How to Clean Basketball Shoes: The Ultimate 7-Step Guide

Lots of casual basketball players out there will spend most of their time hooping outdoors. That means on concrete, rubber, or asphalt courts. That also means that your valuable hoop shoes will eventually break down and look like a pile of a mess if you don’t take care of them properly and regularly. Today we will be discussing exactly how to prevent that. So how to clean basketball shoes properly?

I’ll break down my personal 7-step technique that I’ve been using for pretty much all my shoes for 5-6 years now. It’s quick, simple and it works. No need to get it more complicated than that.

Without further ado, let’s jump in and break the process down into steps.


How to Clean Basketball Shoes: Laces & InsolePin

Okay, so if your shoes are in a pretty rough/mildly dirty condition and you have been playing outdoors, it’s a very good idea to remove any stuck stones that got in between your traction pattern grooves of the outsole.

This will ensure your grip on the court is not suffering as believe it or not, playing in beat-down shoes that have lots of stuff stuck inside the outsole will take away from your traction a bit. I felt the biggest difference when I took shoes I’ve been playing on a concrete court to an indoor gym and was literally sliding all over the place due to my traction pattern being filled up with bullshit.

Grab something sharp such as a toothpick or a needle and pull out all the stones/other intruders to your outsole one by one.

If your laces are noticeably dirty, yellowy, or in generally poor condition, you, of course, are going to need to remove them first as well.

Most modern basketball shoes will have a removable insole, so make sure to take that out as well.


How to Clean Basketball Shoes: ScrubPin

Alright, we are going somewhere now. This step is for the shoes with rigid materials such as leather, nubuck, or new-school plasticy mesh, commonly with TPU. You will want to take a harder toothbrush or a shoe brush to scrub away any excess dirt from the surface of the shoe. Don’t apply any cleaning solution to your brush just yet, just use a dry one.

This will especially be valid if you just came back from an outdoor game since the dirt is still moist and fresh, which means it’s easily removable.

You don’t have to go very gentle with this step as more rigid materials will need some work to scrub away some of the dirt, especially the one that’s been for a while.


DO NOT do this step if you got a soft upper shoe such as classic, softer mesh, canvas, suede, or some kind of knit. These materials need more gentle care and aggressively scrubbing them with a brush can, one, pull the dirt in and make it sink in the material, and two, actually damage the shoe over time.


How to Clean Basketball Shoes: CleanPin

Let’s get to the meat of the process. Chances are, by scrubbing the excess dirt, the shoe does not yet look clean. That’s because we’ll now be cleaning the dirt, stains, and other imperfections that are deeper into the material and need some actual solution to clean it off.

Now, there are really dozens of different solution combinations that people use to clean their sneakers. I have a couple of pairs of white TPU/mesh shoes that are EXTREMELY difficult to clean as the upper is very absorbent and does not want to give up on any cleaning.

The reason I’m saying this is because I’ve tried many different combinations to make it work and can confidently say that a simple mild laundry detergent is single-handedly the most effective stuff you can clean your shoes with, no matter the material. Most of the time.

If you’re not looking to spend some good $$ on a “special” sneaker cleaning solution such as from Reshoevn8r (which does work well but it’s not the most ideal budget-friendly solution), laundry detergent will work just fine.

Okay, so you’re gonna want to mix warm water with a few drops of detergent and mix it ’till it’s reasonably bubbly.

If you got more rigid leather/nubuck/synthetic overlay material kicks, you can use a mild or hard surface brush. Anything like a shoe brush, a toothbrush, or the hard side of a sponge will do. Apply some solution you’ve made on it and swipe the shoe in circular motions ideally. You shouldn’t be afraid to apply some pressure to it and focus on spots that are harder to clean.

I always clean the upper itself first and then use a rigid sponge to wipe away the midsole until it becomes fully white.


How to Clean Basketball Shoes: ExcessPin

One thing I’d avoid doing is throwing your shoes under a faucet or covering them with water when you’re ready to clean the excess soap. This will really depend on the upper and build quality but if you value your purchase, I’d say away from that whatsoever.

Better yet, take a wet sponge or a cloth and gently remove any excess soap your detergent has made ’till the shoe is all good. I don’t know what’s up with me and sponges but I also like to use a soft sponge here that I apply some warm water to and nicely tap it on places where there’s still some detergent left.


How to Clean Basketball Shoes: PaperPin

Now that the shoe is clean and taken care of, you will want to make sure you’re not just leaving it at that. It’s currently all wet, so you need to remove as much excess water as possible first.

This will help with the shoe’s longevity as leaving it wet can cause the seams to get loose over time and softer materials can eventually get stiffer and more fragile. Something we don’t want at all.

Instead, take a dry fabric cloth, or if you don’t have that, a simple paper towel and gently remove the water by tapping it throughout the whole shoe. You won’t magically make the shoe dry but you will ensure you’re not damaging its reliability.


