How to Clean Suede Shoes: The Ultimate Guide

Clean Suede Shoe

Suede shoes are stylish and versatile, but keeping them looking their best requires special care. Unlike smooth leather shoes that can be wiped down, suede is a delicate material that needs more attention to maintain its appearance and texture. The good news is that you can easily clean suede shoes at home with the right products and techniques. Follow this comprehensive guide to learn everything you need to know how to clean suede shoes.

Why Proper Care is Crucial for Suede Shoes

The supple nap that gives suede its soft, velvety texture also makes it prone to staining, scuffing, and showing dirt. Suede has an open surface texture, readily absorbing oil, grease, and other grime. Once suede becomes dirty or matted, it loses its beauty and luxurious appeal. Caring for suede properly helps retain its good looks and extends its lifespan.

With the proper maintenance, high-quality suede shoes should last for years. But without adequate cleaning, suede can become permanently discolored, stained, scratched, or misshapen. Properly caring for suede shoes protects your investment and keeps them looking stylish.

Supplies You’ll Need for Cleaning Suede Shoes

Cleaning suede doesn’t require fancy equipment. Most of the supplies can be easily found around the house. Here are the essential items you’ll need:

  • Suede brush or cleaning block: Use a brush with stiff bristles or a textured cleaning block specifically designed for suede. This will lift dirt from the surface and restore the nap.
  • Vinegar: As a mild acid, white vinegar safely dissolves dirt and removes stains. Mix it with water for an effective cleaning solution.
  • Baking soda: Baking soda’s abrasiveness absorbs dirt and oil well. It also neutralizes odors.
  • Old toothbrush: For scrubbing stubborn dirt in crevices or seams. The soft nylon bristles won’t damage the suede.
  • Paper towels or a soft rag are best for blotting and drying after cleaning. Avoid rubbing or pressing hard on suede.
  • Suede protector spray: Applying protector spray after cleaning adds a protective barrier against future dirt and stains.
  • Suede eraser: Optional for gently removing localized stubborn spots or stains.
  • Soft bristle brush: Optional for gently brushing off loose dirt before deep cleaning.

Cleaning Instructions by Type of Suede Shoes

Cleaning Instructions by Type of Suede Shoes

The exact method for cleaning suede shoes depends on the color and construction of the footwear:

Light-Colored Suede

  • Mix a solution of 1 part white vinegar to 1 part water.
  • Dip a paper towel or soft rag in the solution. It’s ringing out well, so it’s just barely damp.
  • Gently blot the dampened towel over stains to lift dirt. Avoid vigorous rubbing.
  • Allow shoes to air dry thoroughly.
  • Once dry, use a suede brush to restore the nap. Brush in light strokes with the grain.
  • Apply suede protector spray.

Dark-Colored Suede

  • Sprinkle baking soda over the entire surface of the shoes.
  • Let the baking soda sit for 20-30 minutes to draw out oil and grime.
  • Use a suede brush to whisk away baking soda gently.
  • For stubborn stains, make a paste of baking soda and water. Gently scrub stains with paste using a toothbrush.
  • Wipe clean with a dry cloth.
  • Finish by brushing the entire surface with a suede brush.
  • Apply suede protector when shoes are completely dry.

Nubuck Suede

  • Start by brushing gently with a soft bristle brush to remove surface dirt.
  • Create a cleaning solution of 2 cups warm water, 2 tbsp mild laundry detergent, and 2 tbsp white vinegar.
  • Dip a soft cloth in the solution and wring it out thoroughly.
  • Gently wipe down the entire shoe to clean. Avoid over-saturating the suede.
  • Let air dry thoroughly.
  • Finish with a suede brush to revive the nap.
  • Apply suede protector spray after the shoes are completely dry.

Shearling Lined Suede

  • Always brush the shearling liner with a soft brush to remove dirt and refresh the fleece.
  • Spot clean exterior suede with gentle brushing and vinegar solution (1:1 ratio with water).
  • Avoid over-wetting shearling lining. Blot damp areas and allow shoes to air dry thoroughly.
  • Use a suede brush to restore nap once the shoes are completely dry.
  • Do not use baking soda or suede protector sprays on shearling lining.

Suede Boots

  • Remove shoelaces and any removable insoles.
  • Liberally sprinkle baking soda inside boots to deodorize and absorb moisture.
  • Allow the baking soda to sit overnight.
  • In the morning, shake out baking soda residue.
  • Spot clean exterior with vinegar and water solution and suede brush.
  • Stuff boots with paper or cloth to retain shape as they dry.
  • Once fully dry, use a suede brush to revive the nap.
  • Apply protector spray to exterior suede only.

