You know what you never see on the instafeeds of Eugene Tong and the rest of the sneakerhead elite? Scuffs. Dirt. Anything less than spotless white trainers are considered borderline unsightly in streetwear circles. Trainers used for, well, actually training may be functional, but hardly flame-emoji fire.
So what’s the secret to box-fresh kicks? We’ve tapped a pair of trainer-care experts for their tips on restoring white leather to pristine perfection – and keeping it that way.
Prevention vs. Cure
It’s not much help once your feet have been trodden on mid-commute, but the old adage is true: prevention really is better than cure. Alan Lynn, co-founder of Scottish shoe-care specialists Sneakers ER, knows how tough it is to restore white kicks. “The chances of regaining box-fresh status on a new pair of sneakers are very, very slim,” says Lynn. “You can bring them ‘as near as’ with a lot of time and a lot of effort, but it’s all about prevention.”
Aerosol sprays are good for a few weeks, but for best results you’ll want to plump for a pump spray, like Sneakers ER’s or Jason Markk’s. Longer-lasting than an aerosol, pumps will keep even the most delicate leather impervious to grime.
What’s the best remedy if you’re reading this too late? Fortunately for white sneaker obsessives, your leather kicks can be salvaged. It’s never as bad as you think.
“Leather shoes are relatively easy to clean and there are some tricks to get stubborn stains out,” says Reshoevn8r CEO Steve Grear. He recommends wrapping a microfiber towel around your index finger and dipping it in a mixture of cleaner – like Reshoevn8r’s all-natural Advanced Shoe Cleaner – and water, then gently buffing out minor scuffs and stains. Combined with a repellent pump spray, this becomes a simple clean-up as opposed to a rescue mission.
If your white sneakers are canvas or suede, the above advice is still applicable – most pump sprays and premium shoe cleaners are effective on all materials. Simply swap out the microfibre cloth for a soft brush and work your warm water/shoe-cleaner solution into the material.
If your trainers are mesh, god help you: according to Grear, taking a brush to mesh will simply ingrain dirt further into the soft material and spread it around.
With hard rubber midsoles, you can get away with a stiffer brush – Sneakers ER carries a midsole touch-up pen for unsalvageable situations.
Whatever you do, don’t perform the rookie error of throwing your kicks in the washing machine. Even on gentle cycles, it wrecks the shoe entirely – the very stitching loosens and the detergent seeps into the underside of the sneaker, creating the kind of nasty long-term funk that comes with embedded damp chemicals, which you’ll never be able to rid your crepes of.
The success level you’ll have depends on the level of sneakerhead you’ve achieved. A passable once-over with advanced cleaner and pump spray will keep cheaper kicks in service. “A lot of people buy sneakers cheaply with the intention of wearing and wrecking them,” says Lynn.
Such casual wearers will get more mileage out of their trainers, but fastidious sneakerheads will be closely protecting their kicks regardless, requiring regular maintenance rather than the occasional full service. Either way, pristine white-on-white becomes wearable once again – provided you’re on board with investing time into their upkeep.