Many people are scared of wearing suede shoes. Many think suede leather is delicate and needs to be babied. That a few drops of water will ruin their shoes for good.
This is far from the truth. Suede is a robust material that can take a beating. It's much harder to scratch or scuff than a polished smooth leather shoe. It doesn't need any shoe polish to look good. You never have to worry about a mirror or simple shine on your suede. Here is a post about cleaning where we hit some suede sneakers that made it through three Canadian winters!
This article is going to go over the most basics elements of suede care and cleaning. That is proper and regular brushing. We'll give you everything you need to know to perform your routine suede maintenance, whether that's suede boots or suede shoes.
A close up of the two brushes you'll be using most often on your suede goods.
Two things to note before we begin.
First, this article is about brushing and regular maintenance, not deep cleaning. We'll provide additional information on using suede cleaner, heavy cleaning, and stubborn stains in another article. Hint: you don't use diluted vinegar as some (misguided) people suggest.
Second, what we say in this article about suede also applies to nubuck and other suede items. Whether thats a belt, a bag, or a wallet.
Nubuck is also a textured leather, similar to suede. It has been processed to have a finer nap (more on this later) so it is in fact a touch more delicate but not by much. It will feel a little bit softer and almost silkier to the touch. Nubuck shoes are popular because of the fantastic look and feel they can provide.
Without further ado, let's get into it.
Routine Suede maintenance: Brushing & Shoe Trees
All shoe care, regardless of what type of leather, involves brushing and shoe trees. As well as basics such as using shoe horn and letting your shoes rest.
Shoe trees help your shoes keep their shape. They help prevent creasing. They help them last longer by absorbing excess moisture. They even keep them smelling fresher longer (from the above).
Some people think that suede shoes can get stretched out when they use shoe trees in them. this isn't the case. Suede has great tensile strength. It's still leather after all. Some inferior cheaper suede can be so thin as to be more easily stretched. A high quality suede shoe will perform like it's smooth leather counter parts.
The other staple is brushing. Brushing helps remove surface dirt and dust. It provides gentle cleaning and lessens scuff marks. It also activates and distributes shoe care products. It is absolutely indispensable for all leather shoe care.
For suede, there are three types of brushes. All have different pro's and con's. Let's discuss them.
A Horsehair Brush
A close up of one of our horse hair brushes. Look at how lofty and generous the bristles are, not to mention plentiful. Brushing with one of these does wonders for any shoe.
This is your standard shoe brush. This is the first brush you pick up when you get any type of leather shoes. Works well for smooth leather care and it works well for suede.
A quality brush will have bristles made from horse hair. It has the right amount of stiffness to do the job. The natural fibres are also hollow core, which means they are moisture wicking. Nylon bristles, found in cheaper makes, don't cut it. The nylon bristles aren't as strong as the horse hair. Nylon bristles also aren't a natural hollow core fibre so you lose out of the moisture regulating element.
We carry a wide range of horse hair brushes from Saphir. Any of them would work well for suede and nubuck. We recommend using different brushes for your suede and your smooth leather. This is so that none of the cream polish or paste wax from your other shoes transfers onto your suede.
A horse hair brush is perfect for regular use. It removes excess dirt and provides a nice gentle cleaning. It is the most versatile suede shoe brush. It is something we recommend starting with the majority of the time.
The soft bristles work dirt and dust off your shoe with a bit of a flicking motion. You should brush your shoes back and forth with this brush, same as you would on smooth leather.
It's wonderful for touching up your shoes when they only need a little attention. Again, think regular maintenance.
The draw back is that it isn't a suede cleaning brush per se. It lacks the power to really get out stains or dirt that has settled in. This is why it's a great suede brush, and not the only suede brush you should own.
Brass Suede brush
Saphir Beauté Du Cuir Brass Brush. Notice how there is a row of firm brass bristles in the middle and then an exterior ring of horse hair. The most aggressive of suede brushes.
Some suede brushes will come with brass bristles. They are the same in theory to the horse hair brush. The brass is a much stronger version though.
These bristles are very stiff. A brass brush will usually have a combo of horse hair and brass. They will also have this flicking motion although it is amplified.
Since this brush is so much more aggressive, it can work out deeper dirt and scuffs. It also is so stiff that it restores the nap of your suede. Suede is made up of many tiny little hairs. Think of something similar to your tongue. These hairs get knotted up, matted down, and lose their volume over time. From the creasing motion of walking, from rubbing against things, etc.
A close up of some Crockett & Jones Suede Cavendish loafers. Notice how "hairy" and textured the leather is. These hairs are the "nap" that we refer to above. Brushing helps align these hairs and stand them up.
Using a stiff brass brush helps "re-fluff" the suede by that strong flicking motion. You can use the same back and forth motion as above. If you're using it on stains or scuffs you can also try using it in a circular motion. The same way you'd brush your teeth.
Used on its on these brushes can get out lots of trouble spots. Used in conjunction with a suede eraser they can do even more!
Saphir Medaille d'Or makes a fantastic brass brush.
A Crepe Brush
Saphir medaille d'Or Crepe suede brush up close.
This is the most unique of all the brushes. It is made out of crepe, which is a natural rubber made from a compound found in the aptly named rubber tree.
This crepe is stiff and sticky. If you've never used one before it doesn't even seem like a brush. It has a firm feel and action to it. Its hard almost like a suede eraser.
You're not so much brushing as you are dragging it against the suede. It acts a bit like a leather cleaner, dragging dirt and stains out of the leather.
The cleaning action here is coming from the friction created by the brush. While the other two are flicking, this is pulling. While it is cleaning the suede it's also using that friction to restore the nap. Like the brass brush this "re-fluffs" the nap and gives it it's volume back.
A close up of the above crepe brush. Notice the texture of the crepe. Amplified by its undulating pattern.
It feels strange to use at first since it doesn't glide around your boots the same way as the other two will. It works wonders though.
The Saphir Medaille d'Or Crepe brush is made from all-natural crepe. It is also made in a pattern that increases it's surface area while maintaining stiffness.
Note that since crepe is a natural rubber it wears away with use. Crepe brushes need to be replaced when they've been worn down. We find this usually takes a couple of years of very regular use so don't worry.
A brand new brush on the left. Our tried and true shop brush on the right that has been used for countless services. The one of the right still works fantastically and has lots of life left. This is to show how they age. This is a normal progression.
The Crepe brush should be used regularly. It's great for restoring the nap and making suede look fresh again.
We recommend having one dedicated horse hair brush for suede and at least one Crepe or Brass brush. Given how different they all are owning all three makes sense if you enjoy wearing suede shoes or boots often.
Suede makes the perfect formal or causal shoe. it's texture makes it interesting and its finish makes it easy to maintain. With these simple tips above your footwear will be looking as good as ever.
A quick note on brushing order before we close.
Brushing with an eraser or Crepe can leave behind a bit of a residue on your suede. This is small bits of eraser or Crepe. They trap in dirt and sometimes get caught in the texture of the suede. This is completely normal.
So we always recommend giving your shoes a final brushing with a horse hair brush to take care of that.