When you’re ready to go out and hit the town in your favorite pair of LED sneakers, it can be frustrating to realize that one shoe has suddenly stopped lighting up. In many cases, you don’t necessarily need to shell out the cash for a brand new pair. If your shoes aren’t lighting up and dazzling passers-by, you may be able to fix them without giving yourself a headache.
What are LED Shoes?
Many of us remember having light-up shoes as kids. They were at the height of fashion in the 1990s, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a playground without seeing LED sneakers flashing.
LEDs, or Light Emitting Diodes, are a type of bulb that’s safer and more energy-efficient than traditional incandescent bulbs. They’re free of harsh chemicals, recyclable, and offer the same output as up to 25 incandescent bulbs. LED lights also stay cool when lit, reducing the risk of causing burns and making them a safe choice for wearable items.
Typically, LED shoes are fashioned like regular sneakers. They’re made of the same materials, including foam and rubber, for proper support around the foot and ankle. Some are even specialized for athletic wear, making them suitable for jogging, running, jumping, and more.
The only real difference between LED shoes and regular sneakers is that they have lights in the sole or the heel. This feature may make the sole of the shoes a little bit thicker than average by design because there has to be enough room available to house lighting elements.
The History of LED Shoes
LED shoes wouldn’t be a fashion phenomenon if it weren’t for the introduction of the first rubber-soled shoes in 1917. These shoes were designed for athletic activity, and unlike traditional shoes, were quiet on most surfaces. This feature earned them the nickname of “sneakers.”
Thanks to the cushioned rubber soles of sneakers, they quickly became popular as everyday footwear. As the price of shoes went down and families gained access to disposable income, more and more people made the switch to sneakers.
It wasn’t until 1992 that the first LED sneakers were introduced to the world. Initially, they were relatively expensive and marketed solely towards children. However, they were still wildly successful. The company that made them, LA Gear, sold over five million pairs in the first year alone.
Unfortunately, the success of the LED sneaker was short-lived. The battery, though long-living and reliable, contained Inhaling the compound can lead to symptoms of the nervous, digestive, and immune systems as well as the lungs and kidneys. If it comes into contact with skin, it’s highly corrosive, and toxic if ingested.
Unfortunately, the success of the LED sneaker was short-lived. The battery, though long-living and reliable, contained unsafe levels of mercury. Inhaling the compound can lead to symptoms of the nervous, digestive, and immune systems, as well as the lungs and kidneys. If it comes into contact with skin, it’s highly corrosive, and toxic if ingested.
Once parents found out about the mercury in LED shoes, they were worried about the effect it might have on their children. Minnesota even banned the sale of these sneakers over health and safety concerns.
The LED shoe fell out of fashion for a couple of decades, but recently, it’s made a comeback. Now that the kids who wore light-up footwear in the 90s are adults, they’re eager to enjoy some nostalgic fashion. What’s more, with advances in LED technology, these shoes are safe, convenient, and more affordable than ever.
How do LED Shoes Work?
The very first LED shoes were powered by stepping down, blinking and flashing as kids walked, ran, and jumped around the playground. Inside the sole of the shoe, a sensor detected when the shoe was shaking around, triggering an LED pattern to light up in turn.
In the original LA Gear shoes, the sensor contained mercury. Nowadays, though, if you see a motion sensor in an LED shoe, it’s generally a safer spring-operated mechanism. The spring bounces on impact, forcing it to make contact with the battery and complete the circuit to trigger the lights to flash. It’s important that the spring is oriented in the right direction.
A battery was also housed inside the sole of early LED shoes. In the sole of the shoe, the battery was protected from moisture. The rubber sole underneath also helped to cushion the circuitry from hard impacts. What’s more, by housing the setup under the insole, shoe manufacturers didn’t have to sacrifice comfort for the sake of fashion.
Individual, solid-state LED lights were usually either sewn into the fabric on the upper portion of the shoe or embedded around the heel in the outer sole of the shoe. In most cases, the circuit was set up in such a way that each LED could blink separately.
