It’s strange, isn’t it: Sometimes, the stronger the style statement, the more delicate the piece may be. This is certainly true of suede shoes— a beloved investment and chic addition to any wardrobe, but perhaps not in every environment.
When you’re wearing your suede shoes out and about, it can feel devastating to see a splash of coffee or muddy drops on them. (We’ve been there!) However, you don’t have to worry. When you have tried-and-true tricks for cleaning and protecting your suede shoes, you can wear your favorite shoes with confidence — while giving them the care they deserve.
In this article, we’ll share our three go-to methods for cleaning suede shoes (and even removing stains from suede sneakers, ankle boots, and other tricky-to-clean footwear!). We’ll go over regular cleaning, removing small stains, and even removing tough grime.
Trust us: You’ll know everything you need to know about how to clean suede shoes and keep them looking their best after you read these tips.
For regular cleaning: Follow these four easy steps
For day-in-day-out regular wear, you might not need to bring out the big guns. That is—if you get it right.
Step 1: Put a shoetree or crumpled paper inside before cleaning
You’ll need to make sure that your shoe can hold its shape throughout the cleaning process. This will help give you a canvas to clean more easily, and your shoe will dry faster once you’re done.
You could accomplish this by taking some newspaper or computer paper and crumbling it up, but we prefer a more eco-chic, sustainable solution:
This pair of Woodlore Women’s shoe trees are made out of aromatic cedar. They’ll perfume your shoes as you clean them, so they won’t smell like soap or vinegar afterward.
These Stratton Cedar Shoe trees for menswear will also infuse your shoes with that crisp cedar smell (and, frankly, these come in a value pack).
Step 2: Rub the surface with a clean bath towel
Using a soft, clean towel, take a moment to rub the affected surface.
This step is simple, but you’ll still need to take care. You should avoid rubbing too vigorously — after all, suede is delicate. You’ll also need to rub only in the direction of the grain, or nap, of your suede. This will result in a more exacting “rub, move your cloth, rub” motion, but remember, these are fine shoes. They require finesse and fine care.
You’re seeking to accomplish two things with this step. Firstly, you’re going to remove any surface materials that could enlarge the stain on your shoe. Secondly, you’ll rid the suede of any unseen dust – making your next cleaning steps much more effective.
Step 3: Gently brush with a suede-cleaning brush
A good, hardy suede brush will be your right hand when it comes to restoring your shoes. Much of the time, the discolorations and shiny spots on your suede will be surface-level. Regularly brushing your shoes down will revitalize them instantly.
This Shacks Suede 4-Way Cleaner has different types of bristles for light stains and deep cleaning. Our favorite part? The thin protruding brush that it includes. With this tool, you can get into every nook and crevice of your shoes for a thorough clean.
Step 4: Protect the suede with a spray
Finally, the last step in your cleaning protocol should involve a finishing spray. Think of it like hair spray or a top coat for your manicure: It’ll protect your hard work, no matter what the days before you may hold.
For a low-cost pick, try Scotchguard Suede Protector. It’ll help waterproof your suede and make your shoes impervious to frustrating salt stains. It also dries completely odorless and colorless: You won’t have to worry about compromising the look of your shoe to give it a little protection (a win-win!).
For small stains: Use a suede eraser
On other occasions, you may find yourself wondering how to remove stains from suede. If you think that a tiny blot has ruined the professional, stylish look of your shoe, think again.
Enter: the Pedag Suede cleaner bar. Use it as you would any other type of eraser. Whether you’re dealing with an odd shiny spot, a stain, or a scuff mark, this eraser will make quick work of it.
It’s minimalistic and innocuous enough (simply a grey-toned brick) that it won’t take up much space in your home. Yet, when you need it, only a few quick rubs of this bar on your suede will refresh your shoes in no time at all.
We like that you can use it for more than just shoes: If you have any suede clothing or bags that need protecting, this cleaner will suffice for all your needs.
(After you’re done, use your suede brush to help the nap of your suede lay in the right direction after cleaning.)
For tough grime: Use white vinegar
Especially for sneakers for men and women, you can often find yourself dealing with more set-in stains. It can be tempting to think that the larger the stain or scum on your shoes, the more expensive the solution will be.
Happily, this isn’t the case. If you’d like to know how to clean suede shoes with household products…keep reading.
To combat the most set-in of stains – whether it be wine, salt, or food, simply go to your kitchen. If you have white vinegar, you’ve got what you need. This all-natural formula by Lucy’s is completely versatile: It’s powerful enough to act as a one-and-done cleaning agent, yet not too acidic (you can even use it safely for delicious marinades or dressings when you’re done).
Simply blot some white vinegar on a soft cleaning cloth, then (quite gently) wipe the vinegar over the areas of your shoe that need cleaning. It may not look like it’s doing much, but be patient – the magic will happen.
Let the affected area dry fully. (This is an important step: The vinegar may look like it’s altering the color of your shoe when it’s damp, but drying will reverse it!) When you come back to it, brush the stain strongly with a suede brush.
If the stain doesn’t come out the first time, try again — this strategy could take a few tries. When it does work, it’ll look and feel like you’re simply brushing the stubborn stain away — so satisfying.
Frequently asked questions about cleaning suede shoes
The best thing to clean suede shoes is a good suede brush. Often, small stains and shiny spots on your shoes will be easy to remove with a good brushing. Look for a brush with many different types of bristles, so you can give your shoes the most comprehensive clean possible.
You can clean suede shoes without a suede brush with a soft cloth and some common household substances (like vinegar). If you’re interested, you could also purchase a suede cleaning brick: Think of it like a magic eraser but for your fine shoes.
You should avoid using soap and water to clean your nice suede shoes. Unfortunately, suede is not naturally waterproof, unless you’ve treated it with a suede protectant spray. For cleaning purposes, it’s best to stick to vinegar, cleaning blocks, and other products specifically recommended for suede.
It is okay to wash suede shoes — as long as you do so in a safe, suede-protecting way. Avoid using water to clean your suede shoes. Instead, use a clean cloth, a suede cleaning brick, and vinegar to make your suede shoes look once again like new.