Smelly hiking shoes is nobody’s cup of tea especially if your shoes carry you for miles into the Wilderness and need to be parked close to or inside (yikes!) your camping tent overnight. So, if you hike regularly, knowing the answer to “how to clean shoe insoles?” is a must.
If you understand how to maintain the shoe insoles in their max form, you’ll be able to hang on to them for longer. While shoe insoles aren’t typically expensive (although the best insoles for hiking usually cost more than regular insoles), if you have to replace them often, these little expenses will soon add up.
The good news is that cleaning hiking shoe insoles isn’t as that big of a chore as you probably imagine it to be.
Do I Really Need to Clean My Hiking Shoe Insoles?
Yes! Over time, shoe inserts get dirty. They also absorb sweat, grime, and dirt, which may lead to uncontrolled bacteria and mold growth, which in turn, can cause bad odor.
If the smell is really bad, you might be tempted to throw away your boots before they’re worn out. Therefore, by taking proper care of your insoles, you not only extend their life but also prolong the life of your hiking shoes, saving money in the meanwhile.
A Quick No-Fuss Guide to Cleaning Shoe Insoles
How to clean shoe insoles? It turns out that there’s more than one method that you can use to keep your insoles looking spotless and smelli ng fresh!
Keep it simple, More often than not, soap and water is all you need
Clean your dirty insoles by removing the insoles from your hiking shoes and set them aside to air out for a while. In the meantime, fill your bathroom sink, bucket, or container with warm water and add a few drops of mild detergent.
Take a stiff-bristled brush (like a dish brush or an old toothbrush) or a soft cloth and dip it into the warm soapy water.Using circular motions, scrub the insoles.
Pay careful attention to the heel and toes, as those are the two areas where stains and bad odors are usually the most noticeable. When you’re done scrubbing the tops of the insoles, flip them over and clean the bottoms too.
Go over the insoles with a clean cloth or sponge, removing excess soap residue to ensure that your shoes are not full of foam the next time you hike in the rain.
Place the shoes on a towel and let them air-dry overnight. If you’re in a rush, leave the damp insoles near a space heater or air conditioner, or if the weather permits, out in the sun.
Add Some Vinegar
Fill your bathroom sink with equal amounts of water and white distilled vinegar. If your insoles are super smelly, add a few drops of essential oils. Pine oil and tea tree oil work very well as they have anti-bacterial properties, which means that they kill off the nasty bugs behind the even nastier shoe smell.
- 100% pure pine essential oil…
- Built-in eye dropper included…
- Perfect for your favorite…
- Also great for hundreds of…
- 100% satisfaction guarantee -…
- 100% pure & natural tea tree…
- Premium Therapeutic Grade &…
- High quality glass bottle w/…
- Tea tree oil blends well with…
- Bottled in the U.S.A. –…
Submerge the insoles in the solution and leave them to soak for three hours or longer. Then, carefully rinse the insoles under running water. Allow the insoles to dry overnight.
This Is Where Rubbing Alcohol Comes in Handy
Add an equal amount of rubbing alcohol (hydrogen peroxide or distilled white vinegar will also work) and water to a spray bottle.
- Isopropyl alcohol 99% -…
- High purity rubbing alcohol – …
- One sealed quart poly bottle -…
- Lightning fast free shipping -…
- Made in America -…
Shake the bottle to ensure that the two liquids blend thoroughly. Then, spray both sides of the insoles with the mixture. Don’t have a spray bottle at hand?
A clean cloth will work just as well. Simply soak it in the solution and scrub the insoles by hand. The alcohol should evaporate fairly quickly, leaving your insoles nice and dry.
Baking Soda to the Rescue
Fill a Ziploc bag or a Tupperware box with a few ounces of baking soda. Put the insoles inside the container, making sure to cover them entirely in baking soda. Then, seal the container.
Let the insoles sit in the baking soda overnight (for at least six hours, but preferably longer). The next morning, remove them from the container and wipe off the excess baking soda with a clean cloth.
Leather Insoles Need Special Care
Because leather insoles are generally more delicate than fabric-based insoles, they require special care.To begin with, dampen a cloth and pour several drops of saddle soap (soap designed to remove dirt and grime from leather) onto it.
Then, use it to scrub the insoles. The saddle soap should lather well.
- Easy on your leather, tough on…
- Ideal for Use on leather tack…
- Fragrance-free formula…
- Safe for Use on stitching
- Neutral ph-balanced formula…
When the insoles are clean, use another moist cloth to wipe off the lather. Give the insoles plenty of time to dry before you put them back inside your shoes. Whatever you do, keep them away from direct heat to prevent them from cracking.
What If You Cannot Remove the Insoles?
So far, all of the methods on how to clean shoe insoles that we’ve mentioned require that you take the insoles out of the shoes before you wash them. But what if your hiking boot insoles are sewn in?
Cleaning non-removable insoles might be a bit more challenging. But it can be done. We mentioned baking soda earlier on in this post, but as it turns out, you can also use it on non-removable insoles too. Sprinkle baking soda over your shoes and leave it overnight.
Then, shake out the excess baking soda the following morning. If baking soda sounds too messy to you, try dryer sheets instead. Cut a dryer sheet in half and then place each piece inside your shoes overnight to remove bad odors.
Believe it or not, but activated charcoal and cat litter can eliminate unpleasant smells, too. Fill a sock with charcoal or cat litter, and put it inside your shoes overnight.
Steaming the inside of your shoe kills bacteria, as well. Be sure to use a handheld steamer and double-check that your shoe material is suitable for steaming.
You can also wipe your insoles clean using distilled white vinegar or a diluted solution of alcohol. If none of the above methods appeal to you, invest in a shoe cleaning spray (available at most shoe stores or online). Shoe cleaning sprays tend to be quick-drying and leave no stains.
But the major downside of commercial shoe deodorizers is that most of them just cover up the stench. They do not kill the bacteria that cause the smell. That’s why it is sometimes better to use the natural solutions in this post that address the cause not the symptoms.
Also, letting the shoe insoles bathe in the sun for several hours may help get rid of the unwanted odor, as UV rays have bacteria-killing properties as well.
Some hikers swear by the freezer method of deodorizing their shoes, namely leaving the shoes in a sealed zip-lock bag in the freezer overnight or for a couple of days to be sure, until all nasty bacteria are gone. We haven’t tried that yet, but we feel like this bit of info belongs to this article on how to clean shoe insoles.
Related Read: Treat Your Feet to the 7 Best Insoles for Hiking
Keep Your Hiking Shoe Insoles Clean
Now that you know how to clean shoe insoles, (we hope) you won’t have to put up with smelly shoes ever again! Perhaps your insoles will now last you longer too, which in turn will lengthen the life of your hiking boots too.
Hope our post here on how to clean shoe insoles has convinced you that maintaining your hiking boots doesn’t require a large investment such as fancy shoe cleaning sprays or a new pair of boots. With a couple of pantry staples and a decent mount of patience your hiking shoes can be as good as new.
This post was first published on November 20, 2019 and was last updated in July 2020.
Jonathan O’Ryan is what you might call a seasonal digital nomad. When he is not thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail or finetuning his custom UL camping gear in the middle of nowhere, he comfortably sits at his home desk – yes, he still has a physical address, we don’t know for how long though – sharing his insights on all things outdoors with Wilderness Today’s audience. We know life is an adventure, Jon, but we’d still like to have that urgent work email answered by noon.