Here's How To Keep Your Trendy Birkenstocks Clean

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Birkenstock's two-strap Arizona-style sandals are one of the most iconic wardrobe staples of all time. Thanks to viral trend machine, TikTok, the timeless brand has been introduced to a younger demographic, which has latched onto its Boston clog style. Regardless of where you land in the Arizona vs. Boston debate, you'll likely struggle with the one challenge that unites all Birkenstock fans: how to clean and maintain their delicate-yet-durable blend of cork and either leather or suede.


Even if you're careful never to wear your Birks out in the rain and always avoid dirt, dust, and mud, you'll notice severe discoloration of the cork footbeds over time. This is due to the natural oils secreted from the skin of your feet, as per Wearably Weird. Standard cleaning methods like soaking, submerging, or scrubbing with harsh detergents are not safe for Birkenstocks and can lead to irreparable staining, cracking, or other damage. If you've been hiding your embarrassingly blackened Birks away in the closet this summer, it's time to dig them out and follow along this step-by-step cleaning guide. You'll need a soft brush, a lint-free cloth, a leather soap, and a leather conditioner or waterproofer (depending on which type of Birkenstocks you own). 


Dry-brush loose debris

The first step to properly cleaning your Birkenstocks is using a soft, dry brush to remove any dirt, dust, or other debris. A brush specifically designed for leather or suede is recommended, but any horsehair or soft synthetic brush will work just fine, including a soft-bristle toothbrush. To speed up the process, you may wish to have two brushes available: one for dry cleaning and one for wet cleaning. Removing this dry debris doesn't just make the next steps of the cleaning process easier; it helps prevent damage.


Dirt, sand, and dust particles are abrasive. If you skip removing dry debris with a brush and move on to wet cleaning, you will risk grinding these particles into the surface of your Birkenstocks' leather or suede and cork. The result can be unsightly scratches, bald spots, and gouges. If you've owned your shoes for a few years and this is your first time properly cleaning them, you may even want to consider dry-brushing a second time to ensure you've removed as much dirt and dust as possible. 

Wash with leather soap

Once you've removed all the pesky dirt and debris from your Birkenstocks, it's time to get move on to gently washing them with a leather soap. While any cleanser specifically made for cleaning leather will do, there is a reason why staples like Fiebing's Saddle Soap have been considered classics for decades. The key to preventing additional staining and damage to both the leather and the cork footbed when cleaning your Birks is to use as little water as possible. Flooding the shoes with water can also wash away the glue and sealant that hold the footbed and sole together, resulting in separation, according to Birkenstock. Dampen your clean soft brush slightly by dipping it into a small amount of water, followed by a small amount of leather soap.


Gently scrub the lather into the top of the leather or suede, then immediately wipe away with a damp lint-free cloth. Repeat this process on the underside of the leather or suede portion of the shoe and then on the cork footbed. Rinse your brush and then use it to scrub the bottom of the shoe's sole. Next, it's time to dry. 

Dry thoroughly at room temperature

It's very important to allow your Birkenstocks to completely dry before wearing or storing them. If you wear them while they're damp, the leather or suede may stretch. If you store the shoes while they're still damp, mold or mildew can grow on them. Blot as much moisture as from your Birks with a clean, dry lint-free cloth. Then, put them in a well-ventilated area to dry for 24 hours.


You might be tempted to accelerate the drying process by placing your shoes out in the sun or on top of a heat register. This is not advised as exposure to direct heat or sunlight can cause dry rot of the cork footbed as well as cracking of the leather or suede, shares Wagner's Shoes. The proper drying process can't be rushed, so do your best to remain patient and schedule your cleaning for a time when you won't be rushing to wear your Birkenstocks. 

Condition or waterproof

Once you have confirmed that your Birkenstocks are completely dry, it's time to treat them with a leather conditioner or a waterproofer, depending on whether they feature leather or suede. These coatings will help to keep your Birks clean and to prevent issues like drying, cracking, and water staining in the future. If your shoes are made of nubuck leather/suede, you will want to skip adding extra moisture via leather conditioner and instead apply a waterproofing spray. Cover the cork footbed to protect it from the waterproofing product.


If your Birks feature natural leather, treating them with a leather conditioner like Apple Leather Care will help combat scratching, cracking, and water damage. Massage the conditioner into the leather, being careful not to apply it to the cork footbed. Once your shoes have been properly cleaned and conditioned or waterproofed, it will be easy to keep them clean with a dry brush and an occasional wipe with a damp, lint-free cloth. Once or twice a year, perform these steps fully as a deep cleaning.