How to Clean Trail Running Shoes: A Quick and Efficient Guide

Trail running is a popular form of exercise that involves traversing various terrains in the great outdoors. While it offers numerous physical and mental benefits, one challenge faced by trail runners is keeping their shoes clean, as they often get muddy and dirty during runs.

Learning how to clean trail running shoes is essential to maintaining their comfort, performance, and longevity.

The proper way to clean trail running shoes may vary depending on the type of mud, dirt, or debris encountered. However, there are general steps and precautions that apply to most situations, which can help preserve the shoe’s durability and functionality.

By choosing the right cleaning techniques, runners can ensure their trail running shoes remain in good shape despite the rugged conditions they face.

Why Clean Trail Running Shoes

Cleaning trail running shoes is essential for maintaining their durability, comfort, and functionality. Dirt and debris that accumulate on the shoes can affect overall performance and even cause damage over time.

One reason to clean trail running shoes is to prevent the buildup of bacteria and odors. When shoes are used for running in muddy or wet conditions, moisture seeping into the shoe’s materials can promote bacterial growth that leads to bad smells and potential health risks. Regular cleaning helps keep the shoes free from harmful bacteria and unpleasant odors.

Another important reason to clean trail running shoes is to maintain the effectiveness of the traction provided by the shoe’s sole. Mud and dirt buildup on the soles can prevent the shoe from gripping the trail surfaces properly, which can make running more difficult and potentially dangerous. By removing the accumulated debris from the soles, the shoes can continue to provide the traction necessary for safe and efficient trail running.

Moreover, cleaning trail running shoes can help prolong their lifespan. Dirt, grit, and other particles trapped in the shoe’s materials can cause gradual wear and tear. By regularly cleaning the shoes, these particles are removed, reducing the chances of premature damage.

In summary, cleaning trail running shoes is essential for a variety of reasons, including maintaining proper hygiene, ensuring optimal performance, and prolonging the shoe’s lifespan. Adequate care and cleaning of trail running shoes will help runners have a more enjoyable and safe experience on the trails.

When to Clean

Knowing when to clean your trail running shoes is crucial to maintaining their performance and durability. While it’s important to frequently inspect your shoes for dirt, mud, and debris, there isn’t a fixed cleaning schedule for every runner. Factors like the frequency of runs, trail conditions, and personal preference will determine how often you should clean your shoes.

As a general guideline, it’s a good practice to clean your trail running shoes every two to three weeks if you run at least twice a week or after a particularly muddy and wet run.

Regular cleaning will not only keep your shoes smelling fresh but also help preserve traction and structural integrity.

Additionally, if you notice your shoes have become stinky due to foot sweat, it’s essential to address the odor promptly. Cleaning and properly drying your shoes can help prevent the growth of odor-causing bacteria and keep your feet healthy and comfortable during your runs.

Remember, these are general recommendations, and your specific cleaning needs may vary based on your usage and preferences. Paying attention to the cleanliness of your shoes and promptly addressing any issues will ensure a better running experience and help extend the life of your trail running shoes.

Materials Needed

Before you begin the process of cleaning your trail running shoes, it’s essential to gather the necessary materials to get the job done efficiently and effectively.

The primary materials required include:

  • A clean water source, such as a garden hose, outdoor tap, or sink
  • A soft brush or an old toothbrush with gentle bristles
  • A mild soap or footwear cleaner, especially if the shoes have a waterproof/breathable membrane like Gore-Tex®
  • A sponge or cloth for washing

Optional materials that may be helpful in certain situations include:

  • Disinfectant spray for odor control
  • Re-waterproofing product to maintain the shoe’s water resistance

Having these materials on hand will ensure a more thorough and efficient cleaning process for your trail running shoes, helping you keep them in top shape for your next adventure.

Cleaning Technique

Remove Debris

Before cleaning your trail running shoes, start by removing any excess mud, dirt, or debris. You can do this using a soft-bristle brush or by tapping the shoes against each other or on a hard surface. If the shoes have caked on mud, consider rinsing them outdoors with a garden hose or outdoor shower.

Clean the Uppers

The upper part of the trail running shoes can be cleaned with a damp cloth or a soft brush. Gently remove dirt and stains, taking care not to damage the fabric. Rinse the cloth or brush in warm water as needed, and continue cleaning until the uppers are clean.

Wash the Insoles

It is recommended to remove the insoles from your shoes and wash them separately. There are several cleaning solutions you can use, such as a mild soap and water, a mixture of baking soda and water, or a solution of water and vinegar. As suggested by ASICS, gently scrub the insoles with your preferred cleaner, rinse them until the water runs clear, and then set them aside to dry.

