Tutorial
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Tutorial: how to clean fabric shoes with leather linings

My tutorial on how to dye fabric shoes has been one of the most popular posts on this blog, and I thought another post on shoe care might be of use.

I recently acquired a pair of darling fabric shoes with fabric linings, but they were a bit grubby and needed cleaning.

How to clean fabric shoes thedreamstress.com

They came with a little strap and bow detail, but I didn’t like it and took it off.

How to clean fabric shoes thedreamstress.com

Once I took it off you could really see how grubby the shoes were, and how desperately they needed a clean:

How to clean fabric shoes thedreamstress.com

Clearly you can’t put leather-lined shoes through the wash, as most tutorials say to do for fabric shoes (they shouldn’t by the way, you should never wash any type of shoes in the washing machine as it will destroy the glue that attaches the sole to the fabric).

Here is how to clean fabric shoes properly and safely, whether they are leather lined, or just full fabric.

You will need:

  • Your fabric shoes – this method works best for flat fabric shoes, it is not recommended for velvet or brocade shoes.
  • Lukewarm water
  • A soft toothbrush
  • Delicate liquid laundry detergent (I’m using Earthwise fragrance-free delicate laundry detergent)
  • Paper towels
  • A bowl

How to clean fabric shoes thedreamstress.com

Fill your bowl with lukewarm water, and put a bit of laundry detergent straight on your toothbrush:

How to clean fabric shoes thedreamstress.com

Swish your toothbrush around in your bowl of lukewarm water, until the laundry detergent is well dissolved in the water:

How to clean fabric shoes thedreamstress.com

Shake most of the water off of your toothbrush.  You want to clean the shoes while keeping them as dry as possible, so it’s important to get most of the water off of your toothbrush, so the shoe gets barely damp. With your damp toothbrush, scrub the soiled areas of your shoes, using back-and-forth strokes that follow the grainline of the fabric.  This will create a bit of sudsing on the surface of your shoe.

How to clean fabric shoes thedreamstress.com

Brush and scrub the entire surface of your shoe, scrubbing most on any areas that are heavily soiled, and dipping your toothbrush back in the bowl to dampen it as needed.  Your shoes will get damp – you just want to use as little water as possible.

You can see that my shoes are looking cleaner already:

You want to clean the shoes while keeping them as dry as possible, so it's important to get most of the water off of your toothbrush, so the shoe gets barely damp.

Once your shoes are thoroughly scrubbed and looking much cleaner, rinse your bowl and toothbrush, and re-fill the bowl with clean, non-soapy water.

You want to clean the shoes while keeping them as dry as possible, so it's important to get most of the water off of your toothbrush, so the shoe gets barely damp.

Brush the toothbrush until it is barely, barely damp, and then, still brushing vertically, use it to brush from the back of the shoe toward the front with short, brisk strokes which brush any excess detergent off the shoe.  You can see all the spray that has flicked off of mine on to the sink:

You want to clean the shoes while keeping them as dry as possible, so it's important to get most of the water off of your toothbrush, so the shoe gets barely damp.

Keep rinsing your toothbrush to get rid of excess detergent as you brush off the detergent, and then tapping it as dry as possible.

Once your shoes are fully brushed, pat and wipe them down inside and out with a paper towel to get rid of any extra dampness:

You want to clean the shoes while keeping them as dry as possible, so it's important to get most of the water off of your toothbrush, so the shoe gets barely damp.

Then wad up a few pieces of paper towel, and use them to stuff the shoe to help it hold its shape, and to collect any extra moisture:

How to clean fabric shoes thedreamstress.com

Then put your shoes to dry in a well ventilated area, away from direct heat and sun.

How to clean fabric shoes thedreamstress.com

Once they are fully dry, you can appreciate how much cleaner and prettier they look!

How to clean fabric shoes thedreamstress.com

I am so pleased with how much better my shoes look.  It’s pretty subtle in photographs, but so obvious in person!

How to clean fabric shoes thedreamstress.com

I hope this was helpful!  It certainly made a difference with mine.

Do come back tomorrow and see what else I am going to do to them to make them even more fabulous

14 Comments

  1. This information could not have come at a better time! I have just acquired a pair of Edwardian white canvas shoes that desperately need cleaning and I wasn’t sure how to proceed (although I knew the washing machine was most definitely out of the question.) And now I’m off to gather up the toothbrush, bowl, and detergent…

    • Oh dear! I would NOT recommend this for antique shoes! Antique garments and shoes should only be cleaned by a trained conservator! Sorry…

  2. I’m guessing this is for the Flora and Fauna Challenge? I’m thinking up possibilities…
    Laurie

  3. Lynne says

    I love the way the toothbrush, the laundry detergent bottle, and the shoe linings all ‘go’! :-)

  4. Excellent! I may need it for my shoes one day…

    BTW, in this country, we use newspapers to wad our shoes when drying. If you are reasonably sure it will not stain your shoes, you can use that.

    • I wouldn’t use newspaper! The chance of it staining your shoes is just too high. I have to wash my hands after I read the newspaper here – they are just so grubby from all the ink that rubbed off.

  5. Deb says

    Thanks! Love these summer shoes. Your technique worked beautifully and saved me at least $70 for a replacement pair, which BTW, I have not been able to find!

  6. Kiran says

    Thank you for these clear and helpful instructions, I will try on my son’s shoes – bit of a challenge!
    And your floral shoes are so very pretty!

  7. Molly says

    Same situation as yours, my too-cute-for-words recent acquisition (bohemian-tattered-pink-floral-print-on-a-solid-pink-fabric-background shoes with leather lining inside) were very grubby indeed, and in serious need of a good cleaning. So I went looking, and found your tutorial. I was about to use a cold water detergent for wool and delicates, when I had a brainwave (such things do happen to me on occasion): I have a bit of no-rinse carpet, fabric, and upholstery cleaner left over, which is good for just about everything. I diluted it to the strength recommended on the bottle, and applied with a toothbrush as per your suggestions. I cleaned one small area at a time, and then immediately dried by folding a paper towel over the edge of the shoe where my foot goes in, and squeezing that between my thumb, which was on the outside of the shoe, and my fingers, which were on the inside. The fabric is now air drying, so the final result is yet to be seen, but at the moment they look SO much better! Thank you so much!

    • Molly says

      Brief update: Yes, this technique works like a charm! The no-rinse cleaner drys to a powder, so I simply brush the shoes with a soft natural bristle brush to remove the residue. I have since used this method to restore some seriously stained satin pumps from the 80s that I thought would never come clean, and they now look like new. Lovely!

  8. bev says

    Do you have any advice on how to stop inner lining of shoes cracking and peeling please, thank you Bev

    • Shoes with leather linings can be treated with leather conditioners to keep them in good order, but synthetic linings disintegrate over time, and there is nothing that can be done to stop that.

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