About a year ago, I bought a brand new pair of shoes. And about a month after that, I got caught in a torrential downpour and completely ruined them. After walking around with squeaky sneakers for the past year, I figure that now’s as good a time as any to fix the squeaky bottom soles and document my journey.
Believe it or not, I’m not someone who buys new shoes frequently. So walking on squeaky Nike sneakers for the past year has definitely been trying. Buying new shoes wasn’t an option for me since I was actually very happy with how these ones fit. So I set out to find out what’s causing the noise.
Actually, that was the hardest part, since the shoes were only making noise when I was walking at a brisk pace. Because I was moving fairly quickly, it was somewhat difficult to figure out which of the shoes was squeaking. I wasn’t entirely sure whether it was the left one causing the sound as I lifted my foot off the ground or the right one as I pressed down. At one point, I’d even thought I had adhesive residue stuck on the bottom sole.
As it turns out, these problems are all easy to fix. But before I tell you some of the simple tricks to quiet a squeaky shoe, let’s go over all the reasons why shoes might develop this nasty habit.
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Why Do Some Shoes Squeak?
One thing I discovered immediately was that the surface I was walking on was a big part of the noise my shoes were making. For example, I could hear the squeaking more clearly when I walked on flat surfaces rather than on carpets. That’s exactly why carpets are so great for soundproofing floors — and why you don’t even hear clicking heels on carpeted floors.
As I’ve mentioned, I started my analysis of my squeaky sneakers by walking briskly and trying to place the noise. However, then I read that I ought to have been slowly shifting my weight between my feet to figure out the true culprit. The internet will actually tell you to localize the source of the squeak as much as you can.
However, I honestly couldn’t tell you whether it was the inside or the outside of the shoe that was causing the noise. This is when I’d started doubting myself: were the shoes defective before I wore them in the rain? Or had the noise developed because of the flood damage?
Actually, water damage is the most likely cause of the noise, but remember, the shoes were squeaking a full year after the event. So what else could it be?
Well, as I understand it, there are about 3 categories of reasons why shoes squeak:
- Your shoes are brand new
- The shoes are old and falling apart
- They’ve sustained damage
These three are actually huge categories that contain many subsets of causes. So before we try to fix them, I’ll quickly explain what’s happening with each of these.
If your brand new shoes are squeaking, the most likely reason why that’s happening is that the rubber soles are too smooth. Remember taking a running start and gliding along the smooth linoleum floors of your school as a kid? The screeching noise resulting from the movement was caused by this effect.
New rubber soles are smooth and often cause noises, especially when you’re walking over a similarly smooth material. This usually passes fairly quickly as you begin to wear the shoes on rougher terrain. The rubber essentially wears off after a while.
However, if your new shoes are squeaking too much, you might just have to exchange them. After all, if you try to fix them yourself, any warranty will be void. Still, if the warranty has passed or the squeak isn’t too bad, you can easily fix this yourself. You’ll just need to improve the traction — there are several ways to do that.
Whether they’re old or just poorly built, most shoes are going to fall apart at some point. There are many parts that can come loose over time. What’s more, all of them seem to be trying to see which of them can create the most awful noise when they do.
If your shoes are either old or cheap, they might start coming off at the sole. Typically, the outer sole starts peeling off at the front or at the heel first. However, you could also experience a loose insole, meaning that the pad inside the shoe is slipping on the midsole.
Fortunately, this too is fairly easy to fix. Most cobblers would be able to solve these issues pretty quickly and at a reasonable price.
You’d actually be surprised at what I’ve seen a cobbler fix. A friend of mine once sent her sandals to a local cobbler with the insoles completely hanging out. They’d slid off out of the open toe area, but the shoes were actually sent back looking as good as new. This all to say: don’t underestimate a skilled craftsman.
Still, if you really want to do hands-on work, you could fix some of the loose parts yourself. I’ll tell you exactly what to use in the following segment. But for now, we have one last category to go through.
As I’ve mentioned, my assumption was that my own sneakers were squeaky because I’d worn them in the rain. However, before the rain, I remember I’d also noticed a slight noise coming from the very bottom of the sole.
At the time, I hadn’t really thought anything of it. However, in retrospect, I realize that the sticky noise might have been caused by the sizing sticker the manufacturer sometimes puts on the sole. I remember peeling it off — so it’s possible that the sticky residue remained on the shoe.
It would’ve passed at some point, once enough street grime had covered the adhesive. Still, this got me thinking about the many other sticky materials you could pick up off the street that might cause your shoes to make a noise.
If you suspect that your shoes are making noise because of something that’s stuck to the bottom, there’s a nifty trick that might help. Take a piece of duct tape and paste it to the bottom of the sole. Now, I know that it seems counter-intuitive to add more adhesive to a sticky situation. But if you walk on your shoes like this and don’t hear a thing, it’s safe to say that your problem lies on the outside of the sole.
Obviously, the type of damage that caused the squeak in my shoes was water damage. Once the rain hit, my sneakers didn’t stand a chance. The insole was made of some kind of soft foam, which was a big reason why I’d loved the shoes so much.
However, that same foam absorbed the water to a degree that it’s still in the shoes a year later. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to dry out shoes.
