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How To Clean Suede Shoes

12 October 2023

Suede shoes are a popular choice for the discerning footwear buyer. Using the softer underside of the leather hide, they offer a softer and more luxurious feel.

Although most people wear suede shoes in a casual setting rather than for formal occasions, this increases the risk of getting them dirty. And the more you wear them, the more likely they are to become grimy or pick up stains.

If your prized suede footwear has fallen victim to stubborn stains and scuff marks, don't despair! With a little help and advice from The Leather Colour Doctor, they'll look as good as new.

So, let's get down to business with our expert guide to cleaning suede shoes.

cleaning suede shoes

How Do You Clean Suede Shoes?

Our first tip is this: be careful about searching for advice online! Anything that recommends using standard shoe creams, oils, or polishes should be ignored. Using these products is a sure way to ruin your shoes. Likewise, don't listen to 'experts' who advise using soap and water or harsh household cleaners.

Water is one of the very worst things for suede shoes unless they've had a protector spray applied. Even then, it's never wise to soak the entire shoe as it could alter its color and appearance, leaving unsightly spots or marks. The trouble is that suede absorbs water easily, and water stains are just as bad as any other and may spoil the velvety texture.

Instead, take note of the following tips on cleaning suede shoes, and all will be well.

Discover: How To Care For Leather Boots

How To Get Rid Of Caked-On Mud

If a little mud gets splashed onto your shoes, it's best to wait until it is completely dried out before tackling it. To speed up the process, hang the shoes up somewhere so the air can get to them and use a fan to dry them out. You can use a hairdryer, but only on a cooler setting, and don't put the nozzle too close, or you could ruin the suede! Also, never leave them in direct sunlight.

Using a suede brush or toothbrush (medium firmness is best), gently brush the surface of the shoe to loosen the dirt. Use regular strokes, first moving in one direction to remove any grit, then sweep the brush back and forth across the shoe. Don't press too hard, or you could mark the surface. Eventually, all the loose dirt will fall off, leaving the surface clean.

If the mud has left stains or is refusing to shift with a suede brush or toothbrush, you can try using steam power!

If you have a steamer, that's great, but a kettle or steam iron would also work just as well. Hold the shoe a few inches away from the device (taking care not to scald yourself!) and allow steam to play over the surface of the shoe for about 20 seconds.

Try brushing it again, and the remaining dirt should fall off without a problem. Wipe the surface of the shoe with a clean microfibre cloth, and your suede shoes will be beautifully clean.

Removing Light Stains

If your suede shoes are only lightly soiled, you could get away with brushing them with a suede brush or toothbrush. Surface dirt is pretty easy to remove, and that may be all you need to do.

Suede is a natural material with a very porous surface, so you might need to brush a little harder to remove dirt that's made its way into these tiny holes.

Brushing is a good way to start the cleaning process, anyway; this will remove surface dirt and grit that could scratch and scuff the shoe as you clean.

Removing Light Stains on suede shoes

Use A Suede Rubber/Suede Eraser

If spots and light stains are still visible after brushing, try using an eraser or suede rubber. You can buy these at most supermarkets or hardware stores, or even online, and they generally cost a few quid.

Alternatively, a pencil eraser will do the trick! Always make sure the rubber is clean before you use it (rub it vigorously on some paper to get a clean edge), and always choose a white one.

Gently rub the surface with the suede rubber or pencil eraser until the marks have disappeared. You can apply a bit of pressure if necessary, as this won't do any harm.

Please note that this process could take a while, so be patient. It will create a bit of a mess, so you might want to do this outside or maybe put some newspaper down first.

Use A Suede Eraser

Dealing With Stubborn Stains

When you're out and about, there's always the danger of something nasty dropping on your shoe. Whether it's a scrap of food, a blob of sauce or mustard, a splash of drink (red wine is a common foe!), or some other offending matter, it looks awful and threatens to ruin your prized footwear!

But there's no need to panic: you can remove stains with a bit of effort and ingenuity, in most cases.

Dealing With Stubborn Stains

Oil Or Grease Stains

These are the worst! They look bad, and you might think your suede boots or shoes are history.

