Can Stores Tell If Shoes Have Been Worn? (Can You Exchange Them?)

So you have found yourself in a situation where you have a brand new pair of shoes and excitedly put them on and went out about town only to find them too uncomfortable and not to your liking. Can you return the shoes after wearing them? Will the store owners know you wore them? Let’s find out…

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The best advice is, to be honest with the store owner you are returning the shoes to! They would probably prefer not to deal with returns if you have already worn something.

Can Stores Tell If Shoes Have Been Worn?

Shoe stores and employees do not have x-ray vision. Yes, they can spot a scuff or a nick in the leather, but they cannot see whether or not you have worn the shoes.

Telling whether or not a shoe has been previously worn is an inexact science, but savvy salespeople and employees can spot these signs:

  1. The shoelaces aren’t fully tied. If you tie your shoes and leave the loops long, it’s an indication that you’ve worn the shoes before. If a salesperson notices this, they might feel comfortable enough asking you about it. Once they ask, many people will tell the truth. An untied shoelace is one of the most obvious signs that shoes have been tried on at home first.
  2. There’s no dust bag inside. Many stores put all their new shoes in protective dust bags to keep them from getting dirty and scuffed before they’re purchased and taken home. If there’s no dust bag, it’s often an indication that the shoe has been worn before.
  3. If the box looks old or tattered. If a shoe is new and still has its original box, chances are it hasn’t been tried on before. If the box looks scuffed up or has tape on it (a sure sign the shoes have been worn before).
  4. Tread Marks – Consignment stores use several methods to verify that items have not been worn by more than one customer. First, they check for wear on the sole. When someone who has already worn the shoe walks on a hard surface, their weight leaves an impression in the soft material beneath the sole of the shoe. If the store owner can see such an impression on a new pair of shoes, he or she knows that they’ve been worn before and will likely refuse them.
  5. Shoe-Laces: A thread from your shoelace can be used to determine whether or not you’ve worn shoes before bringing them to consignment. Shoe stores often use UV light to detect if there is any thread left on your shoelaces. If there isn’t, it means that you have tied your shoes and removed them without untying them, which means that you have either bought them at a department store or you have worn them previously.

Can You Take Shoes Back After Wearing Them?

Can you take the shoes back after wearing them? The short answer is yes, but it depends on the type of shoe. Many manufacturers will only honor a return if the shoes haven’t been worn, while others will allow worn shoes to be returned as long as there are no signs of wear or damage.

Most shoe manufacturers and chain stores will specify that shoes must be unworn and in the original packaging to be returned. Any signs of wear and tear can make a pair of shoes ineligible for return.

The exception is if there is something physically wrong with the shoe that was there at the time of purchase. If the defect isn’t your fault, almost all stores will accept the return, even if they have been worn.

If you must wear your shoes before deciding on whether or not to return them, wear them indoors on clean, smooth surfaces, so they don’t get any scuff marks on them.

If you do decide to try and return worn shoes anyway, you might have better luck bringing them back to the store where you bought them originally rather than returning them through the mail.

Can You Exchange Shoes If You Wore Them Once?

Good news: you can absolutely exchange shoes if you wore them once. It is very unlikely that there will be any visible wear and tear after only wearing a pair of shoes one time.

While you will have to pay attention to the store’s return policy, unless exchanges or returns are not allowed, or you have surpassed the maximum time allowed for returns, you should be able to return the shoes, even if you wore them once.

You may want to give the shoes a little clean to make sure there is no residual dirt, but other than that, you are good to go!

In most cases, the best thing to do will be to return the shoes to the store where you purchased them. The salesperson who helped you when you purchased them may be able to help you again, as well.

Many stores will allow returns without a receipt as long as they have proof of purchase, such as your credit card statement or another form of ID that shows that you made the purchase from their store.

Can You Tell If Shoes Have Been Worn Once?

The simple answer is no, you typically cannot tell if shoes have only been worn once. The only way to know for sure if someone has worn a shoe is if there is the faintest trace of an odor left in the shoe. It takes a lot of wear and tear for this to happen so it’s nearly impossible to determine if a pair of shoes has only been worn once.

However, if you want to check for signs that shoes have been worn, there are a few options.

  • Look for any residual grime on the bottom of the shoe. If the shoes have been worn on a dirty surface, you may be able to see the residue.
  • Check the heel. If the shoes have been worn, even once, there is a chance that the bottom of the heel was worn down.
  • You may see slight scratches on the shoe itself.

While all of these signs are technically possible after one wear, they are not common. It is quite difficult to tell if shoes have only been worn once.

However, shoes get dirty very quickly when you wear them outside, especially if it’s raining or snowing or you’re walking through a field. There are also things inside your home like cats that can leave hair on your shoes or even damage them with claws.

How to Clean Worn Shoes for Return?

Use white vinegar to clean worn shoes for return. Vinegar is gentle enough to not discolor the shoe while still cleaning effectively.

You will need:

  • White vinegar
  • Water
  • Clean cloth

Step 1: Remove any loose dirt with a soft brush.
Step 2: Soak a clean cloth in a mix of half water, half white vinegar.
Step 3: Using a circular motion, rub any stains on the shoe with the cloth until clean.
Step 4: Allow the shoe to air dry. The smell of the vinegar will dissipate once it has dried.


In summary, a lot of stores these days have a no return policy to avoid this situation completely. However, if you have only worn the shoes once you will more than likely get away with returning the shoes to the store.

It just depends on where you wore the shoes and for how long. If you wore them for quite a few hours there is a good chance odor will already be in the shoes and they will be hard to exchange.

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