Reader To Reader: Shoe special

If there's one bit of running kit that really matters, it's those bits of moulded polyeurethane on your feet. So this week we've picked out three niggling shoe queries from the Gear forum. Lend us your thoughts...

Q1: The washing machine conundrum
"I do a lot of running on dirt trails, so my shoes get very muddy. I tend to wash them every three months or so in the machine with minimal detergent on a gentle cold cycle, plus an 800rpm spin. So far they seem OK, but is there any risk of damage?"

Your best answers

  • Be very careful, the EVA cushioning is very sensitive to heat and will harden and/or shrink. I used to get it all the time in the shoe shop I worked in, and it was never a manufaturing fault. – Andrew_B
  • The most I ever do is use an old scrubbing brush and the outside tap to clean excessive mud (or worse) from the soles. I once washed a pair of NB RX Terrains in the machine (cool wash) and the soles promptly fell off. Now I sometimes stick my XC shoes in a bucket of cold water, no detergent, then scrub off the excessive mud. – Man in Black
  • Scrub 'em with soapy water and a nailbrush in the bath, stuff with dry newspaper and put them somewhere warm to allow to dry naturally. If you run on trails, you'll have to accept they're gonna get dirty! – Siance
  • I don't see how a cold wash could do any harm, but I wouldn't bother with the detergent – that could affect the glues in some way. I just let the machine agitation do its best. – fat buddha
  • I washed my cross-country spikes in our machine. When my wife found out she threatened to kill me. So, not safe in my opinion. – Grendel
  • Spoke to a guy where I bought my shoes, and he said don't wash shoes in the machine because it damages the cushioning and leads to injury. – Neil Todd
  • Wash them off under the outside tap (if you have one) or in the shower. Use cold water only and no detergent. Apart from anything else, the dirt may clog up the machine. – Dman
  • I like mine to look like they are caked in mud! I can at least pretend to look like a runner. – I Will Do It
  • Unsafe if you fail to take your shoes off first, whatever the wash. – The Hoose Goer

Q2: Are there any ethically-made running shoes?
"I'm after a decent pair of running shoes to train and run up to half-marathon distance, but I'm concerned about sweatshop working conditions. Does anyone know a good manufacturer who has an ethical code of practice that they actually adhere to?"

Your best answers

  • New Balance assemble most of their shoes in the UK, and some are vegan if that's an issue. Nike seem to have improved since 'No Logo' was published. – Duck Girl
  • Check out a mag called Ethical Consumer, which does regular product reviews and did one on shoes a while back. Basically, most manufacturers are sh*te; it's more a question of who is least worst. I seem to remember Saucony were OK, and NB. Nike? Forget it. – Huge
  • In a Westernised society such as ours we would agree that making people work at a very young age for a poor wage is uncalled for, but it's more accepted in other parts of the world where the economoy is not so good, and people are used to working this way. Don't get me wrong, I hate the thought too – it's exploitation, and everyone deserves a fair wage for their work. When larger companies act in this way, saving money is the obvious motive. To be blunt though, it won't stop me buying Nike, Adidas or other running manufacturers' shoes and clothing. They make good products that I can find good use in. But I do care about where it comes from, and think the issue is a touchy one. – Stuart G
  • Ethical Consumer magazine has a report on trainers, though I'm not sure that the ones that score well are running shoes. I came to a similar conclusion about ‘least unethical’ and tend to veer towards Ronhill and Brookes for clothing and New Balance for shoes. I have checked on Ronhill's website and as far as I can see they don’t say anything about their ethical policy, but I think they manufacture in Eastern Europe and they are not a multi-national so I like to support them. At least some manufacturers are acknowledging some ethical issues: NB and Brooks. I do own Nike stuff, it feels and fits really nice, but am making efforts to spend less with them. Have just checked their website and couldn’t find any ethical/code of conduct info. – Kitty D
  • Nike in particular tends to be targeted by NGOs looking to score points off the biggest name out there. There are a lot of smaller manufacturers have got away with some equally questionable practices, but targeting them doesn't make such good headlines. Nike still have a long way to go, but they have made strides in the last couple of years. In 2005 they published a complete list of all the factories that they source from. Ultimately, it's great that people want to take these things into consideration when buying. That's what forces companies to change. – gsm

Q3: Shoes for boys, shoes for girls?
"Is there any real difference between the men's and women's editions of running shoes?"

Your best answers

  • Yes there are differences. I used to think that because I had big feet that I had to move into the gents' range, but I was fitted out at Up & Running in East Sheen last year and they gave me a "large" ladies' size 9. Here's a quote from their website: "The shoe manufacturers have found that most women tend to have narrower feet than men, with a slightly different shape. So ladies' shoes are made on a different 'last' to men's – the same size shoe is a subtly diferent shape. But we're all different – some chaps may find that a ladies' model suits them well; some ladies with broader feet may find a men's shoe more comfortable. – Orang Utan
  • I think women's shoes are narrower in the heel. I've got two pairs of Brooks, one men's and one women's. No massive difference, but I can feel the heel difference. – SwimsLikeAWalrus
  • I'm female but I've always had men's runners, because I have wide feet and women's runners always felt too tight. I also always go to a specialist running shop. They told me that they judge by fit and your specific needs, regardless of whether its a men's or women's shoe. – b-oing

Any questions?
Got a new poser or problem that you want RW members to answer? Spotted a great question on the forum? Email us!

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