How to care for suede shoes
June 09, 2023

How to care for suede shoes

The Appeal of Suede Shoes

With their distinctive look and soft velvety texture, suede shoes present a unique shoe-wearing experience that is soft and luxurious. Yet, suede has been on the receiving end of unflattering assumptions surrounding its durability and maintenance. With the perception that it is easily scratched and stained, many have opted against suede shoes out of fear of their durability (or lack thereof). But, for suede (like other types of leather): the more you care for it, the longer it will last.


Read on to understand what are suede shoes, and how to clean, repair and store them properly to make suede shoes last!


What are Suede Shoes? 

What is suede?

cuts of leather
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Suede is a form of leather that is characterised by its soft velvety look. Specifically, suede is made from the underside of animal hide, where the surface contains small fibres that are sanded to create its trademark soft and smooth surface. However, since suede is made from the underside of the hide, this means it is typically not as naturally tough as the other forms of leather made from the outside of the animal hide. 

Consequentially, compared to other forms of leather, suede is thinner and more porous. These properties make suede stain more easily as the open pores more readily absorb dirt and liquid it comes into contact with.


How durable?

Does this mean that suede is a very delicate fabric with limited durability? Not necessarily. While suede does tend to stain more easily than other fabrics, with the proper measures taken to clean and store suede products, they should last just as long as other types of leather. 

Also, the reduced durability does not come as a total loss. Rather, the reduced durability comes with improved flexibility, which also brings about other benefits.


Is suede waterproof?

No, suede is very easily stained by water due to its porosity. To prevent potential water stains, there are some finishes that can be used to improve the water resistance. Still, such efforts will introduce an additional layer upon the suede, which can take away some of the texture of the raised fibres.

To be safe, do avoid wearing suede shoes and boots in the rain.


Tools and supplies


How to Clean Suede Shoes?

Cleaning supplies for Suede Shoes

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General Principles
  1. Do not put suede shoes in the washing machine.
  2. Do not wash suede shoes with water or soap – Suede is a water-sensitive material, making it susceptible to water damage due to its porosity as water stains will set in the fabric.  
Suede shoe cleaning

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The frequency of this routine differs based on how often you wear the suede shoe. A good principle to follow is that for regular all-day wear, clean every 1-2 weeks; whereas for irregular use, cleaning once a month will suffice.
Generally, there are five main steps: (a) Set up the shoe to prevent damage inflicted whilst cleaning, (b) Dry brush dirt and debris, (c) Erase stains, (d) Brush again, and (e) Finishing Spray.


(a) Set-Up

Arden Teal Cedar Shoe Tree

Before cleaning your suede shoe, insert a Shoe Tree to retain its shape during the cleaning process. Alternatively, you can also stuff your shoes with crumpled newspapers if there are no Shoe Trees available.

  • Do not start cleaning when the suede shoe is still wet, allow it to dry first or risk causing water stains to appear.
  • Do not dry the suede shoe with a dryer. Just let them naturally dry by airing them out under/in front of a fan.


(b) Brush away dirt/debris

 Suede Brush

The Suede Brush is great at removing dried stains (such as mud) and minor scuff marks. It contains two sides of bristles: Rubber and Nylon with Steel insets. The rubber bristles are meant for frequent brushing and general maintenance of the suede fibres. As for the Nylon bristles, they can be used to loosen and detach dirt confined in the suede fibres. If a Suede Brush is unavailable, a toothbrush or a clean cloth is the next best thing. Still, be careful when selecting a toothbrush, as using those with overly tough bristles might damage the suede. 


Once you have ensured that your shoes are completely dry, begin the cleaning process by using the Suede Brush to brush away dirt and debris on the surface of the shoe. Be careful not to press too hard or else you might damage the suede material – the pressure you exert should be closer to brushing teeth than to washing dishes. Also, try your best to consistently brush in the same direction to keep the suede fibres (known as the ‘nap’) uniform. Regardless of whichever direction you brush, finish by brushing in line with the natural grain to maintain the signature smooth finish of the suede shoe.


Take note: During the brushing process, the shoe colour tends to change slightly, but the colouration should return to normal soon enough.


(c) Rub away surface marks

Suede Eraser

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For hard-to-tackle stains (Eg. watermarks) that could not be removed by the brush, use a Suede Eraser or pencil eraser to gently rub them off. This time, apply more pressure than before – just be careful not to damage the fabric with excessive strength.

(d) Brush again

Brush again in a uniform direction.

(e) Apply a water-resistant spray. 

water resistant spray

Typically, the spray should be immediately applied on the shoe while it is still new and uncontaminated by the outdoors. The water-resistant or water-proof spray will help minimise the damage caused by water stains, which are the most common form of damage inflicted upon suede shoes. Thus, after the entire cleaning process, it will be good to replenish the layer of water resistance.


How to Repair Suede Shoes?

repairing suede shoes

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General Principle

Before using any product on the suede show, test a tiny bit on a small and inconspicuous area of your shoes to get an idea of what it does. In case the product is incompatible with or damages the shoe, the shoe can still be salvaged.


How to Fix a Scratch on Suede Shoes?

Scratches can show up quite easily on suede, so it is important to know the many options you can take to repair them.

  • For small scratches, you can either (a) rub your finger over it to try and buff it out or (b) take a suede brush and gently brush the suede fibres. This might adjust the fibres enough to cover the scratch and make them less visible. 
  • As for the deeper scratches, you may need to apply some suede conditioner to the scratch and the surrounding area, then buff it out. If that still fails, use a leather filler kit to cover up the scratch.


If all else fails, you can also take your suede shoes to a leather expert and let them do what they do best.


How to Fix Specific Stains on Suede Shoes?
suede shoe stains

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  • Water Stains: 
    • For small areas: Once the stain dries naturally, gently use a Suede Brush to rub across the affected area. Be careful not to use excessive strength! 
    • For large wet stains or muddy spots: Dry and clean the affected areas with a paper towel/tissue. Then, use a Suede Brush to rub across the affected area. If a waterproof spray had been used beforehand, the stain should disappear relatively easily.
  • Oil and Grease Stains: Sprinkle cornstarch over the affected area, and allow it to sit for 2-5 hours. Use a micro-fibre cloth to gently wipe away any remains (Note: Try not to use a Suede Brush, or risk ruining the brush bristles).
  • Gum/Wax: Place the shoes in the freezer until the gum or wax hardens. The frozen gum or wax can then be peeled or scraped off the shoe.
  • Blood Stains: Take a cotton ball or clean towel, and dip it in hydrogen peroxide. Then, gently dab the affected area. Allow the shoe to dry naturally, and then repeat the process until the stain disappears.

How to Store Suede Shoes?

Shoe storage

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Before storing your suede shoes, use a shoe tree or stuff old newspaper on the inside of your shoes. These efforts will help maintain the integrity and shape of your shoes. Next, place them in a specialist shoe bag or wrap them in tissue paper and put them in a shoebox. 


Store them somewhere cool and dry as suede might start to mold under high humidity. Also, keep them away from heat and direct sunlight to prevent the colour from fading and damaging the suede material.


Suede Shoes – At a Glance

Arden Teal suede shoes

Left: Gregores Navy Suede Penny Moccasins | Centre: Carlo Suede Tassel Loafers - Pecan | Right: Isidro Stone Suede Sneakers


Now that you know the proper way to clean, repair and store suede shoes, their maintenance should no longer be such a large barrier stopping you from owning your own pair! After all, with proper care and maintenance, a pair of suede shoes will provide a unique touch that is sure to spice up any one of your outfits.