Suede is durable while remaining highly breathable and soft to the touch and holds warmth like leather, which is why suede boots and shoes are popular for fall and winter. Suede isn’t quite as durable as leather and is more prone to pick up dirt and stains from everyday wear, so let’s learn how to clean your suede shoes without harming the material’s color or integrity.
What is Suede?
Animal hides have been used to make clothing and other items since the Paleolithic Era. The term suede comes from the French word “gants de suede,” which means gloves from Sweden, but eventually came to mean any kind of leather with a napped surface. To make suede, the underside of the skin is separated from the top, which creates the thin, flowy, softer leather.
Suede is a split leather, as compared to a full-grain leather which is made from the skin’s outer layer. Suede can be made from any kind of animal hide. The softest, most delicate type is made from sheepskin with a smooth nap and light weight. Cowhide is the roughest with a thicker and rougher nap. Pigskin suede is thick and durable with a short rough nap.
In terms of durability, suede is a middle ground between leather and lighter fabrics like cotton. Suede is a bit more delicate than full-grain leather and more likely to soak up liquids and hold in stains. Due to its vulnerability to moisture, scuff marks and dirt accumulation, you will need to care for your suede shoes, the good news is that it's super easy!
How to Clean Suede Shoes
If your suede shoes get wet you can use paper towels or a cloth to blot water from the fabric or stuff the shoes to pull more moisture out, but don’t expose them to heat to speed up the drying process. Once your shoes are dry, brush them with a suede brush or a toothbrush “with the grain” to avoid stressing the fibers. This will knock off a lot of dust, dirt and grime collected on the fabric.
Next use a suede rubber or pencil eraser to remove any obvious spots or scuffs. You can scrub more difficult stains with white vinegar and a soft cloth. Don't panic if the color of your suede changes a bit, that happens naturally when you get suede wet, but the vinegar will evaporate as the material dries, returning the suede to its original color.
The final step is to protect your suede so it won’t get quite as dirty in the future. Especially if you wear your shoes a lot and they are exposed to the elements, you can apply a waterproofing spray. This last step will also help protect against scuffs, dirt and water damage. We recommend storing your shoes in a breathable dust-proof bag when not in use with shoe trees to help maintain their shape.