How to properly take care of suede shoes is a frequent question for us. It feels like arcane shoe care knowledge. Don't worry, it isn't.
Many people think that suede is a delicate material that is easy to ruin. While this might be true for synthetic suede or faux suede, a well made real leather suede shoe is robust. It can take a beating and bounce back like Rocky. Cleaning suede is fairly simple too!
This is why suede is one of our favourite materials around here.
If you're curious you can learn more about suede and other leather types in our article on that subject. We're not going to dive deep into that in this how-to article.
In this article we'll discuss the essential elements you need to know on how to clean suede shoes. At the end you'll be able to fully clean your suede footwear from start to finish.
Everything we discuss applies to suede shoes and suede boots the same. Suede boots are no different except they are taller and sometimes can get a little bit more beat up.
We're also going to bust a few myths while we are at it. Unfortunately there is a lot of misinformation surrounding shoe care.
The myth busting information can be found at the end of the article. We felt we should start with the info you need. We dissect it all after the instructions.
Let's get started. (Note that our Suede Cleaning Kit has everything outlined in this article, including all of the optional but recommended products. Bundled for your convenience.)
What you'll need:
-A pair of shoe trees
-Saphir Omni'Nettoyant Suede Shampoo (a cleaning solution)
- A suede cleaning brush (A horse hair brush to apply the cleaning solution. Omni'nettoyant comes with a mini-brush or we recommend our spatula brush.)
- A 2nd horse hair brush (a dry brush for use after washing)
- A suede brush (Crepe or Brass. We prefer Crepe)
- Clean cloth (ideally microfiber)
- A water dish / bowl with some water in it. (100ml, give or take)
--------- Optional but recommended products ---------
- Suede protectant spray (optional. We recommend Saphir Invulner)
- Suede moisturizing spray (optional. We recommend Saphir Renovating spray)
- Suede eraser (optional. We recommend Saphir's Suede Eraser)
What you won't need...
White vinegar, rubbing Alcohol, A nail brush....(all things we've seen recommended)
Step 1: Cleaning Without Liquid
While we are eventually going to use water we will start with dry cleaning.
This will help work to get rid of things such as surface dust and dirt or a scuff mark here and there.
Insert your shoes trees into your shoes to help them hold their shape.
Give your shoes a thorough brushing with your suede brush. We prefer Crepe brushes. This will remove dirt and help align the nap (sometimes called suede fiber) of the shoe.
A crepe brush is one of suede's best friends. Use it regularly!
If you have a particular spot that needs attention you can use the suede eraser. Rub it on the dirty spot. Like how you would use a pencil eraser on paper. Tight circles with medium pressure.
The gummy nature of the eraser works in a similar way. Its cleaning your shoe by friction as well as pulling the dirt from the suede.
If you get residue like this when you're using an eraser that is a good sign. It should be like this. Similar to erasing pencil marks on paper. This is easily remove with a horse hair brush.
Brush away any residue left by the erase and/or the crepe brush by using your horse hair brush.
Brush away anything left behind.
Note that if you have white shoes you might want to spot test the eraser somewhere first to make sure it doesn't leave a mark. White suede is rare however it is the one colour that is trickier to deal with. You might want to consider starting at step 2.
Step 2: Deep Cleaning
After Step 1 your shoes should already look much better. This initial cleaning helps get rid of a fair amount of dirt and it might be enough for you. If you want a deeper clean, read on. Ditto if you have a stubborn stain.
This is where you'll need your suede cleaner. Note that we used to use Jason Markk and found that Saphir Omni'nettoyant works better. It cleans the suede better and leaves the nap a little nicer when finished. (For suede sneakers you can still use this and we also recommend Saphir Foam Cleaner)
You're essentially going to be washing suede shoes. Giving them a bubble bath. Yes, you read that correctly. No, the water won't ruin them. Water is essential in cleaning suede. This soap is specially formulated for this very purpose. Suede leather soap!
Wet your suede cleaning brush with the water from your bowl. We recommend using a horse hair brush. It's natural bristles hold onto the soap and water well. It's also firm enough to clean but not so firm that it causes any damage.
You can either pour some cleaning solution onto your brush or you can mix it into the water bowl. Your choice.
Once you've got a wet brush with soap, time to go to work.
Using your brush you want to wash your shoes. Work the brush around the entire upper of the shoe. You can alternative between a back and forth motion and a circulation motion.
Back and forth like you would normally brush your shoes. Circular like you would brush your teeth.
Use a light to medium pressure. Nothing too firm.
Your shoe should be nice and soapy. Lather it up. Focus on any tough stains. This will also help with a salt stain. No, you don't need vinegar or rubbing alcohol for salt stains. Those only dry out leather shoes and do more harm than good.
It is normal for your shoes to darken at this stage. They are wet. Wet materials are usually darker. They'll go back to normal after they dry.
You should be able to work out tougher stains. We've been able to get out some oil stains, since an oil stain is broken down by soap. (If you have a leaky pen, an ink stain is tougher since ink is...supposed to stain. Give it a bit of elbow grease and you might be in luck).
Once you feel you've given your shoes a good scrubbing you can rinse off the excess suds. Using a light stream of water wash all the extra soap. This is easiest if done in a sink. Use lukewarm to slightly cool water. Nothing hot.
The shoe on the left in this photo was heavily scrubbed and extra soapy. This photo was second before we ran it under the sink to rinse off all of the excess suds. Notice how much darker and wetter they are. Not a problem at all. It'll all be fine once they dry.
If you don't have running water you can also pat your shoes dry. We find paper towel can leave a bit of "lint" behind on the shoe so we recommend a microfiber cloth. Blot your shoes in a bit of a twisting motion.
