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How To Clean And Protect Suede And Nubuck Shoes

Suede cleaner and protector

People never really did figure out why Elvis didn’t want anyone to step on his blue suede shoes but it’s probably because he knew how difficult they are to clean. Suede shoes provide a sophisticated look for any occasion, but the moment they get stained, scuffed, or wet, they don’t look so stylish anymore. But there’s no need to throw them out! Despite what some people may say, it is possible to clean your suede shoes. Don’t let your worries about maintenance stop you from grabbing those beautiful suede shoes you’ve been dreaming of!

This guide will help you to keep your suede shoes spotless. 

Before we can go into how to clean your suede, we need to talk about how leather becomes suede and why it gets damaged so easily.

How Suede is Manufactured

Suede is a type of leather with small, smooth raised hairs (called ‘nap’) on the surface. The word suede comes from the French ‘gants de Suede’ - Swedish gloves - referring to a particular type of soft leather gloves from Sweden. Nowadays, this word refers to all leather material of this type, regardless of its origin.  

Leather is made from animal skin that has been processed. This skin is separated, cleaned, and then tanned by leaving it in the sun. This produces a very durable yet soft material called full-grain leather, which can be used to craft a variety of products. This type of leather can be expensive because it has gone through very little processing. Manufacturers can create less expensive types, but these may not be as durable.

Tanners split the animal hide into two or more layers, depending on the thickness of the skin. The outer surface - also known as the grain split - produces the smooth, shiny leather which most people would recognise. The inner layers - the flesh split - have the small, raised hair which creates suede. Suede is usually made from calf or lamb leather. It is possible to create suede from full-grain leather by using a tool called an emery wheel, running it along the leather to produce a velvety surface. This type of suede is called nubuck and is typically more expensive and stronger than regular suede.

How Suede Reacts to Liquids and Dirt

Leather is a sturdy material, but suede tends to get dirty easily thanks to the nap making it particularly susceptible to stains and dirt. The smooth surface of regular leather repels water and can be wiped clean. Suede, on the other hand, has a brushed surface that makes it more porous; instead of repelling water, it absorbs it. The hairs of the suede can also catch dirt and any attempts to remove it can go on to cause stubborn stains.

Methods of Cleaning Suede Shoes

Most suede items come with a cleaning brush, which is good for removing dirt and grooming the nap. There are different methods to clean suede shoes, depending on what you want to achieve. One of the best ways to keep suede boots clean, however, is to protect them using protector spray or solution.

General Cleaning

While most people don’t wear their suede shoes when it’s raining outside or when they go to muddy areas, sometimes just walking out the door gets them dirty. After each use and before storing them, it’s a good idea to clean suede shoes as part of your routine. Shake them gently to remove loose pieces of dirt and use a suede brush to sweep away any remaining debris. Remember to brush in the same direction, preferably in the direction of the nap, to preserve the suede.

Water Stains

Water is suede’s number one enemy; if it looks like it’s going to rain, it would be best to leave your suede shoes at home. But if they do end up getting wet, it is still possible to clean and dry them. While this may seem counterintuitive, more water can help to prevent the water stains from setting into the suede.

Place a cedar shoe tree or some absorbent material inside the shoe to absorb any excess moisture. Use a suede cleaner evenly all over the shoes, then blot the excess away with a damp cloth.The shoes should dry evenly, removing the appearance of water stains, although they may look marginally darker than before. When the shoes are dry, use a suede brush on the surface of the shoes.

Mud Stains

Mud is actually one of the easier stains to remove from suede shoes. Allow the mud to dry completely and then use a suede brush to remove any dirt.

Scuff Marks

A suede eraser is a special tool made just for erasing scuff marks on suede. Suede erasers are usually sold in a bundle with suede brushes, but it’s easy to buy them separately. Use the eraser to rub off the scuff marks and then use the brush to restore the velvety finish.

Wax and Gum

There are very few little things that ruin your day faster than stepping in gum, but stepping in gum while wearing suede shoes is even worse. To remove gum or wax from shoes, place them in the freezer. Eventually, the gum or wax will freeze. Use a plastic tool or butter knife to break off chunks or scrape off the material. Use the suede eraser if there are any scuff marks left, and finish off with the brush.

Other Stains

Aside from rain, gum, and mud, there are a variety of stains that can ruin a pair of suede shoes. The chart below shows some common and uncommon types of dirt and stains that can affect shoes, as well as how to clean each.


Removal Method


Sprinkle the stain with powder or cornstarch and leave overnight. Shake off all the powder and brush off any remaining specks, then use a steam iron to mist the stain. Finish with a suede brush.


Use a cotton ball soaked in peroxide to lift the stain. Work slowly and carefully until it is removed.


Blot with a dry towel to remove ink before it sets; use sandpaper to remove ink that has set. Use a suede eraser on lighter stains and a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol on any tougher stains which the suede eraser can’t remove.

Food stains

Wet or sticky foods should be cleaned and blotted with a dry cloth while dry foods should be scraped or brushed off. For any leftover staining, apply some vinegar on a soft cloth and lightly blot over the stain.

These are just some of the common things that may stain suede shoes. If the stain has set in or is too severe, the only option is to consult with a professional cleaner who can help remove tough stains and marks.

Protecting Suede Shoes

The only way to ensure that suede shoes stay 100% clean is to never wear them. Since this isn’t practical, the next best thing is to protect them. Special suede protector spray can be used to keep dirt and moisture from seeping into the material. Formulas vary by manufacturer, but these sprays use a special chemical to create a protective barrier around the shoe that repels most dirt, moisture, and stains. Our TopShine Suede Leather Cleaner and Protector Set includes an environmentally-friendly, water-based protector spray which will help keep your shoes protected and looking their best.


Suede is a luxurious material made from tanned animal hide. It is used to make a variety of items, from couch upholstery to handbags. Suede shoes are particularly popular with women who want to look stylish and elegant. However, suede shoes attract dirt much more than other materials. Shoe owners who find themselves with stained or dirty suede shoes might think the only remedy is to throw those shoes out.

However, cleaning suede shoes is possible, and each type of stain requires a certain type of care. First, general care should be done to maintain suede shoes. Water stains, mud stains, scuff marks, gummy or waxy materials, and different kinds of stains need different techniques to ensure they don’t set and ruin the shoes. Using a protective spray is also very effective in preserving the shoes and safeguarding them from dirt and stains. Those looking for the perfect kit to care for their suede shoes will find what they need on Shoe Shine Service Ltd.

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