8 Tips For Cleaning Your Birkenstocks

They’ll make your favorite pair look brand new.

by Jessica Thomas and Alyssa Lapid
Originally Published: 

Cheugy or not, a whole slew of celebs have solidified Birkenstocks as a wardrobe staple. From Kendall Jenner to Gigi Hadid, Issa Rae, and Ariana Grande, style stars have proven just how versatile the cozy sandal is. And with the weather finally warming up, it’s the perfect time to clean your favorite Birkenstocks and bring them back into your wardrobe rotation.

The ’90s-favorite shoe saw a major resurgence in recent years, in large part because they’re unbelievably comfortable. (The footwear is orthopedic-inspired, hence the major arch support it offers.) They’ve also been given a chic transformation in recent years. Birks come in a variety of styles and materials from classic brown or black leather and raffia straw, to metallic gold or dressed-up satin. And as a street style favorite, the sandals pair well with denim, sun dresses, and even suits.

The flats are also a ways away from their circa 2015 normcore days — even fashion houses like Valentino and Carrie Bradshaw’s beloved Manolo Blahnik gave the chunky sandal its seal of approval, dropping limited-edition collabs with the heritage German brand.

If you’re preparing to dust off your comfy sandals to wear with all your summer ‘fits, here’s how to clean your Birkenstocks so that they can be worn for years to come.

Jeremy Moeller/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

1. Wipe them out regularly to clear dirt and grass

While suede pairs have different cleaning needs than the leather styles, one tip is universal: ensure you clean your pair regularly before dirt piles on and causes discoloration, especially if you get them muddy.

2. Use a DIY cleaning method to scrub out stains

Luckily, it’s pretty easy to clean your Birkenstocks at home using a simple paste of ingredients you can find at your local grocery store: baking soda or Borax and water.

For leather pairs, combine either powder with a small amount of water, just enough to form a paste. Rub a quarter of the paste into the footbed with your hands and then use an old toothbrush to gently scrub using circular motions. After that, just rinse the paste using a wet cloth and lukewarm water.

A caution: do not hold the sandals under running water and make sure they don’t get completely wet. Leave to sit overnight and your shoes should look as good as new, or at least, noticeably cleaner.

3. Never dry them in direct sunlight

Per the official Birkenstock care guide, heat is the enemy of your shoes. Direct heat can cause cracks and may make your Birkenstocks deteriorate faster. So after cleaning them, make sure to dry them in a cool place away from windows and doors to ensure your shoes’ longevity.

And while it’s tempting to put them in the dryer to speed things up, that’s another no-no. Plan to clean your shoes on a day you won't want to wear them, and give them at least 24 hours to dry completely.

4. Dry Suede Birkenstocks before cleaning

Before cleaning any pair of suede Birkenstocks, make sure that they’re fully dry before rubbing out any unwanted messes. That way, you won’t further ruin the material while trying to remove dirt and grime.

5. Use a suede brush

Because you need to go easier on suede pairs, use a gentle suede brush to kick out any dirt or stain. Pro tip: brush in the direction of the grain to slowly remove any caked-on dirt.

Meanwhile, for scuffs, try a suede eraser or a pencil eraser, if that proves more convenient to use.

6. Try cornstarch for oil stains

Because life happens, sometimes oil stains also find their way onto your shoes. Don’t sweat it, just dab a bit of cornstarch on your suede Birkenstocks and let them sit for a few hours. The powder will slowly absorb the oil from the material, which can then be brushed away with a suede brush. Repeat as many times as needed.

7. Use white vinegar

If all else fails, there’s always white vinegar for those pesky, persistent stains. Dab a small amount on the stain with a microfiber cloth and rub it gently. You want to dampen the material on your Birkenstocks — not completely soak it. Let the shoes dry completely and try it again if the stain persists.

8. Protect your pairs

When it comes to your shoes, the best offense if a great defense. Make sure you’re spraying your shoes with sealants to avoid — or minimize — potential damage. For suede pairs, use colorless waterproofing sprays on the straps (not the footbed). Meanwhile, the best way to protect leather pairs is to use leather grease on the straps. The New York Times recommends applying three coats of spray.

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