Are you looking forward to pulling those cozy suede booties out for fall? What about slipping into those stylish suede dress shoes for a special occasion? Suede is a popular choice for women’s and men’s footwear because it is durable and long-lasting while remaining highly breathable and soft to the touch. It also holds in warmth like leather, which is why there are so many suede boots and booties released for fall and winter.
Unfortunately, suede isn’t quite as durable as leather and is more prone to pick up dirt and stains from everyday wear. Before you start kicking up dust on your next adventure, take a minute to learn how to clean suede shoes without harming the material’s color or integrity.
What are suede shoes?
Suede shoes are crafted from the underside of hides taken from lambs, pigs, cows, deer, goats, and other animals. While leather is made from the skin’s outer layer, suede is a softer, more porous material taken from deeper layers of the skin located inside an animal’s body.
Leather is smooth and tough with a buttery, polished appearance. However, suede has more of a fuzzy or nappy finish that allows the material to hold in warmth. While both materials are durable, suede is a bit more delicate and more likely to soak up liquids and hold in stains. A liquid that might roll right off a leather shoe is likely to soak into suede.
In terms of durability, suede is a middle ground between leather and lighter fabrics like cotton. It has the strength and longevity to hold up to more wear and tear than a lightweight sneaker made from woven fibers, but that strength comes with more rigidity. While that woven sneaker material is likely to stretch and contract along with your foot when in motion, suede shoes are a bit heavier and don’t stretch.
Suede is less flexible than your favorite athletic shoe, but isn’t that what you want from your winter boots or an elegant bootie that easily goes from the office to happy hour? When you slip into suede, you expect a firm shoe that feels stable but also comfortable. You want warm feet ready to tackle a busy day in chilly weather.
The downside to winter footwear made from suede is the vulnerability to moisture. Suede doesn’t hold up well in rain or snow. In fact, you may notice that gently stepping over a large puddle leaves visible water marks on lighter-colored suede. You’ll spend a lot less time cleaning suede shoes if you reserve them for dry weather.
Speaking of cleaning suede shoes, it’s time to take a closer look at what that cleaning process entails.
Cleaning suede shoes
Let’s start by noting that the suede used to create your shoes is likely different from the material used to create suede clothing. If you have suede hanging in your closet, you can follow directions on the tag to toss it in the washing machine or take it to the dry cleaner. That’s because the suede fabric is different from the suede leather that is used to make a high-quality pair of shoes. Keep reading if you want to know how to DIY clean suede shoes.
Some of the most common reasons you might need to clean your suede shoes include:
- Scuff marks
- Water marks
- Liquid spills
- Dirt accumulation
- Stains from mud or other solids
“But my suede shoes are waterproof!”
We hear you. It’s common to see suede shoes that are treated for greater resistance to water, but that isn’t a complete guarantee that your suede shoes will never pick up a water mark. It’s still a good idea to refrain from jumping in puddles or walking through a thunderstorm when wearing suede shoes or boots.
The same goes for stain proofing. Suede is sometimes treated to resist stains, but that doesn’t mean you will never see a stain on those type of shoes.
It’s like taking vitamin C or elderberry supplements during cold and flu season. While boosting your immune system may make you less vulnerable to the sniffles and sneezes, it’s not a guarantee that you will never get sick.
While you don’t need to treat your suede shoes like delicate flowers that can’t take your active lifestyle, you do need to know how to keep them clean. Let’s dig into what it takes to clean up your suede shoes when they start to look less than perfect.
What you will need to clean your suede shoes
You can take leather shoes to the dry cleaner just as you might an expensive garment made from suede fabric. If you don’t have a substantial budget for cleaning your shoes or would rather spend that budget on expanding your shoe collection, you need to learn how to do basic cleaning on your own. Save those trips to the dry cleaner for serious damage that you don’t think you can clean on your own. DIY now and learn how to clean your suede shoes.
Depending on the type of stain or blemish on your suede, one or more of the following tools will get the job done efficiently:
- Suede brush
- Suede rubber
- Paper towels
- Cloth towel
- Pencil eraser
- White vinegar
- Fingernail file
- Leather degreaser made for suede
Are you taken aback by some of these tools? Some of the most unexpected items are your best friends when you have suede shoes in need of a cleanup. Items that you likely have lying around your home right now are the perfect tools to keep your shoes looking brand new.
