As far as cleaning goes, Nikes don’t really require any special treatment. But an Air Force One is about as far from a Flyknit Nike Free as you can get while still be considered a sneaker, which means how you get them looking like new is going to be different too.

Your cleaning method depends what the upper is made of — the part of the shoe that goes around your foot (as opposed to the sole).

So that’s how we’re going to break down how clean Nike shoes: by upper. At the end, we’ll also get into cleaning soles, plastic accents, and grimy stitching.

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How to Clean Air Force Ones
and other leather Nikes

Air Force Ones — especially if they’re white — are due for a clean when the leather uppers starts looking dingy, and when the toe box gets wrinkled and creased.

You’ll need:
Laundry detergent or shoe cleanser, like this one or this one
A soft-bristled toothbrush or shoe brush
Cool, clean water
A couple of clean towels
Newspaper, balled-up socks, or shoe trees

If you’re also battling scuffs, nicks, and scrapes, you’ll need:
Leather polish (Kiwi even has one especially for white sneakers)
Shoe shine brush

Step 1: Knock off any loose dirt

Just like you floss before brushing your teeth, you’ll want to slap the soles of your Nikes together over the trash or out the back door to get rid of excess dirt, grass, and gravel.

Step 2: Remove the laces and stuff the toe box

You’ll clean the laces on their own — and besides, laces can hide a lot of gunk around their eyes that you’ll want to get clean.

Pack your shoes with a bunch of newspaper, balled-up socks, or (if you’ve got them) some shoe trees. Get it nice and tight. The goal here is to give yourself a firm surface to scrub, and also push out any creases that grime could be lurking in.

Step 3: Start scrubbing

Mix a few drops (no more than a teaspoon) of laundry detergent into small bowl of cool, clean water. Swish around a soft, bristled brush — a toothbrush works just fine, but if you want something with a little more surface area, the Standard Shoe Cleaning Brush from Jason Markk is one of our favorites.

Shake off extra water from the brush and then start scrubbing. Start at the toe and work your way back to the heel. Don’t worry about being gentle. Treated leather (like on a pair of Air Force Ones) is a lot more resilient than a material like suede or nubuck, which is apt to lose its finish or get even worse stains from a vigorous rub down. Not the case here. You should be scrubbing hard enough that your Nikes get nice and frothy.

Not sure your Nikes are made of treated leather? A quick “water test” will let you know. Drip a little bit of water onto part of the shoe. Does it stay beaded up or does it soak in? If it soaks in after a few seconds, the leather isn’t treated and you’ll want to scoot on down to the instructions for cleaning suede Nikes. If the drops stay beaded up on the surface, you’ve got a treated leather on your hands.

Step 4: Wipe away the dirty froth

You’re not going to rinse your Nikes under running water. Rather, use a clean, damp towel to wipe away the soiled soap. Repeat steps three and four until your shoes are totally clean.

Step 5: If necessary, let them air dry

You shouldn’t be using so much water that your Nikes need much — if any — drying time. But things happen; bowls of soapy water tip over. If your shoes are soaked, stuff new, dry paper into the toe box and keep them away from heat and sun as they dry out. Too much of either can over-dry the leather and make it brittle.

Step 6: Use polish to repair nicks and scrapes

Cleaning your Nikes isn’t necessarily going to make up for major scuffs and blemishes in the leather. That’s where shoe polish comes in.

Choose one that matches the color of your Nikes. (If you have multi-colored sneakers, grab a neutral polish.) Use a cloth to press the polish into damaged spots in the leather, then use a shoe shine brush to buff it all out to an even finish.

How to Get Wrinkles Out of Leather Nikes

Leather is pliable. It breathes. It forms to the foot over time. It makes for a truly comfortable pair of shoes — but it also means that it will wrinkle and crease. Most common (and most ugly) are the creases that form across the toe box from where the leather bends as you walk.

Smoothing those creases out just takes a little bit of heat.

You’ll need:
An iron, set to “Cotton”
A damp towel
Newspaper, balled-up socks, or shoe trees

Step 1: Stuff ‘em

Pack the toe box of your Nikes nice and tight. It’s the same goal as before: creating a smooth, solid surface.

