How to Clean White Air Force Ones – Best DIY Methods

How to Clean My White Air Force Ones

My only problem is that my beautiful white Air Force 1s become floppy yellow air force 1s real quick with daily use.

With over 10 million white Air Force 1s sold each year, I’m beginning to think that their ridiculous dirt-magnetism is just a clever marketing ploy by Nike to get me to buy new pairs now and again.

Fear not though, because here I’m going to tell you how I’ve made a single pair of White/White AF1s last more than three seasons and how to clean Air Force Ones at home.

How To Clean Pure White/ Off White Air Force 1s

This method applies ONLY to AF1s that do not have any detailing on the shoe. 

Oh, and needless to say, always clean Air Force One’s laces separately

If you’re sunning the shoes, however, make sure that the laces get the same amount of sunlight; else you’ll end up with a weird color difference between the laces and the shoes.

Method 1: Get Your Shoes Clean With Household Items

Note: This is for getting dirt off your shoes (weekly maintenance), not for whitening them. 

How to clean AF1s with detergent:

  1. Make a cleaning solution using a mild laundry detergent and mixing it with water.
  1. The golden ratio is about 500 ml of water for every 5 ml of detergent (1:100).
  1. Put the detergent in a bowl, then add the water (we don’t want froth on top). Mix well.
  1. Remove your shoelaces and soak them while you attack your grimy sneakers. Be careful about not ripping them out: Nike eyelets are not that great.
  1. Grab a hard bristled brush and work the sole (ONLY). Use circular motions and dip the brush into the cleaning solution bowl regularly.
  1. There’s really no point in cleaning underneath the sole, but you can if you want to.
  1. Now pick up a soft-bristled brush and work the rest of the shoe in this order:
  • Insole heel area, 
  • Outside swoosh logo, 
  • Tongue and canopy, 
  • Outside heel, 
  • Rest of the shoe.
  1. Repeat 2-3 times for each area of the shoe. Remember not to scrub too hard, else you may mark the shoes. It doesn’t take much “force” (ha ha) to get the soap inside.
  1. If there are any scuff marks, remove those using a microfiber towel dipped in the cleaning solution. 

Wrap a corner around your index finger and scrub it with your nail.

  1. Grab the hard-bristled brush again and now absolutely assault your soaked laces with it. 

Don’t go back-and-forth; use a single directional “sweeping” motion.

  1. Dampen the microfiber towel and wipe off all the soap residue a couple of times. 
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Now take a dry corner of the towel and wipe everything down again.

  1. Spread the shoes and laces out in a nice sunny corner where they won’t be disturbed for about an hour. 

If you still have some detergent left over after this battle, you can use it to clean other leather items around the house.


Method 2: How To Clean Air Force Ones In A Washer-Drier

Do not attempt this method without a laundry bag and two shoe trees. 

Make sure that if you have a combo washer-dryer, that the dryer is set to “off”. The heat from it will cause the leather to shrink.

Here’s how you wash Air Force Ones in a washing machine:

  1. Remove your shoelaces and put them separately in the laundry bag with the shoes.
  1. If you have an extra bag, put one shoe and one lace in each bag and then pop them both into the washing machine.
  1. Put a shoe tree inside each shoe (don’t skip this step). 

The shoe trees will prevent the cracking of the leather, and more importantly, don’t allow the shoe to shrink in the large volume of water inside the machine.

  1. Dump in a bunch of old white garments, towels, or rags. 

These extra clothes act as a buffer so the shoes don’t get banged around too much inside the drum.

  1. Add your detergent to the machine. 

Add the laundry soap according to the load size; if you’re washing only the shoes, a third capful is plenty.

  1. Set your washing machine preset to the lowest power setting “delicate” or “low-power” or “small”, depending on what machine you have.
  1. When the washing machine has completed its rinse cycles, dry the shoes with a dry towel.
  1. Set the shoes in a well-ventilated area by laying them out on the towel you used earlier.
  1. A few things to keep in mind when choosing where to dry the shoes after a machine wash:
  • They will take 24-36 hours to dry, depending on the season and weather.
  • If you leave them in direct sunlight for that long, they’ll crack. 

Ensure that there is shade. If that’s not feasible, remember to move them out of the sun after a bit.

