How to Wash Your Barefoot Shoes Without Damaging

Barefoot shoes are meant to let your feet be feet. And sometimes that means they also need a wash!

Whether your barefoot shoes need a wash because they’re starting to smell or they are just getting a bit grimy, here are instructions on how to wash your barefoot shoes. Depending on the material of your shoes, you will have to wash them in slightly different ways.

How to wash barefoot shoes properly

When washing barefoot shoes, you can either hand wash or machine wash them, depending on the material of your shoes. Machine washing is fine on most barefoot shoes if using cold water on a gentle cycle. However, leather barefoot shoes should only be hand-washed.

Washing different types of barefoot shoes

For most barefoot shoes, it is perfectly fine to wash by hand or in the washing machine. If cleaned with a washing machine, it is recommended to wash with cold water on a gentle spinning cycle to avoid deteriorating the fabric over time.

When drying, you can either air dry the shoes or place them on a drying rack inside a drying machine.

Here’s how to wash specific types of barefoot shoes, as each shoe has a slightly different best method for washing.

Washing fabric barefoot shoes

Barefoot shoes made from fabric materials are typically not as durable as other materials, so it is recommended to spot clean and hand-wash them.

Fill a sink or large bowl with warm water and soap or any cleaner product, then wash thoroughly with a rag using warm water. Be sure to let it sit in the water for a bit to get the odor out.

If their odor becomes truly offensive, an occasional run through the washing machine won’t destroy them. It’s surely worth having a fresh-smelling pair of kicks!

Washing leather barefoot shoes

Washing leather barefoot shoes is a bit more involved, as washing thing simply in the washing machine will deteriorate the leather and fade the color significantly.

Follow these steps to clean leather barefoot shoes:

  1. Remove the laces

If the shoes have laces, remove them before washing in order to thoroughly clean the shoes. Consider popping the laces in a washing machine to give them a deep cleaning.

  1. Clean away any dirt

Using a brush or scrub, clean away any dirt or debris clinging to the inside and outside of the leather shoes.

  1. Use soap

Mix some dish soap with warm water and then apply the soap using a cloth to get rid of any stubborn spots. The soap will also help with any remaining bad odor.

  1. Wipe down the shoes

Using a damp towel or cloth, wipe down the shoe until completely dry.

  1. Apply leather conditioner

You may want to apply some leather conditioner to give your shoes protection from further stains and just make them shinier in general.

You can get some from Amazon or just make your own by mixing vinegar and linseed oil (1 part vinegar, 2 part linseed oil). The Leather Honey brand on Amazon has excellent reviews and might be something to keep with you long-term if you like leather, like I do.

Washing barefoot sandals

Barefoot sandals have a unique odor that is unpleasant and can be eliminated by adding one cup of vinegar to the washing machine load, in addition to laundry detergent.

Sandals offer another unique challenge of quickly accumulating unsightly stains on the area where your feet contact the sandal. One way to clean the stains is to hand-wash the sandals using warm water, soap, and a toothbrush. In addition, vinegar can be helpful in removing the stains, as well as odors.

Washing synthetic barefoot shoes

Synthetic materials on barefoot shoes are man-made materials that may hold up well under any washing methods. If you have some stubborn stains on your synthetic shoes (which commonly might happen), then you can use a toothbrush to give them a real good scrubbing.

Washing Vibram Five-Fingers shoes

Vibram gives some specific advice to Five-Finger owners on how to wash them.

They state:

To best clean and continue the love for your pair of FiveFingers or Furoshiki, we recommend hand washing or machine washing on gentle cycle in cold water with detergent, and air drying. Please note, hot water wash and dyer machines will likely result in the demise of your beloved Vibram minimal shoes.

Wearing your FiveFingers at the pool or ocean? We suggest rinsing your pair in cold, fresh water immediately afterwards.

How to prevent barefoot shoes from smelling

Now that your barefoot shoes are clean and smelling like new, you’ll want to minimize the chances of them stinking up again.

But in order to know how to best prevent unwanted odors, it’s helpful to know exactly why barefoot shoes smell in the first place.

Apart from the obvious reason that our shoes smell because our feet smell, barefoot shoes in particular start to smell very quickly if you are not wearing socks and if you do not rinse them off after sweaty runs, wearing them in the pool, or wearing them in the ocean.

Here are 2 important things you can do to ensure fresh-smelling minimalist shoes:

Rinse off barefoot shoes after wearing them in the ocean or pool

Some barefoot shoes make excellent waters shoes, especially if they are the right materials. But they also can absorb and unwanted amount of salt from the ocean and chlorine from the pool.

Ocean salt and pool chlorine can affect the smell and also fabric of your shoes if not rinsed off immediately after.

For that reason, be sure to wash off your barefoot shoes with fresh water as soon as you get out of the pool or ocean.

Will socks help prevent shoe odor in barefoot shoes?

The debate on whether it’s better to wear socks or not is still under hot debate. But there’s no denying that wearing socks will help eliminate bad odors!

The reason socks are recommended for barefoot shoes (and for shoes in general), is that socks absorb any offensive odors, as opposed to the shoes absorbing the smells.

Especially if you are running in barefoot shoes, it is recommended to wear socks with your shoes to help with odor problems.

Personally, I think a pair of clean socks just looks and feels nicer anyway.

If you prefer to not wear socks with your barefoot shoes (the more bare the better for some people), then you can add some foot powder to your shoes to absorb sweat. The foot powder by Gold Bond on Amazon is an affordable and popular choice.


Washing your barefoot shoes should become a regular chore whenever they begin to smell or get unpleasantly dirty. Although there are a few things you can do to eliminate odors (as mentioned above), the reality is that most people have stinky feet.

Therefore, it’s important to wash them every so often to maintain their function, feel, and aesthetics.

Need help choosing barefoot shoes?

If you need further choosing the best barefoot shoes for your budget, lifestyle, and comfort, my recommended shoes of choice are the popular and stylish Merrell Vapor Glove 3, which offers comfort, style, and a minimalist experience for an affordable price.

Stay Barefoot!

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