The humble flip-flop is a summer footwear staple—the perfect companion for a trip to the beach, hanging at a barbecue, or relaxing by the pool. Unfortunately, with all of this warm-weather adventuring, your trusty flip-flops are bound to collect their fair share of grime.
And then there’s the sweat: that awful, slimy scourge associated with any sort of footwear designed for bare feet. You wear these things precisely because you can do so sans socks, but a lack of socks makes for some seriously swampy situations for your slip-on shoes.
Enough is enough—let’s get to the bottom of those filthy flip-flops and freshen ’em up before the funkiness of your feet gets out of hand.
First things first: Clean your dang feet!
Ask yourself this: Am I doing enough to keep my feet clean?
It’s OK—no one’s here to judge you. I will say this, however: Foot hygiene is important no matter what, but it’s especially important if you’re going to be going sock-less on a regular basis.
Despite the nearly unmatched ventilation that comes with a pair of flip-flops, the bottoms of your feet are still bound to sweat a troubling amount, particularly in the sticky heat of summer. And, with no socks to absorb and maybe even wick away some of that moisture, you’re looking at a potentially swampy sandal situation.
The first step for staying out in front of your flip-flop funk is to pay serious attention to your feet during your usual grooming routine. We recommend using an exfoliating scrubber like these nylon bath towels by Salux. Not only are they infinitely more hygienic than those horrible mesh shower poofs, but they’ll last longer, too.
Once you’re done scrubbing, it might be a good idea to apply a foot powder like Gold Bond, particularly if your feet are prone to perspiration.
Most flip-flops (especially those made primarily with plastic and rubber) are made to be worn by the water, so if you feel like you can safely dunk ’em underwater without damaging the material, we highly recommend doing just that.
Our advice is to fill up a bucket, sink, bathtub, or basin with warm water and some sort of cleaning agent like Borax, baking soda, dish soap or laundry detergent. Once you’ve given your sandals a solid soak, get to work scrubbing them with a rag or sponge. You can also use a toothbrush to reach some of the crevices alongside the straps.
Personally, I use the same basin for cleaning my footwear as I do for hand-washing my clothes. It’s only $14-$20 via Amazon and it comes equipped with a drain plug that makes it easy to empty once you’re done using it.
The portable basin also makes it easy to take this project outdoors, where you’re less likely to care if you make a giant mess of puddles everywhere—a very real possibility for a job this soapy and sudsy.
If your flip-flops aren’t durable enough to be dunked in a bucket of water, you’ll have to pay a little more attention to the cleaning process. Use a toothbrush to scrub around any areas that might be too delicate for heavy duty scrubbing, paying close attention to any areas that regularly come into contact with your skin.
As with most shoes, avoid drying them in the sun.
Repeat after me: I will not attempt to dry my flip-flops as quickly as possible by setting them outside to bake in the heat.
As I mentioned in my guide to cleaning boat shoes, there aren’t too many shortcuts for drying shoes that won’t potentially damage their materials, and this is especially true for leather footwear, which is highly susceptible to cracking when faced with excessive heat.
Make sure you leave enough time for your flip-flops to air out naturally to avoid any long-term damage.
If all else fails, just buy a new pair.
The truth is, most flip-flops aren’t built to last. Plus, if you wear your favorite pair frequently, they’re likely to wear down pretty quickly.
As with any pair of old, broken-down shoes, worn-out flip-flops aren’t just potentially bad for your self-esteem—they’re also potentially bad for your health. If your sandals are lacking soles or you’re hobbling around on flattened heels, you’re more likely to experience short- and long-term pain in your feet.
No one likes to toss a pair of their favorite footwear, but sooner or later your flip-flops will find a way to inform you that they’re past the point of no return.
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