Warm-ish weather has arrived, and with it an itch to dig through your closet and purge anything that isn’t a pair of swim trunks or a white tee. After a year of trying to fill our homes with things that made them more tolerable to be stuck in, there is much to be purged. But there’s also a lot to be salvaged, including all the oil-stained, beat-to-hell, grimey sneakers of seasons past still taking up space on your shoe rack.
Even the most soiled white canvas sneaks can be saved with a little help from Miguel and Grace Showlorio, the father-daughter duo whose sneaker makeovers dominate the corner of TikTok where upcycling and DIY cleaning hacks converge. The two scour their local thrift stores for sneakers in need of a little TLC and polish them into near-new condition, chronicling it all in videos where they introduce themselves as the “shoe doctors.” They’ve got a cure for just about everything short of that new-shoe smell, so we asked them for some cleaning product recommendations to help you get your own five-year-old Jordans back into just-out-of-the-shoebox shape. Below you’ll find the Showlorios’ tips as well some of their most jaw-dropping sneaker transformations.
Step 1: Tackle the Laces
“The first thing I do is take out the laces,” Showlorio says. To get them clean, he dunks them in a mixture of his go-to cleaner (more on that later) and water, then rubs them with his hands to get the dirt out. He doesn’t measure when it comes to soap but maintains that a squirt in a small bowl will do just fine. For white laces, “if [they’re] really stained and I need some extra power,” he adds a bit of OxiClean to the solution.
Step 2: Add Some Support
Showlorio uses shoe trees with metal springs to bring wilted or creased sneakers back to their original shape, and keep them supported while he scrubs the exterior. It wouldn’t hurt to keep a bunch of shoe trees around the house for good—”if you love wearing shoes,” Showlorio says, “buy shoe trees.” He keeps shoe trees in his favorite kicks at all times they’re not on his feet, “so the shoes will always be molded.”
Step 3: Get Scrubbing
Showlorio uses EBkicks’ sneaker soap to do a lot of the legwork of getting his kicks clean. (Full disclosure: the brand is currently sponsoring Showlorio.) Before you start scrubbing you’ve got to choose your applicator weapon. A small piece of foam or sponge will work for some materials—suede, rubber, cotton blends—while you’ll need a sturdier handheld brush for something denser like leather. “I put the soap on my foam or brush, dunk it in a little container of water, and then scrub,” Showlorio says. Going in circular motions, he makes sure to super-charge the soap by lathering up. “If you don’t see the foam, you’re not in the zone,” he sing-songs in one video.
Step 4: Get All the Nooks and Crannies
Lightly used shoes probably won’t need more than a quick soap scrub and a wipe-down with a cotton rag. For a “deep clean,” though, Showlorio starts with the outside and then works his way in, tackling the innermost corners with a dishwasher scrubber so he can reach all the way to the toe. If the insole is removable, he takes it out and hand washes it like he would for the outside of the shoe. Then he works his way outside, paying extra attention to the exposed inner material around the ankle.
Step 5: Call in Reinforcements for Stubborn Stains
“Sometimes you scrub and scrub and it’s not gonna be enough,” Showlorio says. “The next step is acetone,” which he says is safe for rubber and plastic, most often on the bottom of the sole. You know, where the street gunk of urban nightmares hangs out. A copper brush will help get out the really stubborn stains, and if something’s still not budging, Showlorio uses nail polish remover (anything with acetone in it will do) with a Q-tip or cotton rounds to wipe it off before going back in with the brush.
Step 6: Throw Them in the Wash (Really)
Once you’ve gotten all the stains off and given the whole shoe a good scrubbing, Showlorio swears by one cycle in the laundry machine on the cold setting. (He says it’s fine for any material except suede.) He just tosses them in with some Tide pods, with one stipulation: keep the shoe trees in. “It helps mold the shoe back into the shape it’s supposed to be,” he says. He lets them air dry—very few sneaks will fare well in a dryer—with a little aid from a blow dryer if he’s in a rush.
Step 7: Iron the Creases
If the toe creases are deep enough (and a lot are) to survive the laundry cycle, you can iron them out with a basic household iron. Don’t use a steamer (“you need to press down to get the creases out”). Place a damp, smooth cloth without any patterns on it over the toe and iron over that cloth, focusing the iron on exactly where the lines are and giving each one or two passes. “You have to know where the creases are and focus the iron on those parts,” Showlorio says. Same rules apply as clothes: don’t linger too long or you’ll end up with burns.
Step 8: Put Down the Superglue
Depending on how tattered the shoes are, you may need to glue the sole back together, but shoe glue, Showlorio promises, “doesn’t work.” He’s super particular about the glue he uses for this part—it’s gotta be clear in case any oozes out, and the kind he’s found “is specially made so it can bend.” (You know, since the soles of your sneakers aren’t shaped like snow shoes).
Step 9: Make the Colors Pop
It’s a little counter-intuitive, but a thorough cleaning can actually cause shoe color to fade a tinge. “Sometimes the shoes lose a little bit of color after the whole process,” Showlorio says. He uses touch-up paint to brighten them up to that near-new sheen. He used to do custom paint jobs on shoes, which means he’s tried everything in the book and settled on a water-based version from Target that comes in both black and white. It’ll always be handy to have that paint around, “if you ever see a little scuff.”