Offering stylish comfort and warmth, suede footwear is a wardrobe staple in cooler weather. Unfortunately, the velvety nap that delivers suede's soft, fuzzy texture also makes the material highly susceptible to stains from moisture, dirt, and oils. With regular wear, suede shoes and boots can collect dirt, scuffs, water spots, salt marks, and other grime, especially if you wear them in inclement weather. And because suede can easily be damaged by excess moisture, you can't simply soak your kicks in soapy water to get rid of stains and buildup.
With the right tools and techniques, however, learning how to clean suede shoes isn't difficult. You can find a variety of suede cleaning products at footwear stores and major retailers, but simple household items often provide the best way to clean suede shoes. We'll walk you through the step-by-step process below, as well as offer tips for removing common stains on suede footwear. These cleaning strategies make it easy to restore the soft, spotless appearance of your suede shoes and boots.
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How to Clean Suede Shoes
Before cleaning suede shoes, ensure they're completely dry. Trying to treat spots or splatters while they're still damp can work the stain deeper into the material and make it harder to remove. Use paper towels or a soft cloth to blot up as much moisture as you can before allowing the shoes to dry naturally. Never use a blow dryer, direct sunlight, or other heat sources to shorten the drying time; this can cause the material to dry out and harden. Once your footwear is totally dry, follow these instructions for cleaning suede shoes.
What You Need
Suede brush or toothbrush
Suede rubber or clean block eraser
Emory board nail file
Suede protector spray
Step 1: Brush away loose particles.
Use a suede brush ($7, Amazon) to brush away any loose dirt or particles. When cleaning small areas, a toothbrush can also work. Start by brushing in the same direction as the nap's pattern or grain. For set-in grime, move on to a gentle back-and-forth motion if the spot won't budge.
Step 2: Rub out stains with an eraser.
Spot-clean suede shoes using a suede eraser ($6, Amazon) or a clean block eraser to remove small marks. Gently rub the eraser back and forth over the mark. If it doesn't appear to be working, stop and move on to another suede stain removal method. You don't want to damage the material by rubbing too hard. An emory board nail file ($2, Target) can also help lift the nap and buff out stains. Use light pressure to avoid scratching the material.
Step 3: Clean suede with vinegar.
For tough stains on suede shoes, dip a microfiber cloth in white vinegar and gently rub the stain, taking care to dampen and not soak the surface. The vinegar might temporarily alter the color of the suede while it's damp, but as the moisture evaporates, the material should return to its original color. Allow the wet spot to dry, then check to see if the stain remains. Repeat as needed until the stain is completely gone. Once clean and dry, brush the surface again to restore its original appearance.
Step 4: Apply suede protector spray.
Some suede footwear comes pre-treated to resist moisture and stains, but adding another layer of protection is always a smart idea. Choose a protector spray that's specifically designed for suede ($7, Target), and apply it following the manufacturer's instructions. Even with the addition of a water- and stain-repellent product, the best way to keep your suede shoes clean is to reserve them for dry weather and avoid spills and splatters wherever possible.
How to Remove Stains from Suede Shoes
Certain stains require special techniques when cleaning suede footwear. Use these tips to remove some of the most common stains from suede shoes and boots.
Dirt or Mud
To remove dirt or mud on suede shoes, ensure the material is completely dry first. Use a suede brush or toothbrush to remove as much dirt as possible. If marks remain, use a steamer to gently loosen the dirt, then blot with a paper towel or cloth to lift it out. Let the area dry.
Oil or Grease
For oil or grease stains on suede shoes, apply cornstarch to the area and allow it to soak up the excess grease for a few hours. Gently scrape off the cornstarch with a brush. Repeat as needed until the spot is gone. For grease stains that have dried, clean the area with a small amount of dish soap. Allow the soap to sit on the stain for about 10 minutes, then rinse the soapy residue by blotting with a damp cloth. Avoid soaking suede shoes directly in water.
Salt stains from snow and ice melt are a common problem if you wear suede shoes or boots outside in the winter. To remove salt from suede shoes, start by brushing away as much salt as possible. Dip a clean cloth in cold water mixed with a small amount of dish soap. Gently blot the stain; don't rub. Repeat as needed until the stain is gone. Let dry completely.
Although it might sound counterintuitive, adding water can help remove water stains on suede shoes. Use a spray bottle to lightly spritz water across the surface. Gently brush the surface using a suede brush or toothbrush. Blot up any excess water with a clean cloth or paper towels, then let dry completely. Once dry, apply a suede waterproofing spray ($7, Target) to avoid future water spots.