Like many people, I don't like to throw away perfectly useful shoes, especially not Vans that I found second-hand for seven bucks Canadian. This is how I restored them.
The right-foot shoe was my control, and the left-foot shoe was my first test.
Step 1: Materials
You will need:
Your scruffy shoes
A plastic scrubber (or steel wool) -A friend of mine recommended using a toothbrush, but I found that it couldn't scrub hard enough.
Step 2: Apply Toothpaste
Put it onto the scrubber and not the shoe. You want the paste, which contains an abrasive (possibly sand), to stay with the scrubber.
Step 3: Scrub the Side
Scrub like you've never scrubbed before. This requires real vigour.
Step 4: Rinse
See if you've missed any spots. Then scrub some more.
If there is a little bit of yellow that won't come off, don't fret. That's the glue that's holding the rubber on. It seems to become more obvious when shoes are washed.
Step 5: Scrub the Top
Get a little bit of the toothpaste out of the scrubber. I didn't do this part when I dealt with the other shoe and it foamed up and soaked in. I had to spend a while getting it all out. There's probably some still in there.
These shoes had quite a bit of dirt and dust in them. If yours are old and dirty, this step will benefit them. If they're new and you want to preserve the colour, ignore this. It might make them look faded.
Step 6: Rinse All the Way Through
Rinse rinse rinse so your shoes don't smell like mint (although that might be nice).
Squeeze out the water to dry faster.
Step 7: Bam!
Just like new.
The regular toothpaste works great, but I may try this again later on with a whitening toothpaste or a hardcore industrial-strength hand-cleaner.