How to Clean Suede Shoes

Suede shoes are extremely stylish and always fashionable, but cleaning them is very tricky which is why a lot of people avoid them. If you’ve spilled something on them or got them dirty and don’t know how to properly clean them, they’ll retain a stained and frayed look which will make you want to put them back in the closet and never wear them again.  

Suede shoes are made out of a special type of leather coming from the underside of the animal skin, which is a very delicate material that tends to latch to whatever comes its way. The first thing you need to do once you purchase a new pair of suede shoes is to coat them with a suede protective spray to make them more resistant to dirt and spills.

The most important thing you need to know about cleaning your suede shoes is that water will alter their appearance and give them a stained look. Don’t put your suede shoes in the washer and don’t use water to clean them. Use the following methods instead.

The best way to clean suede shoes

The best way to clean suede shoes is, by far, investing in an inexpensive suede cleaning kit or a collection of dedicated suede care products. If you don’t have access to this type of products, you can use household products as alternatives, (which we’ll cover in the following sections), but if you want your suede shoes to last you a long time and keep them in pristine condition all the time, you’ll need the following products:

A suede cleaning kit

Our top 3 best suede cleaning kits recommendations are:

These suede cleaning kits contain everything you need to clean and maintain your suede shoes and you can check a detailed review of all of them in our best suede cleaning kit guide.

It’s easier and more comfortable to buy a whole cleaning kit instead of multiple accessories, but if you’re looking to buy them separately, here are the main products used and their purpose.

A Suede Cleaning Brush

You’ll need a suede cleaning brush not only to remove excess dirt but also to dull the suede so it can be penetrated by cleaning products. Some suede brushes have two separate sides, one for dirt removal and a rubber one for buffing up the suede, while some kits use two different brushes altogether.

Here are some great recommendations for suede cleaning brushes:

You can check detailed reviews of all suede cleaning brushes in our best suede cleaning brush review.

Suede cleaner

You can’t use a general shoe cleaner or a stain remover on suede shoes since some of their chemicals will harm the delicate suede leather. You’ll need to invest in a specialized suede cleaner, but it’s worth it since it will also help restore and condition your suede in addition to cleaning it.

Here are some great recommendations for suede cleaners:

You can check detailed reviews of all the suede cleaners in our best suede cleaner review.

Suede Stain Eraser

A suede eraser gets rid of stains, scuffs, and scratches by rubbing the area without damaging the leather. It usually comes bundled with a suede brush or it’s contained in a suede cleaning kit, but you can also purchase it separately.

Here are some great recommendations for suede stain erasers:

You can check detailed reviews of all the suede eraser in our best suede erase review.

Suede protector spray

A suede protector spray repels water and stains from your shoes and needs to be applied once your shoes are clean and before going out. Suede shoes are very sensitive to water, so wearing them during rain without adequate protection is a sure way to ruin them. You also need to apply the spray the first time you wear your new shoes.

Here are some great recommendations for suede protector sprays:

You can check detailed reviews of all the suede protectors in our best suede protector review.

Now that you have all the products on hand, it’s time to get into the actual process of cleaning your shoes.

Related: What is Shoe mitt and how to use it on leather shoes

How to clean suede shoes

Step 1: Stuff the Shoes with Newspaper or Use a Shoe Tree

Use a cedar shoe tree or stuff the shoes with newspaper so they won’t lose shape during the cleaning process. This is not always necessary, especially for light cleaning, but if they are dirty and you’re planning to brush them vigorously, it’s highly recommended.

Step 2: Brush

Suede is very sensitive to water, so make sure your shoes are completely dry before cleaning them.

First, you need to remove all excess dirt by brushing the dirt away in the direction of the fiber using a suede wire brush. Don’t brush back and forth and don’t push too hard and damage the suede. The wire brush is very bristle and can go very deep to ensure that no dust remains that can interfere with the cleaning products used in the next stages.

Over time, suede flattens and smoothens out, so you want to dull the suede before applying cleaning and nourishing products. You’ll need to use a brass or a crepe suede brush for this, which is softer than a wire brush but will ensure that your cleaning products can penetrate the suede. Brush back-and-forth with a crepe brush until the texture resembles the original look.

Step 3: Use a Suede Eraser

Marks and stains are removed using a suede eraser. You can get a bit rough with the suede eraser, as it won’t damage the suede, so keep erasing back and forth until the stains completely disappear.

Step 4: Apply the suede cleaner and the suede protector

Spray the shoes evenly using a dedicated suede cleaner from a distance of about 12 inches from the shoe then immediately brush afterward to make sure that the cleaner penetrates the suede.

With the suede protector, however, just sprayed it evenly from the same distance of 12 inches, but then allow it to dry for about 15 minutes before giving it one final brush in a single direction. Afterward, let it dry for about 24 hours in an air-circulated area.

These are the general steps you need to perform as regular maintenance to take to keep your suede shoes in a luxury state. Now we’re going to look at some more specific situations.

How to clean dirt and mud off suede shoes

The most important thing to remember when cleaning mud or a lot of dirt is that your shoes need to be as dry as possible. Leave your shoes in a sunny place until the mud dries up completely and hardens. After that, brush vigorously with a wire suede brush back and forth until the dirt falls off. Don’t try to apply too much pressure while brushing since you want to avoid pushing the dirt deeper into the fibers.

If there are still spots or marks left, you can use a suede eraser to finish them off.

How to get stains out of suede shoes

Very important: Never brush a wet stain, this will only spread it and make it worse.

If you’ve just spilled water on your suede shoes, dab it with a paper towel to absorb it and pull the water off. Then let it dry, and there will be no lasting damage to your shoes.