Once you see how simple it is to remove many stains and imperfections from suede, you’ll understand why I don’t recommend you waste money running to the dry cleaner every time you notice small scuffs or a clump of mud.
How to clean suede shoes DIY
Let’s start by noting that the suede used to create your shoes is likely different from the material used to create suede clothing. If you have suede hanging in your closet, you can follow directions on the tag to toss it in the washing machine or take it to the dry cleaner. That’s because the suede fabric is different from the suede leather that is used to make a high-quality pair of shoes.
Before giving you some tips on cleaning specific types of stains from your suede shoes, I’d like to go over the basic cleanup process. You can use these instructions to clean suede boots that you haven’t worn since last winter or shoes that just don’t look their best anymore. They may not have specific cleaning issues, but they need some TLC.
If you wear your shoes gently and try to care for them during periods of active use, this process shouldn’t take you too long. Spending even a few minutes on each step can improve your shoes’ appearance, so don’t overthink the process if your shoes just need a refresher.
I’ll give you multiple tool options when possible, so hopefully, you won’t need to spend money on the cleaning process. Without further ado, here is my recommended suede cleaning process.
How to clean suede shoes:
Total Time: 40 minutes
Dry your shoes if they’re wet or damp
This won’t apply to most basic suede cleanups, but you mustn’t clean the shoes until they’re dry.
If you do get your suede shoes wet, you can use paper towels or a lightweight cloth towel to pull some of the water from the fabric. Don’t rub or scrub too hard. You should press the towels down gently, blotting as much moisture as possible. You may also stuff the shoes with paper towels to pull more moisture out with time.
Store the shoes in a safe place while they dry out completely, and then continue with the cleanup process.
Rub or brush the surface of the shoe with a thin cloth towel or a suede brush
Before you start rubbing, take a second to notice the direction in which the suede naturally rests when you rub your finger over the material. You must brush suede in that same direction, which is referred to as “with the grain.” You don’t want to overly stress and break the fibers by brushing against the grain.
If you have a suede brush, use it to brush with the grain. That will knock off a lot of the dirt and grime collected in the fabric with normal use. If you see spots of dirt, you can try to brush back and forth, with and against the grain lightly, to see if they will come off without further cleaning.
If you don’t have a suede brush and don’t want to invest in one, you can use a toothbrush or fingernail file. Fingernail files are often harsher than a suede brush, so don’t go too hard if you choose that tool. Just a light file over the suede will do.
Use a suede rubber or pencil eraser to remove any obvious spots or scuffs
Suede rubbers are the top pick here, but you can use a pencil eraser as long as it’s clean. Apply firm pressure and move back and forth over the spot. This is often all you need to remove small marks or clumps of dry matter that appear on your shoe’s surface.
Scrub more difficult stains with white vinegar on a soft cloth
You can use a soft cloth towel or even one of those microfiber cloths used to clean your face or remove your makeup. Dip the corner into white vinegar and scrub the stain in a back and forth motion.
You want to apply small amounts of white vinegar with each attempt, but you can dip into the vinegar over and over while making repeat passes over the stain. Soaking the spot with vinegar won’t help. We’re using white vinegar only as a cleaning agent to force stains to separate from the suede.
Don’t panic if the color of your suede changes a bit. That happens naturally when you get suede wet, but white vinegar will evaporate as the material dries, returning the suede to its original color.
Before moving on to the next step, allow the wet spots to dry. You might not know if you got the stain out entirely until it dries.
Try a leather degreaser made for stains if you have body oil marks that weren’t removed in the previous step
A leather degreaser is effective for some suede shoe stains, but make sure that you choose a product made specifically for suede. Remember, there are some differences between suede and leather, so you want to use products designed for this more fragile material.
Please read the package instructions and follow them closely, applying the degreaser only to small spots on the suede that you believe are oily in nature.
Brush the surface of the shoe one more time
Once your shoes are clean and dry, you can go over them one more time with a suede brush or toothbrush. Remember to brush with the grain.
