Can You Wash Birkenstocks in the Washing Machine?

Birkenstock shoes are a staple because of their simple yet fashionable design. Notorious for being comfortable, your Birkenstocks can handle a lot of situations. However, can they be machine washed?

Not usually. While Birkenstock makes a selection of machine-washable shoes, these are limited, and most Birkenstocks are not machine-washable.

What are Birkenstocks Made of?

Birkenstocks are a German-owned shoe company with a variety of products in its lineup. As such, there is no one material that all Birkenstocks are made of. Usually, Birkenstocks are made of leather, wool, felt, or synthetic fabric with a natural latex sole. Each material has further subcategories, and each material needs to be maintained differently.

Types of Birkenstocks:

Your first step when deciding whether to machine wash your Birkenstocks is to determine which type of material they are made of. I’ve included the most common here and the texture and feel of each to help you decide what you have.

Leather

Leather Birkenstocks are by far the most common. Birkenstock makes shoes using Nubuck Leather, Suede, Patent Leather, and Natural Leather. Leather can be either smooth or slightly fuzzy with a shiny or matte finish. It will be slightly stiffer than fabric shoes, and the thread used in the stitching will be thicker.

Birkenstocks Made of Leather

Wool

Wool is a less common material, but some Birkenstocks are wool. Wool is heavy in weave, slightly fuzzy to the touch, and very warm. Most woolen Birkenstocks are Felted Wool, which has a very distinctive smell when wet.

Birkenstock Made of Wool

Synthetic Fabric

In addition to their natural fibers, Birkenstocks come in a handful of synthetic options. These are synthetic felts, Birko-Flor, and Birko Nubuck. All of these are billed as being more durable than their natural counterparts, and while they feel similar to other Birkenstocks, they often have a more flexible worked texture.

Polyurethane

These shoes make up the bulk of Birkenstocks’ machine washable lineup and look almost rubbery. If your shoe in any way resembles a Crock, then you probably have a Polyurethane shoe.

Can Birkenstocks be Washed?

Most Birkenstocks cannot be washed, as the materials do not stand up to heat and agitation. However, some Birkenstocks are specially designed to be washable. These usually are rubbery in texture and are made of EVA or Polyurethane.

Machine Washed

Only the Polyurethane Birkenstocks can be machine washed and have a temperature associated with them. If you are unsure what temperature your specific model can handle, then washing at thirty degrees Celsius is the safest bet. After washing, these shoes should be airdried, not tumble-dried.

Hand Washed

Other synthetic Birkenstocks can be hand-washed with cold water. These include the EVA shoes, as well as the Birko-Flor shoes. However, do not put these in a washing machine or dryer. Always allow your Birkenstocks to air dry.

What Happens if You Machine Wash Birkenstocks?

If you have washed your Birkenstocks, you can try to hope for the best, but you may quickly need to trash the shoes. Napped materials like wool and suede tend to matt and tangle in the wash and will never look the same. Leather can become warped and cracked. As a more global issue, buckled and stitching can become loose in the washer. The hard shoes can also dent the inside of the washing machine.

What Happens if you Put Birkenstocks in the Dryer?

If there is one thing that is worse for your shoes than putting them in the washing machine, it is putting them in a tumble dryer. A dryer does not have a convenient cushion of water to limit the damage from spinning, and many dryers use high heat to evaporate water. This can cause shrinkage, discoloration, warping, and in extreme cases can melt or burn the material. Even if the shoes seem fine, the heat has probably damaged the glue holding them together around the sole, and you should expect a lower life expectancy.

How to Clean Your Birkenstocks?

When cleaning more traditional natural fiber Birkenstocks, you have a few options. Most napped materials such as felt, suede, and wool can be cleaned with a suede eraser and a toothbrush. Natural and patent leather however are best cleaned with a cloth and water.

How to Clean Your Birkenstocks

Felted Materials

  • Mud and other dust can be routinely removed from napped leather, wool, and felt by letting the shoes dry completely, and then gently brushing the grime out of the nap with a suede brush or toothbrush.
  • Stains can be rubbed out using a suede eraser or pencil eraser. You should be careful when doing this, as being too aggressive can leave a visible flaw on the shoe.
  • If you start to notice a stink, sprinkling the inside of the shoes with baking soda and leaving them out overnight is a safe bet. Simply vacuum up the baking soda in the morning.

Natural and Patent Leather

  • Most routine cleaning can be done with a damp rag. To make the shoes more stain-resistant, apply a coat of weatherproofing shoe spray every six months.
  • More difficult messes can be taken care of with a commercial leather cleaner. Leather with a smooth finish is generally more durable, so you should be fine to scrub with a rag or sponge.
  • Over time, the leather may dull or become stiff from exposure to elements and wear. You can often revive it by applying a leather conditioner.
  • For stinky shoes, baking soda or a commercial deodorizing spray can do wonders.

Final Thoughts

Birkenstocks are solid standby shoes, and very comfortable. However, they are not usually easy to clean. Most Birkenstocks cannot be machine-washed because they are made from delicate natural materials, or synthetics designed to mimic these as closely as possible. The rare Birkenstocks that can be washed will say so on their website or on the label on the shoe. Never put Birkenstocks in a dryer. Instead of machine washing your Birkenstocks, use a cleaner safe for the material and a rag to get most typical messes off. You might need to turn to more specialized methods for staining and other damage.

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