Can You Put Leather Shoes in the Washer? – Dos and Don’ts

Can you put leather shoes in the washer? The quick fix of a machine wash can be tempting, but let me share a lesson learned: it’s risky business.

While some leather shoes can survive a gentle cycle, it’s generally not recommended. 

Why? Because leather is delicate and the washing machine can be too harsh, potentially causing damage.

In this blog post, we’ll explore the reasons behind the risks, share some safer cleaning methods, and give you the lowdown on how to keep your leather shoes clean.

Can You Put Leather Shoes in the Washer Infographic

Which Leather Shoes Are Machine Washable?

While most leather shoes are not suitable for machine washing due to their delicate nature, there are some exceptions:

1. Athletic and Casual Leather Sneakers

These shoes often incorporate more durable, treated leather or synthetic materials that can withstand a gentler machine wash.

Brands like Nike or Adidas sometimes have specific lines of leather sneakers that are made to be more robust.

2. Faux Leather Shoes

Faux, or synthetic, leather shoes are manufactured to be more resilient against water and detergents.

If your shoes fall into this category, you might have a green light, but always check the care label first.

3. Leather-Accented Shoes

Shoes that only have leather accents, such as leather stripes or logos on primarily fabric shoes, are usually safe for machine washing.

I tossed a pair of my leather-accented sneakers into the washer once. They came out surprisingly well.

4. Kids Leather Shoes

Kid’s leather shoes are designed with practicality in mind, meaning they might handle a machine wash better. However, this is not universal, and you should double-check the manufacturer’s recommendations.

5. Casual Leather Shoes with Careful Consideration

In rare cases, casual leather shoes designed with specific waterproofing or treated leather can withstand a gentle cycle in the washer.

However, this is uncommon, and you should always verify with the manufacturer’s guidelines.

What to Know Before Washing 

Before you toss your leather shoes into the washer, there are some precautions to consider to avoid turning them into a fashion disaster:

First and foremost, always check the care label inside your shoes. Manufacturers often provide specific cleaning guidelines.

Before washing, take out the laces and insoles. Laces can get twisted and stretched, while insoles can absorb too much water and take forever to dry.

Place your leather shoes in a mesh laundry bag to protect them from direct contact with the washer’s drum and other items in the load. I once threw a pair of sneakers directly into the washer without a bag, and they came out with scuff marks

Choose a mild detergent designed for delicate fabrics. Harsh detergents can strip the leather of its natural oils, leaving it dry and cracked.

Wash your leather shoes in cold water to prevent the leather from drying out or shrinking.

Don’t overcrowd the washing machine. Too many items can reduce the effectiveness of the wash and increase the risk of damage.

Source: Best For My Feet YT Channel

How to Wash Leather Shoes in a Washer?

Here’s a step-by-step guide to wash your leather shoes in a washer:

Gather Your Supplies

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Mesh laundry bag or pillowcase
  • Mild detergent (preferably one made for delicate fabrics or leather-safe)
  • Soft brush or cloth
  • Newspaper or paper towels

1. Pre-Clean the Shoes

Remove any excess dirt or debris from the shoes by gently brushing or wiping them with a damp cloth.

This helps prevent the washing machine from becoming overloaded with dirt and provides a better clean for your shoes.

2. Place in Mesh Bag

Place your leather shoes inside a mesh laundry bag or a pillowcase to protect them during the wash cycle.

3. Set the Washer

Select a gentle or delicate cycle on your washing machine and use cold water for the wash.

I once accidentally used warm water, thinking it would clean better. The shoes didn’t shrink, but the color faded slightly

4. Add Mild Detergent

Add a small amount of mild detergent to the washing machine. Avoid using regular laundry detergent, as the harsh chemicals can damage the leather

5. Start the Wash

Start the washing machine and let it run through the cycle. Keep an eye on the machine in case any issues arise, but resist the urge to open it mid-cycle, as this can disrupt the washing process.