Estimated Cost: 20.00 USD
- Paper towels
- White vinegar
- Leather degreaser made for suede
- Cloth towel
- Suede brush
- Suede rubber
- Pencil eraser
- Fingernail file
Tips on how to clean suede shoes
Are you ready to learn how to clean suede shoes when you know the source of the stain? Those general cleanups are great at the start of a new season or maybe toward the middle of the season if you wear your suede shoes a lot. There are other instances where something spills on your shoes, you step in a mess, or your shoes otherwise need cleaning from a known contaminant.
In this section, I’ll explain how to remove specific types of stains from your suede shoes. If you have a stain that isn’t covered here, feel free to let us know. I’ll try to update this cleaning guide to include further instructions for those occasions.
Cleaning dirt or mud
This is one of the most common contaminants in your shoes. You walk through parking lots, gravel driveways, lawns, and many other natural environments over the course of an ordinary day. Even walking on cement or concrete will expose your shoes to dirt and possibly mud.
You can step carefully, but small particles of dirt will still collect on the surface of your shoes over time. The more you wear your shoes outdoors, the more often you will need to clean dirt spots. If you read the general suede cleaning instructions covered earlier in this guide, you already know the best cleaning dirt and mud strategies.
Start by allowing wet mud to dry. Then use your suede brush or toothbrush to brush the spots, going back and forth with and against the grain. That should take out most, if not all, of the dirt.
If you still see dirt spots, try rubbing them with a suede rubber or clean pencil eraser. For more resistant dirt that is deeper in the matted suede surface, a nail file may work. You don’t want to scratch or scuff the suede with the file, but gently dragging it back and forth over the dirt spot can help.
Finally, you can remove dirt from suede shoes with a steamer. Just a little steam, and then blot the spot with a paper towel or cloth towel. Allow the wet area to dry completely.
Oil or grease stains
If you have wet oil or grease on your suede shoe, try to quickly find cornstarch or baby powder. If you can apply the powder directly to the oil or grease while still wet, it will naturally absorb the oil within a few hours. You can then brush the oily powder off with a suede brush or toothbrush to avoid a stain.
If you don’t have baby powder or cornstarch on hand, you can use a paper towel or soft cloth towel to blot wet oil from the shoe’s surface. Repeatedly push the towel over the oil or grease until you can do so without seeing any oil or grease on the towel. Don’t rub it around. Use a soft blotting motion. You can then move forward as you would with a dry grease or oil stain.
So, how do you handle oil or grease stains that are dry?
Try cleaning them with liquid dish soap. The best dish soaps are designed to cut through grease on dishes. Not surprisingly, you want them to do exactly that for your shoes. Apply a bit of the dish soap directly to the oil or grease spots on your shoes, and then allow it to sit for about 10 minutes.
The next step is to wash the soap off. The more soap you use, the longer this will take, and the more water you may need. You never want to soak suede shoes with water, so use small amounts to take soap residue off the shoe’s surface and then allow it to dry before brushing it with a suede brush or toothbrush.
Microfiber cloths can also help remove the soap if you don’t want to use a lot of water on your shoes. You can wash oil and grease spots with dish soap multiple times if the stains are difficult to remove. You may also want to try a commercial suede shoe cleaner designed for grease or oil. Just follow the package instructions to avoid a trip to the dry cleaner.
Removing water stains
Water stains are going to happen occasionally if you wear suede boots or booties in the fall or winter. They’re warm, but they aren’t all that resistant to sudden downpours or splashes of water from a dropped cup. The good news is that cleaning watermarks from suede isn’t usually too difficult.
The simplest method is to apply even more water. That may sound counter-intuitive, but it’s a strategy that works quite well when used correctly. It’s best to clean both shoes even if the water stains are only on one shoe.
Start by stuffing your shoes with paper towels to absorb some of the moisture during and after the cleaning process. Then use a spray bottle or paper towel to apply a light mist of water across the surface of the shoe. You never want to drench your suede shoes, so go with a light application of water.
The next step is to brush the shoe with a suede brush or toothbrush lightly. You’re gently working that mist of water into the fabric across the shoe’s surface. You can then use a slightly damp cloth or paper towel to blot some of the water off the shoe.
