Ever since designer Phoebe Philo took her bow after the Celine fall/winter 2011 show in her Adidas Stan Smiths, little did we know that she would set off a footwear phenom unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Are we all sneakerheads now? It certainly seems that way. But even though we’re not avid collectors, there’s an unspoken understanding that a white sneaker decreases in value (and chicness) the dirtier it gets. A graying (or worse—browning or yellowing) sneaker can instantly muddy up an otherwise perfectly decent athleisure-chic outfit. That’s why we turned to the Mr. Clean of sneakers Jason Markk to get the dirt (pun intended) on how to properly take care of and clean your sneakers like a pro.
“I’ve been into shoes since I was a kid, and I’m also into keeping them super clean. In the last two or three years, sneakers have really exploded,” Markk says. “And these aren’t your $40 sneakers from back in the day, these are ones that cost $250 and up. People want to take care of them, maintain them, and have them looking fresh for as long as possible.”
As a sneakerhead himself, Markk noticed a lack of sneaker-cleaning products on the market that were both safe and effective. So he concocted his own with an at-home solution before he decided to do it full-time, with the launch of his professional cleaning kit ($16; jasonmarkk.com) in 2007. You might recognize it from seeing it perched on the shelves of small sneaker boutiques like Kith to major mass retailers, like Nordstrom and J. Crew, in any one of the 30 countries that stock his product across the globe (a Jason Markk brick-and-mortar store is slated to open in New York City by the end of this year, too).
“I never trusted the cleaning products that came in aerosol cans—you don’t know what’s in it and how it could ruin your shoes, and a lot of people felt the same way,” he says. “The Jason Markk solution was designed specifically to clean and condition sneakers, to safely treat leather, suede, canvas, cotton mesh—all the materials you see on a sneaker.”
Of course, buying his solution isn’t the only way to make sure your kicks stay pristine—Markk had DIY-ed it for years. To create an at-home remedy, Markk says you’ll need a bowl of warm water, dishwashing detergent, Oxiclean, a toothbrush, and a microfiber towel. Keep scrolling to read through every step.
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Unlace Your Shoes
“If you take out the laces, then you have better access to hard-to-reach crevices, like under the eyelets and under the tongue,” Markk says. “Paying attention to every detail is what will make your shoes pop. If you have an all-white sneaker, the smallest scuff will be magnified.”
Dry-Brush Off Debris
“Before you even wet the shoe, take a soft brush and gently dry-brush the whole shoe, because there’s a lot of dust and debris that collect in the crevices,” he says. “If you don’t do this step, then when you scrub your shoe with soap and water, all that dirt is going to sink in even deeper and make your job a lot harder.”
Concoct a Solution
“Take a bowl of warm water, squirt a couple drops of Palmolive (or any detergent you have) and Oxiclean, and stir it up,” Markk says. “Take your toothbrush, dip it into the solution, and start scrubbing your shoe. This is the easiest, simplest solution you can do at home.”
Dry Off with a Microfiber Towel
“A huge tip is to use a microfiber towel—you can use it to dry off your shoes, but it’s a great tool for getting stubborn scuffs off,” he says. “A brush is great, but it won’t pick up the whole scuff—but applying pressure with your thumb underneath a microfiber towel can take off anything left over.”
Got a Canvas Pair? Soften Your Bristles
“Definitely hand-clean your canvas sneakers; resist the urge to throw them in the washing machine,” Markk says. “Follow the same steps, but make sure you’re using a soft brush with hog or horse bristles, otherwise the the canvas will start to pill.”
And Finally, Let Them Air Dry
“The biggest mistake you can make is throwing your shoes into the dryer; when you take them out, they’ll look like elf shoes—they’re bent, curled up, and there’s no fixing that,” Markk says. “The second biggest mistake is throwing them in the washing machine, because that will jeopardize the integrity of the shoe, and if you’re using warm or hot water, it will cause the midsole and the upper to come apart.”