  • If the area they’re dring in is damp, you run the risk of getting mold or fungus on the leather.
  • If possible, put the shoes out to fry under a high-rep fan.
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While it isn’t a bad idea to machine wash shoes, only do it a couple of times a year. Any more often and you will wear out that beautiful leather canopy and swoosh.

how to clean air force ones at home

Method 3: How To Clean Air Force Ones With Baking Soda

This next method is pretty much an essential in any Air Force 1 cleaning kit.

How to whiten up your old AF1s:

  1. Remove the laces from your shoes.
  1. Add equal parts white vinegar and baking soda to a large jar.
  1. Mix them together (easy now) until the two ingredients form a smooth paste. 

The consistency should be around that of whipped cream. 

Be gentle: you’re not whisking eggs on MasterChef here.

  1. Pick up a soft-bristled brush and apply this paste evenly to all parts of the shoe (yes, laces too). 

Start with any particularly yellow or greasy stained areas first. 

This gives the paste time to work on the stains.

  1. You don’t have to be perfect and remember not to take too long. 
  1. Let the shoes sit for about 5-7 minutes, keeping them away from direct sunlight or breezes.
  1. Wipe the paste off the shoe using tissue paper (use a decent ply otherwise the tissue paper will just disintegrate). Use multiple sheets of paper at a time.
  1. Follow up the tissue papers with a damp microfiber towel.
  1. Clean out any remaining paste in the grooves and punch holes of the shoe with a toothbrush. 

Don’t let the paste set in your shoes under any circumstances.

  1. Leave the shoes out during the morning sun for a couple of hours each day for a week, and you’re done.

An important point to note is that you shouldn’t put your Forces in the noonday sun. Like ever. 

In most cases, that sun will be too hot in the afternoon and the rapid temperature change from baking hot to room temperature in the evening will cause your leather to literally shatter.

Method 4: How To Clean Air Force Ones With A Magic Eraser

I’m sure you’ve seen those Mr. Clean magic erasers at the supermarket. 

My little 4-year-old son loves to play with them so they inevitably go missing when I leave one lying around the house.

All you need for this method is a magic eraser, some laundry or hand soap, and water. The best part is that you can clean other colors of AF1 shoes with this thing as well!

How to clean AF1s with a magic eraser:

  1. Remove the laces from the shoes. Wash these by hand if need be, with normal detergent.
  1. Mix some laundry detergent or hand soap with water (same ratio as before, 1:100).
  1. Dip the magic eraser into the solution and gently rub it across your shoes.
  1. Start from the front and move towards the back of the shoe.
  1. If you’ve diluted the cleaning solution properly, you shouldn’t need to use any actual force, unless there are scuff marks or stains on the shoe.
  1. If you need to apply force, squeeze the magic eraser out before you press it down on the shoe, or else the cleaning solution will slosh about.
  1. When done cleaning, wipe the shoes down with a microfiber towelette and leave the pair to the sun for a couple of hours.
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This method isn’t for a deep cleaning of your shoes: it’s more of a maintenance routine. Do it twice a month to make your precious forces last longer.

Frequently Asked Questions

How To Un-crease Air Forces?

Preheat a clothes iron to maximum heat.

Stuff your old air force shoes with a nice fat towel. Proceed to fit the towel in really tight inside the shoes.

Next, take another towel (that is the same color as the shoes) and dampen the edges. Don’t make the thing sopping wet now, else the next step won’t work.

Lay the damp towel over the creased part of the shoes and then iron the towel for about 20 seconds. If the towel was a bit then, it’s best to double fold the edges over so as not to burn the leather.

If you were wondering, the towel has to be the same color as the shoes because the heat from the iron may cause the dyes from the towel to leach off onto the shoe.

How Do I Keep My Shoes Stink-Free?

Three popular ways of removing odor from shoes:

  • Pop the shoes into an airtight bag and throw them in the freezer for a night.
  • Fill an unused coffee filter with baking soda and put a filter in each shoe for a few hours.
  • Put some lime/lemon/orange peels into the shoes (or any other citrus fruit).

Why Do I Have To Sun The Shoes In Each Method?

This is more to do with avoiding the buildup of mold than actually whitening or cleaning the shoes.

Nothing is worse for fungi and mold than direct sunlight, because the UV rays of the sun kill most bacteria and other microorganisms in about 12 hours.

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