What is Suede?
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
- Test for colorfastness: Before cleaning suede, check a small inconspicuous area to make sure the cleaning method does not cause fading, color transfer, or damage. Do not proceed if the color or texture changes.
- Use an undyed cloth: To avoid transferring color from your cleaning cloth to the suede item, use white or undyed rags or towels.
- Do not rub or scrub: Suede is very fragile when wet, and friction can damage the nap. Always use a blotting or dabbing motion and a light touch to remove dirt and stains from suede.
- Check the label: Some “suede” clothing is made from synthetic microsuede fabric and can be laundered. Check the manufacturer’s label and follow the instructions.
Steps To Clean Suede
Step 1: Wait until it’s dry.
Wait until suede is dry before you clean it. Suede’s nap is fragile and can be permanently damaged by friction when wet. To speed up the drying process, you can carefully stuff suede shoes with paper towels. For suede clothing, stuff the sleeves or legs. 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 items dry away from heat and direct sunlight before you proceed.
Step 2: Remove dirt and mud.
Find the direction of the suede’s grain by rubbing a finger over it. You must clean in the grain’s direction to avoid damage. Use a suede brush or soft toothbrush to dislodge dirt and other grime. Brush lightly, with quick strokes ending in a flicking motion to lift the dirt away from the nap of the suede. Gently use a fingernail file in one direction to remove stubborn spots.
Step 3: Remove scuff marks.
Use your fingertip to trace light scratches on suede, and the oils from your skin will recondition and hide the blemish. Consider 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 or salt
Use white vinegar and an undyed cloth to remove watermarks or salt spots 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
Freeze suede items to harden candle wax or gum. Then, use a wooden spatula or old credit card to lift away the mess. Blot any remaining residue with a white cloth lightly dampened in vinegar, taking care not to crush the suede’s nap. Let dry.
Grease and oil
Use cornstarch, flour, or baby powder to absorb oil and grease on suede. Lay the item flat on a countertop, sprinkle on the powder, then cover the spot with plastic cling film to hold the powder in place. Put a book or other flat, heavy object on top to weigh it down and help absorption. Let this sit overnight, then remove the cling film and shake off the powder.
Use isopropyl alcohol and an undyed cloth to blot ink stains on suede. Take care you do not rub the ink, or you will spread the stain. 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.
Use hydrogen peroxide on the corner of a white cloth or paper towel to remove blood stains on suede. Gently dab the spot 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: Deodorize if needed.
Use baking soda to deodorize suede shoes, jackets or other clothing. Place the item in a bag or lidded container and sprinkle a layer of baking soda (bicarbonate) on all surfaces of the item, inside and out. Seal the container and let it sit for 24 hours, then shake the piece outside to dislodge the baking soda.
Step 6: Restore the nap.
Brush suede items lightly to restore the nap once they’re dry. Use a suede brush or a soft-bristled toothbrush if the item is small. Brush first against the grain to raise the nap, then repeat in the grain’s direction to give it a uniform look.
Step 7: Apply protectant.
You can find suede protector products in most shoe stores or shoe departments. Apply it following the package directions, spraying from many angles so the protectant covers all sides of the suede fibers.
- Protect suede from water damage and food spills by applying a waterproof, protective suede spray. Reapply at least once a year and as often as monthly if you wear your suede shoes often.
- Avoid wearing suede in wet weather. Even waterproofed suede is fragile and the nap is easily damaged when it’s wet. If your suede shoes get wet, immediately remove them to prevent stretching, then blot them with an absorbent undyed cloth. Do not rub or crush the nap. Stuff them with clean, undyed towels and let them fully dry away from heat or direct light.
- Brush suede shoes and clothes before storing them to dislodge dirt and debris. Always inspect your items before storage and immediately treat stains so they do not become permanent.
- Store suede away from heat and direct sunlight. When not in use, keep suede shoes or clothing in a dry, dark closet. Do not wrap it in plastic or put it in an air-tight container, or the lack of oxygen will cause suede to dry out and become brittle. If you want to protect it during storage, wrap suede in undyed, natural fiber fabrics.
These quick emails are the “secret sauce” to taking your home from tidy to truly clean — or rediscovering your cleaning motivation if you’ve lost it under the clutter.