How to Clean And Disinfect Thrifted Shoes? [Easy Steps]

cleaning shoes with a cloth

So, you bought a new-looking pair of shoes from a thrift store and are excited to put them on? But before wearing them, you have to ensure they are properly clean and disinfected thrifted shoes, as using old shoes can lead to fungal skin infections, such as athlete’s foot (tinea pedis) or toenail fungus (onychomycosis). You can also get infected by impetigo, folliculitis, etc.

It is important to note that the chances of you getting infected by these infections are meager, especially if the shoes are clean and in good condition.

Do you know you support sustainability indirectly? Buying from thrift stores contributes to sustainability. How? You give something back to the environment by boycotting fast fashion. So there’s less load on the new manufacturing/production, resulting in a low carbon footprint.

What to Check Before Buying Used Shoes From Thrift Shop?

You may or may not be used to the culture of buying from thrift stores, yet a few tips may help you to enhance your shopping smartness.

Pro Tip: Keep a Pair of Socks.

The socks will benefit you in two ways.

  • While trying the shoe on your foot, the pair of socks worn on your foot will give you the exact fit of the shoe size. If you try the shoe without socks, they may misfit when you put them on later with socks on.
  • You may need to find out whether you are getting sanitized shoes to try on. They were in use by a stranger for a substantial time. After coming to shop, many individuals must have tried the same one you liked. Therefore, having socks on before trying those shoes will eliminate the risk of you directly getting in contact with them.

1. Sole Quality

shoes sole

Another vital part of the shoe is the sole. Not so worn out with a clean sole is the best fit in such a scenario. A dissipated sole in a sneaker or shoe indicates heavy usage of the shoe. You would not be able to have a comfortable experience with these shoes and may develop aches in your feet.

Some cons of buying shoes with worn-out soles are:

  • Shoes with worn soles may provide less grip and traction, increasing your chances of falling, especially on slippery surfaces.
  • The sole provides support to the entire shoe. Wearing shoes with worn soles can lead to the rest of the shoe wearing out more quickly.
  • Shoes with worn soles won’t provide you with adequate support, which may lead to discomfort and foot pain.

In addition, check for the insole too. If it has developed a foot-shaped impression, avoid purchasing those shoes. To sum up, shoes with moderate usage are the best buy.

2. Shoe Quality And Shape

used and new canvas shoes

Enhance your eye for detail skills and check for the quality of the shoe. There are two types of people- one who delicately uses their apparel and others who are careless. With focused attention, examine and identify the difference and go with the right ones.

How to Examine Used Shoes?

Here are a few tips for checking the quality of used shoes:

  1. Look for any visible stain marks, which may indicate that the shoes aren’t correctly taken care of, and marks that will be difficult to remove after cleaning.
  2. Look for fraying or tearing of the lining of the shoes, which may indicate that the shoes are overused.
  3. Look for worn signs on the upper of the shoes, especially on the areas such as toes, sides, and heels, as these areas are more prone to wear and tear.
  4. Look for uneven wear marks on the sole, which may indicate that the shoes don’t fit properly, or any cracks or holes in the sole.
  5. Look if the shoes have a strong odor which may indicate that shoes weren’t correctly stored.
  6. Finally, try the shoes on with socks to check if they fit correctly and are comfortable enough to wear. Walk at least 50-100 steps to ensure the shoes are comfortable.

Checking the shoe shape is very crucial for leather or suede shoes. They take the form of the feet of an earlier person and will give you discomfort when you start using them.

Is it Important to Clean Used Shoes?

There are valid reasons to justify the above question. The shoes you buy from thrift stores may have bacterial or fungal infections. In addition, assume that the earlier user of these shoes was suffering from any bacterial or fungal infection.

It is always wise to play safe rather than be sorry for the infections you may be caught by not cleaning these shoes. Cleaning and disinfecting the shoes ensure you keep the bacterial/fungal infection and the filthy odor away.

Therefore, clean and disinfect the shoes you buy from thrift stores before using them.

Do your thrifted shoes have dirty Velcro Straps? Then you must read: How to Wash Velcro

Should You Hand Wash or Machine Wash Your Thrifted Shoes?

Whether to give a hand-wash or machine-wash to your shoes depends on the type of shoe. Let’s understand the easiest ways to clean your shoes.

Hand Wash Insoles

inserting sole in shoes

The insoles are removable and thus easy to hand-wash. Keep the following things ready to wash your insoles.

  • Bowl
  • Hot Water
  • Dish Soap/Liquid Detergent
  • A hard-bristled Toothbrush

Once you have these materials ready, follow the following process:

  1. Remove the insoles
  2. Let them soak in soap/liquid detergent for about five minutes.
  3. Rinse in normal running water under a tap and scrounge to remove any extra soap.
  4. Scour any stains using the brush, especially at the toe area, as most fungi and bacteria settle there.
  5. Hang the washed insoles in a ventilated area unexposed to direct heat.
  6. Check the insoles are 100% dried before you put them in the shoes.

If there is any impression or watermark on the insoles, try it does not shape up in that form.

Clean The Laces

hand washing red shoe laces

Laces also should be hand-washed to avoid damage or unraveling them. The best way is to let them soak in soap water for about 20-25 minutes. It ensures all dirt leaves the laces along with any fungi or bacterial infection. 

