How to Clean Suede Shoes

A person uses a suede eraser to clean their suede boots.

It can’t be helped. With suede on your feet, you just get cocky. Even the most insecure, timid individuals develop a hitch in their stride and a beat-you-at-ping-pong grin. I think the cause of this rise in arrogance is twofold. First of all, suede is as soft as a down comforter in zero gravity – the smoothness rubs off through osmosis. Secondly, it is very hard to clean suede shoes; it is the most vulnerable of all footwear. Thus, wearing clean suede shoes is a ballsy act, or indicative of solid brass ovaries, akin to stuffing your cargo pants with sardines and swimming with great whites…or slathering yourself with lard and doing the truffle shuffle in front of Kodiak bears, pausing only to open-hand slap their young. You see, wearing suede shoes is an act of courageous denial.

So what makes suede shoes so vulnerable? Well, suede, like leather, is made from the hides of certain hoofed animals. But the part of the hide used and finishing techniques make suede much softer and more flexible, as well as porous and parched for all kinds of filth. Even walking through a puddle or sloshy snow presents problems for suede shoes. To complicate things further, not all suede is suede. Synthetic suede may actually be easier to clean, which brings me to a salient point: IF YOU HAVE THEM, READ ANY MANUFACTUERS DIRECTIONS BEFORE CLEANING SUEDE SHOES. Ok, ok, don’t worry. You can keep that swagger and silly grin. I will show you how to clean suede using tested, conservative techniques.

How to Clean Suede Shoes Safely

  1. suedeshoes-1First, gather your cleaning supplies. If you can afford suede shoes, you can afford suede shoe cleaning supplies. First, I recommend picking up a suede brush, which usually sports a variety of bristle types for varying degrees of filth. The brush usually comes in a kit (a few bucks at shoe repair shops or department stores) with a suede eraser, which is great for lifting marks, dirt, and certain stains from suede shoes. Depending on your mess, you may also need a sharp blade, a sponge, and a soft towel. Most importantly, if your shoes have a care label or cleaning directions, you’ll want whatever suede shoe cleaners or tools they suggest.
  2. suedeshoes-2Clean water stains with water. Many people who want to learn how to clean suede shoes are dealing with water or tide marks. Do what the professionals do. Apply water evenly over the entirety of each shoe (even if only one got wet) using a spray bottle or sponge, and then blot away the excess moisture. You’ll want to stuff the shoes with paper (nothing that leaches ink) to keep them from deforming. Let them dry. Hopefully, your suede shoes will be evenly colored, though a bit darker.
  3. suedeshoes-3For dirt, scuffs, and shine – work up the nap. Use a suede brush or nail brush. Make short, deliberate strokes going in one direction. You should see some color return as the nap comes to life. For many people, a light brushing is all you’ll need to clean suede shoes. For “shine” – which is nap that has gotten flattened into a smooth surface – you may need to get tougher. Try using the suede brush in both directions. If that fails, carefully scrape the nap with a safety blade or rub it with fine-grade sandpaper.
  4. suedeshoes-4You have to let mud dry. To clean suede shoes that are muddy, remove the excess mud without pushing too hard against the suede. Next, let it dry. You should now be able to break off the larger chunks. You can then use a suede brush (or nail brush) to break off the dirt particles and resurrect your suede’s color. Lastly, ask yourself, “Why did I go muddin’ in my suede shoes?”
  5. suedeshoes-5To clean suede shoes with marks, spots, and some stains, use a suede eraser. Suede erasers are cheap and effective. Just like those math tests – start your erasing with moderate pressure and apply more as needed. It helps to curse while doing so. You’ll be able to see grime and filth lift off of the suede shoes and onto the eraser. If you’re too stubborn to go buy a suede eraser, a pencil eraser or some crepe rubber will have a similar effect.
  6. suedeshoes-6Cleaning grease, oil, ink, food, blood (bigger problems?) and other stains isn’t always possible. If it’s fresh, blot up any excess with a paper towel. Be very gentle, lest you push the stain further into the suede’s pores. Next (and if your stain was already dry) take a damp rag and gently rub the stain. Let it dry and attack with a suede brush and suede eraser. If your shoes came with instructions, they would suggest suede cleaners and degreasers for disasters like this. Even if you don’t have care directions, now would be the time for suede cleaner. You may need to apply several applications. Sadly, your chances of cleaning suede shoes that are badly stained are 50/50 at best.
  7. suedeshoes-7Protect your suede shoes. Of course, with a little foresight, you probably wouldn’t have had to learn how to clean suede shoes at all. Suede waterproofing and protection sprays prevent watermarks and all kinds of stains. I know – those shoe salesmen are always trying to push their wares. While you didn’t need overshoes for your Nike high-tops, you really did need protection for your suede shoes. Oh well. Chalk it up to a learning experience. In the future, apply suede protection sprays four times a year – more if you live in a godforsaken climate.

More Ways to Clean Suede Shoes

There are many alternative methods used for cleaning suede shoes, but they are not always met with success. I’ve weeded out the techniques used by people whom evolution somehow failed to weed out. Below you’ll find some methods to clean suede shoes that may not work all the time, but are worth a shot if surer strategies have failed.

  • White vinegar. Though not recommended by professionals, this is a popular way to clean suede shoes with recalcitrant stains. This is also a good method for getting rid of salt lines. Apply a modest amount with a soft rag or towel, let it dry, and agitate with a suede brush.
  • Extra fine steel wool. This approach has been successful against dry stains, though you may need to rough up the rest of the shoe (and the other shoe) for an even look.
  • Emery board and steamer. This method of cleaning suede shoes presents little risk. First agitate the suede with the emery board and then steam over a kettle or with an iron. The heat should help open up the pores on the suede, making cleaning easier. Don’t go overboard, or you’ll be dealing with water marks.
  • The freezer. Remove wax or chewing gum from suede shoes by first putting them in the freezer. The wax or gum will become hard enough to chip away in large chunks, and then finish with the suede brush. Give the people you live with fair warning – shoes in the deep freeze is straitjacket material.
  • (Avoid) Dry cleaning solvent. Please, if you must, do this outside. There are harsh chemicals in these solvents that won’t ever leave your home.
  • (Avoid) Suede Dyes. If you can’t clean suede shoes, dye them? No. According to the message boards I’ve visited, this method has a success rate hovering around 8%. Godspeed.

Suede Cleaning Tips

suedeshoes-8Baking soda.What’s the point in having clean suede shoes if they smell like a dead Sasquatch’s genitalia? And don’t go and buy some commercial deodorizer that can damage and stain suede. Baking soda is cheap and effective. Just dump some baking soda in each shoe overnight and vacuum in the morning.

suedeshoes-9Shoe Box. I know – you already use your shoeboxes for storing pornographic magazines and drug paraphernalia. Well, spare one to keep your suede shoes clean. Suede shoes don’t fare well in the entryway with the rougher sort of footwear about. Constantly exposed to light, your shoes will also fade. To store suede shoes, wrap your shoes in tissue paper and put them in a shoebox. Keep the shoebox in a cool, dry place.

suedeshoes-10Suede and Nubuck Cleaner.These cleaners work, but not all the time. They are water based – there are stronger chemicals and degreasers on the market. Usually, you’ll need to apply the foam or spray over the entire shoe (and the other one) because the suede cleaner will slightly alter colors. You can order Kiwi Suede and Nubeck cleaner from Amazon.