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How to clean your GORE-TEX shoes

Waterproofing and care for GORE-TEX footwear

© HOKA

Waterproof shoes are vital for mountain sports and other outdoor activities because wet feet are simply unpleasant and can really dampen spirits. That’s why many rely on a GORE-TEX membrane, which is often abbreviated to GTX, in the name of the individual shoe lines, because it has become the industry leader for waterproof and, at the same time, breathable properties.

Unlike GORE-TEX outerwear like jackets or trousers, however, you can’t just put GTX shoes in the washing machine at 40°C if they get dirty or leak. The waterproofing wears off after a while with heavy use, even if the DWR coating (which stands for durable water-repellent) suggests otherwise at first glance.

If they leak, it doesn’t mean that the shoes are broken or need to be thrown out. You should simply care for and waterproof your GTX shoes properly and regularly so that they can offer their optimal performance for a long time. This article will teach you what to pay attention to in the process.


The GORE-TEX membrane is extremely thin and consists of millions of micropores that are many times too small to be penetrated by water droplets. At the same time, the pores are larger than water vapour molecules, allowing perspiration to escape and providing good breathability (read more about how GORE-TEX membranes work here ). When it comes to GORE-TEX shoes, the membrane is laminated either on the inside or between several layers of material. There it prevents water from penetrating and blocks it.

In addition, the shoes also have a water-repellent coating (DWR: durable water repellent) which ensures that water rolls off the surface before it even reaches the GORE-TEX membrane. To keep your feet dry, the membrane and DWR have to work together perfectly.

© HOKA

If the DWR stops working properly, the outer material can become damp and soak through with increasing pressure until you have wet feet. To prevent this, you need to clean your GORE-TEX shoes carefully, dry them in a warm place but without additional heat and refresh the DWR coating so that water is kept out in the first place and rolls off your shoes as it should.

Should you wash GORE-TEX shoes by hand or in the washing machine?

Unlike GORE-TEX outerwear, you can’t just put your waterproof footwear in the washing machine at 40°C. While some shoes may be machine washable, many GORE-TEX shoes are not. GORE-TEX itself, for example, explicitly advises against machine washing and only recommends hand washing. So, if in doubt, this is always the better choice because improper machine washing could damage your shoes and limit their functionality. It is therefore important that you find out exactly which care instructions apply to your shoes.


Cleaning your GORE-TEX footwear by hand is gentler than using a washing machine. © HOKA

Washing by hand: the best choice for your GORE-TEX shoes

Cleaning by hand is more time-consuming but definitely gentler on your shoes. At the same time, you have more control over the cleaning and can more easily identify and treat possible stains and unevenness in the material.

Leather shoes with GORE-TEX should always be washed carefully by hand. Ideally, you should just rinse them with water on the outside and after drying, you should waterproof them or treat them with shoe wax. You can treat perspiration and dirt that may have collected in the membrane and restricted its breathability by massaging in a little liquid or functional detergent from the inside with a sponge. Here are the hand-washing steps in detail:

1. Preparation

If possible, remove the laces so that you can open the shoes as much as possible and get to all the folds in the material.

2. Rough clean – inside

Remove the insole and shake sand, gravel and coarse dirt out of the inside of the shoes.

3. Rough clean – outside

Remove coarse dirt from the outer material with a brush or sponge and with as little water as possible at first.

4. Careful cleaning with water

If your shoes have stains or no longer look fresh on the inside, you can clean the material carefully with a sponge, lukewarm water and a small amount of liquid or technical detergent.

5. Warning

Do not use excessive amounts of water. Bleach containing chlorine, as well as care products containing oil and grease, are also not to be used as the latter can reduce breathability.

Machine washing: only suitable for certain textile and synthetic GORE-TEX shoes

If machine washing is an option for your GORE-TEX footwear, you should still be very careful. The membrane will not be damaged by machine washing, it is tough enough, but the other parts of the shoe, from the upper to the sole to the glue, may be affected. Therefore, you should clean the shoes as gently as possible.

1. Preparation

First, remove the coarsest dirt with a brush or cloth. The laces and insole should also be removed. The latter can also be put in the washing machine.

2. Wash cycle

Use a gentle wash cycle at a maximum of 40° C and 800 revolutions.

3. Detergent

Use a liquid or technical detergent here too and rinse the shoes again to remove residue from the detergent.

