How to clean and return worn shoes

Perhaps, you recently purchased a pair of Adidas Ultraboosts. However, after trying them out for a few days, you found them to be quite uncomfortable. You’d like to return them, but there’s a minor issue – a small stain on the right shoe or the entire shoe is notably dirty, so you need to know how to clean and return worn shoes.

How to clean and return worn shoes

How to clean and return worn shoes


Below are various ways to clean and return worn shoes:

1. Renew worn shoes with detergent

This method is ideal for flyknit/nylon material. Here’s what you need:

  • A small bottle of Tide liquid detergent (Available at Dollar Tree)
  • A toothbrush with soft bristles
  • A bowl
  • A white cloth
    Room temperature bottled water or lukewarm/cool tap water

Steps to clean and return worn shoes with detergent:

  1. Pour the detergent into the bowl along with lukewarm/cool water. Swirl it around to create suds.
  2. Dip the toothbrush into the soapy solution and gently scrub the stains on your shoes in circular motions.
  3. Wipe down your shoes with the cloth and let them air dry.

Rinse well to prevent stubborn stains like this...

For a more thorough cleaning, remove the laces and put the shoes in the washing machine. Run a gentle cycle with cold water and then let them air dry.

2. Restore used shoes using white toothpaste

The most common detergent/surfactant in toothpaste is called sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS).¹ Sodium lauryl sulfate is a widely used surfactant in cleaning products, cosmetics, and personal care products.² The sodium lauryl sulfate formula is a highly effective anionic surfactant used to remove oily stains and residues.


This method is ideal for the soles of leather shoes and fabric surfaces on work shoes, canvas shoes, or sneakers that you want to return.

What you need:

  • Non-gel white toothpaste
  • A clean cloth
  • A toothbrush
  • Water

Steps to clean worn shoes with toothpaste:

  1. Using the soft toothbrush, scrub off any loose dirt from the soles and heels. You can also use a damp cloth to clean the soles. Ensure the soles are dry before proceeding.
  2. Apply a generous layer of toothpaste to the soles using the brush, ensuring it covers all areas.
  3. Leave the paste on for 3-5 minutes.
  4. Wipe off the toothpaste using a clean cloth. You can dampen the cloth with water if necessary.

3. Clean and return worn shoes using dish soap

Dish soaps, for example, Dawn, contain agents that aid cleaning, including alcohol denat, sodium laureth sulfate, and C10-16 alkyl dime thylamine oxide, etc.³ Below is a picture of other possible agents found in dish soaps:

How do you clean used shoes to return

Warm water and dish soap can be effective at removing dirt from the soles of worn shoes you want to return.

Follow the steps below to make that worn shoe look new before taking it to Nordstrom or any other store that accepts worn shoes:

  1. Make a soapy solution with the cleaner.
  2. Use a soft toothbrush to scrub the stains off the soles.

4. Bleaching powder can clean used fabric shoes

If the methods above are not effective, bleaching powder can be used to remove stubborn stains. Bleach is a strong oxidizing agent that works by releasing oxygen molecules in a process known as oxidation.⁴ The oxygen molecules released by bleach break up the chemical bonds of chromophores.

Make sure to wear gloves and a face mask before using bleach to restore a worn shoe.

Steps to bleach-clean worn shoes for return:

  1. Make a solution by mixing the bleaching powder with water.
  2. Use a cloth to apply the solution to the stains, rubbing gently until the soles are white again.
  3. Use a damp cloth to remove the bleach, and then let your shoes dry.

5. Use nail polish remover

A nail polisher is an excellent cleaner for the bottom of shoes. It can also eliminate minor stains on the shoe material. Traditionally, nail polish remover contains acetone, however, you can buy a non-acetone nail polish remover that’s a lot less harsh, but you need one with acetone to clean and return worn shoes.

You will need some cotton balls and ear swabs, alongside your nail polish remover. Now, follow these steps to renew the used shoe:

  1. Dab the nail polish remover onto your shoe soles using the cotton ball, applying more pressure to dirtier areas.
  2. For smaller corners or tread holes, use an ear swab to remove any small stains.

As you clean, the sole will naturally dry, eliminating the need for a water rinse. Once finished, store the shoes in their box.

6. Clean used shoe with vinegar and iodized salt

For a home remedy cleaning solution, consider using white vinegar and iodized salt. Distilled vinegar is a superb disinfectant and cleaning agent due to its acetic acid content. It can help to clean and return worn shoes, as well as eliminate odors, leaving them in prime condition.