Best Ways to Fix Squeaky Shoes
All of these various causes of noise are fairly easy to solve. So let’s go over the solutions in the same order I used for the causes, starting with fixing new shoes.
Firstly, if you don’t want to hear a peep out of your leather shoes, you should use a leather conditioner (like this one from Amazon). If you’re hearing squeaking from your laces, you could also grease them with a bit of saddle soap. However, your main concerns are the sole of the shoe, so here are some of the ways how you could fix the problems we’ve identified.
1. Improve Traction on New Shoes
As I’ve previously mentioned, if your shoes are brand new and still within their warranty, you could always take them back to the shop and exchange them. However, you could also try to rough up your soles a bit to get rid of the smooth rubber that’s causing the noise. There are several ways you can go about it:
- Sanding the sole
- Spraying it with a grip adhesive
- Using a dryer sheet
If you go with the first option, you’ll want to use a very gentle sanding paper. So select a fine grain sandpaper from your local hardware store and lightly smooth it over the bottoms of your shoes.
You need them to be slightly rough to the touch, not completely destroyed, so get about 120–220 grit paper. This tip will actually work on both rubber bottom soles and leather soles. However, leather requires an even gentler approach, so you can even use 60 grit sandpaper (like this one).
The second option is to use a rubber sole spray to improve the shoe’s traction. Something like this Bare Ground spray would be great for most surfaces and rubber or leather shoes. Simply follow the instructions and apply an even coat to the bottom of the sole, then let it dry. Your shoes should be right as rain in no time.
Finally, the last tip you could try is rubbing a dryer sheet against the bottom of the sole. Actually, dryer sheets are useful all around, so if you have a box of them, you ought to keep it handy. We’ll be using them a few more times down the line.
2. Reattach Loose Parts
When it comes to loose parts causing noise, there are two major areas you should concern yourself with. The outer part of the shoe, or the sole, and the inner part, or the insole. There are usually several layers between the two, including the heel wedge and support and the midsole, but the outermost two layers are the most likely to peel off. So let’s start with the bottom of the sole and work our way inward.
A detached sole can not only make bizarre squeaking sounds but also clap at your every step. Now, I know that many people crave applause, but I’m sure this is not the type of validation anyone would revel in.
Although the bottom of the shoe is the weakest spot in most shoes, it’s also fairly easy to reattach. All you need is super glue and a way to apply pressure or add weight. One thing you could do is push the glue into the gap where your bottoms have come undone and then clamp the shoe. You may also stuff the shoe with rocks to hold the upper part down to the sole.
If you’ve managed to track the source of the noise to the inside of your shoes, your insoles might be loose as well. The pad inside of the shoe can cause squeaking noises if it’s sliding against the midsole. You can fix this issue in one of two ways:
- Glue the insole down
- Make the insole slide more easily against the midsole
If you want to go for the first option, you should lift the whole insole. That should be pretty easy if it’s already detached. However, if it’s hanging on, you should carefully peel it off entirely.
If you’re working on a sneaker or a dress shoe, you should unlace the shoe entirely and pull the tongue out in order to see what’s going on. Then lift the insole and put superglue down wherever you need it to be. You can let the glue get tacky for a few seconds before returning the insole and weighing it down.
On the other hand, you can also stop the noise by letting the insole slide around instead of grinding against the midsole. You can do that by sprinkling some baby powder under the insole or using a bit of petroleum jelly or coconut oil. I’d use a cotton wad and the tiniest amount of oil, just in case. However, none of these things should damage rubber or leather soles.
Or, if you don’t want to put particles or liquids in your shoes, you can get similar results if you fold a dryer sheet or even just a regular paper towel lengthwise and put it under the insole. Moreover, the dryer sheet will also help control the odor in your shoes as well.
3. Fix Water Damage
Finally, we’ve reached the big one. After all, the squeaking in my shoes was most likely caused due to water damage. Well, after I came in from the rain, I had tried to put the sneakers on a radiator and had even used a hair dryer on them. If you’ve just wet your shoes, that’s what I recommend doing first.
Remove as many parts from the shoe as possible and open it up. So that means removing the laces and opening the tongue again. If the insole isn’t glued on, take that out too, and let the shoe dry out naturally or with some heat.
The next step was to stuff the shoes with newspaper. Actually, newspaper, rice, and even baby powder are all great at soaking up moisture. You could also put a dryer sheet inside the shoes and leave them somewhere warm, for good measure.
If all else fails and if your shoes can withstand a bit of heat, you could even pop them into the dryer. I’ve found several places that recommend putting a little fabric softener onto a sponge and putting that in along with the shoes. Make sure that you don’t leave the shoes in too long (no longer than 10 minutes), though.
On Stopping Shoes From Making Noise
I hope you’ve learned something from my mistakes, first and foremost. That is, try to avoid getting stuck in a rainstorm. But if you can’t and your shoes start squeaking for that or any other reason, you can turn to this article as a handy resource.
Still, as much as I hate to say it, sometimes the most appropriate solution would be to let the squeaky shoes go. Ultimately, if they’re not performing as well as you want them to be, you should just pass them along. Especially if you can afford another pair. The same goes for any other shoe that’s causing issues — whether it’s tight-fitting or it clicks or squeaks as you move.