Sneaker care for sneakerheads: How to care for leather, suede and mesh

10 November,2023 07:00 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Ainie Rizvi

Sneaker care is a crucial aspect of sneaker culture and ownership as it prolongs the lifespan and maintains the appearance of these premium chunky shoes

Image for representational purposes only. Photo Courtesy: iStock

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Sneakers have evolved from being mere athletic footwear to iconic fashion statements. They come in a multitude of styles, materials and designs, making them a versatile choice for any occasion. Whether you're a sneakerhead with an extensive collection or someone who simply appreciates a comfortable pair of sneakers - it's essential to know how to care for them.

"Sneaker care is a crucial aspect of sneaker culture and ownership as it prolongs the lifespan and maintains the appearance of these shoes, which are not only a fashion statement but also a functional footwear," shares Omran Hamza, Superkicks Marketing Manager. Proper care preserves their aesthetic appeal, ensures they remain comfortable and, in the case of limited edition or vintage sneakers, safeguards their value.

In this comprehensive guide, we delve into the world of sneaker care, exploring different materials, essential practices and expert tips to ensure your sneakers stay in excellent condition.

Sneaker materials: What contributes to its style and functionality
Sneakers are crafted using a diverse range of materials, each offering unique characteristics in terms of aesthetics, comfort and performance. The most common materials include leather, textiles, synthetics, rubber, foam and plastic. However, to elevate a sneaker's premium feel, manufacturers often utilise specialised materials for uppers. Hamza takes us through some of these materials:

Suede and Nubuck: Suede is a luxurious and velvety material known for its softness and rich texture. Nubuck is similar to suede but slightly shinier and smoother. Sneakers with suede or nubuck uppers exude sophistication and style.

Leather Varieties: Leather comes in various forms, such as normal leather, synthetic leather and lacquer leather. These materials provide a classic and timeless appearance and their quality can vary significantly.

Canvas: Canvas sneakers, a favourite of brands like Converse and Vans, are beloved for their lightweight and breathable qualities. They are perfect for all-day wear, making them a go-to choice for travellers and comfort seekers.

Breathable mesh and knit fabrics: Originally designed for sports and training, breathable mesh and knit fabrics have now transitioned into the lifestyle category. These materials offer a sock-like fit, making them lightweight and ideal for those who prioritise comfort and flexibility.

Essential care practices: Maintaining sneakers' pristine condition
Proper sneaker care is vital for preserving their appearance and extending their lifespan. Whether you're sporting suede, leather, canvas or mesh sneakers, these universal practices will help keep your kicks looking fresh:

Treat them well from the beginning: Prevention is the key to sneaker care. When you purchase a new pair, give them a good coat of shoe protector spray, such as those from brands like Sneaker Lab. This will create a protective barrier against stains and damage.

Shape retention and storage: After each wear, stuff your sneakers with scrunched-up newspapers. Newspapers are excellent at absorbing moisture, helping your sneakers dry faster and reducing funky odours. This practice also prevents toe creases, which can make your shoes look aged. Store your sneakers in a cool and dry place to prevent moisture-related issues, such as fungal coating on sensitive materials.

Use your sneakers: Leaving sneakers on standby is not the best way to maintain them. Rotate your sneakers and ensure they get some regular wear. Airing your sneakers is essential; they should be periodically aired or sun dried to maintain freshness. You can also use sneaker freshener products to keep them smelling pleasant.

Proper storage: Invest in sneaker crates or plastic storage containers to protect your collection from sunlight and dust buildup. Clean and dry your shoes before storing them to avoid mildew growth. If you must store them in direct sunlight, periodically flip them to prevent sun damage.

Cleaning and protecting suede sneakers
Suede is soft, porous and highly susceptible to staining and damage from water and other liquids. Unlike leather or canvas, it lacks the same resistance to moisture and scuffs, shares Mandeep Chopra, founder of sneaker line - Limited Edt. Without special care, suede sneakers are prone to losing their elegant texture and becoming easily marred.

Following are handy tips to keep your suede sneakers in pristine condition:

For suede protection: Hamza recommends using a sneaker protection spray. These sprays utilise a polymer-based formula that coats the fibres of your shoes, preventing stains from setting into the fabric. Many sneaker protection formulas also contain sunscreens to prevent premature fading caused by UV rays.

For cleaning suede: A suede brush is your best friend when it comes to cleaning and maintaining your suede shoes. Use it after each wearing to remove dirt and re-fluff the suede pile. The design of a suede brush ensures it won't crease or leave marks on your sneakers.

Brushing in multiple directions can help restore the overall lustre and nap to suede. The suede brush is also effective in reviving matted suede fibres. If you don't have a suede brush, a simple clean, dry cloth can be used to gently brush off dust. Be cautious not to mat the suede fibres.

Keeping mesh sneakers clean and odour-free
Mesh sneakers, known for their breathability and lightweight feel, can easily accumulate dirt and develop unpleasant odours. To keep them clean, follow these steps:
1. Regularly wash your mesh sneakers. You can do this by hand or use a washing machine on a gentle cycle. Be sure to remove the laces and insoles before washing.
2. Store your mesh sneakers in a well-ventilated place to ensure they stay dry and fresh. Avoid storing them in a closed, damp environment, which can lead to mould and odour issues.
3. Consider using odour protection sprays designed for sneakers to eliminate unwanted smells.

Preventing creases and scuffs on leather and suede sneakers
Creases and scuffs can diminish the appearance of your leather and suede sneakers. Here are some techniques to prevent and address these issues:

1. Use crease protectors to maintain the shape of your sneakers and prevent creases.
2. Consider using shoe tree insoles to preserve the sneaker's structure and reduce creasing.

Sneakerhead hacks (At your own risk):
If creases have already formed, you can try some DIY sneakerhead hacks. Be cautious when attempting these techniques, as they may not work for all materials and can potentially damage your sneakers.

You can iron out creases, but proceed with caution. Use a buffer, such as a damp cloth, between the iron and your shoe. Keep the heat at the lowest setting and iron over the dampened cloth placed over the creased area. Check the crease between intervals to avoid damage and stop when the crease has disappeared. Leave the shoe stuffed until it cools.

Other DIY crease solutions:
1. Use a steamed cloth.
2. Blow dry the creased area on a low heat setting.
3. For leather sneakers, apply leather oils or creams designed for leather products and reshape the shoe to reduce creases.

White sneaker hacks
White leather sneakers are notorious for developing yellow stains, which can be challenging to remove. They are particularly susceptible to yellowing due to exposure to environmental factors, including sunlight, moisture and dirt.

To prevent this discolouration, it's important to handle them with care, ensuring your hands are clean when putting them on, as oils and dirt from your hands can contribute to yellowing over time. Additionally, store your white leather sneakers in a dry environment, away from direct sunlight, as UV rays can accelerate the yellowing process. Proper storage and handling practices can significantly reduce the risk of yellowing.

In addition to careful handling, regular cleaning is vital to maintain the bright white look of leather sneakers. Use a gentle leather cleaner to remove dirt and stains, and a soft brush or cloth to clean the surface.

Be cautious when applying water, as excessive moisture can harm leather. After cleaning, allow the sneakers to air dry naturally, and avoid using direct heat sources like hair dryers, which can also contribute to yellowing.

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