How to Keep Your White Sneakers Pristinely White

We asked the experts how to keep our white sneakers, slip-ons and bags looking clean this summer.
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We asked the experts how to keep our white sneakers, slip-ons and bags looking clean this summer.
Photo: Vanni Bassetti/Getty Images

Photo: Vanni Bassetti/Getty Images

When so much time, deliberation and most likely money have gone into hunting down the perfect pair of white sneakers -- be it your traditional, but perennially cool Chuck Taylors or a pair of exquisite leather kicks by Common Projects -- keeping them white is obviously top priority. I mean, what’s the point of wearing a pair of $695 Saint Laurent court classic high-tops if the alabaster leather is marred with unsightly scuffs? And never mind the faux pas of yellowed rubber soles.

Well, to sum it up, owning a pair of pristine white sneakers is a commitment. But it’s worth it if you put in the effort. So to find out exactly how to preserve and protect the precious shoes, I consulted a few experts in the field -- David Mesquita, vice president of the fashion set’s go-to shoe and bag miracle fixer Leather Spa, Angie Dita, designer for Vans Classics, and Megan Wellemeyer, lifestyle product manager at Keds. (And if you needed another excuse to invest in a pair of leather sneakers over canvas, Megan says that the former tends to stay cleaner longer… )

Prevention, prevention, prevention.

The absolute second after you take your brand new shoes out of the box, pre-treat them with a stain and water repellent. For canvas and leather, Mesquita swears by the Leather Spa nano-technology spray, which he likens to skincare products. “It’s meant to not seal the pores of the leather, so it’s still breathable,” he says. (Full disclosure: I use it on all my shoes and bags.) To keep her classic Vans slip-ons clean, Angie starts with a Scotchgard™ spray to protect the fabric, and for her leather Sk8-Hi Zips, she uses a Jason Markk repel agent. For canvas, Megan from Keds multi-tasks with a winter boot water repellent spray. Also, a one-time spray isn’t enough. Make sure to repeat every few weeks or so.

Regular spot-cleaning is key.

All three emphasize that you need to wipe off any stains or scuffs as soon as possible, otherwise the blemishes will penetrate into the fabric or leather. It might sound like an extra effort, but once you get home and take your sneakers off, take an extra few minutes to give your kicks a meticulous once-over for smudges and the like. Then get to spot cleaning.

Angie has an arsenal of whitening tools ready: Either a Vans cleaning agent or Jason Markk essentials kit, plus a set of different sized micro-fiber brushes. (Like I said, commitment.) “One tip, is to make sure when you are cleaning white suede or canvas to not scrub too hard,” Angie says. “Gently wash and repeat until clean.” She’s also a fan of shoe wipes (genius).

David suggests a cleaner cream and a paper towel to spot clean leather, and says that his team has enlisted the help of Tide stain remover pens for canvas.

Whatever you do, DO NOT PUT YOUR CANVAS SNEAKERS IN THE WASHER.

(I’m assuming you wouldn’t consider placing your leather sneakers into a spin cycle.) “The wear and tear of the machine and the heat of the dryer can make the shoes discolor further and rip or tear them,” Megan warns. Not only that, but a machine wash will definitely turn the beautiful white-on-white rubber into that dreaded yellow hue.

What else makes the rubber yellow? And what can you do about it?

Like vampires, white rubber can also be ravaged by the sun. So store your shoes indoors and out of direct sunlight. David also suggests spot-cleaning the rubber as needed with water mixed with mild soap and a small brush. Basically, the goal is to not reach the point of ugly, yellowed soles. But as a last resort, Megan suggests using Retrobrite, a hydrogen peroxide, OxyClean, and cornstarch concoction that you can apparently make at home. That said, the the mixing process sounds a bit daunting (goggles and protective gloves are suggested), so I’m thinking it’s best to prevent this from happening in the first place.