Now, most LED shoes offer a variety of lighting options. You can opt for a solid strip of light, flashing, or even color changing. There’s generally a button housed discreetly within the shoe that allows you to change between settings with ease.
While some still have individually placed LED lights, many use an LED strip wrapped around the sole of the shoe to create a variety of trendy effects. It also offers a sleeker, more modern look than the LED shoes of the 90s.
The battery and motion sensor, if there is one, is still typically housed in the heel of the shoe. Some are molded into the rubber, and so if the battery dies, the footwear can’t be fixed. For many modern models, however, batteries are both rechargeable and replaceable.
In most cases, a wire running up the side of the shoe to a USB connection allows for easy charging. You can hook your shoes up to just about any device to charge them, and most have batteries that offer around six to seven hours of wear time.
What Damages LED Shoes?
Like any other footwear, LED shoes aren’t invincible. Without proper care, they may break, possibly irreparably. Because of the circuitry cased inside the sole of the shoe, their more delicate than other footwear. Here, we go over some of the main reasons that people find their LED shoes failing to light up.
The batteries used in most LED shoes are susceptible to water damage. If water gets inside, it can oxidize metal contacts and render the entire battery useless. Moisture can lead to anything from malfunctioning shoes to complete destruction of the inner electronic components.
It’s important to keep LED shoes as dry as possible when wearing them. Most are resistant to some degree of water damage because the electronic components are designed to stay protected from the environment inside the rubber sole. Some are even housed in plastic or rubber casing for further protection from moisture, especially due to sweat.
While most LED shoes are resistant to water damage, total submersion isn’t recommended. If they get too wet, water can still get into the electronics. You should avoid throwing them in the washer at all costs. If your LED shoes get dirty, the best course of action is to take them to a dry cleaner.
Excessive heat can do just as much damage to your LED shoes as moisture. Heat can cause batteries to bulge, bubble, and even burst at high enough temperatures. If your shoes are left in a hot environment for more than just a few minutes at a time, it may cause permanent damage to the battery.
You should always store LED shoes in a cool, dry place when not in use, such as in a closet or under the bed. Avoid keeping them in your car or in your trunk. It can get surprisingly hot inside a closed vehicle, especially on a sunny day. It takes only 30 minutes on a hot day for the interior of your car to reach over 120℉.
One of the main reasons that the LEDs in shoes stop working is due to a simple connectivity issue. A disconnected wire can break the circuit so that energy can’t flow between the battery and the LED lights.
It’s relatively easy to disconnect your LED wiring from the battery by accident as you move. Excessive shaking or hard impacts, such as kicking something or stubbing your foot against something, can rattle the wiring loose. You can also break connections without realizing it as you slip your shoe on and off of your foot.
While it’s not possible to avoid shaking and hard impacts altogether, you can take steps to protect your favorite pair of LED shoes from damage. Try to avoid wearing them when walking on rugged terrain, instead of reserving them for days when you know you’ll be walking on smooth, even surfaces. You may also want to avoid wearing them outdoors to prevent weather damage.
LEDs can have a life of up to 50,000 hours, meaning that it’s rare for a bulb to burn out in your shoe. However, with frequent use, burning out LED bulbs isn’t impossible. If this is the case, your shoes won’t light up even if everything is properly connected.
You may want to limit wearing your LED shoes for special occasions if you want them to last longer. Wearing them as an everyday pair will speed up the rate at which the LEDs burn out, especially if you keep them on throughout the day.
Changing the Battery in LED Shoes
When an LED shoe stops working unexpectedly, it’s often because the battery’s gone bad. Whether it’s due to water damage heat, or any other number of reasons, replacing the battery with a fresh one can have your shoes working like new again.
Not all LED shoes have a battery compartment that’s designed for accessibility. You’ll have to examine your shoes before heading down to the store for a fresh pack of batteries. Typically, the battery is housed in the sole of the shoe, around the heel of the foot. You can flip back the insole and see if there’s either a compartment carved into the rubber underneath or a cover plate.