Step 2: Cover them with damp towels

Dunk a clean towel into some water and wring it out so it’s damp, but not soaked. Lay the towel over the creases. This is going to create a mini steam-bath for your Nikes and help ease out those wrinkles.

Step 3: Iron until smooth

Set your iron to “Cotton.” Once it’s heated up, press it onto the damp towel and work it back and forth over the wrinkled areas a little at a time. The towel will hiss and steam. That’s okay.

All you’re doing here is warming up the leather so that is can be re-formed back to its pre-creased state. (It’s a supercharged version of your foot heating up the leather, which is part of why they get creased in the first place.)

Check your progress often. While you’re at it, go ahead and use your thumbs to help massage out the wrinkles. Careful, though! The leather might be hot.

As the towel dries from the heat, re-wet it — ironing over a dry towel won’t be as effective. And don’t go too crazy with the ironing. You’ll never get your Nikes back to their out-of-the-box, absolutely smooth state, and applying too much heat for too long can end up making the leather brittle.

How to Clean Nike Flyknits
and other knit sneakers

Taking care of a knit sneaker is a little like maintaining a perm — it’s not as straightforward as caring for a leather sneaker (aka straight hair), and different people are going to have their own ways of getting the results they want.

The big debate when it comes to Flyknits: machine-wash vs. hand wash. We’ll cover both.

Cleaning Nike Flyknits in a Washing Machine

The risk of machine washing your Flyknits is that you lose control. If something snags a thread during the cleaning process, the whole shoe can unravel — and when your Flyknits are hidden from sight inside of a washing machine, you can’t keep on eye on them.

But washing machines are just so good at cleaning. And that’s great, because hand-washing a knit sneaker takes a lot longer than hand-washing a leather one: There are a lot more nooks and crannies for dirt to get stuck in, and the fibers also absorb grime, as opposed to it just sitting on the surface of the leather. Machine washing does a thorough job without needing to rinse-and-repeat, ad nauseam. Want to give it a try?

You’ll need:
Washing machine
Laundry detergent
A couple of mesh laundry bags; pillow cases will work in a pinch

Step 1: Sack them up

Give your Flyknits a quick knock over the trash to get rid of any loose dirt and debris, then them each one into one of those mesh laundry bags to help protect them from getting snagged during the spin cycle. If you don’t have mesh bags (and pillowcases are scarce) you can create a protective buffer by throwing in few towels or old sweatshirts. Avoid anything that could get hooked in the fabric, like buttons or zippers.

Pro tip: Wash your laces separate. This ensures that a) any dirt around the shoelace holes will get washed away and b) the laces won’t get all balled up around your shoes and other laundry. Pop them separately into their own mesh bag, and let them air dry once clean.

Step 2: Wash on gentle with just a little bit of detergent

Gentle is key here. Really, really gentle. If your machine has a “hand-wash” setting use that. “Delicates” is another word to look for. If your machine keeps its water temperature separate from its wash cycle, choose “cold.”

A gentle cycle means your Flyknits won’t get knocked around too much, risking a snag. Cold water ensures the fibers won’t shrink, glue won’t melt, and rubber soles won’t deform.

As for the detergent, don’t go crazy. The knee-jerk reaction to battle dirty, stinky sneaks is to glug in the detergent. Resist this impulse. A washing machine on “gentle” won’t be able to rinse that much extra soap away, leaving behind residue that’ll make your shoes stiff — and maybe even stained. Just use the normal amount for a small load. Better yet: Half that.

Step 3: Let them air dry

Do not put your Flyknits in the dryer. This bears repeating.

Do not put your Flyknits in the dryer.

There is no better way to shrink, deform, and otherwise ruin a pair of knit sneakers than putting them in the dryer.

Air drying them won’t take too long — the spin cycle of the washer will have taken care of most of the water. Take out the insole, flop out the tongue, and pop them in front of a fan until they’re moisture-free.

How to Hand-Wash Nike Flyknits

You’ll need:
Laundry detergent or shoe cleanser, like this one or this one
A soft-bristled toothbrush or shoe brush
Cool, clean water
A couple of clean towels
Newspaper, balled-up socks, or shoe trees

This process is identical to steps 1-5 of how you wash a leather sneaker (see above) with a couple of key differences.

