May 24, 2023

How to Clean and Restore Suede Shoes

Properly caring for your suede footwear can help preserve them for decades and beyond, says Vasilios Christofilakos, professor of footwear and accessories design at Fashion Institute of Technology.

Suede is a type of leather made from the underside of animal skin, typically lamb or calf. It's known for its raised, fibrous appearance and fuzzy, napped finish. When suede shoes are neglected, the leather can become damaged or discolored, and the hue may fade, Christofilakos says. Although major stains may require professional intervention, you can clean suede shoes from start to finish at home, says Nicole Kwass, personal stylist and wardrobe consultant at Ready to Where.

Note: Vegan suede differs from suede in that it is a synthetic, non-animal material. Most stains on vegan suede can be treated the same way as traditional suede. Vegan suede is more water resistant than true suede, however, so water stains will be less likely to appear.

Suede is a peculiar material because cleaning it requires a special tool. Before you start, you're going to need a suede brush and eraser. Brands like Kiwi and Jason Markk typically sell them in kits.

Use the brush to dust off particles, and the eraser to treat stains and scuffs. Just remember that suede is a sensitive material and should be dealt with gently.

1. Sweep off dirt with a suede brush. Use a medium to firm nylon or horse hair bristle brush to sweep away dirt and stains. Brush in soft, short strokes in one direction. For tougher marks, apply a little more pressure and brush in a back-and-forth motion until the mark loosens up. Repeat until visible debris is removed.

2. Remove blemishes with a suede eraser. With suede eraser or a clean, standard eraser, rub over any blemishes that may remain. Repeat until you are satisfied that all marks are removed. If the stain won't budge, don't force it. When the "fuzzy" part of suede is worn down, there's no way to get it back.

3. Use white vinegar or rubbing alcohol for stubborn stains. If brushing the shoe doesn't get rid of the stain, reach for white vinegar or rubbing alcohol. These liquids can help treat mud, dirt, salt, and water stains.

Being careful not to oversaturate the area, dab either liquid onto a soft cloth and rub it into the stain in a circular motion. Let the area dry completely, then use a suede brush to brush away any remaining dirt.

4. Let dry and finish with a suede protector. Drying can take anywhere from 2 hours to a full day, depending on seasonal conditions. Before you wear them again, it's a good idea to spray your shoes with a protectant to make cleaning easier. Kwass recommends DetraPel Suede & Nubuck Protector.

Quick tip: If your suede shoes have lost their fuzzy nap, you can revive it with steam. Hold the shoes over steam (from a kettle or clothes steamer) for about 20 seconds. Then brush the show with a suede brush as you normally would.

To treat oil and grease stains on suede shoes, sprinkle cornstarch on the affected area and let sit overnight to absorb the oil. In the morning, gently brush off the cornstarch and lightly brush away the stain. Repeat as necessary.

Quick tip: To keep suede shoes clean and extend their life, store them in a muslin bag in a closet, says Christofilakos.

Suede shoes can last for decades when they are cared for properly. Using common household items, you can preserve suede shoes by promptly removing dirt, mud, salt, and other debris. Treat your clean suede shoes with protective spray before you wear them, and store them in a closet in a soft muslin bag to avoid any accumulation of dust.

We may receive a commission when you buy through our links, but our reporting and recommendations are always independent and objective.

To properly clean suede shoes, you'll need a suede brush and eraser. Use a stiff-bristled brush to gently remove dirt, salt, and debris from suede shoes. For stubborn stains, you can use rubbing alcohol or white vinegar. Note: What you need Step-by-step instructions 1. Sweep off dirt with a suede brush. 2. Remove blemishes with a suede eraser. 3. Use white vinegar or rubbing alcohol for stubborn stains 4. Let dry and finish with a suede protector Quick tip Treating oil and grease stains Quick tip: Insider's takeaway