How to Clean the Bottom of Shoes to Return Them ( 8 Best Ways )

Returning shoes that look well-maintained and in pristine condition can be hard, especially when they don’t quite meet your expectations.

Whether it’s a slight change of heart, a sizing issue, or a different style preference, there could be several reasons you want to return the shoes.

To ensure your shoes are eligible for return, it’s crucial to focus on an often overlooked aspect: the cleanliness of the bottom of the shoes.

In this guide, we will explore how to clean the bottom of shoes to return them, making them look as good as new for a successful return.

We’ll walk you through various methods, from using household items like dish soap and toothpaste to specialized solutions like vinegar, bleach, and magic erasers.

Additionally, we’ll address specific stain types and provide tips on protecting your shoe soles. With these insights and step-by-step instructions, you’ll be well-prepared to restore your shoe soles and increase the chances of a hassle-free return.

So let’s get started

How to Clean the Bottom of Shoes to Return Them

1. Using Dish Soap and Water

How to Clean the Bottom of Shoes to Return Them

A simple yet effective solution involves creating a mixture of dish soap and water. Here’s how you can clean the bottoms of your shoes using this mixture:

1. Before you begin, gather the necessary materials, which include a soft-bristled toothbrush, a small container, dish soap, and a clean cloth.

2. In a small container, combine a bit of dish soap with water. A good rule of thumb is roughly one teaspoon of soap for every cup of water, but you can adjust this based on how dirty your shoe soles are. Stir until it’s thoroughly mixed.

3. Dip the soft-bristle toothbrush in the soapy water mix and start cleaning your shoe soles. Focus on the grooves and tough dirt spots. 

4. After you’ve given the soles a good scrub, grab a clean cloth, wet it with clean water, and gently wipe off the soapy mixture from the shoe soles. This will eliminate the dirt and soap residue, making your shoes appear cleaner.

5. After cleaning, letting your shoes dry completely is essential. Place them in a well-ventilated area at room temperature.

2. Using Vinegar 

using vinegar to clean the bottom of the shoes

This method is also very effective in cleaning the bottom of the shoes. Here’s how to do it:

Step 1: Begin by using a soft-bristled brush to clear away loose dirt and debris from the bottoms of your shoes. This is important to avoid scratches and allows the vinegar to tackle stubborn stains effectively.

Step 2: After removing the dirt, dampen a clean cloth with vinegar and gently rub the damp cloth on the outsoles of your shoes.

Vinegar’s natural acidity is effective in breaking down grime and restoring the shine to your shoe soles.

Step 3: After you’ve thoroughly cleaned the sole, be sure to clean it with water (use a clean cloth dampened with water to wipe away any excess vinegar from the outsoles), and then allow the shoe to air dry for the best results.

3. How to use Magic Eraser to clean the Bottom

  1. Start by removing dried dirt from the shoe soles by banging them together outside and using a plastic knife or an old toothbrush to scrape off any remaining dirt.
  1. Wet the magic eraser and squeeze out excess water, ensuring it is slightly damp. This helps reduce friction and makes it more effective.
  1. Use the magic eraser to clean the soles of your shoes by rubbing it back and forth and in circular motions with moderate pressure. Pay special attention to textured and heavily soiled areas. The magic eraser works like ultra-fine sandpaper to remove dirt and stains.
  1. Magic erasers can also be useful for removing substances like glue and stuck-on chewing gum.
  1. Use a plain white magic eraser to prevent color transfer to your shoes.
  1. Wipe the shoe soles clean with a damp cloth or paper towel to remove loosened dirt and debris.
  1. Allow the soles to dry completely before walking on dusty or dirty surfaces again.

Following these steps should help you keep the soles of your shoes clean and looking like new.

4. Using Toothpaste

How to Clean the Bottom of Shoes to Return Them

Cleaning the bottom of your shoes with toothpaste can help remove dirt, scuff marks, and stains. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do it:

Materials Required

  • Toothpaste (white, non-gel)
  • An old toothbrush or a cleaning brush
  • A bowl of water
  • A clean cloth

1. Squeeze a small amount of non-gel, white toothpaste onto the bottom of the shoes. You can use your finger to spread it evenly, covering the entire surface you want to clean.

But ensure that your shoes are free from any loose dirt or debris.

2. Use an old toothbrush or a cleaning brush with medium bristles to scrub the toothpaste into the shoe’s sole. Scrub for about 2–4 minutes in a circular motion to help lift dirt and stains.

3. If the dirt is particularly stubborn or there are deep stains, you can let the toothpaste sit on the sole for a few minutes. This can help break down the grime.

