Mold On Shoes: How To Clean & Prevent

Discovering mold growing on a favorite pair of shoes can be a frustrating experience, but can you remove the mold, or are they ruined for good? And if you can get rid of it, how do you stop it from coming back?

Don’t throw away those relatively new shoes yet! Make sure you keep reading to identify, treat, and prevent moldy shoes. You just might be able to keep your prize pair of suede shoes.

To remove mold from a pair of shoes, use white vinegar and water with a scrub brush for most sneakers and detergent for leather shoes. Preventing mold on shoes is as easy as keeping your shoes clean and dry.

white mold on shoes

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What Does Mold on Shoes Look Like?

Before you can proceed with the measures discussed in the paragraphs above, you first have to ascertain if what you’re looking at on your shoes is indeed mold.

If you’re used to seeing mold in blue or white splotches on produce and bread, moldly shoes can look a little different.

The color variety is the primary difference. The most common shades of mold found are orange, brown, black, white, and green.

Depending on the color of your footwear, confirming the presence of mold through sight alone can prove challenging.

That’s why we’d recommend a quick sniff test.

Mold has a musty, earthy odor. If your shoes are stinky enough, then the mold smell can be diluted somewhat, but it’s usually potent enough that it’s unmissable.

Why Does Mildew Grow on Shoes?

So why has this happened, is there something that you are doing wrong? Why doesn’t everyone else have the same problem as you? Let’s go over a few of the most common reasons and you can see what’s caused this inconvenient and unsightly situation.

Closets Are a Hotbed for Mold

Although closets are usually where shoes go, they’re not the best environment for your favorite footwear.

Closets often lack ventilation, so humidity can easily accumulate, which is something we’ve talked about on this site before.

In a dark, moist, warm environment such as an enclosed closet, mold and mildew can go to town, spreading ravenously.

The next time you go into your closet to retrieve the pair of shoes you wanted, you might find that they’re stained with mold and smellier to boot.

You Never Let Your Shoes Dry Out

When you traipse through the rain or enjoy a sweaty workout at the gym, do you leave your shoes out in the hall to dry, or do you toss them into the closet right away?

If you answered toss, then that explains why the shoes have grown moldy. The fabrics need time for the sweat or water to dry out.

When moisture is allowed to accumulate, mold will inevitably form, there is also plenty of food for mold to feed off in your kicks (namely dead skin cells), so a dirty, wet pair of shoes is heavenly to mold.

You Leave them in the Box

Maybe you don’t store your shoes in the closet but in their original shoebox.

This is just as bad as stashing shoes in the closet. The box is an enclosed, dark environment that does not have the proper ventilation to let humid air out.

No, those few holes in the box aren’t cutting it or you wouldn’t have a mold problem.

Your home is too humid

Even if you put a pair of completely dry trainers or leather shoes in a closet and leave them, they can develop mold, but how is this?

It could be because the humidity level of your home is above 55% on a regular basis. 55% humidity is all mold needs to start thriving in your home, and your shoes still have all that dead skin for the mold to feed off, so it becomes a perfect place to form, even if they are not sopping wet. Keeping check of overall humidity isn’t always easy, so one great method is to place a hygrometer in the closet or area where your shoes are kept so you can see if you need to increase ventilation.

How to Clean Mold Off Shoes

You’ve ascertained that your shoes are indeed moldy, so the next step is removing the mold from your footwear.

How you go about doing this will vary depending on the style and material of the shoe. Let’s cover your mold removal options for sneakers, leather shoes, and suede shoes.

Before you begin tackling mold on any surface, you should use safety precautions, as mold can cause breathing problems and skin irritation in some people. It’s best therefore to make sure you have a breathing mask and a pair of rubber gloves before you begin any cleaning.


Sneakers are rubber and canvas but can also include mesh components. The materials are forgiving but shouldn’t undergo harsh treatments like bleaching.

Instead, you need a half-cup of water and a half-cup of vinegar. Combine the two ingredients into a bucket and stir so the vinegar is well incorporated.

Then take a firm-bristled brush, dunk it into the mixture, and scrub the mold away from the rubber and plastic components of your shoes. Leave all canvas and mesh areas alone for now.

Instead, you should use a soft cloth to scour the mold from these parts of your shoes.

Allow the shoes to dry inside and out. Ideally, you should leave them in the sun for upwards of a day.

At the very least, use a hairdryer on a low heat setting or a towel and let time take care of the rest.

Leather Shoes

Leather is an expensive material, so if your shoes are made from pure leather, discovering mold is especially unsavory.

With a soft brush, detergent, rubbing alcohol, and leather conditioner, you can return your shoes to their former glory. Here’s how.

