In Our Words

Cleaning Ladies

Who's got time to clean the house when we got all those kicks to keep fresh?

by Lori Lobenstine

Back in the day, women were expected to do all the household cleaning. Nowadays studies show that women still do 2-2.5 times as much cleaning in the home as men. However, their overall time spent cleaning has declined.

Highly regarded researchers in the field, Rob “Hepdog” Heppler and S. “Woody” Wood, found some surprising reasons why. At first attributing it to more time spent doing “work outside of the home”, they found that a growing subset of women attributed it directly to what one described this way: “Well, everyday I have to clean all 200 of my sneakers. Everything else comes after that.” Another acknowledged that “I have less time for cleaning because other errands take longer. I have to walk far out of my way to keep my trainers crispy and fresh.”

And so the term cleaning lady begins to take on a new meaning...These cleaners are getting mean and clean with their prized kicks. They’re on the shining edge of spotless, using old school methods like toothbrushes and toothpaste, new cleaning sprays, wet wipes and even razors to keep the kicks as good as new. Who’s got time to clean the tub when there are 14 pairs of dunks to suds off?

So let’s hear how some cleaning ladies are getting the job done. I’ve divided this ‘research’ into 2 sections: 1) PREVENTION: what we do to stay clean, and 2) INTERVENTION: taking care of the dirt that hurt, and sometimes taking care of the bastard who did it!


Most other collectors can prevent damage to their goods by keeping them on the shelf or under lock and key. Who drags their invaluable stamp collection literally out on the street? However, many sneaker collectors still acknowledge and enjoy the very purpose of our chosen icon, risking dirt and debris to get the nods and stares of fellow sneakerheads out and about. Sometimes we can plan ahead to make our trips sneaker-safe, and other times we have to take emergency procedures.

Here are a few telling stories from the field:

I’ll start us off. Last summer I went to a Sole Collector/Niketown event in New York City. Now, a couple of my girls had been sleeping out for a few nights in anticipation of copping some nice cowboys, so I thought I’d get there early to say hi, see how they were doing and all. It was all gravy until I was about to leave, and it started to POUR! And I had suede dunks on! How bad can it get. I had to go back to my friend’s house with bags on my feet! (See re-enactment below.) Trust me, when I came back that night for the big event, I wasn’t taking any chances. I carried my heat in a bag until I got there!

And the stories pour in from “cleaning ladies” around the globe:

“I’d just got my high top green nike dunks signed by M.I.A. and I went outside only to find it raining. I was so terrified that the signature would wash off I took them off and walked through the city center barefoot and held them under my jacket. It was worth it though!” Georgie, England

“[Sneaker fiends] watch where they step. And they watch how they step. You just don’t walk regular. You walk with your feet out, and take a flat, perfect step. You do, you watch when you step. If somebody’s in your way, you’ll stop and wait for them to move out the way, so y’all won’t bump sneakers. You know what I mean? And when you do bump your sneakers, like me, I might hit the table (demonstrates lightly), but I stop, I will stop in the middle of my walk, if I scuff on the curb or something, and look and make sure I have no mark and have to wipe it off. I do. Even put a little spit on my finger and wipe it off.” Katrina, Massachusetts

“I never walk in the grass or take shortcuts ... being at the largest campus in Texas, that takes me way out of my way, and sometimes even causes me to be late for class and work, but oh well.” April, Texas

“For the first day of school we had gym. And I wore my new sneakers, and it was raining that day, so we were out in the MUD. In the MUD, we had to run a mile…. Good thing the gym teacher has sneakers that you can wear just in case you forgot to bring your sneakers. I literally wore someone else’s stinky sneakers! Instead of getting my sneakers dirty! …. Wow.” Allyson, Massachusetts (age 12)

“Whenever I wear my sneaks I almost always wear double to triple socks to prevent creasing. And I avoid walking really close to people in the mall so they won't step on me =X.” Miszsidknee, Florida

“Well, first of all I try not to make too much of a big deal out of it [when something bad happens to a sneaker], because I try to keep things in perspective, I really do. So I say to myself, I want to get more upset when something happens to my car than when something happens to my sneakers…. For the most part though, I try to keep myself out of situations where any of that can actually happen. I never wash dishes when I’m wearing my nice sneakers. I’m never going to clean out the refrigerator and empty trash and do all that kind of stuff…” brooklyn, Philadelphia

This brings us back to why women aren’t doing so much cleaning around the house, now doesn’t it? It’s a high risk activity! As the company Maid Brigade advertises, “Residential cleaning service is the #1 Service Request by Women.” Yup yup!

