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How to clean suede

Melanie Whitehouse / 17 August 2016

Find out how to clean suede shoes, boots and furniture with our top tips for getting rid of stains.

Cleaning suede shoes
A suede sponge or pencil eraser can remove small dry stains

There’s nothing like suede for bringing an element of luxury to your life, whether it be a stunning suede jacket, shoes or a piece of furniture. But there’s a downside: it’s very high maintenance. Much softer than ordinary leather, it gets dirty more quickly and easily and is far harder to clean.

Soap and water can actually make stains worse and water also makes suede darker and less supple, weakens the leather by removing natural oils and makes it look scuffed and scruffy. Even if the item carries a label saying it’s been waterproofed or stain-proofed, that doesn’t guarantee it won’t stain - so knowing the right cleaning method to use is vital. 

The best – and safest - way to clean any suede garment is to take it to a professional dry cleaner, but for small cleaning jobs, here are a few tips.

Find out how to clean leather

Getting wet

If you get a suede jacket or shoes soaked in a downpour, blot up as much water as possible with paper or cloth towels, then let the article dry at room temperature. If suede shoes or a suede hat gets wet, stuff them with newspaper or kitchen roll to sop up the excess moisture and ensure they hold their shape as they dry.

How to clean suede

Do not even think of cleaning suede items with water. Instead, use a specialist suede brush all over the garment or upholstery to get rid of surface dirt or rub the surface of the garment with a clean bath towel to bring up the nap.

Dry stains

Use a pencil eraser or a suede eraser to remove small, dry stains.

Wet stains

Small, wet stains should be blotted up - put a paper towel over the wet area with a weight on top and leave for a few hours.

Crusty stains

Crusty stains, lumps of dirt or dry scuff marks can be gently rasped off with a nail file.

Oily stains

If the stain is oily or as a result of sweat, sprinkle with a thin layer of cornflour and leave overnight. This should absorb the stain, lifting them out of the fabric. Brush the flour away with a suede brush.

Tough stains

Stains may also be rubbed off with a damp towel and white vinegar, then left to dry. The smell of vinegar will eventually go – but do test a small, inconspicuous area first in case of fading.

For tough stains, use a proprietary suede cleaner. Always follow the instructions on the label and use over the whole garment, otherwise you may find it fades or discolours.

Steam cleaning can also work well but make sure you don’t wet it too much.

Read our tips for getting rid of stubborn stains

Keeping suede clean

  • When new, spray with a suede protector, available from most shoe shops, to form a barrier against dirt and water stains.
  • Don’t go out in the rain wearing suede.
  • Store suede in cotton pillowcases, not plastic, and never where it’s damp – you don’t want mildew. Put in a dark, dry cupboard, as coloured suede fades.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.