However, there are a few suede cleaning methods that can remove stubborn stains like this, such as white vinegar or rubbing alcohol.

Put a very small amount of distilled white vinegar or rubbing alcohol onto a microfibre cloth and rub the affected area. Lightly dampen the area, but don't soak the material. Unlike water, it won't damage or mark the suede as it evaporates, but it's still unwise to saturate it.

Brush the area when completely dry, using a suede cleaning brush (an old toothbrush or clean nail brush would also work).

Repeat the process if necessary, and your shoes should come up like new!

If there is an excessive amount of oil or grease, try sprinkling a small amount of cornflour over the stain and leaving it for an hour or two to soak up the grease. You can brush away the cornflour, or you might prefer to use a hand-held vacuum cleaner. Once this is done, use a suede brush to restore the nap.

Other Stains

Beetroot, blood, red wine, curry (especially containing turmeric!), tomato-based food - all of these are enemies of suede, especially if your shoes or boots are a lighter shade! And the list of foes doesn't end there, by any means.

Accidents happen all too easily, and suddenly you've got a dark stain on your perfect boots.

The best way to tackle tough stains is to try the method suggested above for oil or grease stains. First, it's best to blot the area with a paper towel to get rid of any remaining residue. Don't hesitate, as the sooner you act, the easier the stain will be to deal with.

Get rid of as much dirt and muck as you can, then use the white vinegar or rubbing alcohol method.

Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide is a very effective method of stain removal and is ideal for removing small spots of blood or ink, but you must do this with care. Dip a clean cloth into a shallow bowl containing hydrogen peroxide and ring it out.

Dab the damp cloth onto the affected area until it is lightly wet but not saturated. The chemical will evaporate naturally, but you can accelerate this process by pressing the area with a dry cloth or paper towel (make sure the towel is white and not patterned!).


Washing Up Liquid

Also called dish soap (mostly in the US) or detergent, this should be a last resort and needs to be used sparingly. Apply a tiny amount onto the stain - and we mean tiny; one drop will be plenty! - and work it into the area to break down the dirt.

Dampen a soft cloth and gently blot the area to remove the soap and stain residue. Let the suede shoe dry out and brush it to lift the fibers.

How Do You Clean Suede Trainers?

While it's possible that suede trainers might be more vulnerable to stains, there's no reason why any of the above methods shouldn't work!

And for these, or any other suede shoes, the Leather Colour Doctor suede cleaner is perfect for the job.

Clean Suede Trainers

Top Tips To Keep Your Suede Shoes Looking Great

Now you know how to clean suede shoes, but there are ways to keep them looking like new and make them last for many years. As experts in leather and suede, we have gathered many helpful tips that we are happy to share with you here:

Keep Your Suede Shoes Looking Great

Avoid Wearing Suede Shoes In Heavy Rain

This is worse in winter when the roads and paths have been gritted, as salt stains can be a real problem to shift. Consider investing in a good quality suede protector spray, as this will prevent staining and make it much easier to keep your suede shoes clean.

Never Wash Suede Shoes In A Washing Machine!

Yes, some people do this - and usually, they regret it instantly. There are websites that explain how it can be done, but the process is very involved, and success is not guaranteed.

Always Use A Clean Cloth

Don't grab any filthy old clothes that you've used for cleaning the car or dusting your home. These will have ingrained dirt that will transfer onto your shoes, causing further staining.

Always Use A Clean Cloth

Avoid Cleaning Suede Shoes When They Are Wet

It's important to wait until they are dry, or you might strip away the velvet texture of the nap. You could also push the stain deeper into the material or spread it further!

Use A Shoe Tree

This helps to keep their shape while you clean them. Crumpled newspapers also work well.

The Leather Colour Doctor - For All Your Leather Care Needs

If anyone knows how to clean suede shoes, it's The Leather Colour Doctor.

We have an amazing range of products, including a specialist suede protectant spray and suede cleaning solution, so be sure to check these out.

Our extensive knowledge and experience in leather care allow you to keep all of your leather and suede goods in fantastic condition.

High Quality Leather Care Products

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