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How To Clean Nubuck Shoes

14 October 2023

Imagine this: you're out and about, showing off your handsome pair of nubuck leather boots, or a stunning pair of nubuck shoes, and the unthinkable happens - a drink gets spilled, or food plops down onto your shoe. Or, your favorite fountain pen leaks, dripping ink on your footwear. Maybe you cut yourself, or get a nosebleed, speckling your boots with droplets of blood.

Perhaps it's not quite as dramatic as this, and your perfect pair of nubuck leather shoes has simply built up a coat of grime from constant use.

All of these are very possible and very real scenarios, and there are dozens more besides. Each one has people Googling "how to clean nubuck leather boots", or similar.

At the Leather Colour Doctor, we have a wealth of experience in this field, and we'd like to share some of our knowledge with you.

So, here's some helpful advice on how to clean suede and nubuck shoes.

Cleaning nubuck shoes

What Is Nubuck Leather?

First, we'll look at this amazing material to learn a little more about it, as this lets us understand it better and figure out the best cleaning methods.

Nubuc is a type of leather similar to suede, but it's taken from the outer part of the top of the hide rather than the inside, making it tougher and more resilient. It's similar to full-grain leather, but the surface is buffed and sanded down to produce a nap made of short protein fibers. With suede, the inner layer is sanded, although both suede and nubuck require more care and attention than other materials, like smooth leather.

Therefore, while Nubuck is more durable and fairly water-resistant, it is still porous and can stain easily.

Because of this, it needs special treatment to keep it looking its best and to protect it from damage.

When your suede or nubuck shoes have become dirty and stained, it's natural to worry that they're ruined or that they'll never look as they once did. However, there are ways of cleaning nubuck and suede that will have your favorite footwear looking as good as new!

Dig Deeper: How To Clean Suede Shoes

Nubuck shoes 1

How To Remove Dirt

Although it's best to avoid wearing nubuck and suede outdoors when it's very wet, you can't always avoid it, especially in colder and wetter weather.

The problem is that water and nubuck leather don't mix well; water stains spoil their appearance and can cause permanent damage.

Even so, a few splashes won't hurt, but this often leaves spots of mud that need to be dealt with.

The best way to do this is to let the shoes dry out completely - working on wet shoes risks forcing dirt further into the porous surface, making it harder to shift.

Place the shoes in a well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight (as this can make the material harden) and leave them to dry naturally. To speed things up, use paper towels (white only!) to mop up any excess moisture. You can use a hairdryer, but only on a cool setting, and don't hold the nozzle too close to the surface, or it will damage the leather.

Removing Dirt

Use A Nubuck Brush

When fully dry, take a nubuck brush and gently rub away any surface dirt and grit. A medium-firm clean toothbrush will also do the job if you have an old one spare.

Brush in the direction of the nap, and don't use too much pressure, or you could spoil the napped texture.

You should find that the accumulated dirt becomes loose and will fall off, leaving your shoes looking

fresh and clean.

Nubuck brush

Removing Light Stains

These are usually pretty straightforward to fix, and one of the best ways to do this is with a nubuck eraser (or suede eraser). This is different from a suede block (although they are also sometimes called erasers!), which is a small square of sandstone that works on the same principle as the rubber. Rubber brushes are also available, again, doing the same job.

Alternatively, you could use a pencil eraser, but make sure it's a white one!

Whichever one you choose to use, the process is exactly the same: brush the stained area lightly, moving in both directions. Don't press too hard, and keep working at it until the stain is gone. Some of these items will produce residue as you rub, so you might want to take this job outside or place sheets of newspaper down.

Go over the surface with a nubuck leather brush to restore the nap, and your shoes will look perfect once again.

Finally, you could invest in a nubuck cloth, specially designed for spot-cleaning and getting rid of surface dirt. This is for frequent, general cleaning and won't shift a stubborn stain.

Water Stains

As we already learned, water isn't good for nubuck leather and will leave stains.

These appear as tide marks across the leather, making the affected area seem darker than the rest. There's often a rough, jagged line where the stain ends, similar to the shape that a wave leaves on the beach - hence the name.

While it might seem contradictory, one of the best ways to deal with this problem is to add more water!

Using a spray bottle or damp cloth, work your way across the entire surface to dampen it lightly - it should not be saturated. Brush the surface gently with a suede brush (or toothbrush), then blot it with a dry cloth or paper towel.