You will have slightly wet shoes when you’re finished with this cleaning process. Once they dry, you should see no water stains on the surface.
You can take suede shoes to a dry cleaner if they just won’t come clean, but there are some things you can try before you give up and turn to the professionals. If you want to do it yourself (DIY), you can try the following steps on how to clean suede shoes.
1. Create your own cleaning solution with two parts water and one part white vinegar.
We talked about cleaning spots on your shoes with white vinegar in the general suede cleaning instructions, but now you’re going to mix it with water and apply it directly to the stain without soaking the shoe. Allow the cleaning solution to dry on the stain and then brush the spot with your suede brush or toothbrush. You can do this multiple times if needed.
2. Scrub dry stains with steel wool.
Use a vigorous back and forth motion to work the stain out of the material, but don’t get too aggressive. You don’t want to damage the suede, though some pressure is required.
3. Loosen the stain from the material by going over it lightly with a nail file, and then use a steamer on the spot.
Allow the shoe to completely dry from the steam before deciding if you beat the stain or need to keep trying.
4. Try scrubbing with a slightly wet Magic Cleaner.
That’s a cleaning product that you can buy online or in most stores that sell cleaning supplies. It’s believed to work like magic on a variety of surfaces, and it’s safe for suede as long as you don’t scrub too hard.
5. Use a store-bought suede shoe cleaner.
This might not work if none of the strategies featured in this guide have worked, but it’s worth a shot if you don’t want to take the shoes to a dry cleaner.
Are you wondering when you should just give up on your shoes and consider them a loss? That comes down to how easy it is to replace the shoes and their value in your life. Fortunately, most suede shoe stains are removed with a bit of effort and repeated cleaning.
Removing gum or wax
We all know the sinking feeling of stepping on a sticky pile of gum, but what do you do when that gum gets on your suede? Wax and gum are among the more difficult stains to remove from suede shoes, but it’s not impossible.
There are three steps to this process. Yet, you may need to buy an art gum eraser for step two.
1. Use your tool of choice to scrape excess gum or wax from the shoe.
You want to take off solids sitting on top of the shoe, leaving just a flat spot of wax or gum.
2. Wipe the remaining residue away with an art gum eraser.
These erasers are easy to find online or in art stores. Big box stores with an art section may have one as well. These erasers are blocks of soft rubber that tend to flake away when in use. They’re used by artists to remove graphite but they’re also known to pick up and flake off gum and wax pieces.
You may also try a clean pencil eraser or suede eraser, but an art gum eraser is more likely to work.
3. As a last resort, try extra-fine sandpaper to scratch the wax or gum off.
Don’t dig too hard, but apply enough pressure to remove difficult pieces of gum or wax.
Blood stains are a bit different because you want to start with a slightly wet or moist stain rather than a dry surface. If the blood has dried, dab it with a damp paper towel or cloth to moisten. Then mix dishwashing detergent or some type of mild soap with lukewarm water. You want to create a big pile of suds and then wipe just those suds onto the blood stain.
You can gently scrub the spot using a sponge or paper towel, working the suds into suede to help loosen and remove the blood. Finally, wipe the area dry with a clean, soft cloth. Make sure to wipe enough that the soap is completely removed. Allow the shoe to dry before you inspect for effectiveness.
Blood is often a resistant stain, and you don’t want to set the stain into the fabric deeper while trying to clean the shoe. Try to clean it immediately after the blood hits the shoe or as soon as you notice the stain. If mild soap suds don’t work, you may want to see a dry cleaner to discuss professional strategies.
Suede shoe care
Protection is always the most effective cleaning strategy. Even when your suede shoes are just sitting in your closet, they’re collecting dust, dirt, and other particles that can impact their appearance. From suede sneakers to booties and thigh-high boots, you want to maintain suede so that your shoes are ready to go from the closet to the streets whenever needed.
I’ve mentioned a suede brush throughout this guide when talking about how to clean suede shoes because it’s one of the best cleaning tools. It’s also one of the best tools for general care and maintenance. If you take the time to brush the suede at the start of a new season and throughout a season of frequent use, you will prevent a lot of dirt and dust from collecting on the surface and becoming visible.