INTERVENTION: No matter the lengths we go to in order to protect our favorites, any of us brave enough to wear them outside also have to be willing to keep up with the maintenance. Cleaning schedules and techniques vary, but let’s just say, someday the Maid Brigade might do quite well to have a special “sneaker cleaning service”. Hmmm, now that’s a money making idea…

Here are some stories and recommendations from personal interviews and the femalesneakerfiend forums:

“I have a 'kit' that I made just in a waterproof adidas bag that holds chux, cotton bud stix, cotton wool, spray and wipe, tissues, sard wondersoap, disposable shaver, toothbrush, and waterspray bottle and UV lamp. The disposable shaver is for the little bally bits around the heel.” Hot Struts, Melbourne

“All about baby wipes....and some times good old water and soap on a brush that ur supposed to use for ur fingernails!” Nikegyal, London

“I use scrubbin’ bubbles or any kind of foamin’ bathtub cleaner...spray on and let sit for 5 minutes. Wipe off wit a hot wet towel. I used to put a bar of ivory soap in a cup of water...let it dissolve. (takes 3 days) Once it dissolves...take a toothbrush and dip it in and scrub ya shoes...It’s good for soles and scuffs. Wipe clean wit a hot wet rag.” Kawshin, Atlanta

“ I scotchgard my shoes first. When they get dirty I’ll use a gel cleaner and a toothbrush. Or the suede cleaner or the bleach pen. My friend uses spray and wash, the one with the dual action chamber. I know you shouldn’t put shoes in the washer, but that’s what she does and it actually works really well. She came into work one day with her old milers and the mesh and everything was clean and white.” Kidteamnike, LA

“Whatever you do though, DON'T use toothpaste on non-white shoes. Horror stories. I can't imagine why anyone thought this was a good idea.” Amanda, Massachusetts

“Also, something I recently learned…is to take out the paper that comes in the boxes. The paper, especially in Nike boxes, is what contributes to your shoes turning yellow over time. So, definitely, my boxes are free of any paper. After a wear, and before I put them back in their box, I’ll check 'em out and see if any damage was done and give them a quick cleaning if they are a bit dirty. This way, the dirt isn’t embedded in the shoe by the time you get to cleaning and you get everything done at once – wear em, wipe em down, and return to the box and that’s it…you’re done.” Trizanne, LA

“After I rock’em I make sure and I inspect for any marks or bruises, wipe them down from the uppers down to the outersoles. I'm from the old school so a little soap and an old toothbrush or any little brush and a clean rag does wonders.” Snkrgoddess, Miami

And then there are the emotional interventions, also known as REVENGE. Revenge on the perpetrators seems to vary based on the mood of the victim and the level of intention of the perpetrator. Sometimes someone steps on your kicks by accident; they may not know you or your kind, and they’re just clumsy or something. Other times, it’s a known agent: a friend or enemy who knows EXACTLY what they’re messing with.

Recently “Brown”, an FSF member from Brooklyn, posted a poll about what we do when somebody steps on our sneaks. “ You’re at a crowded party and your nikes are BEAMIN!! Then someone either steps DEAD ON your toes or spills half their drink on your laces. What would you do?” It turns out this way:

“Give them a dirty look and walk away” 60%
“Stomp all over their kicks and act like it was a mistake” 25%
“Pass your earrings to your friend and get ta BEATIN THAT ASS” 10%
“Let the person know what they did and educate them on the art of collecting” 5%
“Act like nothing happened” 0%

So as you can see, it’s serious! It’s about a 35% chance of violence. You don’t often hear about this sort of thing with housecleaning (“damn, you messed up my sink—I’ma beat your ass!”), and you don’t hear about malicious revenge so often in the stamp collecting community (but what do I know?), but with kicks, it’s personal. As Allyson said, “All the boys that hang with me, they’re like, ‘Don’t step on her sneakers! Whatever you do, do NOT step on her sneakers!’ Cuz they stepped on my sneakers before and I was about to kill them! They’re like, ‘She’ll strangle you if you step on her sneakers!’”

Clearly, keeping our collections clean is serious business. (And dirtying them may cause serious beef!) New cleaning products come out regularly, but the work doesn’t cease. Sneakers must be worn, sneakers must be fresh to death, sneakers must be cleaned…and the endless cycle continues! Who’s got time to dust the furniture? Maybe that’s why Merry Maids advertises, “For consumers, the most precious commodity today is time. People today are more willing than ever to pay for services that afford them more leisure time [to clean their sneakers].” Now they’re talking!

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