With some LED shoes, particularly kids’ models, the battery is only accessible from the underside of the shoe. You should examine the heel for a tab or slot that opens to the battery compartment. It may be necessary to get a knife, nail file, or flathead screwdriver to help you pry the cover open.
LED shoes can use a variety of different battery types. Some use simple AA or AAA batteries, which most of us already have sitting around the house. Others, however, use specialty watch batteries. These batteries have a smaller, flatter profile, making them ideal for LED shoe designs with thinner soles. Most shoes that use watch batteries use either a CR2025 or a CR2032 size. You may need needle-nose pliers to remove the batteries.
Once you’ve replaced the dead batteries in your shoes, double-check to make sure that they’re in the correct spot and the right orientation. Otherwise, the LEDs in your shoes will fail to light. It’s a good idea to test the shoes out with your hands on a flat, smooth surface to make sure that the lights are working again.
Once you’re sure that the circuitry is connected properly, you need to close up the battery compartment to protect it from moisture and the elements. If there’s a cover plate, make sure that you close it all the way and fasten it if necessary. If you had to lift the insole to reach the battery compartment, make sure that you put it back in place before wearing your shoes.
Reconnecting the LED Wire
If you’ve put new batteries in your shoes and noticed no effect, then the issue could be with the wiring. A weak or broken connection at any point can prevent your shoes from lighting up properly.
It’s easy for wiring to come loose or disconnect, especially in cheaper LED shoe models. Connections can even break apart during shipping so that your shoes arrive seemingly broken. Before chalking your new shoes up as a loss, you should thoroughly investigate the interior wiring to make sure that everything is securely connected.
Many modern LED shoes have a wire running up along the interior side that connects the battery to a USB charger. Due to the location of this wire, it can become disconnected easily. As you walk, run, or otherwise move, your foot rubs the wire, tugging against the connection and increasing the chance of it breaking apart. Without these two components connected, your shoes won’t charge properly and won’t have the power to light their LEDs.
There may also be connection issues between the battery and the LED strip or individual LEDs. If the wires connecting the two become loose and break apart, the LEDs won’t receive the power they need to light up.
You can usually view the wiring of an LED shoe by stripping away the insole. Often, there are wiring grooves heading away from the battery compartment and either up the side of the shoe or along the sole.
If you see a connection that’s come apart, that’s most likely the culprit behind your broken shoes. Hook it back up and test to see if your shoes will light once again. If they do, make sure that all the wires are back where they belong if you moved them, and lay the insole back flat against the sole again.
Strengthening the Connection
Even if the wiring appears fully hooked up, a weak connection can cause your shoes to malfunction or stop working entirely. If you remove your insole to check for disconnected wires, it’s also a good idea to test the other connections to make sure that they’re not coming loose.
You can also strengthen the connection between the batteries and the rest of the circuitry in your shoe if you’re having issues getting them to work. It may be that your battery isn’t touching the terminal completely. Squeezing the metal battery holder with your fingers, or pressing on it gently with a tool such as a hammer can compress it and bring it into closer contact with the batteries.
You may also want to fill any empty space around the battery compartment to prevent it from wiggling away from the terminal. This can also help to hold the wiring in place. You can use a variety of materials such as pennies, cotton, loose fabric, foam, cardboard, and more to close the gap and keep the battery fully connected to its terminal.
If you find that you simply can’t keep the wiring in your shoes from coming loose, you can always permanently affix the connections using glue or epoxy on the housing components. Be warned, however, that this is a permanent solution and may make it difficult to fix problems with your shoes in the future.
When your favorite LED shoes stop working, don’t worry. There’s a good chance that you’ll be able to salvage the pair. Instead of heading down to the shoe store, take a few minutes to check out your shoes and see if you can have them lighting up again with a simple DIY fix.