Using a bit less water and soap overall, this is what the towel drying method would look like.
At this stage your footwear should be free of soap and suds. It will be wet or damp. That's ok.
Step 3: Air dry
Remove the shoe tree and let your shoes air dry. Do not use any additional sources of heat. No hair dryer or placing them next to a radiator or anything like that. The extra heat can harm the leather.
This might take anywhere from a couple of hours to over night depending on where you live. Don't rush this step.
Step 4: Brush
Here they are after some light brushing with a crepe brush. You can see the difference. These turned out great and are looking much better.
Once your suede shoes have dried you should brush them. Brushing will help realign the nap and fluff the suede back up.
Use your suede brush. Either Crepe or Brass. We prefer Crepe.
Insert your shoe trees back in before brushing to make sure your shoes keep their shape.
By this stage your shoes should be looking fantastic. Cleaning suede isn't that scary after all. You've gotten our dirt, scuffs, and more. Brushing should have them looking wonderful.
A close up so you can see the texture and how clean they look. I would wager these shoes have been worn 250+ times, they're almost 5 years old. Notice how much the marking on the vamp has improved. And this is before we even spray with Renovating suede spray.
If you want to stop here you can. You have clean suede shoes. If you want to take your shoe care to an even higher level though, we can add a bit more work for a much better result.
We have clean suede but we didn't do anything to moisturize and protect it.
One last beauty shot.
Step 5: Moisturize and Protect (optional but recommended)
Your shoes are now primed to get a little bit more attention. They are a clean canvas. Applying a few extra sprays add tons of value with only a very tiny time commitment. We highly recommend the following steps.
Suede is leather and all leather needs to be moisturized. You just cleaned your shoes. Like washing your hands, this dries them out a little bit. Now is the perfect time to moisturize.
To use it, start by shaking the can well to mix up the ingredients. Spray a generous and even coat all over your shoes. Spray roughly 15-20cm (6 or 7") away from your shoes. Don't saturate any one area. A nice even mist is what you're after.
Allow your shoes to dry for 30 minutes or more.
Note that our Renovating spray has a few colour choices. Neutral will naturally work on everything and has no colour at all to it.
If possible we recommend selecting a matching colour though. The added pigment in the spray will help add colour back into your shoes. It will lessen or remove the fading you get from creasing near your toes. It will make them look much closer to new again.
This is especially the case for black and dark brown which show fading more prominently. While fading is not a stain it can make your shoes look more tired than they are.
Now that you've hydrated your shoes it is time to protect them. A suede protector is wonderful for helping prevent future stains and makes your life easier down the road.
When you get a "water stain" what is actually happening is the water is helping deposit all the crud that was dissolved in the water! This can be avoided with a protector.
Saphir Invulner is what we recommend. It is a premium protector made without harmful resins. Apply it the same way you did the renovating spray. It is such a gentle formula that it can work on almost any material. Even silk. This makes it the best suede protector for dress shoes. Especially for nubuck.
Apply a healthy and even coat all over your entire shoe. Don't saturate any one part.
Allow at least 30 minutes for drying. If you want you can apply a 2nd coat for even more protection. Re-apply every few months or when you notice it is losing effectiveness.
Et voila! Clean and healthy suede shoes. Ready to take on the world.
If you've read this far you now know everything you need to how about how to clean suede shoes. You did dry cleaning and deep cleaning. Your suede shoes will thank you.
And as promised...
Suede Myths and Misinformation
We see back recommendations for cleaning routines all the time. Seach google and you'll get thousands of results and most of them are unfortunately misguided.
If you're reading this blog (and you've made it this far) then that means that you've likely got premium shoes you want to take care of. Made with real leather. An investment you want to last and that you can treat as such.
Most articles address faux leather and low quality shoes that might you find at Aldo or Zara. I am not disparaging those purchases. I'm saying that those recommendations won't work for your Aldens, your Allen Edmonds, your Edward Greens, or any other luxury shoe.
A shoe from Zara might get worn 7 times. Your kids might wear your Aldens.
What we see most often is bad product recommendations.
White vinegar, rubbing alcohol, baking soda, and dish soap. These are the most common culprits.
White vinegar and rubbing alcohol are terrible for your leather. While yes, both could technically get rid of a stain, it comes at a price. Vinegar is an acid and eats away at your leather while drying it out. Rubbing alcohol is the same (though not a major acid).
Baking soda is in the exact same boat except it is a basic (alkaline) solution. It can remove a stain. It removes all the moisture too. Avoid using these products on any fine leathers you want to last.
They have the ability to remove dirt but it comes at a huge cost to the health of your leather. Think of using bleach on your clothes.
You'll watch a tutorial online using the above products. Without a doubt the shoes will look cleaner than they did when they started. That doesn't mean damage wasn't done. The longevity of those leathers has been compromised.
Last is dish soap. The least of the offenders in this bunch. That said, dish soap is formulated to work on...dishes. It will leave lots of residue on your shoes. And ceramics don't need to worry about getting dried out. Shoes do. Dish soap is much harsher than what we listed above. It will work well on a stain but won't leave your suede healthy.
The solutions we recommended are specially formulated with footwear in mind. You worked hard to get a nice pair of shoes. Keep them nice as long as possible. Give them the treatment they deserve!
You now know that water on suede shoes is not a death sentence. A stain on suede shoes is something you can look forward to tackling.
Lastly, cleaning suede sneakers is more or less the same process. We outline it a bit more in the above linked article if you want to learn more.
As always, thanks for reading.