The Art of Treating Indigo Denim Stains On Your Sneakers

Denim Stained Sneakers

Denim jeans and sneakers have been the ubiquitous street style pairing for decades, yet the age-old problem of blue dye transferring from cuffs to kicks seems to persist. Sneakerheads are presented with a choice: live with the unsightly staining, or attempt to clean the problematic pigments.

Treating indigo denim staining is not an exact science, and like many of society’s challenges, prevention is always the best cure. But when things are bleeding blue, here’s what to do.

Clear Tape Denim Cuff
Roll the cuff up an additional fold, tape, then fold back down.
Denim Cuff and Pinroll
Cuffs will rub – pinrolls will not.

Preventative Steps

The obvious way to prevent denim from staining sneakers is to simply avoid physical contact between pant and shoe. Not wearing jeans at all is one option (duh), but that’s no fun. One option is to hike the hems up high enough so there’s minimal, if any, brushing of the sneakers. However, that combo does run the risk of looking like you’re rocking denim capris, which is much worse than a bit of blue staining.

Milhouse Flood Pants

Old school sneakerheads may opt for the pinroll, a tight cuff that’s folded at the ankle. That technique allows the jeans to sit as close to the sneakers as possible without any rubbing.,

If hitching pant legs up isn’t the vibe, or climatic conditions aren’t viable for exposed ankles, another classic technique is tape on the inside of the cuff. This creates a physical barrier between the fabric and sneakers. Duct tape is the most durable option, but its opaque appearance can be conspicuous. Clear tape is stealthy, but requires occasional reapplication. And, please remember to remove the tape before washing the jeans, lest a sticky mess is the desired outcome.

Alternatively, save the white and light-coloured shoes for shorts and chino pants. Rock some stealthy dark sneakers with jeans to hide any apparent staining. Denim bleed? Never heard of it.

But sometimes the damage has already been done. There are shades of baby blue and algae green on the high-contact points. That might be inconvenient, but it’s not too late! Firstly, assess the staining, and the affected materials.

Suede Eraser Clarks Wallabees
Suede Clarks are susceptible to denim bleed.
Washing Machine Sneakers
A washing machine can help, but won't spot clean heavy soiling.
Jason Markk Quick Wipes
Jason Markk are a popular choice for sneaker cleaning.

Materials Matter!

Suede, nubuck, and other aniline materials are best treated with dry methods before moving onto wet techniques. As a preliminary step, a firm (but not hard) brush with fine bristles can be surprisingly effective in scrubbing off the blue pigment. Following that, a specific suede eraser will remove all but the heaviest staining. Just check the colourfastness of the material in a hidden area before going in with the deep rub. If the stains persist, or are too dark, use one of many sneaker-cleaning solutions on the market. The common mistake is to apply too much liquid to the suede, which can actually widen the stain. Keep that brush moist, but not saturated! Following an air dry, remember to brush the suede to maintain its hairy texture.

Treating Textiles

Canvas and textile sneakers present similar challenges, but are relatively forgiving to harsher cleaning cycles. Of course, the softly-softly approach will minimise damage, so try the dry methods outlined above, before reaching for the tap. That said, plain fabrics can take a decent treatment with anything from hand soap to specific sneaker products, or even the washing machine (on a gentle cycle with the shoes wrapped in towels, of course). In some cases, as a last resort, bleach might even do the trick on white canvas and cotton, when extreme care is taken. Always test on an inconspicuous area. As with any soap-based wet wash, ensure the treated area is rinsed thoroughly and air-dried to remove any remaining suds.

Will Smith Sneaker Toothbrush

Look Good in Leather

Smooth leather can sometimes be unpredictable when it comes to denim stains. In theory, and most practices, friction transfers indigo pigment, therefore friction can also remove it. Yep, get rubbing and scrubbing. Some smooth leathers are more fragile than others, so start gentle and dry, before upping the intensity with soapy conduits. Baby wipes are arguably as effective as sneaker-specific ones, so give them a try. A soft-bristled toothbrush can also do the trick. It may sound weird, but denture brushes work super well!

The Magic Eraser

There is a product called the Magic Eraser that deserves its own paragraph. Like its name, it’s a cosmic gift containing unimaginable cleaning power. Well, hyperbole aside, its effectiveness is down to the fact that it’s essentially an ultra-fine abrasive sponge. With a few drops of water, judicious use will strip any surface bare. Which means with great power, comes great responsibility. These erasers can remove car paint – so take care with sneaker surfaces, as the topcoat of leather uppers and midsole paints can be torn right off. There are plenty of variants of this product on the market, so check reviews before use.

Well, that is the delicate art of treating denim stains. Again, preventative steps are the most effective, but the indigo bleeding onto sneakers will pretty much be a fact of life forever. Rock it with mildly defeated pride, or have a decent crack at brushing off those blues.

For more how-to guides and pearls of sneaker wisdom, check out the Features section here.

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