Ask a Clean Person: Smelly, Scuffy, Dirty Shoes

With summer allegedly on the way, I’m hoping you can help me save my favorite shoes. I have two pairs of these super-comfy floral flats. One is red on white (I don’t know what kind of fabric), and the other is multi on off-white (canvas). Both are leather on the inside. Unfortunately, because I use shoes for, you know, walking around in, both pairs are getting a little dingy, and I’m not sure how to clean them. I can’t just wash them, right? Because of the leather? Is there anything I can do to brighten them up, or are they destined to become yet another pair of weekend-only shoes?

OK, try this: Dampen a sponge and rub a small amount of dishwashing soap into it, then give your shoes a good once over with the soapy sponge. It’s important for you to let the soap get into the sponge so you’re not applying straight soap to your shoes. (You’ll never get it out!) That should brighten things up considerably, though you might need to take a few passes at the shoes.  

If you have some really stubborn stains, make a little bit of paste with water and OxiClean and use the same method as with the dish soap. When you’ve gotten the shoes clean, rinse your sponge and go over the shoe a few times with a clean, damp sponge to get up any residual sudsies.

I was wondering if you have any recommendations for the best product to shine all of my scuffed winter boots before storing them away. Is there a shoe-shining process/protocol?

Hey ladies, do you polish your shoes? No? You should, for a couple reasons!

1. Think about how much money you’ve spent on those damn shoes. A lot of money, right? A tub of shoe polish costs, like, two dollars and will make those pricey shoes look as fantastic as they possibly can. It will also extend the life of those pricey shoes, which — fashion be damned — is generally a good thing in my book.

2. It’s super easy to polish your shoes, will take less than five minutes per pair, and is incredibly satisfying. Oooh, look at the shiny things! CLAP CLAP CLAP I MADE A SHINY!

In terms of brands/products, I use Kiwi because it’s what my dad uses. (Do you need a minute to remark about how that’s cute? Go on. It’s pretty cute!) But plenty of other brands are fine! You can choose a standard polish, which you apply with a cloth (old t-shirts or socks work well) and then buff with a brush. You can also use an instant shine product, which is applied with a sponge applicator attached to the bottle of polish and doesn’t require buffing or brushing. (You’ll pay a price for this shortcut, though, in that liquid polishes can have a drying effect on leather over the long term.)

Instead of going into a full disquisition on the how-tos and why-fors of shining one’s shoes, I’m going to point you to this excellent and hilarious comment thread on Brother Site The Awl, where an actual military man with polishing chops schools the menfolk on shoe care.

OK now quick, everyone go polish a pair of shoes! Then come back and tell me how much fun you had!

I need your assistance with a hopefully-not-actually-embarrassing-but-maybe question. I don’t feel that I have sweatier feet than the average person, but somehow any shoes that I wear without socks (mainly ballet or other types of flats) get really stinky after some time. I’ve tried to use those Odor Eater inserts, and I think they help sort of, but not entirely. Also, many of my shoes that I still really like are seemingly beyond help in the stink department. I have tried shaking baking soda in them and leaving them out in the sunshine, but to no avail.  So my question is, I suppose, twofold: a) is there any way to prevent shoe stink from happening in the first place, and b) is there any way to de-stink already stinky shoes?!

There are affirmative answers to both these questions! Isn’t that such great news?!

The obvious answer by way of prevention is to wear a little ped sock with your flats. If that’s entirely anathema to you (and I can understand why, I have small feet and those dumb things always peep out from my ballet flats most unattractively), there are several foot antiperspirant products out there. Their names are hilarious! The Ugly Little Bottle, Ghost Grip, Neat Feat — delightful! Just like deodorant for the armpits, you may need to experiment with different brands to find the one that works best with your body’s chemistry.

Many of these brands also make odor-neutralizing spray for shoes. So noodle around on their sites and see what strikes your fancy. There are also a number of products made specifically for getting the funk out of athletic shoes, and you know those must mean business. Dr. Scholl’s makes a sports spray (that’s oddly not listed on their website? Step it up, Dr. Scholl!), and in answering question number one I discovered that my beloved Kiwi brand also makes a shoe freshener spray.

Previously: Spilled Nail Polish and Mysterious Smells.

Jolie Kerr is not paid to endorse any of the products mentioned in this column, but she sure would be very happy to accept any free samples the manufacturers care to send her way! Is anything you own dirty?

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