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How To Clean Birkenstocks

Birkenstocks let you take a little of the comfort and breezy freedom of the 70s with you. However, these supportive, low-fuss shoes can sometimes get a little dirty. Although you don't want to toss your beloved Birkenstocks in the washing machine, cleaning them is easy with a little patience and the right tools.

Cleaning Suede Birkenstocks

Suede requires a gentle touch, so start by using a soft suede brush to clear off surface grit or dirt. Next, tackle the shoes one section at a time.

The Sole

Inspect the treads at the bottom and remove any bits of gravel or other things that have gotten stuck in there. Carefully brush grit out of any crevices in the cork sole. Then, to keep it from cracking or rotting, paint cork sealer along the exposed cork edges.

The Straps

Just a few minutes' cleaning will keep your straps comfy and supple. Apply a thin coat of leather cleaner onto the straps and buff in gently with a soft cloth. Don't completely soak the suede.

The footbed

The footbed tends to darken and attract odors. Luckily, Birkenstock makes a product to handle both. You can purchase the Birkenstock cleaner and refresher. Apply a generous, even layer to the footbed and wipe off the excess. Otherwise, you can use leather cleaner and de-oderizing spray. You may need to repeat this process twice for a heavily soiled footbed.

Let your shoes dry completely, ideally in fresh air and out of direct sunlight.

Cleaning leather Birkenstocks

Leather Birkenstocks may be tougher than suede, but they also require care to look and feel their best. Just like with suede Birkenstocks, you'll want to start by brushing away any debris or grit from the entire shoe. Then, take it section by section.

The sole

Use a leather cleaner or a mixture of water and saddle soap. Apply it with a soft, dry cloth, working in small sections. Don't let the leather get too wet.

The straps

A light cleaning with leather cleaner and buffing with leather polish should be enough here.

The footbed

Try a Birkenstock cleansing product or leather cleaner. You may need to repeat this step; let the shoes dry completely between cleanings. Tough stains may be lifted by a mix of water and white vinegar. Again, apply sparingly and work quickly. You don't want to let the liquid soak in.

Let the shoes dry completely before wearing. Be especially careful that they aren't left in the sun. Finally, apply leather conditioner at least once every two years to keep the leather supple.

Cleaning synthetic Birkenstocks

The traditional Birkenstock design uses all-natural materials, but at times this brand releases synthetic-based shoes. These have the style and comfort of the older shoes, but can be easier to care for.

Start by brushing out surface debris. The synthetic material is tougher than leather or suede, so you can use a stiffer brush to make this job faster. Next, you'll take a step you never would with all-natural Birkenstocks: dunk them in soapy water! Use a drop of mild, fragrance free soap and a soft cloth.

The sole

Hunt down any bits of grit that have gotten into the sole and remove them.

The straps

Clean them, paying special attention to any seams or hardware.

The footbed

Pay careful attention to what's traditionally the dirtiest part of your Birkenstocks. Add another drop of fragrance free soap directly atop any really stubborn stains or build-up.

Once again, let the shoes dry completely out of direct sunlight.

general tips

Clean your shoes regularly. The longer grit and stains sit there, the harder they'll be to remove. Also, grit in particular can scuff and scar the shoes' material.

Spot-treat stains with a mixture of water and baking soda. Try to make it the consistency of toothpaste and use a soft brush to buff it in.

If all else fails, take your shoes to a dry cleaner's. They have experience dealing with a wide variety of stained materials and can help you get your shoes back into great condition.