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How to Wash Trail Running Shoes

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Ever wondered if it’s possible to wash trail running shoes–or how to even go about it?

When my husband and I took the kids to race at XTERRA Worlds in Hawaii and stayed on in Oahu’s laid back North Shore post-race for some warm weather winter running, it didn’t take long before we became running shoe washing experts.

Sure, we have only occasionally washed trail running shoes (also known in some parts of the world as “trainers”) over the years, but in Hawaii we got lots of practice.

The combo of daily rain (who knew it rained so much in Hawaii?) and Hawaii’s ultra slippery and sticky extraterrestrial, volcanic-derived mud created the most mud-caked trail running shoes I’ve worn, seen, or known.

On one run in the Kuaokala Forest Reserve, the mud was so sticky it felt like running with huge weights.  At one point, my little guy couldn’t move.  He was literally stuck.  The mud attached to his little Saucony’s seemed to weigh more than he did.

My kids and I had a hard time getting the mud off when scraping our shoes against jagged chunks of lava rock.  After a couple of miles, even my oldest teen and tween said they were exhausted from the total body ‘weight lifting’ mud run workout and wanted to call it a day.

Washing our shoes after our Hawaii runs wasn’t simply about aesthetics.  After all, I think dirt makes running shoes look loved and authentic.  It was much more about function and ensuring that they could actually be worn again–and at the end of the trip, fit into our suitcases without jacking up luggage weight.

Should You Wash Your Running Shoes in a Washer?

Some say you should never wash your running shoes in a washing machine.  I think otherwise, particularly if you have kids with super dirty or stinky shoes.  Sure, if you’ve got some brand new, expensive or chic running shoes, you might want to hold off on tossing them into the washing machine to avoid any risk of damage.

However, if you’re at the point of contemplating a toss in the washer, you probably have some seriously dirty shoes which you’re looking to save or prolong the life, to the extent possible and a run through the wash might be a good course of action.

Many running shoes, trainers, or sneakers whatever you call them can be safely washed in a washer.  At least in my own runner-mom-wife experience.  If you’re in doubt, read the care tags and/or contact the manufacturer for advice.  If you’re seriously concerned, you can always stick to hand washing your shoes.

how to wash trail running shoes sneakers trainers

How to Wash Running Shoes

(1) First, head to the tub or sink or grab a garden hose.  Some people even take running shoes into the shower with them post-run.  Rinse off, scrub off, or remove any debris or caked on mud.  You might find it useful to use a soft scrub brush or a butter knife.

(2) Remove laces and any removable decorative shoe tags, runner ID tags, or any runner bling you’ve put on them.  Pull out the insoles.

(3) Next, put your shoes and insoles into a pillow case or delicate wash bag.  Some people tie the bag up with the shoelaces or knot the pillow case end.  Toss the bag into the washer.

Quite honestly, when I’m washing old shoes or shoes that have little life left (or ones the kids are about to grow out of), I don’t usually remove the laces.  It’s smarter to remove them first, though, especially if you want to avoid uneven, dirt discoloration on the laces where they enter the lace holes/grommets.

(4) Set the washer temp to cold. Add your favorite detergent, a gentle blend, or a sport-specific formula.  Some soaps could breakdown shoes or glue, so the more gentle, likely the better.

(5) Remove from washer when the cycle finishes and air dry.  Be sure to pull back the shoe tongue, so the shoe is open and best able to quickly dry.  Some people like to stuff newspaper into their shoes to absorb moisture.

Between the air conditioner and the Hawaii breeze, our 6 pairs of running shoes were dry enough to wear the morning after going through the wash.
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Do you wash your trail running shoes in the washer?  Have any tips to share?  What did I miss?

Happy running!


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