4. Dip the toothbrush in a bowl of water and scrub the sole to remove the toothpaste and loosened dirt. Continue rinsing and scrubbing until the toothpaste is entirely removed.

5. Use a clean cloth to wipe off excess water from the bottom of the shoes. 

5. Using Bleaching Powder

Here’s how to clean the bottom of shoes using bleaching powder to remove stains and brighten the soles.

First, dilute the bleach with water. Typically, you’ll want a mixture of 1 part bleach to 5-10 parts water, depending on the strength of the stain and the sole material. For example, you might use 1/4 cup of bleach for every 1-2 cups of water.

Additionally, wear protective gloves to protect your hands.

Dip an old toothbrush into the bleach solution, and then scrub the bottom of your shoes.

Lastly, clean the soles with a clean, damp cloth (with water) to remove any mixture residue. 

6.  How to clean the bottom of shoes with baking soda

How to Clean the Bottom of Shoes to Return Them

Baking soda is a natural and effective way to remove dirt, odors, and stains.

First, make sure your shoes are free from any loose dirt or debris 

Sprinkle a generous amount of baking soda on the bottom of the shoes. Then use an old toothbrush to scrub the baking soda into the shoe’s sole. 

If the shoes are particularly dirty or have stubborn stains, you can create a paste by mixing baking soda with a small amount of water. 

Apply this paste to the sole and let it sit for about 10–15 minutes. This will help to loosen dirt and stains and scrub the sole again with the toothbrush

Dip the toothbrush in a bowl of water and scrub the sole to remove the baking soda and loosened dirt. Continue rinsing and scrubbing until the baking soda is entirely removed.

Use paper towels or a clean cloth to wipe off any excess water from the sole of the shoes. 

7. Using Detergent

how to clean the bottom of shoes for return

This works the same as the dish soap and water method. Here’s how you can do it:

Fill a bowl or basin with warm water. Add a small amount of liquid laundry detergent to the water. You don’t need much detergent; a teaspoon or two should be sufficient. Mix it until you have a soapy solution.

Scrub the soles with a toothbrush until the dirt is removed, then clean the remaining mixture with a clean, wet cloth.

Creating a Mixture of Detergent and Baking Soda

You can also clean it by using another method, which is by creating a paste of baking soda and detergent.

Step 1: In a bowl, mix one tablespoon of baking soda with one tablespoon of mild detergent.

Gradually add water while stirring the mixture to create a thick paste. 

Step 2: Begin by shaking off excess dirt from your shoes.

Take a small amount of the cleaning paste and apply it to the shoe’s sole using a toothbrush. Spread the paste evenly over the soles.

Step 3: Gently scrub the sole of the shoe using a brush. 

Using a clean, dry cloth, wipe the sole clean to remove the paste, along with the loosened dirt and stains. 

Continue wiping until the sole is free from any residue. And then let the shoe air-dry.

8. Using Nail Polish Remover

Dampen a clean cloth or cotton ball with the nail polish remover. Gently apply it to the soles of your shoes, rubbing away any dirt or mild stains. 

The acetone in the nail polish remover helps to dissolve and remove the dirt effectively.

If you encounter stubborn stains, apply more nail polish remover and continue rubbing with a clean cotton bud until the shoes are clean.

After cleaning, use a dry, clean cotton ball to wipe off any remaining nail polish remover and residue from the shoe soles.

One notable advantage of using nail polish remover, which is typically acetone-based, for cleaning shoe soles is its rapid evaporation and its ability to leave no residue on the shoe soles.

Important Considerations

Start by removing loose dirt and debris from the shoe soles, either by tapping or brushing them

Before attempting this cleaning method, it’s essential to be aware of the type of shoe soles you have, as this method is most effective for white soles and may not work well on colored or muddy soles.

If some areas have stubborn stains, switch to a clean cotton bud and apply more nail polish remover as needed.

Related Article: How to Clean the Bottom of Bowling Shoes

Different Stains and How to Clean Them

1. Mud Stains:

Mud stains are common after walking on wet or muddy terrain. They can vary in color and consistency but are typically brown or gray in appearance.

Cleaning: Allow the mud to dry completely. Once dry, gently tap or brush the dried mud off the sole. You can also use a stiff brush or an old toothbrush to remove any remaining dried mud. 

For stubborn stains, you can use a mixture of water and mild soap, applied with a brush, and then rinse and air dry.

2. Grass Stains:

Grass stains are greenish stains that result from contact with grassy areas, particularly if the grass is damp or freshly cut.

