How to clean your Birkenstock sandals
At this point, everyone and their mother probably knows—or even owns a pair or two—of Birkenstock sandals. It’s a household brand, mostly thanks to its timeless designs, comfort, and durability.
The brand was founded in Germany in the 1770s, then gained widespread popularity in the US in the 1970s, so there’s really a lot of history and heritage backing it up. But from being an orthopedic, good-for-your-feet type of shoe, it has since evolved into a fashion staple—so much so that even luxury brands like Valentino, Opening Ceremony, and Manolo Blahnik have collaborated with the shoe manufacturer to create versions of the iconic sandal.
But even though Birkenstock sandals have had their fashion week runway success (Highsnobiety cites its appearance on the SS13 Celine show), it also still remains a key element to achieving a “normcore,” classic look. And these days, normal is cool.
Whether you’re in it for the look or purely for comfort, your Birkenstock sandals need to be regularly cared for, too.
Cleaning your Birkenstock sandals
Before we dive into the specifics, the first major rule of cleaning Birkenstocks is to make sure they don’t get totally wet. This will affect and potentially damage the materials of your sandals, so make sure you keep them dry. Some of the methods for cleaning will involve using brushing with solutions or wiping with a damp cloth. The keyword here is damp, not dripping wet.
The next important thing to remember is that the best ways to clean your Birkenstocks depend on the part of the sandal and the material you’re dealing with. Generally, there are three parts to a sandal: the straps, the footbed, and the sole.
First, undo the buckles and open the straps of your sandals. This will make it easier to see and reach all the nooks and crannies that need cleaning.
What you’ll need: A horsehair brush, soft cloth (like an old T-shirt), suede brush or toothbrush, leather shoe conditioner, or alternatively, shoe cream polish in a matching color
How to clean:
- Use the brush to remove dirt and debris, especially around the buckles and crevices. You can also wipe with a slightly damp soft cloth to clean dust or soil on the surface.
- Apply shoe polish or leather shoe conditioner in a matching shade with a soft cloth or a shoe polishing brush to restore color and condition the straps.
What you’ll need: suede brush or toothbrush, gum eraser, suede or nubuck shampoo or soap diluted in water, towel, protector spray. Alternatively, cornstarch or baby powder
How to clean:
- Use the suede brush or toothbrush to remove the dirt and debris.
- If there are stains, gently rub them off with the gum eraser. If there are big stains, you can use soap or suede shampoo—just be careful and make sure you keep the footbed dry. Best to use a wet cloth or sponge when rinsing the soap off. Pat dry with a towel.
- If you don’t have suede shampoo, you can also use cornstarch or baby powder to take out stains. Cover oil stains with this for at least four hours, then brush off the straps.
The footbeds can be the most challenging part to clean as these are the parts of the sandals that come into contact with our feet. The most important thing to remember is to keep the footbeds dry, even if we’re cleaning it.
What you’ll need: Suede brush or sandpaper; damp cloth, sponge, or dish brush; rubbing alcohol or lemon juice for smells
How to clean:
- Use the brush to remove dirt on the surface. You can also use sandpaper as an alternative.
- You can then wipe it with a damp cloth.
- If stronger cleaning is needed, you can mix a bit of laundry detergent and white vinegar in a cup of warm water. Dampen your soft cloth with this solution and scrub the footbed. Use a separate, clean, and damp soft cloth to wipe away the solution.
- To get rid of smells, you can wipe with rubbing alcohol or lemon juice.
- Make sure to leave the sandals out to dry for 24 hours, away from direct sunlight or heat.
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Birkenstocks are known for their cork soles, and these can also be pretty sensitive. Make sure they also don’t get too wet.
What you’ll need: brush, damp cloth or sponge
How to clean:
- Use the brush to remove dirt. You can also use a damp cloth to wipe the sole as long as it doesn’t get wet.
- You can also use an old toothbrush or any small, soft brush dipped in a mix of white vinegar, laundry detergent, and warm water to clean the soles. Wipe it down with clean cloth dipped in plain water to remove the solution.
- Air dry away from sunlight and heat.