Athletic Suede Shoes

  • Mix 2 tsp dish soap with 2 cups cold water.
  • Dip a soft cloth in the solution and wring out well.
  • Gently wipe shoes over the entire surface to remove dirt and grime.
  • Rinse with a clean, damp cloth to remove the suds.
  • Stuff shoes with paper towels to absorb moisture and maintain shape as they dry.
  • Once fully dry, restore the suede nap with a brush.
  • Apply suede protector spray for added protection.

Tips for Preventing Suede Shoe Damage

Taking steps to keep suede shoes from getting dirty and damaged in the first place will minimize the need for frequent cleaning. Here are some helpful care tips:

  • Wear suede shoes in dry weather to avoid water damage. If necessary, use a protective spray to repel light moisture.
  • Add taps or rubber soles to the heels and toes to prevent scuffing.
  • Keep suede shoes in breathable cloth bags with cedar blocks to absorb moisture and prevent mold.
  • Use shoe trees to help suede shoes retain their shape when not worn.
  • Avoid wearing suede shoes two days in a row to allow the interior time to air out and dry.
  • Immediately clean spots and stains as they occur to prevent them from setting.
  • Regularly restore the nap with a suede brush to keep the texture fresh.
  • Re-apply protective spray after several wears to renew water resistance.
  • Be careful around grease, oil, and chemicals that can permanently stain suede.

What to Avoid When Cleaning Suede Shoes

Although suede is a reasonably hardy material, there are still some cleaning methods and products that should be avoided:

  • Heat: Never use a hair dryer, clothes dryer, or other direct heat to dry suede shoes. The intense heat can damage the suede and cause cracking. Air drying is best.
  • Harsh chemicals: Avoid products containing bleach, ammonia, turpentine, or stain removers formulated for sturdier leathers. These can discolor suede.
  • Over-brushing: Aggressive back-and-forth rubbing can damage the delicate fibers. Use a gentle touch when brushing.
  • Water immersion: Do not thoroughly soak suede shoes in water. Light dampening is okay, but extended water exposure ruins suede.
  • Wire brushes: Wire-bristled brushes are too harsh and tear delicate suede fibers. Opt for nylon or boar bristles instead.
  • Oil-based products: Never use mink oil, saddle soap, or silicone-based polishes. These will stain and darken suede rather than clean it.
  • At-home dry cleaning: The chemicals used in DIY dry cleaning kits will likely ruin the suede’s finish. Have any necessary dry cleaning done professionally?

DIY Spot Cleaning for Suede Shoes

DIY Spot Cleaning for Suede Shoes

Even with proper preventative care, suede shoes will inevitably get an occasional stain or dirty spot. Use these methods to spot clean marks as they happen:

For oil-based stains:

  • Blot up any excess oil immediately with an absorbent cloth. Avoid spreading the stain.
  • Liberally cover the stain with cornstarch or talcum powder. The powder will draw out the grease.
  • Allow powder to sit for 2-3 hours.
  • Brush away the powder with a suede brush, then wipe clean.

For mud or dirt spots:

  • Allow mud to fully dry and crumble off first, then gently brush away.
  • For more stubborn dried mud, use a soft bristle brush dampened with white vinegar to lift the dirt gently.
  • Blot brush frequently on a cloth so you don’t over-wet the suede.

For food or drink stains:

  • Blot up any excess immediately.
  • Mix a solution of 1 part white vinegar to 1 part water.
  • Dip a clean cloth in the solution. I wring it out well, so it is just barely damp.
  • Gently dab the stain to lift the color. Avoid rubbing vigorously.
  • Allow the shoe to air dry fully.
  • Once dry, use a suede brush to restore nap and soften stiff areas.

For ink stains:

  • Apply a small amount of rubbing alcohol to a cotton ball.
  • Use the damp cotton ball to blot the stain, pressing gently from the edges toward the center.
  • As the ink transfers to the cotton ball, rotate to a clean area to prevent spreading the stain.
  • Allow the shoe to air dry fully.
  • Follow up with a suede brush to blend any lightened areas.

For mystery stains:

  • Mix a solution of 2 parts cold water and 1 part white vinegar.
  • Dip the edge of a paper towel or clean rag in the solution. Make sure it is just barely damp.
  • Gently dab at the stain to see if it will lift.
  • Work from the outer edge toward the center to avoid spreading the stain.
  • Let the shoe fully air dry, then brush nap.

