If there’s one thing about runners, it’s that we sweat – a lot. For some unlucky runners, this can include sweaty, stinky feet. Now, let’s face it: nobody likes a smelly pair of shoes. Couple that with muddy trail conditions or road grime and you’ve got a gnarly mess to deal with. When it’s time to clean the caked-up mud and (hopefully) rid your favorite running shoes of the stench, can you put running shoes in the washing machine or dryer?
It is best to avoid both the washing machine and the dryer when cleaning your running shoes. While the washing machine may be okay in some instances – especially if the shoes are marketed as being machine washable – it can cause excessive breakdown over time. Shoes should never be put in the dryer; opt to air-dry in direct sun for best results.
Read on to learn about why running shoes should not go in the washing machine, how to wash them properly, whether or not they should go in the dryer, and how to dry your shoes properly.
Is it okay to put running shoes in the washing machine?
Runners want to know whether or not it’s okay to put running shoes in the washing machine, and understandably so. Hand-washing shoes requires substantially more time and effort than simply throwing them in the wash.
So, what’s the verdict? Is it okay to wash your shoes in the washing machine, or is it best avoided?
You can run your running shoes through the washing machine, but it is not recommended. Washing machines can be too harsh on running shoes, subsequently breaking down fabric and weakening adhesive. The best course of action is to hand wash your running shoes, although there are ways to safely wash your running shoes by machine.
Big-name companies all have the same word of warning for runners: do not put your shoes in the washing machine.
Reasons vary from company to company, but the general consensus across brands is that washing your shoes in the washing machine will break down fabric and adhesive.
Additionally, the shoes can get waterlogged and the cushioning can be damaged if the water isn’t sufficiently drained.
However, I know you’re leading busy lives and don’t always have the time to go through the entire process of hand-washing your shoes.
Overall, it’s okay to wash your shoes by machine a couple of times throughout the life of your running shoes as long as you’re cautious. There are specific settings and steps to take to ensure the safety of your running shoes.
For what it’s worth, many shoe brands have started producing running shoes that are made with natural materials and are designed to be put through the washing machine. Check out the video below for a test wash of the popular Allbirds wool running shoes.
Most Americans own top-load machines so it’s likely true that most runners (at least U.S.-based ones) do as well.
For runners with top-load machines, are there any special considerations to be conscientious of before washing your running shoes?
Runners with top-load washing machines should avoid washing their shoes in their machines. Generally speaking, top-load washers are more intense, causing more wear and tear on the shoes when compared to other washers or hand-washing. This will decrease the lifespan of your shoes substantially.
While the benefits of top-load washers are quite nice (quick and inexpensive), they aren’t the greatest for cleaning the muck out of your running shoes.
Top-load washers often feature an agitator, which is the central spire in the washing machine to spin the clothes around. Unfortunately, the agitator tends to be rough on the contents inside the washing machine, including your running shoes.
Couple this with the fact that top-load washers give a less thorough clean than front-load washers and I see no reason runners should use these washers to clean their shoes.
Stick with the tried-and-true method of hand-washing your running shoes.
For runners who own front-load washing machines, are there any special considerations they must keep in mind before washing their shoes by machine?
For runners who choose to wash their running shoes in the wash, a front-load washing machine is the best choice. It is gentle on clothes and shoes as well as energy efficient.
Front-load washers clean through a tumbling motion rather than the spinning motion of a top-load washer. Tumbling is much easier on the fabrics and adhesives in running shoes than spinning, so front-load washing machines are preferable if you choose to wash your shoes by machine.
These washers also have the added benefit of forcing more water out of your shoes during the cycle, so dry times are much shorter.
The downside of washing your shoes in a front-load machine is those front-load washers are more expensive.
While hand-washing is still the safest way to wash your shoes, a front-load machine is the best option for machine washing.
High-efficiency washers are all the rage currently, with great energy savings and quick wash times. Should runners with these washers treat the process of washing their shoes any differently?
