It happens to every guy at some point in their life. You buy a slick new pair of suede shoes or suede boots, peacock strut out the door, and BAM. Disaster strikes. Maybe it’s a sunny day that turns into a sudden downpour. Or a flatulent seagull when you’re flexing on the boardwalk. Even just a truck that splashes slushy, salty muck on your new prize. Now you need to learn how to clean suede shoes.
Whether it’s a tragic accident or years of wear, it’s inevitable that you’ll need to bring your suede shoes back from the dead one day. When that day comes, you’ll want to be prepared. There are so many old wives’ tales and urban legends out there about how to clean suede shoes at home that it can be hard to know what’s right and what’s outdated nonsense.
Luckily, I did diligent research on the best ways to clean suede shoes that have been through any type of hell. Just keep this guide on deck for whenever life drops a load of crap on your feet… Quite literally, sometimes.
Suede shoes are one of those things every man needs on deck, so don’t let yours fade away. Just scroll down and prepare to keep your footwear clean.
Keeping suede shoes looking like new doesn’t need to be an insurmountable task (or a reason to buy a new pair of shoes). Remember to keep suede dry and mostly away from the elements, rain, and salt especially, but if you do get them wet, stuff them with newspaper and let them dry before trying to clean them.
My favorite cleaning and protective products are from Saphir, but make sure to test the product in a small area at the back of the heel before using anything. If you don’t want to invest in cleaning products, diluted vinegar and water can work as well (still test first).
Waiting is almost always a pain but it’s worth it so you don’t have to shell out more money to replace the shoes you just ruined. If you happen to get the shoes dirty it’s worth investing in some kind of bristle brush to sweep away any debris as well (like this one from Løci). Finally, it is always worth protecting your shoes before you get them dirty (check out this one from Saphir to get you started).
What you’ll need
Cleaning chemists have come up with some pretty incredible suede cleaning innovations over the years. They’ve taken true steps forward in human history with such achievements and created inventions we could only dream of.
Seriously though, there are only a few select supplies you will ever need to keep your suede shoes looking fresh and nearly brand new.
Also, keep in mind that the cleaning process will be different with suede clothes, so don’t try these shoe/boot cleaning methods with any non-footwear suedes in your closet.
Depending on the type of stain, you will need any number of these tools:
Saphir Crepe Brush
Saphir Suede Eraser
Micro Fibre Towel
Bounty Paper Towel
Hydior 2oz Clear
Glass Spray Bottles
How To Clean Suede Shoes at Home
As a precursor, if your shoes are freshly stained and still wet, you’re going to need to dry them off. You can’t move on with any other steps until they’re fully dried. To speed it up, you can press some paper towels against the suede lightly to absorb some wetness. Do not rub with the towel. Press and dab only.
Once fully dry, the next steps will vary from stain to stain. The most notorious types of stains are covered below, so whatever your shoe diagnosis, you should be set.
1. Dirt or mud
Step 1: If your suede shoes have dry dirt or mud caked on them, use your suede brush or crepe brush to carefully wipe away all the excess buildup on the shoe. Just make sure you’re brushing in one direction, not scrubbing back and forth.
Step 2: If there are marks on the shoe where the mud and dirt was (there probably will be), you’re going to want to bust out your suede eraser. A classic pencil eraser will actually work too. Yup, just like the one you used in grade school.
Step 3: Rub the eraser against the spot that’s discolored. You might have to apply a bit more pressure than you think, so don’t be scared to lean into it a little. In a few minutes, you should start seeing good results.
Step 4: For good measure, bust your brush back out and give it a good once over if it doesn’t look perfect. This will fluff up the suede nicely, and again (say it with me, class), only brush in one direction. For guys with mud or dirt stains, you should be ready to hit the streets.
2. Oil or grease
For suede lovers who enjoy cooking and/or eating, oil and grease stains can be true bastards. When you have a nasty oil spot sinking into your shoe, you need something stronger than just a cool brush and an eraser.
When it comes to how to clean suede shoes at home, you probably have some white vinegar or rubbing alcohol around that will work great. Otherwise, you’re going to have to buy a specialized cleaner. Just make sure you read the instructions because some call for water while some don’t.
We know everyone (including us) says not to use water on suede stains, but don’t panic if the instructions call to dilute your cleaner with water. As long as it’s mixed correctly, your shoes will be 100% safe. If it’s an extra watery solution, make sure to stuff some paper towels in your footwear to maintain its shape.