You’ll need to be a little more gentle with your scrubbing. Not too gentle — you should still get a soapy lather. But the death knell of a knit sneaker is a snag or fray in the yarn, which can lead the whole shoe coming apart.

You’ll likely need to “rinse” and repeat more than once to get them as clean as you want. By “rinse,” we mean wiping away dirty suds with a clean, damp cloth. Because knit shoes can get so much dirtier than leather ones, you’ll likely need to do steps three and four a few times before your Flyknits are as clean as you’d like them to be. Be patient. Be diligent. And know that shoe scrubbing is the perfect complement to binge watching something on Netflix.

How to Clean Suede Nikes

Unlike treated leather, suede and nubuck is soft, porous, and textured. It absorbs liquid and stains easily — even if that liquid is just water. Cleaning suede Nikes requires a gentle hand, an even touch, and something called a suede brush.

You’ll need:
Suede brush
Suede cleaner
Suede protector
Clean, cool water
A couple of clean, soft clothes
Newspaper or paper towels

Or, you can replace the suede cleaner with:
White vinegar

Step 1: Brush the suede

Grab your suede brush and give your Nikes a good once over to loosen up any matted nap, and lift out dust and dirt. Brush briskly in one direction like you’re coming your hair, instead of scrubbing back and forth.

Step 2: Wet the suede evenly

If your entire Nike is suede, this will mean moistening the entire shoe, even if you’re only concerned about a little stain on the toe. Note that damp does not mean drenched. Misting with a spray bottle, or pressing a wet towel into the suede will be plenty.

Step 3: Gently wipe on the cleaner

If you’re using a store-bought suede cleaner (UGG brand has a nice one that’s about $10), squirt some onto a clean, damp sponge or towel. If you’re using a vinegar/water solution, dunk your sponge right in and wring it out.

Make your own suede cleaner. Dilute one part white vinegar with one part cool, clean water. It’s cheap, it’s easy, and it’s effective.

Gently apply the cleaner to the suede using that same one-direction wiping.

Step 4: Then wipe it off

With a new, clean wet sponge, “rinse” away the soiled cleaner by once again wiping the suede.

If you’re getting sick of wiping in one direction, and want something with a little more vigor, you can also try a “dab and twist” technique with a soft, wet cloth. Press into the suede and briskly twist your wrist as you release — a little like undoing the top of children’s cough syrup.

Step 5: Air dry

Stuff your sneaks with newspaper to help them keep their shape and wick away water from the inside. Avoid heat and direct sunlight, which can warp the suede and make it brittle. Give them a good 24 hours to get totally dry, and then give the suede one last once-over with your suede brush to fluff up the nap.

Step 6: Spritz on some suede protector

To help keep your newly cleaned suede looking fresh, mist them with suede protector from about eight inches away. Once again, let them air dry.

How to Clean the Rest of your Nikes

On to dirty stitching, scuffed up plastic, and yellowing soles. These are all really easy to get good and clean, so we’ll keep it brief.

For dingy stitching that you didn’t get clean with your cleaner and a brush, try using a Tide Pen.

Scuffed-up plastic — we’re talking toe caps and Nike swooshes — just needs a good scrub with a toothbrush and some all-purpose cleaner, like Formula 409. Don’t use bleach. You won’t get better results, and it’s harsh enough to make the plastic brittle and crack.

Soles are the most complicated, not because they’re particularly hard to clean, but because you have to take texture into consideration. For smooth rubber soles that are yellowing or otherwise discolored, use a Magic Eraser. It’s made of melamine foam, which is like microscopic sandpaper — it truly, magically lifts away stains. That said, it’s not great on textured or pebbled rubber, where it can’t make direct contact with the whole surface. That’s when you’ll want to grab your toothbrush and some Formula 409 and just go to town. For really, really tough sole stains, see if spot cleaning with a Q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol does the trick.

In Sum

Step 1: Knock off loose dirt and debris
Step 2: Ditch the laces and stuff the toe box with newspaper
Step 3: Mix a few drops of laundry detergent into a small bowl of water
Step 4: Scrub with a soft-bristled brush until there’s a foam lather
Step 5: Wipe dirty suds away
Step 6: Air dry in cool, dark place