REMEMBER when you would purposefully scuff up your brand-new sneakers before wearing them to school? Neal Heard, the Wales-based brand consultant and author of “Trainers,” waxed nostalgic about those days. “When I used to buy shoes in 1984 or ’85, the first thing I’d do is go out to the sidewalk and dust them up,” said Mr. Heard, who still prefers his sneakers less than immaculate.
Most of us, however, disdain a ratty, stained look. Sneakers have transcended their schoolyard roots to become thoughtfully designed shoes you can wear almost everywhere (including the office, if you’re a “disruptive” type). And they can even be collectors’ items: The online marketplace StockX charts sneakers’ values on a ticker.
The ascension of the sneaker to relative holiness has created a market for a new wave of premium cleaners. Sneaker buffs can get nearly pathological about keeping their precious pairs spotless, but non-collectors want presentable shoes, too. Even the occasional gym-goer with one pair of worn running shoes or the guy who slips leather sneakers into his casual-Friday work look can benefit from the new products and techniques.
“I thought it was silly,” said yoga teacher and longtime sneaker collector Jared Hirsch, recalling his first impression of the advanced blemish removers. While simple cleaners like Kiwi’s Sport Shoe have been around for quite a while, the glut of sophisticated sneakerhead products can be traced back to 2007, when the brand Jason Markk was founded in Los Angeles. Today, you can find premium cleaners everywhere from Amazon to high-end boutiques, many promising to brighten leather, suede and canvas without harsh chemicals or cloying scents. And although any cleanliness freak has many options, ranging in price from under $20 to over $40, we’ve chosen to feature brands preferred by sneaker collectors (see sidebar), including a classic.
Mr. Hirsch—who cleans and reboxes each of his 150 prized pairs after every wear—had been using
cleaning spray but recently upgraded to Jason Markk’s Essential Kit, which comes with a liquid cleaner and brush. “The way the Markk stuff is promoted and advertised and packaged, it’s another level. It’s more sophisticated, and it makes you want to buy it,” said Mr. Hirsch, who tested the kit out on a pair of synthetic mesh Nike Free RN kicks and proclaimed it a “seven out of 10. Hands-down better than the Foot Locker product.”
To clean sneakers effectively at home, use the same basic process for sneakers of any material. Begin by removing the laces and giving the shoes a vigorous brushing to remove any dust or loose dirt. Then select your product of choice: a liquid for a deep cleaning, a foam for a moderate one or wipes for a quick touch-up.
For a thorough cleaning session with a liquid cleaner, you’ll want a basin filled with water, a stiff brush, a microfiber towel or old T-shirt and some room, as things can get a bit messy. Dunk your brush into the water, apply some liquid cleaner to it and work up a healthy lather. Start with the midsole, which rims the lower part of the shoe, the part most susceptible to scuffs and muck. Next, move on to the uppers. Remember to frequently rinse the brush and reapply the cleaner. When you’re satisfied, gently wipe the sneakers down with the soft cloth and allow them to dry away from heat. Return the laces and you’re good to go.
If the sneaker cleaning process sounds too arduous, you might want to consider an unlikely trend that showed up on the Balenciaga and Gucci runways recently: purposefully dirty sneakers.
THE LOWDOWN // A Guide to the Best Sneaker Cleaning Products
A sneakerhead favorite, this effective liquid cleaner predated the new wave of products. It has offered good cleaning power since 1985. Cleaner and Brush, $16, amazon.com
Crep Protect Wipes
Think of them like a Tide pen: great for emergencies, but you’ll still need to do a deep clean for more persistent stains. Great on canvas. Cleaning Wipes, $10, crepprotect.com
Jason Markk Ready-To-Use Foam
Easier to use than a liquid—you simply pump and scrub—it’s best for moderate cleaning. Foam, $16, and Microfiber Towel, $10, jasonmarkk.com
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