Suede is a beautiful material, but it is also very fragile. Even water can stain it. This guide will demonstrate how you can restore stained and dirty suede shoes to like-new condition using common household supplies. Proper suede care and soil prevention tips are also included.
Useful Tools for Cleaning Suede:
- You will need something to agitate and manipulate the suede fibers, or ‘nap’. The best solution of course is to use a special suede brush designed for this purpose, but if you don’t have one you can use an old toothbrush, terrycloth towel, or the fine side of a fat emery board.
- Regular Pencil Erasers and art gum erasers can be helpful for removing scuffs and other tougher soil from suede shoes. In extreme cases, very fine grit sandpaper, very fine steel wool, and/or a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser can also be useful.
- Vinegar, Naptha (lighter fluid), Isopropyl Alcohol, Baking Soda, and Rolled Oats (Plain instant oatmeal) can all be helpful depending on your situation. When considering one of these, always test it first on a small, hidden part of your shoe to make sure they don’t cause damage. Refer to the below instructions for each type of stain/soil to determine which solutions are the best for your shoes.
First, a Word of Caution
Before doing anything to your shoes, search them for labels with care instructions and be sure not to perform any cleaning operations that they advise against. A quick visit to your shoe manufacturer’s web site or a call to their customer service line to ask for instructions is also a worthy precaution to find out what not to do – but expect to have a customer service rep try to sell you a proprietary cleaning kit as well.
If your shoes are real suede, do not attempt to clean them in the washing machine or dry them in your dryer as damage will result.
Removing Dirt, Scuffs and General Soil
- If there is caked-on mud, let it completely dry before cleaning, and break as much off as is possible using your bare hands.
- Using a suede brush, old toothbrush, the fine side of an emery board, or clean terrycloth towel, gently brush the entire shoe first against the grain, and then with the grain to remove as much soil as possible. Take your time and avoid being too rough as you can force dirt and material deeper into the fibers by doing so. Repeat this back-and-forth brushing until no more soil is releasing.
- Once the easily-removed dirt is gone, remove scuffs and loosen matted fibers with a vigorous back-and-forth brushing using moderate pressure. If the nap is not lifting in areas, use a semi-sharp, stiff edge (such as the edge of a spatula or a credit card) to scrape the fibers back up. Use only as much pressure as is needed to loosen the fibers.
- If this still fails to raise the nap, lightly moisten by applying steam from a kettle or pot (holding the shoe about 5 inches above it – be very careful, droplets should NOT be allowed to form on the material.) Steam from a clothing steamer or iron can also be used. Treat the entire shoe.
- Once the shoe has been completely treated, blot as much of the water up using dry towels as is possible and attempt to brush the matted area back up.
- Set the shoes out somewhere cool and dry and allow them to dry through evaporation. Do not place them someplace hot or try to help them dry as this may damage the suede.
- Once they have dried, brush the nap out.
- Once the nap is loose, a pencil eraser or art gum eraser can be used to rub out stains that have not yet lifted.
- If the previous steps were ineffective, rub on a very light amount of white vinegar or naptha (lighter fluid) using a soft rag and dab dry with a soft, clean cloth. Allow it to dry, then brush the nap back out.
Removing Water and Rain Stains
- If the stain is fresh and the water has not yet dried, apply several layers of absorbent, dry paper-towels and press them into the water to draw it out, frequently moving the towels to place a dry section over the wet spots until dry.
- For remaining discoloration, rub the stain using the fine side of an emery board.
- Lightly moisten the shoe by applying steam from a kettle or pot (holding the shoe about 5 inches from the kettle/pot – be very careful, droplets should NOT be allowed to form on the material.) Steam from a clothing steamer or iron can also be used. Treat the entire shoe.
- Once the shoe has been completely treated, blot as much of the water up using dry towels as is possible and gently brush the nap until even.
- Set the shoes out someplace cool and dry and allow them to dry through evaporation. Do not place them someplace hot or try to help them dry as this may damage the suede.
- Once they have dried, brush the nap out again.
Removing Grease and Oil
- Grease and oil are the hardest stains to remove from suede. If the stain is still fresh (wet), apply a generous amount of cornstarch to the soil. Alternatively, plain rolled oats can be gently rubbed into the area using a clean, dry towel to apply them to the stain using a circular motion.
- Allow the cornstarch or oatmeal to sit on the stain overnight, then brush them out of the suede fibers in the morning.
- If the stain remains, gently work a small amount of white vinegar into the spot using a toothbrush. Allow it to dry and brush the nap back out.
- If the stain still remains, apply steam from a kettle or pot (holding the shoe about 5 inches from the kettle/pot – be very careful, droplets should NOT be allowed to form on the material.) Steam from a clothing steamer or iron can also be used. Blot dry afterwards.
- Set the shoes out someplace cool and dry and allow them to finish drying through evaporation. Do not place them someplace hot or try to help them dry as this may damage the suede.
- Once they have dried, brush the nap out.
Removing Salt Stains
- First, brush out as much of the salt as is possible using your suede brush/tool of choice.
- Using a soft cloth, gently rub a small amount of white vinegar into the nap where the salt persists , then blot and allow it to dry.
- Brush the nap back and forth again. This should have removed the salt, but may need to be repeated if there is a lot of it.
Removing Waxy or Gummy Stains
- Make sure your shoes are completely dry and then place them in the freezer for at least 3 hours.
- Using a credit card, stiff plastic spatula, plastic comb, or other semi-sharp edge, scrape as much of the soil off as is possible.
- Finish by brushing the nap out using your suede brush/toothbrush/terrycloth towel.
- Dab the blood stain with a hydrogen peroxide-soaked towel or cotton ball.
- Once the blood has been removed, dab as much of the peroxide out as you can and brush the nap out with your suede brush/toothbrush/terrycloth towel.
- Blot fresh ink ASAP with clean, dry towels.
- Any remaining ink stains may be removed by blotting gently with rubbing alcohol. Be careful as rubbing alcohol can cause the dyes in colored suede to loosen and run/fade.
- If the stain remains, gently rub the area with very fine sandpaper (start with 1000 grit), very fine steel wool (#0000), or a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. Be very careful doing this as well as you may permanently effect the appearance of the nap in the area you are working on. If this happens, the only way to ‘fix’ it is to apply the treatment to the entire shoe so it doesn’t appear patchy.
Repairing Uneven Nap
- If you notice that some fibers are becoming longer than others, suede can be shaved using a common plastic safety razor.
- Make sure the suede is dry, and brush the nap so it is laying down flat and first shave with the nap as gently as possible.
- If this is ineffective, brush the nap up and shave against it, once again being as gentle as possible. Too much pressure can ‘gouge’ the finish and create a low spot.
If none of these steps helped and a stain remains, there are special suede shampoos available online and in stores which may fare better. Follow the instructions provided with the one you purchase for best results. Suede conditioners are also available which can help restore faded color.
Maintenance and Prevention
- After each wearing, brush soil out of the suede and store them in a dry place.
- You can stuff crumpled up newspapers into them to absorb moisture and retain their shape. Cedar shoe trees are excellent for this purpose.
- Suede protectant sprays are available that will effectively seal the fibers and prevent stains from permeating the material. These are best used when the shoes are new and after cleaning (as long as the shoes are dry).
- Household Hints for Dummies by Janet Sobesky
- 99 cent Solutions by Readers Digest
- Joey Green’s Cleaning Magic by Joey Green
- Clean it fast, Clean it right by Jeff Bradenberg
- Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook
- 101 Essential Tips for Removing Stains by Cassndra Kent
- Fix It, Clean It, and Make It Last by Gayle K. Wood