Cleaning: Apply a mixture of white vinegar and water (1:1) to the stained area. Scrub gently with a brush or cloth. Rinse with water and air-dry.

Alternatively, you can use a pre-treatment stain remover before washing.

3. Dust and Dirt:

Dust and dirt accumulate on shoe soles from everyday outdoor activities, especially on streets and sidewalks.

Cleaning: Use a brush or cloth to remove loose dirt and dust. For deeper cleaning, mix water and a small amount of mild detergent, then scrub the sole with a brush. Rinse and allow the shoes to air dry.

4. Oil and Grease Stains:

Oil and grease stains are often found in parking lots or garages, resulting from cars leaking automotive fluids.

Cleaning: Sprinkle a generous amount of baking soda or cornstarch on the stain to absorb the grease. Leave it for a few hours or overnight. Afterward, brush off the powder and scrub the stain with a mixture of dish soap and warm water. Rinse and air-dry.

How to Protect the Bottom of Shoes to Return Them

There are a few ways to protect the bottom of shoes to return them:

1. Use Shoe Sole Protectors:

Shoe sole protectors are an excellent option to safeguard the soles of your shoes. They are thin, adhesive pads that are designed to stick to the bottom of your shoes. 

You can easily find these protectors at most shoe stores or order them online.

To use them, make sure your shoe soles are clean and dry. Then, peel off the backing of the protector and carefully apply it to the sole of the shoe, ensuring it adheres securely. 

These protectors act as a barrier, shielding your shoe soles from wear and tear, which is particularly useful if you plan to return the shoes in near-new condition.

2. Cover the Soles with Painter’s Tape:

Painter’s tape is a low-tack tape, which means it adheres well but can also be removed without leaving adhesive residue.

To use painter’s tape to protect your shoe soles, wrap several layers around the soles of your shoes.

This method is especially useful if you don’t have dedicated shoe sole protectors on hand. Painter’s tape provides a temporary shield against scuffs and scratches. Just be sure to wrap it securely so it doesn’t come loose during use.

3. Avoid Machine Washing:

Machine washing your shoes, especially the soles, can lead to damage and accelerated wear. 

Excessive moisture and mechanical stress from washing can weaken the glue that holds the sole to the upper part of the shoe, potentially causing separation or warping.

If your shoes get dirty, it’s generally better to use dry cleaning methods or the cleaning methods you mentioned earlier, depending on the type of stain or dirt. 

Wet cleaning should be avoided, as it can compromise the structural integrity of the shoe, making it less likely to meet return conditions.


Q1: How to make shoes look unworn?

To make shoes look unworn, you can clean the bottom of the shoes and remove any scuffs or stains on the soles.

There are several methods to clean the shoes, including using detergent, vinegar, toothpaste, bleaching powder, or leather cleaner.

Q2: How to clean worn shoes for return?

To clean worn shoes for return, you can follow these steps:

  1. Clean the Uppers:
    • Scrub with a mix of liquid dish soap and water using a soft brush.
    • Repeat until all the dirt is gone.
  2. Clean Bottoms and Soles:
    • Use a soft brush to remove dirt from rubber soles.
    • Erase scuffs with a white eraser.
  3. Polish the Bottoms:
    • After drying, use a lint-free cloth and suitable polish.
    • Apply to soles for restored shine

Q3: What makes the bottom of the shoes white again?

The soles of your shoes can become discolored due to dirt and wear. To make the bottom of your shoes white again, you can use various cleaning methods, such as scrubbing with toothpaste, using a mixture of baking soda and water, or applying a specialized sole cleaner.

These shoe care methods help remove stains, dirt, and scuff marks, restoring the original color of the soles and giving your shoes a fresh, clean look.


Maintaining the cleanliness of your shoe soles is a small yet significant step that can make all the difference when returning shoes. 

With the diverse range of cleaning methods and tips covered in this guide, you’re equipped to revive the appearance of your shoe soles, ensuring they meet the return criteria. 

From common household items like dish soap and toothpaste to more specialized solutions like vinegar and magic erasers, these techniques are your allies in achieving a polished, like-new look.

By understanding how to address various types of stains and taking preventive measures, such as using shoe sole protectors or painter’s tape, you’ll not only enhance the chances of a successful return but also prolong the life of your shoes.

Remember that every step you take to maintain the condition of your shoes, including their soles, contributes to a more sustainable and cost-effective approach to footwear.

So, put your best foot forward by keeping your shoe soles in excellent condition and making returns a breeze.

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