Step 1: Some cleaners ask you to dip a soft brush or cloth directly in the solution, which is also the case if you’re opting to use white vinegar and rubbing alcohol. With both home cleaners and store-bought, rub the dipped brush or cloth softly into the stain. Don’t mash it in, but you’ll still want to give it a good rub.
Other cleaners have you rub the product all over the shoe. Just follow the directions on your bottle, and you’ll be safe. Don’t cover the shoe in white vinegar or rubbing alcohol. This is only the case with certain cleaners, and they will make it clear. Again, if you opt to buy a cleaner, read the directions.
Step 2: Let the shoe dry all day or overnight to be safe. DO NOT HEAT THEM UP. It won’t speed up the process, and it can totally screw your shoe. When it’s dry, give them a buffing with a clean towel to get some texture back into your beloved, freshly cleaned pair.
Salt stains are nearly unavoidable in the winter months. If your shoes have salt problems, just grab any suede cleaner or white vinegar.
Step 1: Follow the directions on the bottle for the cleaners. Some call for a mixture with water, and some just want straight cleaner. If you opted for vinegar, just mix equal parts water and white vinegar in a bowl for the correct salt solution.
Step 2: Dip a clean, dry towel in your cleaner of choice and wipe the boots gently, with some extra emphasis on the problem areas. You want to get the shoe a little damp, but avoid soaking it. Remember not to go too hard, or you can damage the suede.
Step 3: Now just let the shoes dry throughout the day or overnight. When they’re finally dry, bust out your towel or suede brush to give them a little once over. This will get the suede back to its fluffy self.
Water makes suede owners sweat, but it’s also one of the easier stains to deal with. You might be surprised how easy it is. All you’ll likely need here is a brush and eraser.
Step 1: If the stains aren’t widely spread, just brush your shoe lightly in one direction with your suede brush (never scrub). If that doesn’t completely fix it, take out your suede eraser and brush for a few minutes. Don’t be afraid to put a little extra pressure on the eraser; just don’t go overboard, or you can damage the suede.
The next option may seem insane and totally counterproductive, but it will work if the stains are widely spread.
Step 1: Fill a little spray bottle with water, and give your footwear friends a light spritzing, barely more than a mist. Remember, you don’t want them anywhere close to soaked.
Step 2: Lightly brush the newly misted shoes, and leave them out to dry for the day or overnight. Once dried, have one more go at them with the brush or a clean towel for fluffage, and they should be looking slick as ever.
5. Scuff Marks
If you have scuffs, you can use your suede eraser (or any pencil eraser that’s been collecting dust) to buff them out and clear up any problems. You always want to clean a stain as soon as possible, but the scuffs won’t soak in like salt, oil, or other liquids, so it’s not instant emergency status.
Step 1: Don’t scrub or brush too hard because you’ll just damage your shoes. A good light brushing motion should be enough to do the trick.
Step 2: Gently knock off any eraser residue with your suede brush, and chances are your shoes will be scuff-free and looking fresh.
Keep in mind that cuts/scratches and scuffs are different. If your suede has been scratched lightly, this buffing method will work. If the material itself is split, you’re hit. You can use glues and fillers, but they’ll never look new again.
White Vinegar and rubbing alcohol are both household items that can clean your distressed suede shoes (they work separately, so don’t mix these two). Just pour either on a clean cloth and give the stain a rub.
Let that dry, and then you should be able to brush it with a dry towel until the suede is nice and fluffy. But most importantly, not stained. Feel free to spray it down with some suede-saver spray—I’ve always relied on this Kiwi spray myself (it works on any material). Waterproofing will help save your suede in the future. Well, from stains, at least.
No. Plain and simple. That is not how to clean suede shoes. Please don’t do it. If you rub them down with water, or god forbid, toss them in a washing machine, you’re going to create way more problems for yourself and might as well buy a new pair.
Unless you’re specifically cleaning water stains, do not use water by itself to clean suede shoes. There are some products you can mix with water that will do the trick, but just tossing water on your already damaged shoes is a blue suede death sentence.
Water can clean suede shoes, but only if the stain you’re cleaning is a water stain. It makes sense if you think about it. Just mist the shoes with a spray bottle and let them dry all day or overnight (DON’T heat them in any way to speed things up unless you want ruined shoes).
When they’re dry, give them a good once over with your suede brush, only brushing away from you and not scrubbing. That should take care of any stains and fluff them back to standard.
If the water stains persist, give it some rubs with your eraser, then one more go with the suede brush or dry towel for a final fluff.