How (and Why) to Disinfect Used Shoes

How (and Why) to Disinfect Used Shoes

There are few things more rewarding to find at a second-hand store than the perfect pair of shoes.

Shopping for used shoes, as opposed to new shoes, makes sense for many reasons: from cost-effectiveness to unique styles, and even a desire to support sustainability. But there is one important thing to be wary of when you’re purchasing second-hand shoes—a higher likelihood of dangerous contaminants.

Used shoes, no matter how gently worn, pose a risk to your health.

Inside, the warm and moist environment can function as a breeding ground for fungi like Athlete's Foot and molds like Aspergillus and Cladosporium. These organisms can silently thrive, causing skin infections or, in more severe cases, respiratory issues upon prolonged exposure.

disinfect used secondhand shoes

However, the dangers aren't limited to the shoe's interior alone. The outer surfaces, particularly the soles, are something to be wary of as well. Contaminants like bacteria, molds, and even fecal matter all adhere easily to shoe soles. Those nearly-new Tom Ford dress shoes or vintage Nike sneakers, while a great deal, can introduce allergens and harmful pathogens into our living spaces.

Why Disinfect Newly-Purchased Used Shoes

It’s important to disinfect used shoes when you bring them home—not just on the inside, but on the outside too.

Due to the porous material they’re made with, shoe soles act like magnets for bacteria. That same material that gives them grip makes them the perfect environment to cultivate bacteria. Plus, all organic matter that you walk through during the day serves as food for the bacteria present on your shoes.

In fact, it may be even more important to disinfect used shoe’s exteriors than interiors.

A study by the University of Arizona found that the average shoes carry over 421,000 units of bacteria on the outside, versus less than 3,000 units of bacteria on the inside. The overwhelming majority of those pathogens are living on the bottom of your shoes.

That’s right—over 99% of the microbial load on your shoes is found on the bottoms of your shoes, not inside your shoes.

should I disinfect used shoes?

Here are a few other studies to be aware of.

Scientific Studies Highlighting the Importance of Shoe Sole Disinfection

Now, let's delve into some scientific studies that further emphasize the significance of sanitizing and disinfecting your shoe soles:

  1. University of Houston

A study published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology conducted at the University of Houston revealed that a high percentage of shoes (approximately 96%) were contaminated with fecal bacteria. The research emphasized that shoe soles can act as carriers for pathogens, raising concerns about the spread of infections.

  1. American Journal of Infection Control

A study in the American Journal of Infection Control investigated the role of shoes in the transmission of Clostridium difficile. It found that shoe soles were a potential source of this bacterium in healthcare settings, highlighting the importance of proper shoe disinfection in such environments.

  1. The Role of Shoe Sanitation

A study published in the American Journal of Infection Control discussed the role of shoe sanitation as a vital component of infection control in healthcare settings. The research emphasized that shoe sole contamination can contribute to the spread of healthcare-associated infections, which can be reduced through regular disinfection.

  1. Shoe Bacteria Go Airborne

A study in the journal Indoor Air focused on the role of shoe soles in releasing bacteria into the air. The research showed that walking on contaminated surfaces can lead to the dispersal of bacteria, making the indoor air a potential source of infection.

How to Decontaminate Used Shoes

Disinfecting used shoes before bringing them home and wearing them is crucial if you want to prevent contamination of your living space from those used shoes. Disinfection procedures, whether employing homemade solutions like vinegar or utilizing specialized shoe-sanitizing sprays and shoe-disinfecting mats, effectively eradicate pathogens and reduce the potential transmission of harmful microorganisms.

Treating used shoes before introducing them into our homes involves a series of proactive measures. Cleaning both the interior and exterior surfaces, especially the soles, with disinfectants significantly minimizes the risk of harboring pathogens that could potentially pose health risks.

You can also try running the shoes through a washing machine with detergent, if they’re tennis shoes that can withstand that type of rough treatment. Just make sure you’re using a detergent with anti-microbial and fungicidal properties.

After cleaning the shoes, allowing them to thoroughly air out and dry to thwart the growth of molds and bacteria. If you can, try to air them out in sunlight, which acts as a natural disinfectant, for extra help ridding those used shoes from microbial growth.

The significance of disinfecting used shoes isn't merely a matter of cleanliness; it's a proactive step toward safeguarding our health. The accumulation of pathogens, both inside and outside the shoes, presents potential risks to our well-being, particularly if left unchecked.

