How to Clean Suede Shoes and Clothes

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Suede will last for years with proper care. Use a gentle brush regularly to dislodge dirt, then treat stains and spills promptly to keep your suede shoes and clothing looking new.

Man walking on wood floor wearing clean blue suede shoes

Suede is made from the underside of the animal hide. It’s not as smooth as leather, which comes from the outer animal skin. This softer, fuzzy nap makes it more comfortable to wear and easier to damage. When suede shoes, furniture, or clothing get dirty, you can clean them at home but must do so carefully to avoid permanent damage.

Before You Begin

Suede is easily damaged when it’s wet. Wait for damp items to air dry before attempting to clean them. While it’s damp, keep suede away from heat and direct sunlight since these could shrink the item or fade the dye.

You will need:

  • Paper towels
  • Undyed towel
  • Soft brush
  • Fingernail file
  • Pencil eraser
  • Microfiber cloth
  • White vinegar

Steps To Clean Suede

Suede is easily damaged by rain and snow. Even suede shoes that are supposedly waterproofed will develop water stains and discoloration from stepping in puddles or spilling liquids. Dirt and mud can mess up suede as well. 

Step 1. Wait Until It’s Dry

Suede’s nap is fragile and can be permanently damaged by friction when wet. So, it is important to wait until the suede is dry before you begin to clean it. 

You can speed up the drying process if you’re careful by stuffing your suede shoes with paper towels. Then, lightly blot excess moisture from the outside using a clean, undyed cloth. Do not press hard, or you will crush the nap. Let the shoes dry away from heat and direct sunlight before you proceed.

Step 2. Remove Dirt and Mud

Before you begin cleaning suede, rub a finger over the material to determine the grain. You must clean in the direction of the grain to avoid damage. Use a suede brush or soft toothbrush to dislodge dirt and other grime. Go over stubborn spots lightly with a fingernail file.

Step 3. Remove Scuff Marks

Remove light scratches on suede by running your finger along the mark — the oils from your skin will recondition and hide the blemish. You may want to invest in a suede eraser if you have a lot of pieces to clean. Otherwise, use a pencil eraser to get scuff marks off the suede. First, rub the eraser repeatedly on a piece of paper to remove any lead marks so you’re down to a clean surface. Then, lightly erase the scuffs on your suede shoes, boots, or clothing.

Step 4. Remove Stains from Suede

Water spots: Use a microfiber cloth and plain white vinegar to remove watermarks on suede. Dip the corner of the cloth into the vinegar and lightly wipe the discolored areas. Do not soak the spot. Let the item completely air dry before proceeding.

Gum or wax: If you’ve stepped in gum or dripped candle wax on your suede shoes, pop them in the freezer. After an hour or two, the mess will harden, and you can easily lift it off with the edge of a wooden spatula or an old credit card. Use white vinegar and an undyed cloth to wipe away any residue.

Grease and oil: Use cornstarch to absorb greasy stains — baby powder can also work. Brush a small amount gently onto the spot, going with the grain, then apply more. Wrap the item with plastic cling film to hold the cornstarch in place to absorb the grease. Let it sit overnight. The next day, unwrap it, shake off the powder and check the stain. Repeat if needed.

Ink: To remove pen ink stains from suede, blot it with a clean, undyed cloth very lightly dampened with isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol. Take care that you do not rub the ink, or you will spread the stain, and rotate your cloth so you’re always working with a clean spot. Once you can’t lift more ink off the suede, let it air dry.

Blood: Get the corner of an undyed cloth or paper towel lightly damp with hydrogen peroxide. Gently dab the blood to lift it off the suede, and rotate your cloth so you always work with a clean section. Do not rub. Once you’ve gotten rid of the bloodstain, let it air dry.

Step 5. Restore the Nap

When your suede shoes or clothing is dry, use the suede brush to go over them in the direction of the grain. This step restores the nap by lifting the fibers so you can’t tell where the stain was.

Step 6. Apply Protectant

You can find suede protector products in the shoe department at the store. Apply it following the package directions, spraying from many different angles so the protectant covers all sides of the suede fibers. 

Special Tips for Cleaning Suede Clothing

Some suede clothing is made from synthetic microsuede fabric and can be laundered. Check the manufacturer’s label and follow the instructions. Genuine suede clothes should not go in the washing machine. Instead, brush them with a suede brush and then treat any stains using the methods above. If home treatment doesn’t remove the stain, take the item to a professional dry cleaner.

To deodorize suede jackets or other clothing, sprinkle it with baking soda and put it in a bag or lidded container. Seal it tight and place it away from heat and light. After 24 hours, shake the clothing outside to dislodge the baking soda and brush it to restore the nap. 

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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!