So you’ve been out on the trails, perhaps for the first time in a new pair of trail running shoes, and come back with them covered in mud or soaked in river or bog-water… well, it sounds like you had a fun trail run!! We’re not big into scrubbing our running shoes until they look like new, but we do know how to clean trail running shoes so they’re not caked in mud and overly soggy or stinky. A little bit of maintenance once in a while will give your trail shoes extra longevity too! 🙂
How to clean trail running shoes
Here are the 5 simple steps I take to clean my trail running shoes after a wet and/or muddy run.
I keep my shoe-cleaning method simple because, let’s face it, after a tiring long run, the last thing most of us want to do is spend a long time meticulously washing their dirty shoes.
Cleaning your dirty trail shoes should only take about 10 minutes, plus a few check-ups over the next day or so.
1. Rinse Your Dirty Trail Shoes
Step 1 is optional, for very wet or stinky shoes – skip to Step 2 otherwise.
If they are caked in mud, or dirty from bogs or stepping in poo, then give your running shoes a rinse outdoors with a garden hose or outdoor shower. Try and do this straight after your run, while the dirt is still wet and fresh.
If you’re going down this route then accept that the shoes are going to get soaked through, and will take a much longer time to dry than dirty shoes or those that got a bit wet (perhaps you ran through some puddles or streams, but didn’t stand in them until the shoes were soaked through).
I only do this first step if they are truly filthy. If they just have a load of mud or got a bit wet, then I skip this stage. Also, sometimes I get lazy and want to get on with eating and having a post-run bath 🙂
2. Remove Insoles
Carefully lift out your trail running shoes’ insoles, starting with the heel, and remove them.
Brush out the inside of the shoe to remove any stones or debris that may have collected inside and may have been under the insole, and brush the insoles off.
3. Loosen the Shoelaces
Loosening the laces on your running shoes opens up the inside of the shoe so more air can get in and water can more easily evaporate out when they start drying. If they’re caked in mud it also helps remove mud from the lace eyelets.
I don’t normally remove the laces (too much effort, too little gained) and I don’t bend the tongue or sides too much from their normal position, as I don’t want the shoes to dry in an abnormal shape, and risk them being uncomfortable when I next wear them.
4. Leave Shoes to Dry
Leave your running shoes and insoles out in a warm, dry place. Avoid direct sunlight or very hot conditions – my shaded porch is a good spot, because (a) it’s not in the house or where our pets can get to them, and (b) on a normal day it’s warm out there but not in direct sunlight.
If you leave them inside to dry, it may be worth investing in a boot tray so moisture/dirt gathers on the tray, not on your floor, stopping it from traveling all over your house. Or you can leave them on some scrap cardboard or paper, for a free, organic alternative, depending on how fastidious you are about cleaning!).
Depending on how wet your running shoes are, and how warm and dry it is, they may take up to a couple of days to dry thoroughly.
If they’re very wet then stuff the shoes with scrumpled-up newspaper. This helps absorb water from the inside, but you’ll need to regularly replace the paper over the next day or so, as it will get soggy quickly.
5. Brush Off Dried Dirt
When the outside of the shoes are dry, the mud and dirt should be easy to brush off. I use a small brush like this inexpensive scrubbing brush to remove mud from the upper, and I move the laces through their eyelets to free up caked-on mud that has accumulated on them, so the laces run freely and don’t get stuck.
If there is still mud dried between the lugs on the bottom of the running shoe, then my top method for getting this mud out is to hold a shoe in each hand and ‘clap’ them together, hitting the soles together. You can also bang each shoe against a solid object, like a wall, to send dried mud flying off! The end of the scrubbing brush is also useful, if needed, for flicking out stubborn clods.
What will happen on your next run? Your shoes will hopefully get a bit dirty, again!
Do NOTs, When Cleaning Trail Running Shoes
You’ll notice a distinct absence of the words ‘soap’, ‘detergent’, ‘washing machine’ and tumble dryer’ in my 5 steps!
Firstly, unless you ran through something truly awful, like a deep mountain of dog poo, then from personal experience, the steps above will get the shoes sufficiently clean and stop them smelling very bad.
Secondly, using the washing machine and/or tumble dryer is not great for the shoes, which were not designed to be washed in this way, and probably not great for your appliances. Plus, tumble dryers consume a lot of energy!
Thirdly – we’re trail runners! We like a bit of dirt, including on our shoes! What will happen on your next run? Your shoes will hopefully get a bit dirty, again. So spending time handwashing them with soap, or putting them in the washing machine and hoping they don’t fall apart, is a bit of a pointless exercise, in my opinion.
Clean(ish) trail shoes! Ready for your next trail adventure. If you’re running through dirt on consecutive days, consider either not cleaning them every day, or alternating between two pairs, to allow the previous day’s pair of shoes to dry off before you have to put them back on. If you’re in the market for a new pair, check out our list of top trail running shoes for a list of the latest highly rated trail running shoes for some ideas.
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