There are a few ways to clean Chacos, and we’re going to touch on them all, but you’ll notice one thing: the ingredients are largely the same. And they have to do with smell. (That is why you’re here, right?) Grab whichever bacteria-busting deodorizor you have handy and you’ll be ready for another season of adventuring — sans the stinky sandals.
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How to Wash Chacos by Hand
Blame bacteria. The 600 sweat glands in your feet secrete salt, glucose, vitamins, and amino acids, all of which bacteria like to eat. A byproduct of bacteria: stinky fatty acids. Giving your Chacos a good scrub will kill that bacteria and eliminate the smell, plus do double-duty sloughing off any accumulated dirt, dead skin, and other grime.
Or, you can skip the bleach and use:
Step 1: Knock off any loose dirt.
Before the real cleaning gets started, go ahead and slap the soles of your Chacos together out the back door or over the trash. No need to scrub more than you need to.
Step 2: Stir up your cleaning solution.
In a shallow dish, slowly pour warm water into about half a cup of oxygenated bleach. Mix with your brush as you go, and stop when you’ve got a thick, gritty paste.
Now’s a good time to also decide where you’re going to be doing your cleaning — you’re going to make a bit of a mess. Utility sinks work great; so do large tubs and buckets. When the weather is nice, we like to clean our shoes in the backyard.
Step 3: Scrub them clean.
With your brush, glob some of the cleaner onto the footbed of your Chacos and start scrubbing. Really have at it. Your goal here is to kill all stink-causing bacteria and demolish the environment of dead skin, dried sweat, and accumulated grime it’s been thriving in. Just like giving your teeth a cursory brushing isn’t really going fight cavities, lazy scrubbing isn’t going to do much to clean your Chacos. Divide your sandals into quadrants and lay siege, section by section. Re-up your cleaning paste as you go.
Pro tip: Don’t forget the undersides of your straps. Yes, the footbed of your sandals is where the majority of grossness lives. But to really get the most of your elbow grease, give the undersides of the straps (and toe thongs if your sandals have them) a hearty once-over too.
Step 4: Rinse.
Cool, running water should do the trick.
Step 5: Air dry.
Always air dry, always away from sun and heat. Chacos are resilient, but they are susceptible to shrinking or deforming if they dry in direct heat. It can also mess with the adhesive that keeps the soles on your shoes.
Two more reminder: Bacteria loves a moist environment — a lot of airflow is good for drying. (Got a fan?) And don’t reintroduce your foot bacteria to your freshly cleaned Chacos until they are totally dry. That kind of messes up the whole cleaning thing…
Step 6: Repeat regularly.
A nice deep scrub like this should keep stink at bay for a couple of months. You can stretch that time out even more by giving the footbeds of your sandals a quick rub down once a week with a damp paper towel to keep dead skin from building up (and then decaying — gross).
How to Clean Chacos in a Washing Machine
If your Chacos have fabric straps (as opposed to leather) they are absolutely machine washable. Rejoice!
Step 1: Get rid of loose debris.
The last thing your washing machine needs to deal with is a bunch of pebbles and mud clots. Slap those soles together!
Step 2: Pop your Chacos in the wash.
Cold water. Mild detergent. Gentle cycle. Go.
The Chacos website implies you can just add your sandals to any load of laundry that meets those requirements. We agree! Especially if you’re doing general smell maintenance, as opposed to a post-adventuring deep clean. Dirty laundry is dirty laundry.
Can I wash my Chacos in the dishwasher? No. Dishwashers get hot — 170 degree hot — and that heat can compromise the glue that attaches the soles to your sandals.
If you are going to wash your clothes with your shoes, we recommend slipping them into a mesh laundry bag to keep the straps from getting wrapped up in the rest of your clothes.
Step 3: Air dry.
As always, a cool, dark place is best. In front of a fan is even better.
Step 4: Repeat regularly.
Hey, you’re doing laundry anyway.
How to “Floss” the Straps of your Chacos
Chacos’ signature “continuous webbing system” means that the straps go over the tops of your feet, then continue through the sole and out the other side. It’s what gives you that great 360° fit, but it also means gunk has a way inside — meaning the straps can stick, and your shoes can stink even after the footbeds are clean.
Instead of bleach, you could also use:
A liquid detergent — we like this natural option from Method
Step 1: Fill a bucket with warm water and detergent.
A deep sink also works, as is anything big enough to completely submerge your Chacos. The directions on your detergent are a good guide for how much to use per gallon of water, but when in doubt, we aim for “a healthy pour.”
Step 2: Dunk your Chacos and work the straps back and forth.
Sliding the straps in and out will clear any debris that’s gunked up inside. You’re literally flossing your shoes.
Step 3: Rinse and air dry.
You know the drill by now. Clean water, no heat.
General Foot Maintenance
Cleaning just your Chacos is only cleaning one part of the problem. Your feet are the other, and some general maintenance will go a long way in battling smelly shoes. Three tips:
Actually wash your feet. Many of us are satisfied with how clean our feet get simply by sloshing around in the sudsy water as we shower. Make a point to actually scrub all that dead skin off your feet with a wash cloth and some deodorizing bar soap (think Irish Spring or Safeguard).
Dry them thoroughly before putting on shoes, even sandals. Don’t forget between the toes!
Use a foot powder or antiperspirant if sweaty feet is a persistent problem. We like the spray version of Gold Bond to keep mess contained; for a foot antiperspirant, Neat Feat is by far the most popular.
Step 1: Use a toothbrush to scrub the footbeds with a paste made from OxiClean and water. Baking soda works too!
Step 2: Submerge your Chacos in a bucket of warm water and a mild detergent, and “floss” the straps back and forth.
Step 3: Rinse with cool, running water.
Step 4: Air dry away from sun and direct heat.