Let the shoes or boots air dry, and apply a waterproofing spray to help avoid the problem in the future.

Salt Stains

Water on the street and in puddles often carries a lot of nasty stuff that can leave stains on your footwear. In winter, gritters spray our roads and footpaths to make them safer, but these salts dissolve and sit in surface water.

When that water gets on your shoes, it leaves white or brown crusty marks that look pretty awful.

Also, chromium salts are used in the processing of animal hides, including nubuck items, and some of the salt remains deep in the pores. As the shoes absorb water, the salt crystals dissolve and crystallize on the nubuck surface.

In either case, you can remove stains using these methods:

  • Get rid of loose salt deposits with a clean toothbrush or nubuck brush.
  • Use a clean cloth dipped in distilled white vinegar, and wipe it over the affected area in circular motions. The vinegar will dissolve the salt.
  • For heavier salt staining, dilute a couple of drops of laundry detergent or dishwashing liquid with warm water (this is adequate! Using any more than this could damage your boots or shoes), then dip a clean cloth in the mixture. Wring the cloth out until it is slightly damp, then wipe the stain gently until it disappears.
  • If the shoes are still damp, stuff them with crumpled newspaper and leave them to dry naturally. Don't put them near a heat source like a radiator, as this will make them stiffen or crack.
Salt stain in Nubuck Shoes

Tackling Tough Stains

When the worst happens, and your nubuck or suede footwear gets badly stained, it's time to act swiftly.

Deal with the problem as soon as you can, as this increases the chances of success. The longer you leave it, the harder it will be to shift!

For wet stains, mop up as much excess liquid as you can before you deal with the stain itself.

Oil And Grease Stains

There are few things worse than getting oil or grease stains on your beautiful nubuck leather shoes!

However, it's not the end of the world, and you should be able to resolve the problem without too much fuss.

If it hasn't dried out yet, try sprinkling cornflour (baby powder or baking powder work as well) over the area and leave it for an hour or so to soak up the excess oil. Use a hand-held vacuum cleaner to remove the powder, or remove it with a soft-bristled brush.

Next, apply a small amount of white vinegar to the oily patch using a soft cloth. The cloth should be damp, not soaking wet - wring it out if necessary. Rub the damp cloth over the affected area in a circular motion and allow the vinegar to break down the oil.

Repeat this process until the stain has gone.

As with salt staining, dishwashing liquid mixed with cold water might help, but only use a maximum of two drops.

If you have a shoe tree, this will make this process easier and help your boots or shoes to keep their shape.

Other Stains

So, how do you handle that ink stain? What about that espresso that splashed on your shoe or the sticky dessert that dripped, leaving nasty marks on your nubuck boots?

Again, we can turn to our old friend, vinegar, for the answer! Follow the instructions as described above, and the stain should go. You may have to repeat the process several times to make sure.

As a last resort, the dishwashing liquid method should shift the stain, but you need to be very careful not to use too much.

Cleaning the nubuck shoes using nubuck brush

What About Tougher Stains?

There comes a time, sadly, when you have to admit defeat.

Maybe your home remedies have met with limited success, and it looks like your shoes are ruined.

When this happens, you may need some expert help! Don't give in just yet, as the Leather Colour Doctor has a range of excellent products and offers professional advice on leather care.

For example, our leather degreaser will get rid of stubborn oil and grease, and our nubuck/suede dye will restore your nubuck shoes to their former glory. In fact, we have a suede/nubuck cleaner that's perfect for the job! And to preserve your precious footwear for the future, you can apply our excellent protector spray. This increases water repellency, so your shoes won't suffer from unsightly tide marks.

Our products can handle the toughest stains, so keep us in mind when you need a helping hand.

The Leather Colour Doctor - Professional Leather Care Products

As immortalized by Elvis in his hit, Blue Suede Shoes, suede, and nubuck footwear is ever-popular, but those who own them know that they pick up stains very easily.

The Leather Colour Doctor makes it easy to care for suede and nubuck shoes (or any other type of leather item!), so do check out the amazing selection of products on our website.

These are trade-quality products developed by professionals with decades of experience. And they're available to you at affordable prices! Home remedies are great, and a sensible way to save money. But for the best results every time, choose the Leather Colour Doctor.

High Quality Leather Care Products

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