Running Shoe Hygiene (How to Wash Them)

Keep your feet looking fresh with these quick tips.

When the most famous runner on film–Forrest Gump–was in the army, his lieutenant gave him a standing order: “Take good care of your feet.” Running is an impact sport where feet are concerned, which is why enthusiasts do not simply don any pair of sneakers when taking to the open terrain. Investing in a well-constructed, durable pair of running shoes is paramount for any serious athlete. Yet the shoes are subject to mud, dust, grass and asphalt on the outside. On the inside, they receive sweat and foot odor. Taking care of your feet means keeping the running shoes clean.

Gravity is an awesome force but so is the human frame. With 26 bones and abundant connective tissue, our feet are well-designed to support our bodies while interfacing with the ground. A tough but comfortable shoe keeps the foot safe, sound and functioning for longer periods of time. It consists of the following components:

  • The Outsole — literally where the rubber hits the road, the outsole comprises the base of the shoe, serving as both a cushion for the foot and a grip for the surface.
  • The Space Trusstic — at the arch of the shoe, this is a plastic bridge that strengthens and stabilizes the shoe.
  • The Midsole — the layer of porous material that sits just above the outsole, the midsole exists for impact absorption.
  • The Gel Cushions — often found at the heel and forefoot, this substance is there to absorb shock.
  • The Last — sitting between the midsole and sockliner, the last serves as additional cushioning.
  • The Sockliner — or insole, is the top inside layer that has contact with the foot.
  • The Tongue — protects the foot from friction with the laces.
  • The Heel Collar — at the top of the shoe, the heel collar supports the Achilles tendon and the heel.
  • The Heel Counter — is the internal plastic skeleton that secures the heel in place.
  • The Upper — is the top part of the shoe that covers the foot, usually with a soft and flexible fabric.

Why should you know this? A running shoe is composed of many parts of varying materials, densities and permeability. Washing them is an important way to extend their usable life but it must be done with great care. Certain rules of thumb (or big toe!) follow from this truth.

1. Avoid the washing machine. The midsole bears the brunt of running perhaps more than any other part of the shoe. The volume of water in which the shoe would be saturated is too high; the midsole erodes faster each tome it is exposed to the washing machine deluge.

2. Brush dirt and coarse debris off the shoes before applying any cleaning agent.

3. Clean shoes gingerly with a toothbrush and some household surface cleaner. Whatever works on counter tops and tables will cleanse the outside of the shoes, as well. Alternatively, a soap and water solution or a dedicated athletic shoe cleaning spray also does the job. Clean insoles after removing them.

4. If shoes need rinsing, use water sparingly.

5. Avoid the dryer…like the plague. The heat of a clothes dryer actually deforms the shoe in shape, rendering it useless. The best way to dry a running shoe is by air. Removing the inserts and filling the shoes with paper towels helps them to dry naturally, extending their serviceability.

6. Use foot powder in the shoes regularly to ward off bacteria.

In short, keeping running shoes, strong, rugged and durable requires tender, loving care.

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