Quick guide: washing GORE-TEX shoes

  • Always follow the shoe manufacturer’s care instructions
  • Remove the laces and, where applicable, the insole
  • Remove coarse dirt from the inside and outside with a sponge or brush
  • Then clean with a sponge, lukewarm water and liquid detergent
  • Do not use detergent on leather
    Washing by hand is gentler than in the machine

Cleaning your GORE-TEX shoes should remove mud and dirt and make them look and smell fresh again. If your shoes still smell excessively, it’s not because of the sweat or dirt itself but because of bacteria that have taken up residence inside the shoe. You can tackle them with an appropriate care spray for the inside of the shoe because it will not damage the GORE-TEX membrane.

But before you can put the shoes back on and take full advantage of their functionality, they must first be properly dried and then waterproofed.


Drying shoes after cleaning: not time-consuming, but extremely important. © HOKA

Air-dry GORE-TEX footwear

Drying GORE-TEX shoes is not difficult in itself, but it is an extremely important step and requires some time. For one thing, the shoes are made of quite thick material comprised of several layers and they have to dry completely before the next use in order to be waterproof and avoid germ formation.

It is best to leave the shoes wide open in a warm place or at room temperature until they are completely dry after 1–2 days. Direct heat, e.g., from heating or sunlight, should be avoided at all costs, as this is more likely to damage the materials and adhesives. Lining them with newspaper or kitchen towel can remove excessive moisture. After a few hours, however, you should change the paper so that the remaining moisture can evaporate better.

If you have to dry many shoes often, it might be worth investing in a shoe dryer. This dries the shoes by convection and removes the moisture naturally before you waterproof the shoes again.


You can easily waterproof your GORE-TEX footwear with a special spray, wax or cream. © HOKA

Waterproofing GORE-TEX footwear for optimal functionality

In most cases, new GORE-TEX shoes already have a DWR coating right from the start. Therefore, there is no need to treat new GORE-TEX shoes before wearing them for the first time. The original coating should also last quite a long time and even through several cleaning processes. But the ‘durable’ in DWR does not mean that the coating will last forever.

The coating lowers the surface tension on the material or smoothens it out so that large drops of water roll off. Dirt and other things are also generally kept out by a functioning DWR coating. But over time, this can be worn away in places so that the upper material of the shoe becomes soaked with water. If this is the case, it is high time to renew the DWR coating.

Waterproofing spray: a game changer

Waterproofing spray is so popular because it is super easy to use and works in no time. However, it is important that the waterproofing agent is suitable for the upper material of your shoes. For example, leather shoes usually need a different treatment than textile shoes. Therefore, you should carefully follow the instructions for your chosen waterproofing product.

  • Textile shoes should be dry before spraying, but leather shoes can still be slightly damp because the treatment is better absorbed.
  • Spray outdoors at a distance of 30–50 centimetres (or as instructed) evenly and from all sides onto the outer material.
  • The material should not be too wet, so you can work in and spread any excess waterproofing agent with a clean cloth.
  • The waterproofing product itself should also specify how long it should be left to soak in. Leather, for example, normally needs 24 hours.

Waterproofing with wax or cream

If spraying is not your cup of tea or you have found another suitable product for the upper material of your shoes, you can also use a waterproofing cream or wax. Grease creams and leather oils are, however, not to be used. These do make the material water-repellent, but also reduce breathability. Here, too, you should carefully follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use.

  • Leave the leather a little damp so that the treatment is better absorbed.
  • Rub the product directly into the upper material with a suitable utensil, cloth or sponge and spread it evenly.
  • Again, leave the product to soak in for about a day.

Care and waterproofing instructions

  • GORE-TEX footwear also needs to be waterproofed so that the membrane inside the footwear can function properly.
  • Always use a waterproofing agent that is suitable for the upper material.
  • New GORE-TEX footwear does not need to be waterproofed.
  • Only treat clean footwear
  • Do not use greasy or oil-based products

Checklist: waterproofing and care for GORE-TEX shoes

Washing:

  • Handwashing is generally better and gentler than machine washing
  • Firstly, remove coarse dirt with a dry cloth
  • Remove stubborn dirt with lukewarm water, liquid detergent and a sponge
  • Remove detergent residue, but do not submerge the shoes in water

Drying:

  • Air-dry at gentle temperatures
  • Avoid direct heat
  • Allow sufficient time for drying

Waterproofing:

  • Use a suitable waterproofing agent (spray, cream, wax)
  • Allow sufficient time for the product to soak in
  • Do not use greasy or oil-based treatments

Conclusion

With proper and regular care, GORE-TEX clothing can last for many years, even decades, and demonstrate its optimal functionality. For a long time, it was assumed that this meant washing them as infrequently as possible. But to keep the membrane clean and fresh and to activate the water-repellent properties of the DWR, regular washing is essential.

In our other guides you can also find out how the GORE-TEX membrane works and how to properly care for your GTX shoes .