Scrub the Outsoles

Cleaning the outsoles of your trail running shoes is crucial in maintaining traction and preventing the spread of invasive species. According to REI Co-op, sole cleansing is simple: Let the outsoles dry completely, and then use a brush or cloth to scrub away any remaining dirt and debris. This will revitalize the traction and ensure a clean and safe running experience.

Drying Process

Once the trail running shoes have been cleaned, it is crucial to dry them properly to prevent bad odors, maintain their durability, and prolong their life. There are several steps to follow to ensure effective drying.

First, it is important to remove the insoles from the shoes after cleaning them. This allows for better air ventilation and faster drying. Place the insoles separately in a well-ventilated area at room temperature, ensuring they are not exposed to direct sunlight or heat sources, as these can damage the material and cause them to lose their shape Salomon.

Next, stuff the shoes with newspaper or paper towels to help absorb moisture and speed up the drying process. The paper should be changed periodically until the shoes have dried completely.

Ensure your shoes are placed in a well-ventilated area to dry, away from direct sunlight or heat sources, such as radiators, fires, or space heaters. Excessive heat can cause materials to warp, crack or lose their shape, affecting the fit and performance of the shoes.

Although tempting, avoid using hairdryers, microwaves, or other forced-heat methods to dry your trail running shoes, as this can also damage the materials and compromise their function. Instead, opt for natural air circulation and room temperature drying for the best results.

Proper Storage

Proper storage of trail running shoes is essential to extend their lifespan and maintain their optimal performance. By storing shoes correctly after cleaning, you can prevent dirt buildup, minimize odor, and maintain shoe materials in good condition.

Start by ensuring that the shoes are completely dry before storing them. Leave them in a well-ventilated area to dry, but avoid direct sunlight or heat sources as this can damage the shoe materials. If the shoes are still damp, using a fan or placing crumpled newspaper inside can help expedite the drying process.

Once the shoes are dry, it is important to store them in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated space. Avoid keeping them in enclosed areas such as car trunks, or damp locations like basements, as this can cause damage to the shoe and promote the growth of odor-causing bacteria.

Keep running shoes organized and separated from other pairs or belongings. Using a dedicated shoe rack or shoe storage solution helps to maintain their shape and prevents any accidental damage.

If possible, avoid stacking shoes on top of one another, as this can cause unnecessary compression and distortion of the shoe structure. Instead, allocate individual spaces on a shelf or rack for each pair to maintain shape and maximize airflow.

Maintaining and Preventing Damage

Proper maintenance and precautions can significantly increase the lifespan of your trail running shoes. By following a few simple steps, you can prevent unnecessary damage and ensure they remain in good condition.

Firstly, it’s essential to remove any excess dirt and debris from your shoes after each run. Gently knocking them together or using a brush can help remove loose dirt. However, if there is caked-on mud, you may need to rinse them under running water, as described in Salomon’s guide.

Avoid exposing your shoes to extreme temperatures, as this can lead to material breakdown. Instead, let them air-dry in a well-ventilated and shady area, as recommended by Trail Run Planet. Additionally, refrain from using heaters or radiators, as they can cause damage to the shoe materials.

Consider rotating between two pairs of trail running shoes if you run frequently. This allows sufficient time for each pair to fully dry out and recover after use, maintaining optimal performance, and prolonging their lifespan.

Finally, never machine wash your trail running shoes, as it can lead to structural damage. Stick to manual cleaning methods using a brush or sponge, as suggested by REI Co-op.


Proper care and maintenance of trail running shoes can greatly extend their life and ensure optimal performance during your trail adventures. To conclude, it’s essential to:

  • Remove excess dirt and debris with water, a brush or an appropriate cleaning tool
  • Avoid using harmful chemicals such as detergents or harsh soaps, instead using mild soaps or water for cleaning
  • Never put trail running shoes in the washing machine or dryer, as it can cause damage and negatively impact their water-resistance
  • Clean the insole and outsole separately to ensure all parts of the shoe remain clean and fresh
  • Allow shoes to air-dry completely before using them again

Following these guidelines can help keep your trail running shoes in optimal condition, providing comfort and support on your outdoor adventures. Remember that cleaning your shoes regularly not only maintains their performance but also helps protect the environment by preventing the spread of invasive species.

With your trail running shoes properly maintained, you can enjoy the great outdoors while knowing that your footwear is up to the challenge. Happy trails!

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