Used Suede and Leather Shoes

Suede and leather shoes are particularly great finds when you’re looking for used shoes at a secondhand store. But each of these materials requires very specific techniques for disinfection. After all, you can’t just run them through the washing machine or wipe them down with a lysol wipe—unless you want to act as a middleman between the thrift store and your trash can.

How to Disinfect Used Suede Shoes

Disinfecting suede shoes requires careful handling to avoid damaging the material. Remember, suede is sensitive to moisture and chemicals, so it’s crucial to take extra care when disinfecting. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions on any suede-specific cleaning or disinfecting products, and perform spot tests to ensure the product won’t harm the material.

disinfect used suede shoes

Here's a step-by-step guide on how to clean used suede shoes properly:

  1. Prepare Your Used Suede Shoes: Remove any surface dirt or debris from the shoes using a suede brush or a soft-bristled brush. Gently brush in one direction to lift off loose dirt.
  2. Spot Test: Before disinfecting the entire shoe, perform a spot test on a small, inconspicuous area to ensure the disinfectant won’t discolor or damage the suede. Choose an area where any potential color change won’t be noticeable.
  3. Choose a Disinfectant: Select a suitable disinfectant for suede. You can use a commercial suede cleaner that has disinfectant properties. Alternatively, mix equal parts of water and white vinegar in a spray bottle for a natural disinfecting solution. You can also use a shoe sanitizing mat for the soles.
  4. Apply the Disinfectant: Lightly mist the disinfectant solution over the entire surface of the shoes. Ensure you don’t oversaturate the suede; use a fine mist to cover the shoes evenly.
  5. Let it Dry Naturally: Allow the disinfectant solution to air dry completely. Avoid using heat sources like hairdryers, which can damage suede. Keep the shoes away from direct sunlight or heat, as these can cause discoloration or dry out the suede.
  6. Brush Again: Once the shoes are dry, gently brush the suede with a suede brush or soft-bristled brush to restore the nap and remove any stiffened areas.

One last option to consider is using a Suede Protector after purging your used suede shoes.  A suede protector spray can help to repel future stains and maintain the shoes’ condition.

It’s important to note that cleaning the actual suede on your shoe’s exterior is nowhere near as important as cleaning the shoe soles and inside of the shoe, which is where most contaminants like to hide.

How to Disinfect Used Leather Shoes

The technique for properly disinfecting used leather shoes is similarly specialized, but has its own differences. Disinfecting leather shoes involves a different approach than disinfecting suede shoes due to the nature of the material.

disinfect used leather shoes

Follow these steps carefully to disinfect used leather shoes if you want to maintain their quality and appearance.

  1. Clean Surface Dirt: Wipe off any visible dirt or debris from the shoes using a soft, dry cloth. This helps remove surface particles before disinfecting.
  2. Choose a Disinfectant: Opt for a disinfectant suitable for leather. You can use a commercial leather cleaner that includes disinfectant properties or create a solution by mixing equal parts of water and rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) in a spray bottle.
  3. Perform a Spot Test: Before applying the disinfectant to the entire shoe, test a small, inconspicuous area to ensure it doesn’t cause discoloration or damage to the leather.
  4. Apply the Disinfectant: Lightly mist the disinfectant solution onto a soft cloth, not directly onto the shoes. Gently wipe the entire surface of the leather shoes with the dampened cloth, ensuring even coverage. Make sure you also thoroughly disinfect the soles of your leather shoes, which is where the majority of pathogens live.
  5. Allow Drying Time: Let the shoes air dry naturally in a well-ventilated area. Avoid using heat sources like hairdryers or direct sunlight, as these can damage the leather.
  6. Condition the Leather: After the shoes are completely dry, consider applying a leather conditioner to restore moisture and maintain the suppleness of the leather. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the specific conditioner you’re using.
  7. Polish the Shoes: Once the leather is conditioned and dry, polish the shoes with a soft cloth or a shoe brush to bring back shine and enhance the appearance of the leather.

Just like with suede shoes, consider using a specialized protectant spray for leather. This will add an extra layer of protection against stains and moisture.

A New Era of Shoe Hygiene
shoe disinfecting mat

Everywhere we go, we leave dangerous germs and viruses in our footsteps. The science is clear—our shoes are one of the most dangerous sources of contamination and illness in today's world.

The Shoetizer is a ground-breaking product that disinfects and sanitizes your shoes in seconds.

Powered by an EPA-registered disinfectant, the Shoetizer eradicates over 99% of harmful bacteria and viruses, including SARS-CoV-2. Afterward the device leaves a protective film on your shoes that kills germs and pathogens on contact for up to 24 hours.