How to Clean Sandals

How to clean sandals

I do my best to be a practitioner of “quality over quantity” in most areas of my life. This includes footwear. My husband and I both have invested in quality sandals that are made to last. While opinions are mixed on whether or not flip flops are appropriate footwear after college, we Southern California natives appreciate them every time we make our way to the beach.

The only problem is, if sandals (or your feet!) aren’t cleaned regularly and properly, they can easily start to develop a gross foot smell and grimy appearance. If this is the situation you are currently in, please allow me to teach you how to clean sandals.

First, Clean Your Feet

Before we get into the proper methods of sandal cleaning, let’s talk for a second about your feet. If your sandals are developing funky smells it is likely time to revisit your foot hygiene routine. Here’s the thing, when you wear sandals (or any shoes for that matter) dead skin transfers from your foot to your shoe. Buildup of dead skin on the soles of your sandals is likely the root cause of your smelly sandal issue. Gross, right?

So how do we best avoid this? Exfoliate your feet. Every time you shower, use a washcloth or a natural body scrub and scrub away dead skin from the soles and tops of your feet. After showering, dry your feet completely with a towel before putting any socks, slippers, shoes, or sandals on.

It might be worth investing in regular monthly pedicures as well to keep gross foot things like corns and calluses at bay. I more or less force my husband to get pedicures a few times a year for this very reason!

How to Clean Sandals – Deep Cleaning Methods

If your sandals already smell, then you are going to have to start with a deep clean. Depending on the sandal material, there are a few different cleaning methods.

Leather and Delicate Sandals

If your smelly sandals are made of leather or another material that is sensitive to extended water exposure, then this is the cleaning method for you.

To start, you’re going to need to create a thick cleaning paste. You can do so using baking soda and water. Mix the two together and form a paste that’s just a bit thinner than toothpaste. 

Grab a cleaning toothbrush and take all of your supplies over to your bathtub or some other basin that can help control the mess and be rinsed clean. Use the cleaning toothbrush and paste to scrub your sandals. If the soles of your sandals are badly stained, you can also add a little dish soap to the paste for extra cleaning power. 

Quality Control

Now you might be thinking, “Oh no, won’t this ruin the leather soles of my expensive sandals?” To that question I have two responses:

  1. If this is a concern, you can and should test this cleaning method on a small and inconspicuous area of your shoe first. 
  2. Is this actually a concern? If your shoes smell badly enough for you to be reading this article, perhaps it’s worth the risk. You can either do nothing and eventually throw away expensive, smelly shoes, or you can give them a scrub and a chance at a new life. 

Now, after scrubbing your sandals thoroughly with your baking soda paste, give them a rinse in cool water. Grab a cleaning rag and pat your sandals dry, then leave them in a shady or indoor location to dry completely.

Don’t be tempted to let your sandals dry in the sun. Leather sandals especially will dry out and can even split. 

If you are cleaning leather sandals, you can follow up with a leather conditioning treatment after the shoes have dried completely. Here is the leather conditioner that I use and highly recommend – you can also use it on leather jackets, purses, etc.

Rubber or Foam Sandals

If you have rubber or foam sandals that can withstand underwater conditions, then this is the cleaning method you should try.

Start by filling a cleaning bucket, sink, or basin with warm, soapy water. You can use dish soap or a laundry booster like Borax or OxiClean here nicely. Let your sandals soak in the soapy water for a few hours (2-3). You might want to use something to weight the sandals underneath the water while they’re soaking.

After soaking, remove the sandals and grab your cleaning toothbrush. Use the brush to scrub away loosened dirt and grime. Rinse the flip flops clean with cold water and leave them in a shaded location to dry completely.

How to Surface Clean Your Sandals

To prevent weird smells and dead foot skin from building up on your sandals in the first place, it’s a good idea to do a regular surface clean. All that’s required is a quick wipe down with distilled white vinegar followed up with water. Use a cleaning cloth (we exclusively clean with washable cloths!) and do this once a week.

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