For general dirt buildup:

  • Fill a bowl with 2 cups cold water and 1/4 cup white vinegar.
  • Dip a very soft bristle brush in the solution.
  • Gently wipe the shoe with a damp brush to dissolve dirt.
  • Rinse the brush in vinegar solution as needed to keep it clean.
  • Blot the shoe with a paper towel and let it fully dry.
  • Finish by restoring the nap with a suede brush.

When to Seek Professional Suede Cleaning

While many stains and dirt can be effectively treated at home, some situations call for professional suede cleaning:

  • Pervasive grime buildup that requires an overall deep cleaning.
  • More extensive liquid stains have soaked deep into the suede.
  • Stubborn marks or stains that do not respond to home spot cleaning.
  • Suede items like jackets, handbags, or furniture that are difficult to clean without special equipment.
  • Heavily soiled suede shoes when a pristine clean is desired.
  • Shearling lined shoes that need special attention to avoid getting the shearling wet.
  • Valuable or sentimental suede items where damage could be devastating.

Seek a specialty leather and suede cleaner rather than dropping shoes at the dry cleaners. Professionals have industrial-strength stain removers, powerful suede brushes, and drying methods that avoid heat damage. With customized attention, they can restore even badly soiled suede to its original condition.

Maintaining That Fresh Suede Look

Maintaining That Fresh Suede Look

Caring for suede requires extra effort, but rewarding yourself with a unique suede item is worth it. Follow these shoe-cleaning tips to keep suede footwear looking soft, supple, and vibrant for many seasons. With proper, gentle care, your suede shoes will become your favorite go-to in your wardrobe.

In Summary

To maintain their beauty, suede shoes require gentle care and prompt attention to stains. You can effectively clean suede shoes at home with the proper techniques and products, such as a suede brush, vinegar, baking soda, and protector spray. Protect suede from water damage, excessive heat, and oil-based products. Seek professional help for extensive restoration or stubborn stains. Follow these tips, and your beloved suede shoes will stay soft, supple, and stylish for many years of wear. 


How to clean suede shoes without suede cleaner?

  • Use a mixture of white vinegar and water. Vinegar breaks down dirt and stains.
  • Try rubbing alcohol on tough spots. It dissolves oil and grease.
  • Baking soda absorbs oils and deodorizes. Let sit, then brush off.
  • Spot clean gently with dish soap and warm water.

How to clean white suede shoes?

  • Avoid over-wetting white suede, which can leave water marks.
  • Gently dab stains with bleach-free whitening toothpaste.
  • Use a magic eraser sponge for scuffs. Be extra gentle.
  • UV sunlight can help brighten and remove some staining.

How to clean suede shoes at home?

  • Have supplies handy – brush, vinegar, baking soda, old toothbrush.
  • Work in a well-ventilated area so shoes dry thoroughly.
  • Spot clean stains promptly before they set in.
  • Allow 24 hours for shoes to air dry completely.

How to clean suede shoes with household products?

  • White vinegar mixed with water in a 1:1 ratio.
  • Mild dish soap diluted in warm water.
  • Baking soda as a deodorizer and absorbent.
  • Dryer sheets stuffed inside can help freshen.

How to clean black suede shoes?

  • Use a stiff bristle brush to lift embedded dirt.
  • Baking soda absorbs oil; let sit before brushing off.
  • Spot clean with gentle dish soap and water solution.
  • Finish with a suede protector spray.

How to clean faux suede shoes?

  • Check the care tag first. Some faux can be machine-washed.
  • Spot clean stains with mild laundry detergent.
  • For delicate faux suede, use vinegar and water mix.
  • Brush nap with a soft nylon bristle brush.

How to clean dirt off suede shoes?

  • Allow caked-on dirt to dry first thoroughly.
  • Gently loosen and brush off dried dirt.
  • Blot still-damp stains with vinegar and water mix.
  • Use an old toothbrush to clean crevices.

How to clean suede New Balance shoes?

  • Spot clean stains right after wear, before they set.
  • Use New Balance suede cleaner or gentle soap and water. Don’t over-saturate.
  • Stuff with paper towels to retain shape as they dry.
  • Reproof with New Balance Protector Spray.

How to clean fake suede shoes?

  • Check the care tag first. Machine washing may be ok if you avoid heat drying.
  • Spot treat stains with laundry pre-treatment stick.
  • Use a soft-bristled brush and mild detergent solution.
  • Air dry, fully stuffed with towels.