How To Clean Suede Shoes & Properly Care For Them

How To Clean Suede Shoes & Properly Care For Them 2017-11-28T16:57:00+00:00

tan suede mens laceup shoeThis article is part of a shoe care series and deals with how to clean and protect suede. We will also discuss how to handle it when suede shoes get wet.

If you are looking for other shoe care information, you can find it in the following links:

How To Care For & Clean Suede

Suede is a naturally strong material and actually has some advantages over classic calfskin, namely that it doesn’t scratch or scuff. It does, however, get quite dirty and needs to be cleaned and conditioned from time to time.

To clean and maintain suede, you’ll need the following products:

  • Suede eraser
  • Protectant spray
  • Suede shampoo & dedicated brush
  • Suede brush

Before getting into specifics, here’s a quick step-by-step list of how to give suede shoes a full cleaning:

  1. Take a clean dauber brush and work the shampoo in all around the shoe
  2. Once done, use the same brush to brush the shoes with water until it no longer makes a lather
  3. Allow shoes to completely air dry
  4. Restore the suede’s nap using a suede brush
  5. Apply a suede protectant spray by holding the shoe about a foot away from the stream
  6. Allow to air dry, and wear!

Cleaning Suede Shoes

eraser for suede shoes

A suede eraser

Suede gets dirty sometimes, especially if it’s lighter in color. It’s easy to take care of minor stains by yourself, but if they’re really wrecked, you may want to consider patronizing a good cobbler. Below is a list of products that can be very handy when your suede shoes are looking a bit worse for wear.

Suede eraser: Note that using a suede eraser requires quite a bit of elbow grease. To remove a stain, you’ll have to bear down fairly hard, so remember to pace yourself. Brush off any residue with a suede brush.

Protectant spray: Suede protectant will add some water resistance to your shoes. This is an important finishing touch to the cleaning process.

suede brush and regular shoe brush

Top: Suede brush. Bottom: Regular horsehair brush (for leather)

Suede brush: Your suede brush is used for removing eraser residue and for restoring the nap of suede. It’s perfectly alright to use this brush on its own just to even out the nap and give it a bit more life in a pinch. Please note that suede brushes differ greatly from regular horsehair ones (see photo).

Suede shampoo: Suede traps dirt. It’s just what it does. Because of this, it needs to be shampooed from time to time. In case you missed it above, here’s a quick step-by-step guide on how to shampoo suede:

  1. Take a clean dauber brush and work the shampoo in all around the shoe
  2. Once done, use the same brush to brush the shoes with water until it no longer makes a lather
  3. Allow shoes to completely air dry
  4. Restore the suede’s nap using a suede brush
  5. Apply a suede protectant spray by holding the shoe about a foot away from the stream
  6. Allow to air dry, and wear!

If cleaning your suede shoes at home doesn’t work as well as you’d hoped, your best bet is to drop them off at a cobbler for professional cleaning.

What Happens When Suede Gets Wet?

suede eraser brush and spray

There’s always been quite a bit of hullabaloo around how getting suede shoes wet is akin to totaling a car. We agree that you want to keep suede dry, but to say that liquid will necessarily ruin your suede shoes is an extreme exaggeration.

So, what should you do if your suede shoes get wet?

  1. If you don’t own shoe trees and a suede brush, buy some on your way home.
  2. Get the shoes off your feet as soon as you can. Hopefully you’re on your way home from somewhere when you’re caught in the rain and not the other way around.
  3. Put crumpled up newspaper in them for about 15-20 minutes. This is to absorb the initial excess moisture.
  4. Put cedar shoe trees in them: If you don’t own cedar shoe trees, leave the newspaper in and change it out every 15-20 minutes.
  5. Let the shoes sit at room temperature until dry (often overnight). Don’t place them near a heat source like a vent or a radiator, which will actually ruin your shoes.
  6. Once they’re dry, brush them with a suede brush to restore the nap.

To be 100% clear, we do not recommend wearing suede in the rain. Unless pre-treated to be waterproof by the manufacturer, opt for a rain boot or even a leather shoe with a Dainite sole or something that will keep moisture out.

What Is Suede & Why Can’t You Just Polish It?

Below: A sneaker with suede trim that could use some maintenance.

toe of suede sneaker

To truly understand how to properly care for suede and give background for the information given above, we need to know what suede is. To know what suede is, we need to think of leather.

Calfskin is arguably the most common type of shoe leather. This is that smooth, supple material that we find on the lion’s share of men’s dress shoes that are for sale on the market.  This is the top side of a cow’s skin and is subject to the elements and foreign objects. For this reason, we sometimes find little nicks or dings on brand new shoes.

Suede is also known as “reverse calf.” In other words, suede is made from the underside of calfskin. It is cleaned thoroughly and then brushed to achieve its fuzzy nap, which is the defining characteristic of the material.

Therefore, all suede is leather, but not all leather is suede.

Applying polish to suede will simply ruin it because the nature of the material is completely different from calfskin. This is ironic given that they’re both simply the skin of a cow, but true nonetheless.

Unless you’d like to ruin your suede loafers, keep polish far away from them.

In Summation

suede eraser and brushAs we mentioned above, suede is actually a very robust material. It also has the added benefit of being softer and suppler right out of the box than most calfskin shoes, and they pair just as well with suits as they do with jeans.

If you care for your suede shoes properly, they can last you a lifetime.

For more information on footwear maintenance you can visit one of the comprehensive guides listed below:

You can also go to our main page on shoe care for men to learn more.

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