Grab the soft brush (make sure it’s dry) and gently rub the shoes to see how many loose mold spores come off. It’s fine if some mold remains.

Next, combine water and mild laundry detergent, diluting the detergent with the water. Dip a soft cloth into the mixture and rub it on the leather shoes.

Repeat this until the mold is gone.

Give the shoes a good head-to-toe wipedown with rubbing alcohol, which will disinfect them against mold. Then finish with a generous application of leather conditioner.

The leather will be mold-free and look and feel ultra-soft. 

Suede Shoes

What if your shoes are made of suede? Since the material isn’t very waterproof, removing mold will be a bigger challenge but is not altogether impossible.

You’ll need white vinegar and a suede brush.

With a dry suede brush, comb over both shoes to loosen mold spores. Be sure to brush in varying directions, switching after every couple of strokes, and applying pressure in different degrees as well.

If the mold spores don’t come out with the above method, then you can dab some white vinegar on the mold. Do not dilute it with water.

Allow the shoes to fully dry and then comb with the suede brush to make the suede look great again.

How to Prevent Mold Growth on Shoes

Your shoes may be free of mold now, but if you continue treating them as you have before, then the mold will inevitably return.

Thus, it’s best to follow these prevention measures after cleaning mold to prevent the recurrence of the spores on your footwear.  

Keep Your Shoes Clean

If your shoes are clean, then you’re taking good care of them. That means you’re probably not throwing them into your closet after a sweaty gym session.

You don’t necessarily have to clean your shoes every single time, but at least once a week. This is also a great way to keep white shoes looking whiter and brighter for longer. By keeping your shoes clean (putting them in the washing machine once a month for example), you are removing dead skin cells that can accumulate and become a food source for mold.

By taking away their food supply, you are making it much harder for mold to be able to comfortably live, and so you will unlikely come up against this issue.

Use Silica Gel

Those who have read articles on this site before will recall that silica gel packets have drying properties.

Silica gel is a godsend in moldy closets and can serve your shoes well too.

When you’re done cleaning your shoes and they’re sitting in storage until the next use, tuck a packet of silica gel into the shoes, one pack for each shoe.

If you need a refresher, silica gel acts as a desiccant that can trap water vapor and absorb moisture from the air.

That will make a real difference in the quality of your shoes in the long run.

Avoid Enclosed Storage

The two main factors that make enclosed storage a poor choice when it comes to mold prevention, is the lack of ventilation (which allows mold spores to settle on a surface and begin to grow), and the lack of direct sunlight.

Mold hates sunlight, as the UV rays it produces kill it, so any way that you can get your shoes into direct contact with sunlight will make the difference between them looking as good as they did when you bought them or looking like you just found them on the side of the road.

If your closet has ventilation such as windows or vents, then that’s one thing. A closet without those is a poor choice for your shoes, as is the original shoebox.

Perhaps you can invest in a shoe fence and keep it in your hallway. This way, your shoes can breathe and dry out in between wears.

Try a Dehumidifier

If you must keep your shoes in a more enclosed space, then at least ensure there’s a dehumidifier in the vicinity.

Dehumidifiers will lessen the humidity in the air, reducing the attractive properties of the environment that lure in mold.

If you don’t have the option of a dehumidifier, you can leave an open box of baking powder in your closet, as this also has the ability to absorb moisture. Remember, anything you can do to get the humidity of the area you are storing your shoes in under 55%, will mean that mold will not be able to form.

Should You Throw Away Moldy Shoes?

What if you tried the mold removal methods per the section above but the mold just didn’t want to come out?

It could be that your shoes have become overrun with mold, which is problematic.

Unlike the walls or ceilings in your home, it’s a lot easier and cost-effective to replace shoes.

You can give some mold removal methods your best shot, but if the mold lingers or keeps coming back, you should throw the shoes away.

Can Moldy Shoes Make You Sick?

Wearing moldy shoes, especially if the mold issue is limited to the inside of the shoes, may be tempting, but please refrain.

If mold spreads across the insole and your feet spend all day exposed to the mold, you could develop fungal infections.

More so than that, you’d be in the constant vicinity of mold since you’re literally wearing the mold on your body.

If you have a condition such as asthma or mold allergies, you may find it harder to breathe, and your rate of asthma or allergy attacks may increase.

It’s simply not worth it to wear moldy shoes, as, for some people, they certainly could make you ill.


When your shoes grow moldy, it’s time to clean the stuff off with vinegar or detergent.

You must also know when to call a spade a spade and throw the shoes away, which you should do when they’ve become rampant with mold!

Chris Walker

Chris Walker has struggled for several years with mold after buying his own property. After finding the solutions to several issues around his home, he decided to create this site in order to answer as many questions about mold and mildew as possible to help others dealing with the same problems.

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