Beauty on the eye, nappy to the touch, and a masterstroke on many dress styles, suede is both rugged and soft, and it makes for a great addition to a boot collection.
Still, many remain scared of taking the plunge for a suede boot due to the extra care it can demand.
As glorious as any suede shoe or boot may look, it can easily become the most annoying boot to care for. The fact is that unwaxed suede really does not do well with any liquid – water can alter the appearance of your suede to the point that it begins to look stained.
When it comes to shoe care, suede is trickier to clean than other leather.
So, how do you properly clean suede boots?
What Makes Suede So Different?
While I may not have initially appreciated this leather type, suede boots and shoes are a great addition to any wardrobe.
It’s a unique type of leather. The leather is obtained from the underside of different animal hides, as opposed to the traditional “outside-in” leather. This gives suede some very unique characteristics and properties. It is thinner, softer, and more porous than regular hide, which can make it desirable for some and annoying for others.
Suede may be used in its “natural” form or dyed to give it a napped finish. It is this tender, fuzzy feel of suede that gives it its rather delicate appearance. So, let’s get down to how you can maintain these boots and get one of those problems out the way.
[Nope, Timberlands aren’t suede — learn more about the subtle differences between suede and nubuck.]
The waxed suede of the Taft Dragon Boot
How to Clean Suede Shoes & Boots
- Invest in a suede eraser
- Get a suede cleaning brush
- Brush off dirt and dust after every wear
- Don’t use water to clean suede shoes and boots
An important part of caring for your suede is keeping it clean and free from dirt. This is one of those leather types where a simple stain, if poorly handled, could ruin its entire look and appeal. Remember to brush loose dirt and dust off immediately after use with a suede brush like this one to remove any dirt or dust hanging around the fiber. A suede brush with a visibly fuzzy nap (such as a crepe brush) is recommended, but you can always use a brass wire brush for shorter suede fibers.
Cleaning suede is quite simple. Brush the suede nap in one direction to give it a clean and consistent look. Keep your strokes light unless you’re working on a stubborn stain. A suede eraser or suede block (included with this suede brush) is ideal for tougher stains. Rub hard on the surface in a back-and-forth motion to remove tough stains and smudges. Suede erasers have the added advantage of softening the leather and raising flattened naps.
For stubborn stains like salt stains that still won’t budge, treat with vinegar and rubbing alcohol or suede cleaner. Although the liquid in nature, these chemicals will not stain your suede leather as water would. Pour the chemical onto a clear white washcloth and rub into the stained area. Allow to dry and brush up the fabric to remove loosened dirt and straighten the nap. Whatever you do, do not use water to treat stains.
What If Water or Liquid Gets Onto Suede Footwear?
- Dry immediately with a clean, soft colth
- Use talcum powder or cornstarch to lift oil and grease
Thankfully, finding a water stain on your suede boot doesn’t have to signal the end of its life span. If your shoe manages to pick up water during usage or from spillage, quickly dry it off using a soft, clean fabric or paper towel. Dab over the affected area, applying some pressure until the moisture is absorbed.
Make sure your cloth is clean. You don’t want to transfer dye onto your suede boots. Now, dab the wet cloth lightly across dry areas until the moisture is spread evenly on the shoe surface. Once you’re done blotting, use your suede brush to brush the suede back and forth for a few minutes.
Now it’s time to let them dry. Stick a shoe tree covered with a blank white paper in the shoe and keep to dry away from any direct heat. The shoe tree will help keep the shape as the paper absorbs the remaining excess moisture. Don’t attempt to speed up the drying by placing it under direct heat, but it’s not a bad idea to gently use a hair dryer while brushing. To lift the nap of the dampened suede, consider using that suede eraser over the entire upper. Shoe trees also make your boots smell better.
What if you get oil on your suede shoes or boots? Immediately blot it out using talcum powder or cornstarch. Sprinkle the powder on the soiled area and allow it time to settle into the leather. Wait until the powder begins to look oily, which should be about an hour or so, and then brush off your suede boot or shoe with a soft brush. Do this over until there is no trace of oil anymore. Then brush to restore the nap of the suede.
Keeping Suede Safe
The best way to ensure your suede remains in excellent condition is to take preventive measures. One of these measures is to keep from using the shoe if there is even an off chance that it would be a wet day. You can also consider a suede waterproofing spray, like Kiwi’s Suede and Nubuck Waterproofer.
This seal waterproofs your boot and should be applied to the boot once it has been cleaned and is fully dried. Look for a neutral color waterproof silicone-based spray for optimum results. Remember to first apply the spray on a small, barely visible area to test for change in color. Do not over-saturate with the spray, and brush right after in a single direction. Then keep to dry in a well ventilated room.
Another key aspect of keeping suede safe involves its storage. Do not wrap in plastic bag. The fiber needs to breathe, and should be exposed to as much air as possible. Also make sure to store away from sunlight to prevent shrinkage or fading of the fiber. Stuff a carefully selected shoe tree into the shoe or boot to help keep them in shape. For long storage, wrap in tissue and store in a shoe box.
How Apply Suede Protector?
You can also buy a suede protector to make suede care easier. A suede protector is like a durable water-resistant coating that you can spray onto your suede shoes or boots.
It’s very simple to apply the suede protector. Just remove the laces and clean the boots with a soft brush. Next, spray the suede shoe or boot from about 20 cm distance to ensure an even coating. Last, let them dry for at least 30 minutes before wearing.
Note that suede leather protector or waterproofing sprays may darken the suede and change the texture, make sure to contact the manufacturer if you have any questions or concerns.
Cleaning suede is not half as impossible as its legend. Cleaning suede boots may require extra care, but they also respond well to the right treatment. So long as you protect them from water, clean them often and with the right materials, and store in fully aerated areas without the risk of moisture, you should do just fine. When the time comes, simply brush your suede shoe and put it on to give your ensemble a classic finish.