After 20-25 minutes brush them gently with an old toothbrush, rinse the laces with clean normal water, and let them dry.

How to Hand-Wash Delicate Shoes?

Delicate shoes may not be able to handle the pressure and turbulence of a washing machine and therefore need to be given a gentle hand wash.

1. Suede Shoes

suede shoes

Wipe your suede shoes with a damp cloth to remove any stains. If you have a suede cleaning block, you can use that to remove minor stains.

If the stains are tough to remove, rub them with a brush with soapy, warm water to scrub them off. Ensure you stroke in the downward direction while scrubbing off the stains. Then repeat the same process with clean water to eradicate the soapy substance. Once cleaned, let it dry naturally without exposure to direct heat.

Ensure you don’t drench your suede shoes with water. You can easily scrub the salt stains using a damp cloth with white vinegar. Use a conditioner and soft-bristled brush to condition your suede shoes.

2. Leather Shoes

black leather shoes

Use minimum water to clean leather shoes. Remove the laces and insoles to clean them, as explained above.

Mix a few drops of liquid soap in water. Using a soft sponge or clean cloth, rub it across the shoe surface to develop a lather. Then use a dry cloth to remove extra moisture and allow the shoe to dry them. Use a leather conditioner to condition the completely dried shoes.

Wondering how to wash your newly thrifted leather jacket, then you must read: How to Clean Thrifted Leather Jacket.

Are you a fan of white leather products such as bags or purses? Then you should also learn to Clean White Leather Bag/Purse.

How to Machine Wash Used Shoes?

You can machine wash your shoes with some extra care. You can stuff canvas, sneakers, regular running, or mesh shoes in a washing machine to get them cleaned thoroughly. Avoid washing plastic, suede, or leather shoes in the washing machine and hand wash them.

We still do not recommend cleaning your shoes in the washing machine as it can be harsh on shoes and damage them. If you still wish to wash your shoes in the washing machine, here are the steps to follow to lessen the chances of them getting damaged.

  1. Remove all the laces and removable inserts or insoles from your shoes.
  2. Place your shoes in a mesh laundry bag or pillowcase to protect them during the wash.
  3. Use a mild detergent and run a gentle cycle.
  4. Clean all the excess dirt from the shoes with a cloth before putting them in the washing machine.
  5. After completing the wash cycle, remove the shoes from the mesh bag and let them air dry. Please do not put them in the dryer, as the heat can damage the shoes.
  6. You can also avoid creasing shoes by filling them with scrap plastic balls while drying.

How To Disinfect/Sanitize Used Shoes?

man sanitizing shoes

1. Disinfectant Spray

You will find many disinfectant sprays in the market such as Lysol Disinfectant Spray. Spray on the inside of your shoes to prevent staining on the shoe surface. This spraying will help you get rid of the fungi/bacterial infection. 

In the case of white shoes, you can also alternatively use bleach as a disinfectant. Get an empty spray bottle and fill it with bleach water diluted with water. Spray this solution on your white shoes to remove the fungi/bacteria. Don’t use this solution on colored shoes.

2. Rubbing Alcohol

Rubbing alcohol (Solimo 99% Isopropyl Alcohol) is a cleaning agent and kills most germs, fungi, and bacteria. It proves effective for cleaning delicate shoes. Rub your shoes with a cloth dampened with alcohol. Wipe the inner and outer sides along with the insole too. 

If you have sneakers, let them soak in alcohol for approximately one hour and allow them to dry later. Adding a few drops of tea tree oil helps remove tough stains.

3. Antibacterial Spray

The antibacterial spray is another effective way to disinfect your shoes. Use any branded antibacterial spray or wipes to clean your shoes. Ensure you wipe all the hidden and crunchy spaces of the shoe, along with the insole, where the germs love to settle. Let them dry naturally.

4. Baking Soda

Dried sweat, dead skin, and fungi/bacteria are the main reasons behind the filthy odor emanating from any shoe. Dump your insoles in a plastic bag and spray a small amount of baking soda. Keep the bag untouched for about 8 to 12 hours. Then take out the insoles and let them dry.

How To Disinfect The Bottom of Thrifted Shoes?

man disinfecting shoes sole

It is crucial to pay attention to the bottom of your shoes, as mostly, we ignore that area. The bottom area is always in contact with dirt, viruses, and bacteria and travels to your home with the shoes. 

Here are some tips for disinfecting the bottom of thrift shoes.

Place your shoes on the exterior side of your house and remove dirt with a brush dampened in laundry detergent mixed in warm water. After cleaning, leave them to dry. Once they are dry, spray disinfectant on them and wipe them dry. Using hydrogen peroxide or bleach spray will also solve the purpose. 

Once completely dried, you can place them in your shoe rack.

  • Is it safe to buy shoes from the thrift store?

    It is safe to buy thrift shoes, provided you clean and disinfect them before using them.


Thrift stores are a great way to have great items at affordable rates. Buying shoes from thrift areas is good, and a few tips can ensure your thrifted shoes are as new as the brand-new ones.

Cleaning and disinfecting thrifted shoes are crucial to ensure you don’t end up with any fungal/bacterial infection. The cleaning process is simple, and you can easily do it on a non-working day.

You can either clean the shoes by hand or machine wash them, depending on the type of shoes.

If you’re wondering how to wash thrifted clothes, then you must read: How to Wash Thrifted Clothes

Related: How to wash vintage clothes?