My first pair of Converse sneakers were baby blue low-tops, purchased by my mother sometime between the ages of four and six. Needless to say, they were awesome. In middle school, I got a pair of black high-tops, which I doused with bleach because I was "punk rock" and "into Green Day." My friend also, cleverly, wrote the phrases, "Nothing To Do & Nowhere To Go" in Sharpie on the rubber toes. I'm far from the only girl out there who still longs for the hip canvas shoes of her 90s childhood. Fast-forward to my twenties, and lucky for me, my preferred preschool footwear is still hip and totally acceptable to wear down the street. (There's, in fact, a long history of Chuck Taylors, of which I'm proud to be even a small part. If the same shoe style can be hip for over a century, there's no way they'll go out of style anytime soon.)
Wearing canvas shoes like Converses comes with challenges, though, specifically when it comes to cleanliness. When I was young enough to have to listen to her, my mother would insist that I throw out my well-worn Converses every year because they always got "too dirty." She had a point, even though I would always kick and scream over the thought of throwing out my beloved sneakers. The material, although sturdy, shows its age. From grass stains to mud spots, canvas shoes seem to pick up stains everywhere. Over time, I learned how to extend the life of my shoes beyond a season or two, especially since avoiding dirt and puddles isn't really a practical solution to keeping your canvas shoes clean.
After literally decades of practical experience in Keds and Chuck Taylors and Supergas, here are seven much more practical tips for extending the life of your sneakers.
1. Remember Canvas Is Cloth
Your canvas shoes are still made of cotton, so you should feel free to use a lot of the same techniques you'd use to deal with stains on your clothing. What do you do when you get coffee on a white blouse, or ketchup on a pair of jeans? Grab a wet napkin, dab at the stain, and maybe take a Tide To-Go pen to it. Do the same with your shoes. Some regular spot cleaning using a toothbrush and a stain remover can help the fabric stay cleaner longer.
2. Take Some Precautions
The main difference between your pants, say, and a pair of canvas shoes, is that you know that your shoes will be beaten up on a day-to-day basis. You expect your shoes to get dirty, but that doesn't mean you can't take preventative steps. Make your canvas shoes waterproof by rubbing a lump of beeswax on them. Follow up by blasting the waxed shoes with a hairdryer to melt and set the product. Lundmark Pure Bee's Wax is good for this. You can also use a spray, like 3M Scotchgard Fabric Protector or Nikwax Fabric Waterproofing Spray. Your shoes will be waterproof, and slightly more resistant to stains.
3. Don't Be Afraid Of Washing Machines...
You wash your cotton clothes in the washing machine, so why not your cotton shoes? Be sure to get as much crusty mud off the soles of the shoes before you put them in, and take out the shoelaces. It's also good practice to throw an old towel in with your shoes, so they don't bang around too much. Run the washing machine with cold water, preferably on the delicates setting, and let it work its magic.
4. Or Professional Assistance, If You Need It
You should be able to maintain your canvas shoes' cleanliness without turning to your friendly, neighborhood dry cleaners. But sometimes, you just have to admit defeat and seek professional help. A lot of dry cleaners will spruce up your shoes along with your shirts. Just call and confirm before you try to drop off.
5. Patience Is A Virtue
Although you can throw your canvas sneakers into the washing machine, sometimes it's better to let them soak in a bathtub with Woolite or another kind of laundry detergent, especially if your shoes are falling apart. But however you decide to wash them, under no circumstances should you put your wet canvas shoes in the dryer. Let's repeat that one again: Do not put your canvas shoes into the dryer. The heat from the dryer will cause the rubber on your shoes to warp, and for the shoes to shrink. Let them air dry instead. It'll take a while, but your shoes will thank you.
6. Embrace The Dirt
Got a weird grass stain on the left shoe that's stubbornly staying put? Draw something crazy over it. Want to try a color that the brand doesn't offer? Drop your white shoes into some fabric dye. See a design you think would look cool on your feet? Make a stencil, and get yourself some spray paint. Like Dorothy's ruby red slippers, and want some shiny shoes of your own? Get some Mod Podge and some glitter, and go to town. They're your shoes, so feel free to customize as you see fit. The bonus is that the designs will hide the wear and tear underneath.
7. Know When It's Time To Say Goodbye
Shoes don't last forever. There are some precautions to take to extend the life of your fresh canvas sneakers, but there will come a time when you have to retire them. They'll become too frayed, too stinky, too dirty. Know when to say goodbye, and to invest in a new pair. By that point, they've had a long and happy life on your feet.