How To Care For Your Suede Shoes

This week’s edition of Taking Care of Your Shoes with TSL is probably one of the most FAQs when it comes to shoes with this specific material - suede!!! Don’t we just HATE how unprotected suede ages, gets damaged, changes colours, gets dirty??!!!

We know.

Worry not.

There is a silver lining.

A light at the end of the tunnel.

Your suede can still be rescued. 

Here’s the 411;


Suede Cleaning 

Suede is a stylish, yet VERY delicate material and there are multiple ways for cleaning it that you can decide on. I'm going to break down each one of them for you. But always check the label of your item for cleaning instructions before you proceed with any method.

1. Cleaning Method – Brushing (After Heavy Use)

This, you will do with a brass wire brush (for very short suede) or an actual suede brush (the kind with a visibly fuzzy nap). Perform quick, light strokes while using either one so the bristles get deep into the fibers, removing the dirt, scum or dust off the shoes.

Do NOT make the mistake of pressing too much except if you’re dealing with stubborn marks. Don’t brush on a hard surface, rather place a towel underneath the shoe.

Always brush the nap of the suede in one direction. This keeps the item looking consistently clean and tidy. For suede with a longer nap, it's better to use a multi-headed brush or crepe brush for extra softness (doesn’t that just sound like such a soothing solution??). Another option is the double-sided brush – with a soft-bristled brush on one side and a suede block on the other.

Alternatively, try a suede eraser (or a standard pencil eraser if you don't have - yes, you read that right) to remove dirt smudges or stains – and it's okay to rub harder with it. However, for nubuck suede, you should use a suede block. This will erase any stains plus soften any leathers which have sheen from overwear. If the nap of your item looks tired and flattened all over, hold it above steam from a kettle (or better yet a steam cleaner) for a few seconds and then proceed to brush.

2. Cleaning Method – Dab With Water (For Wet Shoes)

This is a legitimate way to use water for preventing stains – particularly on a pair of clean wet suede shoes. For instance, if you’ve just spilled water on your babies, just apply pressure on them with a paper towel. They will be okay. 

Tip: If you have the patience to do this until it has dried up most of the moisture, you might just avoid yourself an ugly water stain. For shoes that are water-stained but not soaked all over, spray/brush a thin layer of water evenly over the whole upper. Brush the stains gently and work around the edges.

The next step is the same whether your shoes got soaked in the rain or you just covered them with water. Use a sponge or dry cloth to soak up any excess water. Dab gently until the leather is evenly wet. Stick blank white paper (not newspaper) and shoe trees in your shoes to soak up water and help the shoes retain their shape.

Leave the shoes overnight in a dry, well-ventilated area. Once dry (or while they’re drying if you prefer) go over the shoes lightly with a suede brush. This helps shake out the grain back to its original look.


Never put a suede item next to a heater or through a dryer. The high heat can cause it to shrink, fade, become warped or as hard as jeans.

3. Cleaning Method – Cornstarch / Talcum Powder

If you've spilled liquid on your suede item, pat the affected spot with a clean cloth, apply a layer of cornstarch or talcum powder, let it settle overnight, then use a suede brush to remove the dried powder. Don't be tempted to clean wet stains – you’ll only make them worse and we DO NOT want that!

Once the stains are dry – rub over them using either (A) a suede cleaning block, (B) the suede of the other shoe, (C) an emery board or (D) a low-grit sandpaper but rub carefully. When you’ve removed the stain, brush and re-spray the item, then use an eraser to restore the nap. 

Cleaning Methods For Specific Types Of Stains

  • Mud Stains: Wipe away excess mud without pushing too hard against the suede then leave to dry. Break off the larger chunks with your hands before finishing with a suede brush.

  • Blood Stains:(Dark, I know, but keep reading) Dab at the stain with a peroxide-soaked cotton ball slowly until the blood comes out.

  • Wax/Chewing Gum: Put your item in the freezer for a few hours to harden the gooey substance so you can chip it off. Finish with a suede brush.

  • Coffee/Tea/Juice: Place two layers of paper towel over the stain before you start using a brush. Apply moderate pressure with your hands or a flat object.

  • Ink Spills: Quickly grab a paper towel and try to blot the ink up. If it sets, scrape the stain off with sandpaper or try using a rubbing alcohol-soaked cotton ball.

  • Salt Lines: Apply a small amount of white vinegar through a soft rag or towel. Let it dry and then agitate with a suede brush.

  • Oily/Unknown Stains: Use a suede brush to scrub the stain as you would for dirt or dust. Then use a nail brush with warm water to scrub off stubborn stains.

 For Irremovable Stains On Your Suede – Try Professional Cleaning

If all else fails and the stain just isn’t coming off just take your stained suede shoes to a cobbler. Again I say, there is ALWAYS a solution for these suedes :)

It may not be the cheapest solution but it does guarantee results. You won’t risk ruining the suede whatsoever. This would also be a great thing to do BEFORE you stow away your winter suede shoes/boot during the warm months.

Protection Tips

The reality with suede material is that it is kinda sorta mortal. Almost bound to wear down and lose their stylishness over time. It helps to know how to de-stain them. It is sucky that they can never be 100% kept safe from the elements of rain, snow or salt - unless you keep them in your closet forever - which, I HIGHLY doubt. You also can't avoid wearing them in cold weather all the time.

It’s not all doom and gloom! On the bright side, is that you can take protective measures that enable you to wear suede even with those elements present (except on days with heavy rain). All you need is a suede protector spray which you'll find in shoe repair stores or drugstores. It's water- and dirt-repellant and the best version would be a waterproof silicone-based spray with a neutral colour.

When you've got this spray at home, learn to use it after each time you clean your suede and the item have fully dried. Here's how to apply the spray to your suede items:

  1. Check that the suede material is clean and dry (you would've done the appropriate cleaning method first).

  2. Test the spray on a small area to see if there's a drastic change in color.

  3. If the color is fine – spray the suede-covered areas of the upper and then spray the entire item evenly (some slight darkening overall is natural). Make sure you don't over-saturate.

  4. Do one final quick brush in a single direction over the suede.

  5. Let the item air-dry on a towel for 24 hours in a well-ventilated area.

You should spray your suede shoes once a week, unless you don't wear them for extended periods of time.

Note: Do NOT consider using leather creams or shoe polish. They don't work on suede the way they do on other leather types. They can disrupt the fibers and spoil your suede items even if they aren't stained or dirty. 

Storage Tips

There are two main issues to watch out for when storing your suede: (1) direct sunlight and (2) a lack of air circulation. So you ought to keep them in a cool, dry place that doesn't receive sunlight. Suede that's left exposed to the sun can shrink, fade or harden. Avoid wrapping the items in plastic as well. The fibers in the suede need some breeeaaathing.

Fun fact and tip; You can use shoe trees made of unfinished cedarwood for your suede shoes. Choose the kind with a split toe and fully shaped heel for a close fit. They're meant to quickly deodorize and absorb moisture. Just remember to take the suede off the trees within 1-2 hours so as to maintain their foot shape.

If you don't plan to wear your suede footwear for quite some time, you can either;

  • Store them in a dust bag


  • Wrap them in tissue paper and keep them stored in a shoebox.

EASY PEASY, right? 




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