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Mar 27, 2022 / Slip Resistant Footwear

A Guide for Restaurant Staff: How to Clean Work Shoes

Even the most durable pair of safety shoes can get grimy over time—and if you work in a restaurant, your shoes will be significantly more exposed to grease, spills, and stains. A high-quality pair of restaurant work shoes is a must for injury prevention and comfort while you’re slinging dishes and drinks, but what do you do when those shoes become downright unsightly, stinky, or greasy?

In this guide, we’ll teach you how to clean work shoes if they’ve seen better days. After picking out the best restaurant shoes, it is important to know how to take care of them. We’ll cover cleaning tips for leather shoes, shoes of other materials, soles, and insoles, and discuss simple prevention methods that can keep your shoes cleaner for longer.

With this guide, you can say goodbye to grimy shoes, foot odor, loose dirt particles, and grease stains for good.

How To Clean Leather Work Shoes

When stains, spills, and grime on your leather work boots become unsightly, it’s time for intensive cleaning. Although leather is one of the most durable materials on the market, a leather boot or shoe, can be a bit persnickety to clean. First, you’ll need to determine what kind of leather your shoes are made from:1

  • Patent leather or other leathers with sheen finishes have a protective coating, improving durability and widening your options for cleaning materials.
  • Suede shoes or shoes made with unfinished leathers don’t have a protective coating, so you’ll have to take more care during the cleaning process.

In general, you should avoid DIY cleaning supplies like baking soda or baby powder on leather shoes. While DIY solutions might sound gentler than commercially-available products, some are too strong for even finished leathers and could cause stains or discoloration. Instead, when looking to clean leather work boots opt for a damp, soft cloth for any necessary stain removal or cleaning off excess dirt.

After treating your leather shoe with water or an appropriate store-bought cleaning solution, use a leather conditioner to return moisture to the fabric, which will help to maintain clean leather boots. If you’re feeling fancy, pick up a wax-based product for polishing, such as carnauba wax, for spot cleaning. This will help to add shine and some protection from stains and moisture on a finished leather.

How To Clean Non-Leather Shoes

Not every pair of restaurant work shoes is made from leather. Let’s explore how to clean work shoes made from other materials.

Rubber Shoes

While non-slip shoe soles are generally made from rubber, some shoes feature entirely rubber construction. Back-of-house staff will often opt for boot-style work shoes made completely from rubber for extra stain protection and water resistance.2

Since it’s such a durable material, rubber is very easy to clean:

  • Remove any cloth insoles from your shoes
  • Use dish soap and warm water to clean off any stains or spills

Instead of drying off your shoes with a cloth, let them air dry in a temperate, dry environment to moisturize the material and prevent cracking from dehydration.

Faux Leather Shoes

Faux leathers are often made from polyester or other plastic derivatives. While they likely won’t last as long as genuine leather, faux leather shoes are excellent for repelling stains.

Since they’re synthetic, you can use a variety of household cleaning products to touch up faux leather shoes. Whether you choose a store-bought all-purpose cleaner or craft your own DIY solution, simply apply the cleaning product and immediately wipe it away with a rag or paper towel.

Cloth Or Canvas Shoes

Cloth and canvas are lightweight work shoe materials, and as long as they have a non slip sole and adequate arch support, they’re usually a low-cost, low-maintenance option for restaurant workers.

You can clean cloth or canvas as you would any other item of clothing made from cotton or a breathable synthetic blend. This means you can simply remove the insole, pop them into the washing machine with a mild detergent, and air dry them, or you can hand-wash them in the sink.

Shoes With Unknown Materials

If you’re not sure what your work shoes are made from, look for a tag on the inside or an inscription on the sole for clues. In some cases, these manufacturer notes will feature cleaning instructions.

If all else fails, bring the pair to a nearby shoe retailer for professional advice.

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How To Clean Insoles

One of the most important components of your work shoes is the insoles—the pad inside the shoe where your socked foot rests. While you won’t need to worry about stain removal, you should still keep the insoles clean and odor-free. Doing this will help prevent:

  • Bacteria growth
  • Decreased functionality

If you have cloth insoles, you can throw them into the washing machine (with your shoelaces, if applicable) and air dry them for quick, simple cleaning. You can also hand-wash them in the sink, but make sure to rinse them completely and try your best not to compress the foam.

With rigid or semi-rigid insoles, you may have to take a different approach. Use a mild all-purpose cleaner or a 1:1 ratio of white vinegar and water to spray and wipe the insoles, even if they have a fabric coating.

