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What to do with old shoes - you've got options

Are your closets filled with old shoes that have seen better days? Don't let them gather dust or end up in a landfill. Learn about environmentally friendly options to deal with your old footwear and give your old shoes new life.

Howard F., a regular volunteer at the county’s monthly Fix-It Clinics, considers himself a tinkerer. While repairing shoes isn’t his professional specialty, he’s seen quite a few soles come through clinics that could be repaired with a bit of elbow grease.

“Knowing how an item breaks and if an item can be repaired helps us buy things that will last. Knowing how things work (a key part of repairing) helps prevent us from misusing them in ways that will break them,” said Howard.

Fix-It Clinic volunteer, Howard F
Howard F. is one of the regular Fixers at monthly Fix-It Clinics.

Shoe care tips and DIY fixes

There are several easy fixes you can do on your own to spruce up your shoes before needing to bring them to a professional.

Keep your shoes well cared for

Caring for your shoes is the first step in making sure they have a long useful life. Gently wipe clean your shoes regularly so they don’t accumulate dirt on the soles. 

Many shoes can be sprayed with waterproofing solution to help keep them from soaking up water or other grime. Leather shoes should be regularly polished and conditioned to keep them flexible.

Dry out soles between uses and store them inside, out of direct sunlight. This helps reduce odors and keep the colors and fabric parts vibrant for a long time.

How to wash your shoes

Many shoes can also be washed to restore them to like-new. Don’t get rid of your shoes just because they are dirty! Check if you can throw them in the washing machine, and if not, could the laces be removed and washed separately? Using dish soap and water to scrub your shoes by hand is also a good option to clean the outside of your shoes if they can’t be put in the washing machine.

If odor is your biggest issue, check out these natural deodorizing recipes. Most often, a dirty pair of shoes can be refreshed to feel, and smell, like a brand-new shoe again with just a little effort.

Simple DIY repairs

Many common shoe repairs don’t require special skills. “The most common problem we see [at Fix-It Clinics] is sole separation on shoes that otherwise have lots of wear left,” said Howard. “The repair in that case is to re-glue the sole to the upper portion of the shoe.”

Shoe-Goo is the preferred adhesive for gluing shoes. “A tube of Shoe-Goo, a popsicle stick, and some sort of clamp (I use big rubber bands) is all that is necessary to reglue them.” Be aware that the adhesive is very sticky and quite hard to smooth out since it sticks to almost everything. Howard recommends using an ice cube to help smooth out the adhesive.

Cobbler repairing a shoe

Get help from a professional cobbler

If you can’t repair your beloved pair of shoes on your own, bring them to a professional to be repaired before you consider parting with them.

Some common problems with shoes that may need professional help include worn out soles, loose or detached heels, torn fabric or scratched leather, broken zippers, and squeaky arches. A skilled cobbler can help mend these common issues and even refurbish an entire shoe, breathing new life into your favorite pair.

Consider bringing your shoes to an upcoming Fix-It Clinic or a local cobbler. There are several options to choose from:

Repairing your shoes is the best choice to save money and reduce your environmental footprint by keeping old shoes out of landfills.

Shoes on a shelf at a thrift store

Share the love by donating, swapping, or selling your old shoes

If your shoes are still in good condition but you've outgrown them or they no longer suit your style, consider donating, swapping, or selling them.

Donate your pre-loved shoes

Give your shoes a second life. Bring them to a thrift store, or donate them to a local nonprofit organization such as Ready for Success, Adult and Teen Challenge Minnesota, or the Good in the Hood Shoe Away Hunger program. Soles4Souls is another international organization that collects shoes and redistributes them to those in need.

Refresh your shoe collection by swapping with friends

Shoe swapping is a way to refresh your footwear collection without spending money. Organize or attend a shoe swap party where everyone brings their unwanted shoes to trade with each other. It is an easy way to find new styles while giving your old shoes a new home.

Turn clutter into cash by selling your old shoes

If you have gently used, high-quality shoes that you no longer need, consider selling them. Check out online platforms like eBay, Poshmark, and Mercari, consignment shops, or community garage sales.

Recycle your shoes the sustainable way

For shoes that can't be donated, you can bring them to a specialized recycling center to be broken down into their base materials to be used to create entirely new items. Recycling shoes is the eco-conscious way to extend the lifecycle of the materials your footwear is made of.

Local options for shoe recycling

Some organizations and recycling centers specialize in shoe recycling. They collect old shoes, break them down into raw materials including rubber and leather, and then use these materials to make new products. The resulting materials may be used for playgrounds, sports fields, tire retreading, or even in the production of new shoes.

Check out these local shoe recyclers:

While recycling shoes can be challenging due to their complex construction, dedicated programs and recycling centers make the process more accessible.

Dispose of old shoes only as a last resort

If all other options for repair, donation, and upcycling have been exhausted, and your shoes are no longer suitable for recycling, the last resort is to dispose of them appropriately in the trash.

Woman trying on a new pair of shoes at the store

Next time you buy shoes, invest in quality over quantity

Avoid falling into the trap of fast fashion that encourages consumers to chase trends and discard items that are no longer in vogue. This constant cycle of buying and discarding leads to overconsumption and excess waste.

Instead, when shopping for shoes, opt for quality over quantity. Invest in durable, well-made footwear that will last longer. “Generally, the more expensive the shoe, the more likely it has construction that is repairable,” said Howard. Buying repairable, high-quality shoes reduces waste and saves you money in the long run.

Next time you find yourself with a pair of old shoes, remember - you've got options.