When talking about suede, we have to distinguish between suede, the leather, and suede, the fabric. The fabric only imitates the rough surface of suede leather. Apparel made of suede fabric may be laundered or dry cleaned, simply by following instructions on the garment’s label.
Suede leather is used in a number of products, including upholstery, gloves, jackets, and handbags. Also used for shoes, probably the best known brand of suede shoes is Hush Puppies, made from pig hide. Suede shoes may also be made of doeskin and cow hide.
Suede shoes, because they have a nappy surface, scuff very easily. Scuffs can be difficult to clean, so it’s best to keep people and pets from stepping on them. But scuffed or not, suede is going to get dirty at some point and must be cleaned.
Keeping Suede Clean
When leather is produced, it’s usually the outermost layer of skin that gets used, which is tougher and more durable than the inner surface used for suede. Suede is more supple and flexible than full grain leather, but the wearer pays a price. Suede gets dirtier faster and is more difficult to clean. It also stains easily; even water stains it, so suede shoes and jackets are not appropriate for exceedingly wet climates. Water also damages the leather, making it darker, less supple, weakening the leather by removing oils, and making it look scuffed. Suede may be waterproofed or stain-proofed, but it’s no guarantee against possible staining and damage.
Should you get a suede article soaked in a downpour, you should blot as much water from the garment as is possible with paper or cloth towels, then simply let the article dry at room temperature. Do not apply heat to speed drying. Stuff wet shoes with absorbent paper so that they hold their shape as they dry. Same with suede hats; in fact, for any kind of hat that gets wet, it’s good to have a wooden form the size of your head to put it on while drying.
The very best way to clean suede leather shoes and garments of any type is to take them to a dry cleaner. This might get expensive over time, of course, but so would replacing your garments. You can mitigate costs by performing minor cleaning jobs at home.
How to Clean Suede at Home
To clean suede:
- Rub the surface of the garment with a clean bath towel. This brings up the nap.
- Try to remove small, dry stains through the judicious use of a clean pencil eraser. Small stains that are still wet should be blotted up by putting a paper towel on it and a weight on top of the towel. For either kind of stain, avoid using a chemical stain remover.
- Stains may also be rubbed off with a damp towel and some white vinegar. Allow the leather to dry before assessing your success. After drying, the garment will reek of vinegar for a while – but it will eventually fade.
- If there are lumps of dirt or dry scuff marks that won’t come off this way, try rasping them off with a fingernail file. Be gentle.
- Your last step (if cleaning suede shoes) is to brush the shoe gently with a wire suede brush.
- Body oil stains on clothing and suede furniture can be attacked with a degreaser leather cleaner made especially for suede.
Be warned: Attempting to clean suede on your own can cause irreparable damage, it is always safer to take the garment to a professional dry cleaner.
Colors in suede fade quickly, and it’s best to store them in the dark. Make sure it’s not damp, because the moisture will attract mildew, and mildew is a bear to remove from suede or any other kind of leather. Never store or transport suede shoes in plastic; cover them, instead, with a pillow case. Should suede lose its color, it can be dyed. First, clean the garment thoroughly. Using a commercial cleaner may be enough to restore the original color. If not – or if you would like to change the color – once the garment is cleaned and free of stains, it will take a commercial dye which may be obtained at leather repair centers.