Water stains that dried on your suede shoes (or stains from bad weather, like rain or snow stains), can be removed by applying a thin layer of water to the entire boot, placing a cedar shoe tree inside the shoes to absorb moisture and letting the shoes dry, but not near a heating source. Once they are completely dry, a quick brush should remove any water stains.

For other types of liquid stains you need to remove as much of the liquid as possible using paper towels, then apply cornstarch or talcum powder. Let it sit overnight then brush the powder off with a suede brush.

If you have a salt stain on your suede shoes, you can remove it by rubbing the area with a soft cloth soaked in white vinegar, let it dry and then brushing with a suede brush.

Blood stains can be removed by dabbing the area with a peroxide-soaked towel until the blood is dissolved, then brushing with a suede brush.

If you have a stain that just won’t come out, it’s better to take your shoes to a cobbler and have them professionally cleaned than risk ruining them.

How to clean faux suede shoes

Faux suede shoes are made of a synthetic material that feels and looks like real suede, but it’s much easier to clean and it’s more resistant to stains and spills. The cleaning process described above for real suede works for faux suede as well, but you can take more liberties with faux suede shoes since the material does not degrade as easily.  

A suede brush is still necessary for cleaning faux suede shoes, but you don’t have to use both a wire brush and a brass one in order to protect the original suede since the synthetic one is able to withstand a lot more pressure and brushing. You can also replace the specialized suede cleaner with a solution of tap water and a mild detergent since the faux suede is able to support it.  

It is still recommended to spray your faux suede shoes with a water-repellent suede spray before going out since some stains are still very hard to get out of the fake suede.

How to clean black suede shoes

If you clean your black suede shoes regularly, you’ll see that after a while they’ll start to fade and wonder whether you’re doing something wrong with your cleaning process. That’s absolutely normal and there is no need to follow a different cleaning process for black shoes, the above guide works very well.

But what you can do if your black shoes faded is to purchase a black suede dye to help you restore their color. The black Pedag Suede Color Restorer is a great recommendation:

pedag Suede and Textile Color Restorer, German Made, Applicable Indoors, Black, 2.5 Fl Oz

Buy on Amazon

How to clean white suede shoes

If you thought cleaning suede shoes in general is a chore, wait until you own a pair of white suede shoes. Any dirt that comes into contact with them will leave a mark or a scuff and you’ll need to clean them every time you’re going out. But if you want to look stylish and fabulous, you need to pay the price.

The cleaning process is the same, except that you’ll have to do it almost every time you take them out and you also need to invest in a quality suede protector – that’s not optional anymore – and spray them more often than you would your regular suede shoes. It’s much better to prevent the scuffs and marks on white suede shoes than trying to get them out afterward.

How to clean red suede shoes (or any other strong color)

If you have red suede shoes or any other strong color, you’ll notice that with regular cleaning, after a while, the color will fade. While the cleaning process should not change, and you should not clean less often for fear that your shoes will get discolored, you need to treat your shoes with a suede color restorer whenever they look lackluster. There are dedicated suede color restorers for pretty much any color – although some are harder to find than others -, but for red suede shoes we recommend the Moneysworth Conditioner Color spray:

Moneysworth & Best Suede Renew Dye/Conditioner Color Spray 165 g / 5.8 oz, Green

Buy on Amazon

If you can’t find a color restorer that matches your shoe’s color, you can purchase a neutral/transparent color restorer that works on any color instead.

How to clean suede shoes with household products

The process outlined above for cleaning your shoes is the best way to clean suede, but it requires a bit of investment in quality shoe care products that not everyone is willing to make. If you’re in a rush and you don’t have the time (or money) to purchase specialized products, you can also use household alternatives, albeit they might be slightly less effective. Here’s what you need to clean your shoes at home:

How to clean suede shoes without a suede brush

If you don’t have a suede brush, you can use a normal toothbrush instead, ideally one with soft bristles. It will take you quite a bit longer than using a suede brush, especially since you don’t want to brush too hard and flatten the suede, but by applying light strokes in the direction of the nap you can remove the excess dirt without damaging the suede.

How to clean suede shoes without suede cleaner

Once the brushing is done and most of the dirt has been removed, you can use a clean towel to gently wipe down the shoes and remove any remaining dust. Don’t soak the towel in water or in any other liquids unless there are stains that won’t come out with a simple rub.

If you have hard-to-remove stains on your shoes, then you can use white vinegar instead of a suede cleaner, since it’s safe and non-toxic for your suede. Soak the towel in a white vinegar solution and very gently start to wipe the affected area until the stain comes out. Don’t apply too much vinegar as you don’t want your color to fade out, just use the minimum necessary for the stain to dissolve. 

How to clean suede shoes without a suede eraser

Some tougher scruffs, marks, and stains that still persist after you brush and wipe the shoes can be easily removed by using a suede eraser. If you don’t have access to one, you can use a pencil eraser instead, but make sure it’s absolutely clean and ideally white or colorless and not pink since that one can transfer some of the dye to the shoe.

How to keep suede shoes clean

As you can see, cleaning suede shoes is very time consuming, since they get dirty easily and you’ll need to repeat the process every time you wear them. The old saying of “it’s better to prevent than cure” applies to keeping your suede shoes clean as well, so here are some tips for prevention and maintenance:

  • Spray your shoes with a suede protector spray after you purchase them for the first time and whenever you’re going out
  • Use a shoe tree to absorb moisture and maintain their shape.
  • Store your shoes in a dry and well-ventilated area so that they can breath (don’t seal them in a bag)
  • Keep your shoes out of direct sunlight even when drying them as that will damage the suede
  • Don’t wear them in bad weather, rain, snow, or even mud and void getting them wet

We hoped you enjoyed our guide and it will help your suede shoes look fabulous every time you wear them.