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How to Clean Smelly Sandals

Dan Human shares what he has learned from several thousand miles of backpacking, hiking and paddling.

How to clean your stinky sandals quickly and easily.

How to clean your stinky sandals quickly and easily.

Time to Clean Your Smelly Sandals

Generally most sandals can be given a quick rise under the hose and some, like Keens, can be tossed into a washing machine. However, sometimes a great funk arises to offend the olfactory senses.

The thing is, if your sandals stink, there is most likely bacteria growing in the footbeds and straps. These stinky little buggers eat away and weaken the material over time. So not only do your sandals clear campsites, but they are breaking down with every smell-filled day.

This article demonstrates how to clean funky sandals in just six easy steps in about five minutes. You'll save money, water and electricity with this method as opposed to letting them romp around in your washing machine for half an hour.

When to Clean Your Smelly Sandals

You should clean your sandals when any of the following occurs:

  • Your spouse makes you keep them outside.
  • The local gas station made an addendum to their "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service" sign: "No Smelly Sandals" - and it has your picture next to it.
  • While going for walks at the beach, friends encourage you to stay downwind.
  • A skunk has initiated a mating ritual when your sandals get within smelling radius.
  • The EPA has sent hazard workers over to your home to investigate a strange odor.
  • You walk into a shoe store and the salespeople don protective clothing.
Abused and neglected Keen Newports.

Abused and neglected Keen Newports.

Test Subject: Mildewed and Stinky Keen Newports

My Keen Newports have been a great companion on trails and around town; however, they started to get the funk. No, they didn't start listening to Wild Cherry - they just stunk. Then I did the unmentionable, and something that a gear guru knows better than to do. I stored them wet!

I came home from a bit of creek-walking, threw my wet Newports into a bag and tossed them into gear purgatory in the basement. When I remembered where my favorite sandals were, I was in for a big surprise.

Not only did they have the pungent aroma of foot funk, but little colonies of mildew dotted the blue webbed shoes. I had to act quickly and decisively to rescue my Keens.

Brush all the loose dirt off your sandals outside before starting to wash them.

Brush all the loose dirt off your sandals outside before starting to wash them.

Step 1: Remove the Loose Stuff

The first step to any footwear cleaning ritual is to go outside and remove the loose dirt and grime with a stiff bristled brush. Doing this outside will reduce the amount of mud you have to strain out of your sink later on.

At this point, it is a good idea to thoroughly scrub the tread too. You never know, the smell emanating from your sandals may be the residual remains of excrement from your neighbor's dog.

Before adding soap, thoroughly wet the sandal and scrub away loose dirt.

Before adding soap, thoroughly wet the sandal and scrub away loose dirt.

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Step 2: Wet and Scrub

The second step to cleaning your funky sandals is to wash them under a warm water faucet and continue to scrub any wayward particles down the drain.

You may find it a good idea to have two brushes for your cleaning needs: a wet brush and a dry brush. Using the two brush system keeps things a little tidier, especially if you are using the kitchen sink.

Apply Nikwax Sandal Wash.

Apply Nikwax Sandal Wash.

Step 3: Apply Soap like Nikwax Sandal Wash

After removing the visible grime, it is time to soap up your sandals and allow the defunkification to begin. If you are cleaning a closed-toe sandal, use special care to get inside the webbing by the forefoot. If I was bacteria - this is where I would hide.

The easiest to use and best performing soap I've used is Nikwax Sandal Wash. It removes the stink and leaves shoes looking and smelling great.

If you are using Nikwax, remember to shake the container before opening. (Just imagine you are giving a soda to that cousin you never really liked.) Also, be sure to press down on the applicator sponge to break the seal - you should hear a slight "click."

Lather the soap on the footbed and webbing.

Lather the soap on the footbed and webbing.

Scrub the exterior, interior and footbed with a brush.

Scrub the exterior, interior and footbed with a brush.