While your insoles are removed for cleaning, take the opportunity to:

  • Shake out any dirt from your shoes
  • Spray or sprinkle deodorizer into your shoes before replacing the insoles

How To Clean Soles

If your work shoes are non slip—which professionals recommend for restaurant workers—they likely feature a rubber or synthetic sole.3 Luckily, sole materials are usually quite durable even if they’re not made from natural rubber, and they’re rarely sensitive to store-bought or DIY cleaning products.

To clean your soles, you can use an all-purpose cleaner, a 1:1 solution of vinegar and water, or simple dish soap and water. For particularly persistent grime, grease, or food particles, you can use an old toothbrush to scrub between the treads or pick out dried debris with tweezers or a toothpick.

Unless you’ve stepped in gum, a particularly greasy patch, or something sticky, you shouldn’t need to clean your soles very often. However, making sure that your treads are free of debris can help you maintain your shoes’ slip-resistant quality.

How To Maintain Clean Shoes

While shoe-cleaning is an inevitable part of working in the foodservice industry, you can also take a variety of preventative steps to reduce your time spent on shoe maintenance. Some common prevention methods include:

  • Using shoe deodorizers – Whether you opt for a spray-in or powdered shoe deodorizer, applying a high-quality odor-eliminating product to your shoes once you return home is an excellent way to keep odors and bacteria at bay. Some products even help speed up the drying process if you have sweaty feet.
  • Wearing merino wool socks – Speaking of sweaty feet, you might want to implement moisture-wicking socks if your feet perspire at work. Merino wool is a fine-fibered, moisture-wicking fabric that can keep your feet dry and odor-free while you work, preventing sweat and odor buildup in your shoes.4
  • Keeping your shoes polished – A wax-based polish won’t just help you keep your shoes shiny and buffed, but it will also provide an extra layer of moisture resistance to the fabric. Best when used on genuine leather and high-quality faux leather, wax-based polish is inexpensive and easy to apply.
  • Cleaning up spills quickly – While spills are inevitable, stains and damage can be avoided. After helping your table or a coworker clean up a spill, grab a paper towel or a rag to dab any liquids that splashed onto your shoes. Better yet, keep a Tide pen in your pocket for quick stain removal on cloth or canvas shoes.
  • Storing shoes appropriately – Using proper storage can help your shoes air out after your shift, reducing odor penetration and preventing moisture damage to your insoles. After removing your work shoes, store them unlaced with the tongues completely exposed in a cool, dry area of your home.
  • Alternating shoes – Instead of wearing the same pair of shoes for multiple shifts in a row, consider picking up a second pair and alternating your shoes for each shift. Rotating your shoes will give each pair adequate time to dry and deodorize before their next dining room appearance.

While these methods won’t prevent occasional maintenance, they’ll help you keep up with your shoes’ appearance, odor, and function and reduce your need to deep-clean.

When Cleaning Isn’t Enough, Grab A Fresh Pair At Boot World

Between diligent preventative maintenance and effective cleaning procedures, your work shoes could last for up to a year based on their materials and construction. Taking care to prevent odors and stains, using products and methods safe for your shoes’ materials, and cleaning every component of your shoes can improve their durability and function.

But sometimes, even the deepest clean won’t remove persistent stains and odors. If it’s time for a new pair of restaurant work shoes, look no further than Boot World. For over forty years, we’ve provided quality shoes and expert recommendations to restaurant workers, construction personnel, and everyone in between. Non slip work shoes are the best option for anyone working in a restaurant or safety focused environment, to ensure you won’t have any accidents on the job. Wondering “what are non slip shoes” and “how to tell if shoes are non slip”? We’ve got you covered with tips on what features to look for when picking out the right pair for you.

Our collection features only the highest quality shoes on the market, and we’re ready to answer every question you have about your next pair. For guaranteed durability and tips from the pros, Boot World has your back.

A Final Boot World Advantage Tip: In today’s modern world, there are no shoes that are entirely slip-resistant. Instead of searching for the most slip-resistant shoe possible, the trick to remaining on your feet is working in an environment that is frequently cleaned of contaminants that could lead to accidents, like water and oil. Other forms of debris like small rocks, glass and loose food can become lodged in your work shoes increasing the likelihood of an accident occurring and turning even the most slip-resistant shoe into a slip-and-slide.

Reviewed By:
Ed Stone

Ed Stone brings over 45 years of footwear knowledge and passion to his role as President of Boot World, a family-owned company and an industry leader in safety and occupational footwear. A second generation "shoe dog” Ed's footwear knowledge is unparalleled, serving as an informal advisor for some of the worlds largest footwear brands including Wolverine, Timberland PRO, and Reebok Works.

A lifelong Southern California resident, and ardent conservationist, Ed enjoys hiking and open water swimming.