How to Clean Basketball Shoes: DryPin

Now, another extremely important part is to not go overkill on the drying process of your sneakers. DO NOT blow dry them, leave them in a hot area or in the sun. Doing any of those will damage the shoe and you may not notice it the first few times, but it can build up and in the course of a few weeks/months, you will be surprised as to why it broke down so fast.

You’re gonna want to leave the shoe in standard room temperature, somewhere with no/minimal sun, or, better yet, in an actual shoe bag if you have one. Leave them until they are fully dry.


How to Clean Basketball Shoes: Cleaning the Laces and InsolePin

Okay, now that the shoe part is done, let’s take a look at the laces. You can use the same laundry detergent and warm water mix to clean them. I usually pour it in a bowl, dip the laces in and then scrub them against each other in my hands. This causes the detergent to bubble and cleans the laces very well.

If they are a bit more stubborn, you can leave the laces in the solution for a few hours and then scrub them off, which will loosen up the dirt and help you out a lot.

Same thing for the insole. Use the same solution and wipe it away with a sponge or a piece of cloth and then remove the excess detergent after cleaning.

I don’t recommend cleaning the insole every time you clean the shoe as it’s still a more fragile material that can break down quicker. I usually clean my insole every 2-3 times I clean the shoe or simply when the smell’s really not nice.

That’s it! Dry the laces & insoles at room temperature as well.


The process is done. Your shoes are now clean and ready to roll again. However, I’ll share some general tips on how to take care of your basketball shoes and make sure you’re having the longest and reliable possible experience with each pair you buy.

Don’t clean them if they ain’t worth cleaning

That’s right. Some people are tempted to have their kicks precisely clean and shining like a mirror every two days. I don’t recommend that. As safe and effective as your cleaning methods are, the more you clean, water, and scrub them, the less time they’ll last. Period. I recommend only cleaning your stuff only when it’s really time – they’re noticeably dirty, all stoned up and smelly.

Don’t throw them into a washing machine unless you absolutely have to

I used to actually clean my kicks in a washing machine all the time before. Yeah, some shoes are just fine and they won’t break down on you. However, there’s a reason why most manufacturers don’t recommend it – you never know when you’ll damage the seams, materials, or mess with the colors.

So I’d recommend staying away from it unless you really can’t remove some stubborn spots with your hands or the smell is really bad and cleaning didn’t help it.

Regularly apply impregnator/nano protector for your leather

Especially useful if you’re playing outdoors – leather shoes tend to get more rigid, fragile, and less visually appealing over time if you don’t take care of them.

That is why I highly recommend getting yourself a quality impregnator or a nano protector which will protect the shoe’s surface from the environment, make it last longer, and also make your leather come to life by making it brighter, healthier, and more flexible.

Use toothpaste for extra whitening power

That’s right – toothpaste is an awesome tool for making sure you’re sneakers become and stay white. If you’re having trouble making the shoe look as before with regular cleaning methods, get yourself a toothbrush, apply some toothpaste and scrub the supposed-to-be white parts. You’ll be surprised.


That is all for me today – I hope you found the guide useful! I wanna ask you – what is your preferred method of cleaning your hoop shoes? Do you have a tip to share? Do you think I’m perhaps missing something in my process?

Also, I know a lot of you have heard about aftermarket sneaker cleaners. If you’re not really sold on the old-school methods of cleaning your shoes with what you have, then I think you’re going to love my guide on the best sneaker cleaners on the market.

—Click here for my guide on the best-proven sneaker cleaners—
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6 thoughts on “How to Clean Basketball Shoes: The Ultimate 7-Step Guide

  1. I never realised there was so much to cleaning your basketball shoes properly!

    Thanks for sharing I’ll make sure I actually do this from now on 😉

  2. Great article Julius. I am not playing basketball, but soccer and I do have issues with cleaning my shoes properly. I guess you can apply these techniques also for soccer shoes, right?
    It is very important to have the right technique to clean them as you mentioned, especially when they are worth it a couple of hundred bucks, right? I have to prove, that the toothpaste and toothbrush combination is working very well -;) Thank you for the tips, will follow your other articles too. Cheers

    1. Yep, it will really depend on the materials of the soccer shoes, but they’re mostly of either leather or nubuck, so the usual techniques definitely apply :))

  3. I was guilty of throwing my kicks to a washing machine before and had an instant regret once they came out LOL. That’s was a valuable lesson to learn and it lead me to your post here. Thanks for sharing your tips for cleaning my basketball shoes. I will apply these tips/steps soon because the outdoor season is coming and my Nike shoes need a good washing before hitting the courts again. Tip number seven is extremely valuable and it makes a lot of sense. Thanks again for sharing and keep up the good work!

    1. Yep, learned the same lesson a few times myself, was guilty of throwing my Vans into a washing machine and after a few washes, I never seemed to restore the proper colors of the upper since. Certain cheaper-made shoes that have lower quality stitching are also susceptible to breaking down quicker if you constantly wash them in a washing machine.

      As long as the shoe isn’t extremely dirty from the insides, doesn’t smell terrible – there’s no real reason to bring out the good ol’ washing machine into play. You’ll be doing your wallet a favor 😉

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