High-efficiency washers can be either top-load or front-load, so considerations depend on the style of the washer. The high-efficiency rating doesn’t affect the washer’s ability (or inability) to effectively clean running shoes.
Simply reiterating from before, runners should be cautious with high-efficiency top-load washers due to how harsh they can be on materials. High-efficiency washers also use less water, so the effects can be of even greater magnitude.
For front-load washers, high efficiency is still okay. The tumbling motion is gentle enough to offset the detrimental effects of less water and more concentrated detergent.
How to wash running shoes in the washing machine
I know the washing machine looks intriguing for runners in a crunch with downright dirty shoes. While I’d caution you to think about hand-washing instead, there are ways to wash most running shoes safely!
To wash running shoes in a front-load washing machine:
- Take out the laces and the insoles. The washing machine is too harsh for these materials, so it is best to remove them and wash them by hand.
- Check for any tough spots that may need to be cleaned by hand. For example, caked-up dirt may need to be washed with a toothbrush and soap before going into the wash.
- The last step before starting the cycle is to put your running shoes into a mesh laundry bag. A good alternative for those who do not have a mesh laundry bag is an old pillowcase. Encasing the shoes helps to prevent wear and tear from the machine.
- Add a gentle detergent to the machine and wash. The cycle should be run with cold water on a gentle setting to ensure the harmful effects are minimized.
- When the cycle is over, remove the shoes and let them air dry. Using a drying machine is much too harsh for running sneakers.
Proper water temperature
What is the proper water temperature for washing your running shoes?
Running shoes should be washed with cold water to avoid further degradation of fabric and adhesives.
Much of the harm of washing your shoes in the washing machine comes from the heat produced during hot water cycles. The heat has the ability to damage the fabric and adhesives in your shoes beyond repair.
Running the cycle with cold water helps to minimize these effects while still ensuring the shoes are thoroughly cleaned.
Proper wash cycle settings
What is the proper wash cycle setting for washing your running shoes?
The proper wash cycle settings for washing running shoes is the gentle setting. Anything more than this is too harsh for running shoes.
As I’ve mentioned many times, the washing machine can simply be too harsh on running shoes. The cycle setting plays a large role in how much your shoes can potentially be damaged.
Choosing a gentle setting over an intense, high-speed setting will help to avoid substantial damage to your shoes.
Is it okay to put running shoes in the dryer?
If it was okay to wash running shoes in the washing machine, it seems it would be reasonable to dry them in the drying machine, right?
Never put your shoes in the dryer. The high temperatures in a drying machine can damage the adhesives that hold the entire shoe together. The heat can also permanently shrink your running shoes similar to how clothes are often shrunk.
Similar to why we want to use cold water in the washing machine, we want to avoid dryers entirely.
DryersDrying machines have many settings and heat levels, but even the lowest temperature is too much for running shoes to handle.
Using the dryer leaves shoes susceptible to breakdown and shrinkage, two things runners certainly want to avoid.
How to dry running shoes after washing them?
Since the dryer is, without a doubt, not an option, how should runners go about drying their shoes?
The best way for runners to dry their shoes is by air drying them. While the process is time-consuming, it is the most effective way to dry your shoes while avoiding any heat-imposed damage, especially if you’re able to dry them in direct sunlight.
Air-drying your shoes is easy: simply find a place in your house or outside where your shoes can rest for a prolonged period of time.
Air drying is great because it avoids intense heat and chemicals. This way, the shoes can dry without any breakdown.
Air drying in sunlight is even better because the sunlight can actually kill the bacteria that made your shoes smell bad to start with.
- About the Author
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Joshua Bartlett is a professional amateur when it comes to running – basically, he takes his mediocre running ability very seriously.
As the Editor-in-Chief at Saltmarsh Running, it is his job to make sure that readers get only highly-researched and comprehensive questions to all of their running questions.