (not soaking wet). You should then try to keep to a schedule of repeating this process every few weeks to maintain cleanliness.

Just like we discussed in the drying process of leather sandals, it is best to let your rubber sandals dry in sunlight but not direct sunlight. Rubber sandals can also be damaged if left out in direct sunlight.

Tips to Maintaining Your Sandals

While we have already briefly addressed some of the preventative measures you can use to maintain your leather sandals, there are a few different ways you can use to keep your sandals fresh no matter the material. While these tips focus specifically on odor prevention, a smelly sandal is a common and unpleasant experience for you as well as those around you.

When your sandals start to get smelly, don’t choose to simply throw them away and purchase a new pair. It's wasteful! Durable sandals are meant to last and with these preventative measures, you can ensure the longest term of use out of you favorite pair of sandals. Besides, I love wearing my sandals and knowing just how many adventures they've been on with me. It's the little details that matter!

Give Your Sandals Time to Dry Between Uses

The summer time can take a toll on any sandal. From sweat to rain to mud, there are a lot of outside influences that can lessen the quality of even the most durable sandal over a length of time. Opt to allow your sandals time to dry out when they are water-soaked before wearing them again. This will reduce bacteria build up and mildew- big causes of that smelly odor. If you take these preventative steps, then you won't have to deal with fixing the problem.


Use Baby Powder on Your Sandal’s Footbed

Baby powder is a great way of absorbing present moisture and reducing odors as well. You can sprinkle a conservative amount of baby powder on the footbed of your sandals as an additional way to help your sandals dry once wet. Upon your next time wearing them, simply dump out the powder.

Reduce Odor With A Foot Scrub

A less common but effective method of reducing present odors in your favorite pair of sandals is scrubbing your feet regularly before putting them on. Get into the habit of scrubbing off excess dead skin each time you bathe. If you can do this a few times per week, you will significantly reduce the build up of dead skin in your sandals that can actually increase odor. This is one of my favorite things to do at the end of a long work day or hike, especially when I've been on my feet all day. It's important to be kind to your feet, since they do all the work.

Pumice stones can be a great way to remove dead and callused skin from your foot. Check out this short guide on using pumice stones from a certified podiatrist (foot doctor):

The Importance of Cleanliness When it Comes to Sandals

We hope that these tips on how to properly clean your sandals have been helpful. We all have a favorite pair of sandals and sometimes our love for them can lead to uncleanliness. From unsightly dirt and water stains to foul odors, it’s important to take the steps to maintain cleanliness in your sandals. Even the most durable, high-quality, comfortable walking sandals must be maintained and with proper cleaning techniques you can ensure that they last for a long time.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some tips for cleaning your sandals?

The best way to clean your sandals is to first remove any visible dirt or debris from the surface. You can use a cloth or a soft brush to clean the surface and get rid of dirt. If your sandals are leather, then it's important to use a special leather cleaner to remove the dirt so you don't damage the sandals. Whether you're cleaning your flip flops or sandal, always make sure you know what kind of material it is before cleaning.

What are some common mistakes people make when cleaning their sandals?

In order to prevent making mistakes, it's important to know about the common mistakes people make. Firstly, people forget to remove dirt and debris from their sandals before cleaning them. They also tend to use the wrong cleaning product, which can damage the sandal. Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to your precious sandals!

How do you know when your sandals need to be cleaned?

It might be tricky knowing exactly when you should clean your sandals, but there are certain signs you can look out for that show they're screaming for some TLC. The most obvious sign is seeing dirt or grime on your sandal, especially if its on the soles or the straps. If you've worn them for a while without cleaning them, then there might be a lot of accumulated dirt on your sandal.

Reviews (1 comment)

  • Lauren Sampson On

    I’ve ruined high-quality leather sandals because I didn’t know the proper way to clean them in the past. You have to be so careful when cleaning leather because of things like discoloration as you mentioned here. Thanks for the tips on reducing odor in sandals too. My two sons wear sandals regularly in the summer and I need all the help I can get when it comes to proper cleaning!

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