Saturday, May 27, 2017
I Tried Scrubbing My Sandals
People have strong feelings about feet or anything feet-adjacent, so if this post makes you recoil and run away from the blog screaming, I understand. But I've studied and prepped for this post for so long because...well, for one thing, I think it's interesting. More importantly, though, I absolutely love this pair of shoes, and I think they deserve all of my preservation efforts.
This is a pair of Dr. Martens sandals. I can't remember the exact style name because I purchased them back in graduate school; the Doc Martens website was having a sale one January to clear out summer styles, and I happened to snag the last pair of these sandals in my size for $35. I do recall the style name starting with an A, and it may have been something like "Alena" or "Alia." Regardless, I bought them cheap eons ago and they no longer produce this style.
Did I mention that I purchased these back in graduate school? Yeah, these guys are at least 5 years old. That's a long lifespan for shoes, especially sandals! So given that this pair has lived a long, healthy life, why bother trying to scrub the mucky things out?
Ignore the absolutely vile footbeds on these for a second and just look at the rest of the shoe. I've worn these for a good 8 months of the year every year I've had them, and they've been almost everywhere. They've visited cities, flown on planes, taken long walks through the park, and clocked in at numerous grocery stores and restaurants. Yet despite all of that, if you ignore the footbed, they look practically brand new. The rubber and stitching on the bottom don't have any obvious scratches, discoloration, or scuffs. And even though I've worn these on rainy days a-plenty, somehow, the plaid fabric is spotless.
Now, I want to point out that I treat all of my Docs with their Protector Spray, which helps prevent damage from water and sunlight. (Note: I also like their Wonder Balsam, and I use that and the spray on the few leather goods I own.) Still, it's unusual for a pair of sandals to look this damn spotless after so many years and so much wear.
Except for those footbeds. Those dirty, icky, footbeds, the footbeds that not only have a clear indent of my feet due to constant wear, but also rock an unsightly layer of caked-on grime. I couldn't take it anymore: these shoes deserve better. Unaware of the existence of actual footbed cleaner, I spent months scouring websites, magazines, and shoe boxes to figure out the best method for cleaning these guys up.
The most recommended tools were a toothbrush, some water with dish soap, and a damp paper towel or soft cloth. All of these items were readily available to me, including extra toothbrushes; my family always has a pack of the cheapo "6 for $1" brushes under the sink for scrubbing grout in the bathroom or on the windowsills. I put a few drops of Palmolive in a cup, added some lukewarm water, set my sandals on the side porch, and started scrubbing out my shoes. I initially used a back-and-forth motion, but quickly switched to small circles, which worked even better.
After scrubbing just the heel portion of one sandal, I pulled up all of the dirt you see in the above picture. I was actually stunned that this was working and that my footbeds were that scummy. I mean, subconsciously, I had to know, but...seeing it was weird.
After finished the left shoe, I ran a damp paper towel all over the footbed to rinse off the soap and pull up a little extra dirt. I also got a fresh cup of soapy water to prep for the right shoe.
Comparison photo time! The shoe on the left went through one round of gentle scrubbing, while the shoe on the right was untouched. Was the soaped-up footbed the soft, creamy beige shade it was when I first pulled my sandals from their box? Hell no, but it was clearly cleaner. Actually, I think this photo doesn't truly exemplify how much cleaner the shoe on the left is: the indents from my feet make some areas more shadowy than others, as does the fact that the bed is still a bit damp. The one bummer was that I couldn't remove the sap stain from the left heel, but hey, small victories!
I finished both shoes and left them on the side porch to dry out of direct sunlight. After they'd dried several hours later,I did another round of scrubbing and drying. At the end of the day, I was suitably impressed with how much nicer the footbeds looked and how much cleaner they felt. Again, the shadows play some tricks here, and they're not like new, anyway, but you can see in this photograph that they look leagues better:
Two final notes: first, scrubbing the footbeds of your sandals can cause some texture changes. A few articles mentioned using a bit of sandpaper, very gently, on the soles to soften up the texture. I did notice that my sandals were a tad rougher after cleaning at the very ends, but because I don't actually feel those parts of the sole when I'm wearing the shoes, I let them be. Second, I did not patch test this cleaning method because I figured that if it ruined my sandals, I still got 5+ years of awesome sandal-age for a measly $35. If you have a newer or more expensive pair of sandals, however, I'd definitely recommending testing this on a small portion of the footbed first. Better yet, you could contact the company to see what cleaning method they recommend.
Sandpaper and patch testing aside, I don't think this is something I would do constantly. It only restores the shoe so much, and I do think it would thin out your footbed over time. But as a yearly upkeep step? It's absolutely doable, especially if you have an old knock-around pair of sandals you love as much as I love these Docs.