Step 4: Scrub Again

If you are in cleansing combat with a stubbornly dirty sandal, it is time to scrub the shoe again. For some cases of foot funk, the soap sponge applicator is never enough.

Use a stiff bristled brush to scrub away the grime. If your footwear is leather, avoid the harder brushes and opt for something like a nail brush to scrub away the stink.

Rinse away the soap with clean water.

Rinse away the soap with clean water.

Step 5: Rinse

After your sandals have been sufficiently lathered, rinse them with clean water. Again, with closed toe sandals, ensure that the soap has vacated the toe box.

At this point, go ahead and take a whiff - your sandals should be smelling pretty dang good by now.

Before and After: The dirty sandal is to the left (with excess dirt removed) the clean Keen is to the right.

Before and After: The dirty sandal is to the left (with excess dirt removed) the clean Keen is to the right.

Step 6: Dry

Now that your footwear is clean, it is time to dry them. Before drying sandals in an oven like Mr. Bean dries his underwear, please read ahead. It is best to complete the cycle away from a direct heat source.

Direct heat sources include:

  • Dryers
  • Ovens
  • Furnaces
  • Campfires
  • Usain Bolt's Feet
  • Red Dragons

What works best for this author is throwing them on the back step out of direct sunlight. There is plenty of air circulation and they'll dry in a few hours.

Thumbs up for Nikwax Sandal Wash.

Thumbs up for Nikwax Sandal Wash.

Benefits of Nikwax Sandal Wash

As someone who has rescued smelly sandals from the brink of exile, I trust Nikwax's Sandal Wash to clean my funky sandals. For something so inexpensive, it works surprisingly well. Plus, a bottle will treat a small sandal collection to sweet smelling bliss.

  • The first reason I like it, is that it works on a variety of materials (leather, fabric and synthetic) so you don't need multiple cleaners for one job.
  • The second reason I like this, is that Nikwax is an environmentally friendly company. Their environmental policy is as follows:

"No propellant gases, non toxic, environmentally safe. Not tested on animals. Does not contain fluorocarbons"

  • The third reason this cleaner is fantastic, and perhaps the most important, is that it works. I haven't met a sandal yet that it hasn't defunkified.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Dan Human


Dan Human (author) from Niagara Falls, NY on August 27, 2014:

It is hard to talk about stinky sandals without having a joke or two in there NatNat34 - I'm glad you got my humor. I'm a huge Nikwax fan and use it for cleaning all my outdoor gear - great stuff. Thanks for reading and commenting!

Natalie Flores-Henley from Las Vegas, Nevada on August 14, 2014:

Great (and humorous) hub on a problem many have...I like how you advertised a product that many can use and for good reason!

Dan Human (author) from Niagara Falls, NY on February 12, 2014:

I did the best to make the mundane and sometimes grotesque task of cleaning the funk out of one's sandals as interesting and humorous as possible. Thanks for the comment cc!

Cynthia Calhoun from Western NC on February 12, 2014:

No, I did not giggle at the first photo nor did I giggle at your references to funk and gear purgatory. HAHA. I mean, you didn't read that just now. Yes, anyway, nicely done. I have owned a pair or four of Keens. The sandals, yes, they do benefit from a nice expunging-the-bacteria wash now and then. :D

truparad0x on July 22, 2013:

Awesome tutorial. Useful and entertaining as always.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on July 22, 2013:

I'm sure that this step by step approach to clean sandals is very helpful to many. Thanks for your thoughtful presentation.

Dan Human (author) from Niagara Falls, NY on July 19, 2013:

Much to wife's displeasure I am one of those kinds of people that rarely throw anything out. When I can, I like to fix and reuse what I can. The rest of the stuff just builds into a great pile in my basement.

Hey you never know, when you'll need a broken toaster over.

I'm glad you found it useful and thanks for reading mylindaelliott.

mylindaelliott from Louisiana on July 19, 2013:

Great tutorial. I would have thrown them out before I read this.

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