Note: We’ve updated this article a bit. Click here to see our How to Clean Chacos article!
So, you’re the proud owner of a pair Chacos and you take them everywhere, you wear them everywhere, and you would die without them in your life… but now…. they stink! It’s okay. You do not have a nasty foot funk. The “not so pleasant aroma” wafting from your feet to your nostrils is something that comes with owning Chacos. But, with a little cleaning and maintenance, it’s not something you have to live with!
Here’s a little science and anatomy lesson for you to explain what’s going on… hey, I was once a nursing major! Our skin (epithelial tissue) is a protective barrier from the elements. Like everything else in this world, there is a life span for our skin cells. On our feet, there is a tougher and thicker layer of skin called the “stratified squamous epithelium” (whew, say that three times fast). This type of tissue has a high “turnover rate,” as it is found on locations of high wear and abrasion. New layers are created internally, and scale off from the top as they die.
If you plug your nose and look into the footbed grooves of your Chacos, you will notice a build up of these dead cells. Please don’t be grossed out, it is a fact of life. The smell resonating from the sandals is simply the cells being decomposed by bacteria. All YOU have to do is wash that out.
Here at Rock/Creek, we’d like to offer several possible remedies. We are not chemists nor rocket scientists, but we wear our Chacos constantly, and we know what works and what doesn’t. We also believe in helping you maintain your investment to keep your Chacos going for years. Our suggestions are low-impact, safe methods and will not delaminate the rubber, nor cause the webbing to crack or fade.
Essentially, there are two good options for washing your non-leather Chaco Sandals (we’ll get to leather later). We recommend the washing-machine method. Here is a brief video explaining the process, including how to “floss” the webbing in your Chacos, or you can read instructions below. Very simple!
Option 1: Machine Washing
- This is our recommended option for washing your Chaco sandals. Chacos are machine-washable. That means they’re washable in an ordinary clothes washing machine… NOT the dishwasher, which is commonly done and can result in delamination. Delamination is when the sole peels off of the footbed; definitely not a good thing. Simply place your Chacos in the washing machine with a few bulky materials, such as towels or sheets, and let’er rip!
- We suggest a mild detergent (no bleach). Using bleach on synthetic fabrics, like the polyester webbing in Chaco sandals, will cause the fibers to become damaged and brittle, shortening the life of your Chacos. Many companies offer mild, environmentally-friendly detergents, so use whichever you prefer.
- Prior to washing, expose the portion of the strap that is typically underneath the midsole; this part of the sandal is responsible for much of the stink! This a usually referred to as “flossing” the webbing to expose and loosen the grit from the channels. You can do this by gripping the webbing and pulling. If the sandals are dirty or old, you may have to pull hard. It takes some effort, but you’ll see the inside webbing come to the outside. You couldn’t possibly cram your foot in there, but it’s perfect for cleaning your Chacos! See the photo at right for an example of what we mean.
- After cycling your sandals through the washing machine, place the damp sandals outside to air-dry. Try to keep them out of direct sunlight during the drying phase, in order to prevent the webbing from fading or becoming stiff.
Option 2: Bucket Soaking
- If you don’t have access to a washing machine, you can use this option. Mix baking soda with enough water to make a paste. Spread the paste out on the footbed, and let stand for a few minutes. If you prefer using a commercially-available cleaning product instead of baking soda, Rock/Creek offers NikWax brand Sandal Wash, available at all store locations.
- Stick the sandals in a bucket of water and let sit for a few hours.
- Scrub off the remaining baking soda with a soft-bristled brush, and rinse thoroughly. Repeat. You may notice a little white residue on the webbing as it dries. This is okay; rinse the webbing a few extra times. Baking soda acts as an odor eliminator; however, it does not kill bacteria. You may want to try a mixture of plain vinegar diluted with water on the footbed to kill the bacteria.
- Place Chacos outside to dry, away from direct sunlight, as above.
Special Note: In the peak of the humid, summer season, washing your Chacos once every two weeks is considered a good idea for the sake of the company around you. It is not possible to over-wash Chacos, as long as the treatment solutions are mild. You’ll only increase the durability of the sandal, by removing debris that can be abrasive on the straps.
DO NOT wash your Chaco sandals with bleach. Seriously, don’t. Some websites recommend making a blend of bleach and water, and letting the sandals soak in this toxic concoction. This is bad for the sandal webbing, bad for the planet and bad for you! As we mentioned above, avoid the dishwasher as well, which can cause the soles to delaminate. Plus, we don’t want to come have dinner at your house if you wash the dishes the same place that you wash your stinky shoes.
Steps for washing leather Chaco Sandals
Leather Chaco sandals require more attention then non-leather Chacos. You want to treat this material gently because it is natural. We suggest starting with a damp cloth, without any cleaning solution, in order to wipe off any residue.
Leather conditioners are most favorable for prolonging the life of your leather Chaco Sandals. We suggest a high-quality leather conditioner called “NikWax Leather Conditioner“. This conditioner will add water-repellent qualities to your sandals, and help soften areas that may have already been affected by age and cracking. It’s rich with moisturizers, so you may notice your sandals darken in color slightly after application. Please be careful not to over-saturate the leather.
As before, dry the sandals in a cool, dry location. Be absolutely sure to keep them out of the sunlight while drying. The heat will make the leather brittle and crack!
Now that you’ve rescued your stinky sandals, you can continue wearing them for years and years. Of course, there are always exciting new colors and styles available! Check out our full selection of Chacos at rockcreek.com, and like us on Facebook so you can tell us all about where your Chacos have taken you!