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How to Clean Knit Sneakers


How to Clean Knit Sneakers

Ah, the future. Bright. Shiny. High-tech. Clean like an Egyptian priest’s hairless cat.

The recent invention of high-velocity knit sneakers has turned the footwear world on its head. From the Olympic track to fashion week, these cutting-edge ultralight wonders have stolen the show for both their performance and their looks. Whether it’s a wholly new silhouette (Nike’s Flyknit Racer) or an updated classic (adidas’ Stan Smith Primeknit), knit sneakers represent the future of footwear.

The Nike Flyknit Racer "Orca" (photo:  Tina Yu Photography )

The Nike Flyknit Racer "Orca" (photo: Tina Yu Photography)

There’s just one problem: the future gets dirty fast.

As a fan of everything Flyknit, I’ve experimented with many cleaning techniques that promise to restore my knit sneakers to their deadstock luster. After 3 years of trial and error, I’ve found a reliable way to clean the delicate yarn uppers without expensive branded sneaker soaps - everything you need for this method can be purchased at your local drugstore for well below $10. So, when it came time to give my Flyknits their end-of-summer touch up, I thought I’d document the process to help you, the reader, keep your own pair fresh. Here’s how to clean your knit sneakers:

Materials (cleans one pair):

Sneakers, top to bottom:  Nike Flyknit Racer "Orca" (2014)  and  Nike Lunar Flyknit Chukka  "Pure Platinum" (2015)

Sneakers, top to bottom: Nike Flyknit Racer "Orca" (2014) and Nike Lunar Flyknit Chukka "Pure Platinum" (2015)

  • 1x Mr Clean Magic Eraser pad (sold in packs, $3 for 2)
  • 1x bar of detergent-free soap ($1 per bar – recommended brands: Ivory or Jergen’s Mild)
  • 1x microfiber cloth or fine cotton rag
  • 1x roll of paper towels
  • Supply of warm water


 1. Wet a paper towel with warm water and wipe down the outsoles. Your goal is to remove any outside layers of dirt or particulates, not polish the foam.

2. Activate the Magic Eraser in warm water. Squeeze until damp. Then, scrub the outsoles in long strokes. You should see dark streaks on the Magic Eraser pad along where you’ve wiped.

3. Wipe the soles clean. It’s perfectly fine if the Magic Eraser pad ends up shredding; just use the paper towel to pick up the small foam pieces. If your pad is still intact after cleaning both shoes’ outsoles, use the Magic Eraser to wipe the underside of each shoe.

The Results of Steps 1-3: Before (top) vs. After (bottom) 

The Results of Steps 1-3: Before (top) vs. After (bottom) 

4. With the soles clean, it's time to focus on the uppers. Wet the microfiber cloth/cotton rag with warm water, then use the bar of soap to work up a lather. Squeeze this lather onto the sneaker’s knit upper.

5. Let the soap lather soak in. Then, use a damp paper towel to blot out the soap lather. You should notice dirt lifting off the knit, returning its original vibrant color.

Step 5: Letting the soap lather soak.

Step 5: Letting the soap lather soak.

6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 until all visible dirt is removed. Removing ~6 months of wear usually takes 3 washing cycles.

7. When satisfied with the color of the uppers, use a dry paper towel to blot dry any areas that are still visibly wet. Ideally, the whole knit should be the same dampness.

Step 7: Dabbing out any soap residue. The left shoe in the photo above has already been washed.

Step 7: Dabbing out any soap residue. The left shoe in the photo above has already been washed.

8. Stuff each shoe with newspaper, paper towels, cotton rags, etc. so that the knit of the uppers is snug but not stretched. No part of the shoe should look distorted.

9. Leave the freshly-washed shoes outside to dry for 2-4 hours. After their sunbath, the shoes should be dry to the touch without feeling brittle. If color has not returned or the knit uppers feel at all rigid, dab them again with a warm damp paper towel (similar to Step 5). If you've followed all the above steps properly, the final product should look so fresh/so clean, as below: 

And for the sake of perpetuity, here's a pair-by-pair comparison to show the effects of the deep clean. Before (left) vs. After (right):

There you have it: a cheap, reliable way to keep your knit sneakers looking fresh. For less than $10, your Flyknits stay fly and your Primeknits stay... Optimus(?) Doesn't matter. Point is, with some pocket change and a little scrubbing, your futuristic kicks will stay lightyears ahead.

Any tips? Did this work for you? Let me know on my Facebook or in the comments below. Until then, happy cleaning.



AS RAKESTRAW | The personal site of Alex Rakestraw.