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Cleaning Flip Flops, Athletic Slides And Sandals Is So Gross, But So Satisfying

Illustration for article titled Cleaning Flip Flops, Athletic Slides And Sandals Is So Gross, But So Satisfying
Photo: Peter Hershey (Unsplash)
SqualorJolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. She’ll be here every week helping to answer your filthiest questions. Are you dirty? Email her.

Today is a glorious day, my friends: It’s been so long since I’ve had cause to use the term “foot water” but today, I shall use the term “foot water” with abandon for today, we shall talk about how to clean flip flops, sandals, Birkenstocks, shower slides, etc. And when you clean flip flops, sandals, and so on...foot water will happen.


We’ll get to foot water in a sec, but first, let’s talk about why you’d want to clean a sandal (for the sake of today’s exercise we will refer, collectively, to the footwear we’re discussing as “sandals”): Well, go take a gander at your favorite pair. I’ll wait. Do you see some black spots on the footbeds? Mmm yeah, that? That’s dead foot skin! Whee! So dead foot skin is kind of gross, and can make your sandals look nasty but also, especially in the case of sandals that have a porous footbed, like Birkenstocks, that dead skin can lead to rotted flesh-smelling shoes. Also, sandals will just get dirty and cleaning them can make them look fresher.

Different sandals will require different levels of cleaning — quick cleaning will suffice for rubber flip flops and athletic slides, and can help to keep more intricate (leather, suede) sandals looking and smelling good in between deeper cleanings. For quick cleaning, you only need paper towels and an all-purpose cleaning spray like Formula 409, some white vinegar, rubbing alcohol or even my old pal dish soap. Don’t overthink the cleaning product, is basically what I’m saying here. Disposable wipes, like Clorox Wipes, are also great for quick cleaning sandals.

Here’s all you’re going to do with your paper towel+product: Wipe the footbed clean and, if the sandal is a thong-style shoe, around the piece that spends its life in between your toes because, well, toe jam realness. That’s all! You can put a little elbow grease into it, and if the sandals are especially dirty, you may need to repeat the process, but other than that, quickly cleaning a sandal is honestly that easy. When you’re done cleaning, do take the time to go over the sandal with some clean water to remove the residue from the cleaning product — especially if you’ve used rubbing alcohol on a leather sandal (like Rainbows), as the alcohol can be drying.

Okay so now here’s where the foot water part of things comes to pass: Most sandals will, at some point, require a more thorough scrubbing. And it’s the scrubbing that produces the foot water, which is super gross but also really oddly satisfying?

Because the job is super gross, it’s one that’s best done over a sink (a utility one is great, if you have such a thing. If you do, can I come over and use it? I love a utility sink, you guys!) or even outside, if you have a setup that allows for that. And: Wear old clothes, because wow the foot water, it is going to get on everything.

The idea here is that you’re going to make the shoe equivalent of a DIY body scrub and use it, along with an old toothbrush (DEAR GOD NOT THE ONE YOU USE IN YOUR MOUTH) or a nail brush and your hands, to sort of exfoliate your shoes. Remember that dead skin? Right, exfoliation!


To make the “scrub” mix ¼ - ½ cup of baking soda, Borax, or an oxygen bleach like OxiClean with just enough water to make a thick paste. Start by using your hands to smear a bunch of the scrub all over the footbed of the shoe, then use your toothbrush or nail brush to, well, scrub. Be vigorous! Foot water will fly everywhere!! It will be disgusting and glorious in equal measure!!!


After you’ve scrubbed, rinse the shoe very well with cool water, pat them as dry as you can get them using an old towel or rag, then let them air dry. That’s all! Foot water! (Sorry, just wanted to say it one more time.)


Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert, advice columnist and the host of the podcast Ask a Clean Person