Weddings and other warm weather outdoor events like graduations and cocktail parties are one of the great perks of summer. But when we dress up to celebrate out of doors, there’s one big problem: The elements can be unkind to our “special occasion” shoes, leaving them stained by grass and mud.
With wedding season upon us, we consulted pros to put together this guide to cleaning grass and mud off of shoes and sneakers, including temperamental suede and light-colored fabric.
How to clean mud off of shoes and sneakers
Rosa-Lan Jarman, vice president of alterations for David’s Bridal, says that when it comes to cleaning mud off of dress shoes, “It is important to understand the fabric of your shoes. Different fabrics require different treatment methods. So be sure to understand what material(s) your shoes are made of before taking any action to clean.”
Jason Angsuvarn, the founder of Jason Markk, echoes Jarman’s advice: “Avoid careless cleaning,” he says. “Take a minute to take note of what you’re actually cleaning. For example, the shoes may have multiple materials that require different techniques or specific brushes to care for them.” For more of Angsuvarn’s tips on sneaker care, check out our guide to keeping white sneakers white.
Before applying any cleaning products to the shoe, remove as much dried mud as possible using a shoe brush or by clapping the shoes together to dislodge dirt.
Most fabric-covered shoes that have gotten muddy can be cleaned easily with soap and water, as can leather sneakers. “I always recommend starting with warm water and soap,” Jarman says. “I recommend starting with gentle cleansers and exploring stronger/more abrasive options little by little — not all materials will react to cleansers the same way.” A foaming soap is recommended by fabric care experts because its formula is gentler than concentrated liquid soaps.
When cleaning fabric shoes, use a white or light-colored cloth or sponge to avoid transferring dye onto the shoe, and don’t oversaturate the cloth or sponge with water. “Start gentle and slowly incorporate some muscle power,” Jarman says, but “don’t wait too long — the longer you wait to clean off stains the more difficult it will be to repair.”
Suede shoes and sneakers should not be cleaned with soap and water; instead, use a suede brush to remove dirt, mud and other debris from the shoe, and a suede eraser to take out any staining.
Before applying a stain treatment product to grass-stained fabric shoes, it’s important to remove dried-on grass and dirt to prevent liquid cleaners from flooding the stain, turning it to mud.
“Dry-brush the entire shoe to remove any caked-on dirt that may have collected,” Angsuvarn says, “then give them a good overall scrub, giving stained areas a bit more focus. Repeat as needed and allow to air-dry.”
Grass and mud stains are protein stains, which should be treated using an enzymatic stain treatment product like Krud Kutter Sports Stain Remover. For more about stain types and treatments, check out our complete guide to stain removal.
How to protect shoes from grass and mud stains
As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; these products can help to prevent grass and mud stains from soiling dress shoes in the first place.
“There are stain- and water-repellant sprays made for shoes,” Jarman says. “I recommend doing your research first — there are different products depending on the material of your shoe.” Taking the material of the shoe into account when choosing a protective coating product is critical; universal protectants are a smart choice because they can be used on a wide variety of shoe fabrications.
Suede is notoriously temperamental, and it’s especially sensitive to water and moisture. A suede protector coats the shoes to keep water from ruining the delicate and difficult-to-clean material.
“Another method I’m a fan of is Scotchgarding for fabric,” Jarman says. “You do have to be careful, as it may leave a slight discoloration, but this is a very common method used for furniture, and which can be used for shoes if the textile is similar.”
If you’ll be attending an outdoor wedding or event this summer and you know a muddy walkway or soggy yard will be part of the festivities, a set of heel protectors can help you from sinking into the lawn — and from ruining the heels of your shoes.