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What Elvis Didn’t Know About How to Clean Suede Shoes

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When Elvis sang about staying off his blue suede shoes, he may have been worried they’d be hard to clean. But he’d have been glad all over to know how easy it is to clean suede shoes at home: you just need a soft brush, a white cloth, and common kitchen ingredients.

Before you jump in, though, remember to do a spot test to make sure your suede is colorfast, then use a white cloth for any stain removal to avoid dye transfer. Once you’ve grabbed those, you’re ready to start cleaning your suede shoes — blue or not.

Did You Know?

Suede is made from the underside of animal hide which is softer and more pliable than leather, which comes from the outer hide. The soft, fuzzy texture of suede—known as the nap—is created by sanding or buffing.

Step 1: Wait until they’re dry.

Suede’s nap is fragile and can be permanently damaged by friction when wet. If you need to speed up the drying process, put dry towels inside your shoes then use a fan or a cool blowdryer. Change the towels hourly to speed things up.

Step 2: Brush dirt and mud.

Once your shoes are dry inside and out, find the suede’s grain by rubbing a finger forward and then back. The grain’s direction is the one which feels smoother and makes the suede look lighter. Use a suede brush or soft toothbrush and follow the grain with quick flicks to dislodge dirt.

Step 3: Buff light scratches and scuffs.

To remove light scratches on suede, run your fingertip along the scratch following the grain. The oils from your skin will recondition and hide minor scratches. Rub away scuff marks with a clean pencil eraser or, if you have a lot of suede items, invest in a specialized suede eraser.

Pro Tip

Use a fine grit fingernail file to carefully buff away stubborn stains and scuffs, or revive a flattened nap by lightly rubbing the file back and forth across the surface.

Step 4: Use DIY suede stain removers.

• Water spots or road salt: Dip a clean cloth in white vinegar and wipe the stain and salt residue. Do not soak the area. Let it dry then brush to restore the suede’s nap.

• Gum or wax: Freeze the item to harden the gum or wax. Then use the edge of a plastic card to pry up the mess. Blot the area with white vinegar and let it air dry, then brush.

• Grease or oil: Sprinkle the spot with an absorbent powder like baking soda, cornstarch or baby powder. Loosely wrap the treated area in plastic cling film to hold the powder in place overnight. The next day, shake then brush away the powder. Blot with white vinegar and let it air dry.

• Ink: Use rubbing alcohol (isopropyl) to gently dab the ink stain. Avoid rubbing, since this can spread the ink and damage the texture of your suede shoes. Air dry then brush.

• Blood: Gently blot fresh blood stains on suede with a clean cloth then let it dry. Brush gently, following the grain to dislodge dried blood. Remove any remaining discoloration by dabbing the area with vinegar, let dry, and brush again.

Step 5: Deodorize if needed.

For mild odors, sprinkle baking soda inside overnight. For seriously smelly suede shoes, put them in a box and coat them with baking soda inside and out. Close the box for 24 hours. Dump the baking soda out of your shoes, wipe the inside with a dry cloth, then brush the rest off the surface.

Did You Know?

Carl Perkins wrote “Blue Suede Shoes,” a song famously recorded by Elvis. He got the idea from a story Johnny Cash shared about an Air Force buddy who cautioned his dance partner against stepping on his blue suede shoes—standard footwear for airmen at the time. Talk about a song with star power!

Tips to Keep Suede Shoes Clean

  • Apply suede protector. Twice a year, apply a light coating of protective spray to create a stain barrier.
  • Don’t wear suede in wet weather. Even if it’s protected against water stains, the nap of suede shoes is easily damaged when it’s wet.
  • Brush after wearing. A quick once-over with a brush after you take off your suede shoes gets rid of dust and road soil. It also gives you a chance to notice stains before they become permanent.
  • Store properly. When you’re not wearing them, keep your suede shoes away from heat and direct sunlight. For long-term storage, wrap them in a white cotton towel or mesh bag—suede needs air or it will dry out and become brittle.

So, whether you’ve spilled something or someone stepped on your foot, you now know how to clean suede shoes no matter what color they are.

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4 Comments

  1. While visiting his girlfriend- my son’s brand new suede jacket with fringe, got sprayed or peed on (not sure which) by her cat. How the heck do I tackle THAT disaster? Because it STINKS. Do I just use the baking soda trick?

    1. Katie Berry, Cleaning Expert says:

      Yikes! I’d definitely take that to a dry cleaner. I mean, you could certainly use baking soda to get the cat pee smell off of the suede, but there would still be cat pee on the jacket. I bet your son would prefer it was not.

  2. Excellent methods and tips.

    1. Katie Berry, Cleaning Expert says:

      Thank you so much, Charmane!

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