You will need:

  • White vinegar
  • Iodized salt
  • A soft toothbrush
  • Water
  • A clean cloth

How to clean:

  1. Mix a bit of iodized salt with white vinegar to enhance its cleaning efficacy.
  2. Apply the mixture to the soles and gently rub to fully dissolve any grass stains, mud, or oil marks.
  3. After 3 minutes, wet a clean cloth, wring out the excess water, and use it to wipe off the mixture from the soles.

Once the worn shoes are clean and dry, store them in a box to protect the soles for return.

7. Baking soda and soap can restore worn shoes

Baking soda is a mild alkali that can cause dirt and grease to dissolve easily in water. To clean and return worn shoes, you want to mix baking soda and soap or a mild detergent.

You will need the following materials:

  • Soap or a mild detergent
  • Baking soda
  • Water
  • A toothbrush
  • A clean cloth

How to clean worn shoes with baking soda and soap mixture:

  1. Use a toothbrush with wet bristles to remove loose and large dirt from your shoes’ soles. Be gentle to prevent damage to the fragile treads.
  2. Mix baking soda and detergent/soap with a bit of water to create a cleaning paste. Stir the paste with a clean toothbrush.
  3. Use the same brush to apply the paste to your shoes’ soles and scrub gently, ensuring you cover all areas.
  4. Leave the paste on for about 3 minutes.
  5. Wipe off the paste with a damp cloth.
  6. When the stains are all gone, use another clean, dry cloth to wipe the shoes if the first one becomes too dirty.

Now, let the shoes air dry for several hours, then pack them neatly for return.

8. Get a leather cleaner

Consider using a leather cleaner to clean and return worn shoes. The leather cleaner contains Sodium hydroxide, Ethylbenzyl, and Ammonium Chloride as ingredients.⁵ This cleaning solution can clean all parts of shoes and is readily available in stores.

Below are the steps to use leather cleaner to renew worn shoes:

  1. Use a horsehair brush to remove any loose dirt from the outsoles.
  2. Pour the leather cleaner onto a clean, lint-free cloth.
  3. Use the cloth soaked in leather cleaner to scrub away stains and dirt from the outsoles.

With the following steps in place, your shoes are now ready to shine again.

9. Lime and salt mixture

Lime and salt are excellent natural cleaning agents for effective stain removal. They can clean your shoes too, just follow these simple steps to proceed:

  1. Prepare a mixture of lime and salt in a sizeable bowl.
  2. Clear away any loose dirt from the shoes and outsoles.
  3. Apply the lime and salt mixture onto the grime of the outsole using an oil brush.
  4. Wipe off the mixture from the bottom of the soles using a clean, lint-free cloth dampened in water.
  5. Dry the shoes under a fan.

10. Lint-free cloth and leather/rubber polish

Polish can restore the color of faded outsoles and recreate the gloss of new shoes.

Follow these steps to make the worn shoes look new again to return for a refund or replacement:

  1. Shake off the loose dirt from the outsoles using a toothbrush.
  2. Use a wet lint-free cloth to scrub off settled dirt from the outsoles.
  3. Apply the polish gently using a polish brush.

The soles will regain their original luster and shine.

11. Apply vegetable oil

If the outsoles have become rough and dull after some days of use, vegetable oil (available in most kitchens) can restore smoothness and shine. A mum used vegetable oil to polish her kids’ leather shoes—they look like new again.⁶

Here’s what to do:

  1. Remove the loose dirt with the horsehair brush.
  2. Clean the remaining dirt using a wet cloth.
  3. Use a lint-free cloth to apply vegetable oil to the outsole in gentle circular motions.
  4. Allow the oil to soak into the outsole for a few minutes.
  5. Use a clean, lint-free cloth to wipe off excess oil from the outsole.

Don't use vegetable oil for fabric shoes

That’s it, folks. With the various methods above, you can easily restore that used shoes before taking them back to the stores to get your money back, a store credit, or a replacement. Some stores may even have you keep them and still refund you. Just be sure that the store takes back worn shoes before going through the stress to clean and return them.


  1. Dental Detective: What Exactly is in Toothpaste? Thomas E. Ouellette
  2. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS). American Cleaning Institute
  3. Dawn Dish Soap Ingredients. Dawn
  4. How Does Bleach Work? National Center for Families Learning
  5. Leather Cleaner. National Center for Families Learning
  6. Mum uses a very unlikely pantry staple to polish her kids’ school shoes: ‘They look like new’. Daily Mail

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