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How To Care For Suede

Looks / Style Advice October 10 2018

Simply put, suede is the inside of a leather hide.

The outer leather is the sleeker, more robust side with a smooth texture. Suede is the softer, more delicate side of leather with a raised nap texture. One's town, one's country. They're heads & tails of the same thing. But, do you feel lucky? What's the most you've ever lost in a coin toss? Don't leave caring for suede down to chance, partner. The proper way to care for suede is here, no cowboy advice, just the facts.

There's a misconception about suede being very difficult. What we have here is a failure to communicate the intricacies of suede care properly. So to clarify, suede doesn't need mollycoddling, it has its own care methods just like cotton, leather, wool or linen has. And like those, you just need to be smart about the conditions you wear it in.


The Good - Easy Prevention

Caring for suede shoes is like owning a good horse. They need brushing, shelter from the wet, protection from the heat and the chance at recovery at the end of each day.

New Suede Shoes

  1. When you take your suede boots or shoes home, use a clean soft bristled brush to lift the nap upwards. Brush the nap in an uniform direction.
  2. Get suede protector or water repellent spray. Remove the laces, put your shoes outside in the shade and spray the suede at a distance of about 300 - 500mm away (around 1 - 1.5 feet). Apply 3 layers but allow each application to dry completely before applying the next layer. Depending on the weather, the whole exercise will take around 1-2 hours. Put any laces back through the eyelets and you've done all you need to do. Repeat every year or so.


Standard leather footwear care also applies

  1. Let your shoes rest and dry out for at least 1-2 days after wearing them. Especially if they got caught in the rain. This allows the leather to dry out and relax.
  2. After your footwear gets through a rainy day, dry them out slowly until they're completely dry. Stuffing some bunches of newspaper inside will help draw the moisture from the leather and putting them somewhere stable and warm will help.
  3. Keep inside pressure on the leather. The nicest way to do this is with a cedar shoe tree which will keep the shoe in its original shape. If you find yourself with more shoes than shoe trees, again it's newspaper to the rescue, though this is not a long-term solution.

Hanging Suede
Suede Jackets or shirts need to rest too, make sure they aren't crumpled up or on a thin hanger. They should hand on a jacket hanger with good airflow and no moisture around them to prevent mold if being unworn for extended periods.



Threads
If your suede gets 'thready' feel free to snip the lengths off with nail clippers or use a razor and shave them away.

The Bad - Dirty Suede


A man's got to know his limitations, take your shoes to the professionals for cleaning or stain removal if the DIY approach doesn't appeal. Otherwise the process isn't too complicated, grab a couple of brushes and suede treatments and your suede will be back to it's best soon.

  1. Brush it off
    Gently use a stiff bristled brush to loosen and remove any dried-in debris. Being careful to cover the whole shoe.
  2. Suede Shampoo
    Apply a specialist suede shampoo. It works as a general purpose cleaner and will bring back the patina and feel of your suede at the same time as dislodging most of the remaining dirt. Follow the instructions on the bottle.
  3. Newspaper & Chill
    Leave somewhere outside in the breeze and shade to dry, fill your shoes with screwed up newspaper. The paper will absorb moisture away from the shoe and make for a more effective drying process. Replace the newspaper as needed.
  4. Brush it back
    Take a soft bristled brush and move the the patina in a uniform direction. With the raised nap, conditioner and waterproofing will apply much more effectively.
  5. Conditioner
    Apply a natural oil-based conditioner spray for suede. Spray 300 - 500mm away and allow to dry.
  6. Waterproof it.
    Get suede protector or water repellent spray. Remove the laces, put your shoes outside in the shade and spray the suede at a distance of about 300 - 500mm away to allow the proper dispersion of droplets. Apply 3 layers but allow each application to dry completely before applying the next layer. Depending on the weather, the whole exercise will take around 60-120 minutes. Put any laces back through and you've done all you need to do. Repeat every year or so.

The Ugly - Stains

It's a mess, ain't it Sheriff? These things happen. As a general rule, rubbing alcohol or clear vinegars can be used to remove most stains without much hassle. Always test it on an inconspicuous area first.

Blood - You gonna do somethin'? Or are you just gonna stand there and bleed? Depending on how long it takes to untie yourself and escape, immediately dab the blood with a paper towel to remove most of it before it absorbs. If you can get your hands on hydrogen peroxide (not household bleach) test it on an inconspicuous area first then if no reaction, apply sparingly to the blood.

Oil & Grease - As soon as possible, apply a small heap of talcum powder or cornflour directly and push gently into the stain. Leave it overnight and it'll absorb into the cornflour rather than the suede. Once it's dried, gently use a stiff brush to break off the dried up debris.

Wax or Chewing gum - Freeze it. Break the wax off in chunks with tweezers. Brush off the tiny particles.

Water - Fight fire with fire. Water stains need more water. Dampen the areas around the stain and the rest of the shoes to get a uniform tone then allow to dry in the shade.

Mud - Dry the shoes and break it off and brush off the remaining dust.