Photo: Joseph Barrientos (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.](mailto:joliekerr@gmail.com)  

I just bought a pair of NMD R1 Primeknit sneakers in Linen. Someone threw a piece of pizza and got a small bit of sauce on the toe. How would I clean that so it doesn’t stain?


Knit sneakers are a bit of a problem child when it comes to cleaning, but cleaned they can be. Before we get into it, can we back up a bit to the part where someone was THROWING PIZZA AROUND? What in the actual heck?? (“Heck” is not the word I’m using in my mind here but I suspect you already know that.) Pizza is not to be thrown! Unless it’s that weird provel pizza because bleeeeh and also that stuff is probably pretty throwable, it being so frisbee-like.

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Sorry, where were we? Ah, right the throwing of pizza and soiling of new sneakers. Yes okay, well, generally, don’t throw pizza. Also here’s the stuff you need to know about removing pizza stains and also about cleaning those snowflake-y knit sneaks.

The Cleaning of Knit Sneakers

Let’s start with general care tips for knit sneakers, because they’re more delicate than their leather or canvas brethren, which means there are some extra precautions you’ll want to take when cleaning them. The biggest problem with knit sneakers is that it’s super easy for one of the yarns to get snagged and start unraveling the shoe. Which we obviously don’t want!

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For that reason, machine washing isn’t ideal for knit shoes…but it can be done: First, wash the shoes on their own, using cold water and the delicate cycle. That will remove the chance of a yarn catching and snagging on something else in the load. If you have a top-loading machine with a center agitator, then skip this entirely, or bag the shoes up in an oversized washing bag, because the agitator’s fins are very likely to rough the shoe up.

A better way to clean overy fussy knit sneakers is by hand. This is an easy job, but it sometimes requires patience and is the kind of thing you might want to do while you watch TV or listen to a podcast — it’s a pretty mindless task, basically.

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Before you get going, you’ll need to prep your shoes, and prep a cleaning solution. Start by removing the laces from the sneaker and stuffing the shoe with a balled up cloth, like a cut-up t-shirt or a washcloth. The cloth is going to serve two purposes: It will absorb excess liquid, so the shoe will be less drippy when you’re done, and it will provide resistance as you work on the exterior of the shoe.

Once your shoe is all set up and ready for its spa day, you’ll need a detergent solution and a second cloth that you’ll use to gently — so, firm but gentle pressure, working with the “grain” of the knit shoe — clean the shoe. But what kind of detergent to use??? Well, look, you truly do not need anything more advanced than a teaspoon or so of diluted dish soap or liquid laundry detergent, both of which you’re likely to already have on hand. (Need recs? Palmolive is my go-to dish soap, though many people swear by Dawn, and Tide Ultra Stain Release is, like, made of witchcraft, in the good way). But also, specialty sneaker cleaners exist and it can be fun to have a fancy detergent!

One thing to be aware of though: tools that accompany shoe-specific cleaners—like the brush that accompanies the Jason Markk or Reshoevn8r sneaker cleaners, or the bristled cap on the Sof Sole cleaner—shouldn’t be used on knit sneakers, because they’re so prone to snagging.

Once the shoes are clean, rinse your cloth and give them a going over to remove detergent residue and allow them to air dry, reshaping them by stuffing the damp shoes with a balled up towel.

Pizza Stain Removal

Okay look, not only am I an expert in stain removal, I also eat A LOT of pizza — dollar slices pretty much constitute my pre-workout fuel, which means I’m forever removing blurbs of oily red sauce from my shirts. So I say this in both a personal and professional capacity: For my money, Shout or plain old rubbing alcohol are the best stain removers for most food stains, especially red ones like tomato sauce or hot sauce. Shout Wipes are also fantastic and I always have a few in my bag. If the Letter Writer had a Shout Wipe on hand during the Great Pizza Throwing Incident, he probably wouldn’t have needed me, which makes me actually sad to think about so let’s move right along.

Given that there are pizza-stained knit shoes in need of cleaning, pouring about a teaspoon of Shout into a bowl and diluting it with a tablespoon or two of water will be a good substitute for the dish soap/laundry detergent/sneaker cleaner recommended for standard knit sneaker cleanup efforts. If you’re going to go the machine-laundering route, give the stain a spray with Shout before they go in the wash.