What else can you do to care for your suede shoes? I’d like to share some tips to help you store and wear your shoes in the safest and most effective manner possible. Afterward, I’ll talk about how to dye suede shoes before wrapping up this cleaning guide.
It’s time to put those amazing suede boots away for the summer. Maybe you don’t wear your suede sneakers much these days, so you want to tuck them into the closet until they feel new again. Whatever the scenario, it’s important to store your suede shoes in a place that won’t damage the material or cause the colors to fade. The following suede storage tips should help.
Heat is the worst enemy for your suede shoes.
From storage spots right next to heating vents or radiators to continuous exposure to direct sunlight, heat can cause the color of your suede to fade rather quickly. Choose a storage spot that won’t put your shoes in that danger.
Use shoe trees
Shoe trees help maintain the shape of suede shoes when placed in storage for long periods of time. You can also use these trees to maintain the shape of the shoe during cleaning, especially if you use water in the cleaning process. Trees are placed inside the shoe and will stop them from collapsing even if they’re neglected for weeks or months.
Place the shoes in a shoe box or dust-proof bag that allows for breathability.
That should stop excessive accumulation of dust that will require a more aggressive cleanup when you’re ready to wear the shoes again.
How to protect suede shoes?
If you get your suede shoes wet, place a soft cloth or paper towels inside the shoes, and allow them to dry at room temperature. You don’t want to use a blow dryer or harsh heat sources because the heat may cause the matting on the suede to dry out and harden. Blot as much moisture out of the material as possible, using a soft towel, and then allow them to dry naturally.
You can also protect your suede shoes by tackling stains quickly. It’s easier to remove fresh deposits than get rid of a stain set into the fabric for days, weeks, or months.
There are store-bought products that will add a stain-proof and waterproof coating to your suede shoes, as I mentioned earlier. Still, this doesn’t mean you don’t have to worry about stains or water damage. It merely gives an added layer of protection to limit the amount of cleaning needed to preserve the shoes’ integrity and appearance.
Some shoes are already treated with at least one of these products before they’re sold. Look the shoes up online to read the specs if you aren’t sure whether adding the treatment is necessary or not.
How to dye suede shoes
One of the biggest consumer complaints about suede shoes is their tendency to fade in color. Properly cleaning, storing, and caring for your shoes will help maintain their color in the long term, but you may still find yourself staring at them and wishing they were a bit brighter, darker, or whiter.
Selecting the dye is the first task. Avoid water-based dyes because water isn’t compatible with suede. Many fabric dyes will work, or you can buy dyes explicitly designed for suede leather. If you can’t find a color that matches your shade exactly, go slightly darker.
Before you start dying your shoes, remove the shoelaces, and follow the general cleaning instructions included earlier in this cleaning guide. You want to make sure there is no dirt or other buildup on the shoe’s surface because it could lead to darker or lighter spots of dye.
How to dye suede shoes?
Cover your floor with newspaper or another material that you can easily throw away, and make sure that you dye your suede shoes in a well-ventilated area. Stuff the shoes with newspaper or cloth, and then apply an even coating of dye across the outside surface.
You should let your shoes dry for at least 24 hours before wearing them. Keep in mind that the dye may bleed or run if your feet get wet or even sweat. Suede is always sensitive to moisture, but you want to avoid it to a greater degree after dying them.
Thank you for taking the time to read through this guide on how to clean suede shoes. Some people avoid suede because it’s a little more difficult to clean than canvas or some type of leather. While you can’t toss this material in the washing machine and dryer, the cleaning process isn’t as time-consuming as many people imagine.
If you follow the step-by-step instructions provided here, you will keep your suede shoes looking new for years to come. You may start with basic supplies found around your home, but consider investing in a suede brush and eraser. Those tools allow you to quickly clean up your suede shoes at the end of each day, extending the length of time between more thorough cleanings.
Do you have other shoes to clean up? If so, check out our thorough guides to cleaning leather shoes and canvas shoes. We also have a detailed tutorial on cleaning smelly shoes that will give you some tips for preventing odor from all shoes regardless of the material.
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Now, slip on those fresh suede shoes and see what life will bring your way next. Enjoy!