6. Air Dry

Once the wash cycle is complete, remove the shoes from the washer and gently reshape them. Stuff them with paper towels or cloth again to help them retain their shape while drying.

Place the shoes in a well-ventilated area to air dry naturally.

7. Condition the Leather

After the shoes are completely dry, apply a leather conditioner to soften and moisturize the leather. This step helps restore lost oils and keeps the leather supple.

Risks of Washing Leather Shoes in the Washer

Washing leather shoes in the washer can pose several risks that may affect their appearance and longevity.

The agitation and water exposure in the washer can cause the leather to shrink, crack, or lose its natural oils, leading to a faded or worn-out look.

The mechanical action of the washer can misshape leather shoes, affecting their fit and comfort.

The lining and insoles of leather shoes can detach or become damaged due to the washing process, affecting overall shoe integrity.

Many leather shoes have delicate stitching, adhesives, or embellishments that may not withstand the rigors of a washing machine cycle.

Once, I attempted to wash my leather loafers in the washer because they had accumulated dirt. Unfortunately, they came out deformed, and the leather looked dull and dried out.

Alternative Cleaning Methods

Here are some alternative methods to keep your leather shoes looking sharp and well-maintained:

1. Hand Cleaning with Leather Cleaner

One of the safest and most effective ways to clean leather shoes is by hand using a leather cleaner.

Apply a small amount of cleaner to a soft cloth or brush. Gently clean the leather shoes. Wipe off excess cleaner with a clean, damp cloth and air dry away from direct sunlight

2. Using Saddle Soap for Deeper Cleaning

For tougher stains or thorough cleaning, saddle soap is ideal.

Apply it with a soft cloth or brush. Use a damp cloth to wipe away the soap and loosened dirt. Air dry your shoes and apply a leather conditioner to restore moisture and suppleness.

3. Spot Cleaning with Vinegar and Water Solution

For minor stains or spots, you can create a gentle cleaning solution using equal parts vinegar and water. Test the solution on the small, inconspicuous area of your shoes first to ensure it doesn’t cause discoloration.

Tips for Maintaining Leather Shoes

Maintaining leather shoes is essential to keep them looking good and lasting longer. Here are some tips to help you care for your leather shoes and keep them in top condition:

Regularly clean your leather shoes to remove dust and dirt that can accumulate over time. Use a soft brush or damp cloth to wipe the surface of the shoes.

Leather can dry out and lose its natural oils over time, leading to cracks and stiffness. To prevent this, use a high-quality leather conditioner to moisturize and nourish the leather.

Weatherproofing is another important step. This helps repel moisture and prevent stains. I always make sure to apply a waterproofing spray to keep my shoes safe from unexpected rain showers.

Store your leather shoes properly when not in use. Keep them in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight and heat sources. 

I’m sure you have those go-to pairs of leather shoes that you wear all the time (we all do!), but it’s a good idea to rotate between different pairs. This not only gives your shoes a break but also helps them last longer in the long run.

Leather is susceptible to damage from excessive moisture. If your leather shoes get wet, stuff them with newspaper and let them air dry naturally.

Regularly inspect your leather shoes for any signs of wear and tear. Address any issues promptly to prevent further damage.

Source: Real Men Real Style YT Channel


While tossing your leather shoes into the washing machine for a quick clean may seem tempting, it’s crucial to approach this method with caution.

Leather can easily be damaged by water, agitation, and harsh detergents typically used in washing machines.

Instead, consider alternative cleaning methods like hand cleaning with a gentle leather cleaner or spot cleaning for minor stains.

These methods not only preserve the integrity of the leather but also ensure that your shoes maintain their quality and appearance over time.

Remember, prevention is key to maintaining your leather shoes. Establish a regular cleaning routine, and store your shoes properly to prolong their lifespan.

Ultimately, when it comes to your leather footwear, it’s best to avoid machine washing, as it may not be suitable for all types of leather shoes.

Resources Consulted

James Chiles

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