How to Take Care of Suede Shoes: A Comprehensive Guide

A leather jacket makes you look like you can handle yourself if things get a little rough. However, for those men who’d rather look like they can softshoe their way through the toughest business negotiation, a pair of suede shoes are a much better choice. Suede is stylish and softer than other leather, which can appear harsh. However, these are not like rubber and canvas sneakers. Suede shoes require dedication and TLC to keep them looking good. I’ve scoured all the resources across the web, and asked my favorite leather sellers, to bring you this comprehensive guide to caring for your suede shoes.

Regular Care For Suede Shoes: The Basics

I’ll tell you a secret about suede care: It’s easier than caring for regular leather shoes if you know what you’re doing. The myth that suede shoes are somehow more difficult because they’re more delicate is exactly that, a myth. You don’t need to polish suede or condition it as long as you maintain it properly.

Maintaining Suede by Brushing

The first thing you need to know about suede care is that you’ll need to brush your shoes. There’s a little technique to doing this correctly, but it’s not complicated. Pick a single direction and remember it. Whenever you go to brush your suede, always brush in the same direction.

Many men opt for a downward stroke toward the sole and out to the tip of the shoe. You don’t need to overthink the issue, down is fine. Use long even strokes on dry suede, and make sure you give your shoes a brush weekly or before every wear, whichever is more frequent.

Be careful when brushing suede. If you remove the felt, there’s nothing you can do except visit a cobbler and have it replaced. The idea is to smoothe the shoes, not remove the outer layer. I light touch is advisable.

In a pinch, you can use a clean, dry fingernail cleaning brush, but it’s better if you use a suede brush. I suggest you pick up a Miscly Suede & Nubuck 4-Way Brush, which you can from Amazon get by clicking here. The different bristles will help you brush and smooth your suede shoes. Plus, it comes with an eraser. We’ll get to erasers later in the article. 

When you scuff your shoe, then it’s alright to use a harder ‘scrubbing’ stroke. Move back and forth, vigorously for a few seconds, but don’t press down too hard since you don’t want to remove the material. You’re not trying to sand it off, only rough it up a little. After that, simply smooth it down with routine brushing.

Deep Scuffs & Stains

Sometimes suede care requires a more extreme solution. If the scuff is too deep to be repaired with the previous technique, you can try these quick hacks. Take a knife and very gently scrape the wide part of the blade across the material to rough it up. Do not cut into the fabric!

You can also try using an eraser in a pinch. Yes, a regular, colorless/white eraser like you’d use on a pencil mark. It will rough up the nap if you’re worried about damaging the suede with a knife. If that’s the case, don’t rub too hard. Friction from an eraser can heat and even burn suede if you’re too vigorous.

The best choice for deep scuffs is an excellent professional eraser brush that will also help remove stains. I use the Valentino Garemi Suede Cleaning Brush & Napped Leather Stain Remover, which you can check out by clicking here, for tough scuffs and deep stains. However, just like a regular eraser, you need to be careful not to rub too fast or hard. 

Storing Your Suede Shoes at the End of the Day

Putting your suede shoes away correctly is a simple way to care for them daily. When you’re done wearing them, place shoes in a dark, dry location. If foot odor is an issue, then you’ll want to put them somewhere plenty of air circulates and only wear them every two to three days.

A good shoe rack is your friend, but if you don’t have one, it’s alright. Store your shoes away from heat and cooling vents. If you’re worried about keeping the shape, then you can get inserts, or use some balled up paper in the toes to keep the form perfect for everyday wear.


How to Care for Water Damaged Suede Shoes

When you care for standard leather, water is the enemy. Suede is like silk. Even a little water will stain it. No one wants a big, nasty-looking watermark on their new suede shoes. So, what can you do when a splash wrecks your stylish shoes? Are they a lost cause?

I have good news. Your shoes will be just fine, and the fix for this problem is easier than you think. It may seem counterintuitive, but the solution to a water stain is more water. It might seem like a strange way to fix the problem, but it’s highly effective.

Simple Steps to Remove Water Stains

To repair waterstained suede, first, get your suede brush and a bowl of warm water. Next, dip the brush in the water and brush water all over the shoe. Now take a soft cloth or washcloth and dampen it. Use the material to dab at the shoe until it’s evenly covered in water.

The goal is not to soak the shoe, but rather to dampen it. After that, you need to insert shoe trees like the ones from this excellent ventilated Stratton Cedar Shoe Tree 2-Pack for Men. To check prices and availability, click here

The shoe trees help your suede hold its form while it dries. You’ll want to leave your shoes somewhere that air can circulate around them, but don’t use anything to speed up the drying process. Also, avoid putting the shoes near a heat source or sunny window.

When the shoes are completely dry, you can take a dry suede brush and restore the appearance of the felt nap.

Should You Waterproof Suede

Waterproofing is one way to care for your shoes. However, it’s not strictly speaking necessary for most suede. If you wear suede workboots, then you definitely want to put in the effort to waterproof. Otherwise, you can skip or use this step as you see fit.

When you waterproof, it changes the texture of your shoes. It’s a tradeoff and one for which you have to make your own decision. Unless you want to change the appearance as well, you need to spend a little extra time and do your homework before you apply any water repellant.

Buyer beware, many brands of suede and nubuck waterproofers will change and darken the color of your shoes. If you like them just the way they are, then you’ll need to be extra cautious in doing this step and make sure you have the right product.

How To Waterproof Suede

Before you spray, always read the directions on your waterproof. You should also fill the shoe with paper, so you don’t spray the inside. Moreover, you may want to put a very careful layer of paper tape around the edges of the sole, so you don’t spray that too. Use as many small pieces as you need and line it up exactly with the suede or a millimeter out from the edge for best results.

When waterproofing your suede shoes, always opt for a spray-on. You’ll get a more even coat using a spray. Hold the can a few inches from the shoe. Rotate and make even sweeping passes to cover it all. Then dry as you usually would.

The best thing about waterproofing, other than dry feet in all weather, is not worrying so much about stains. The worst thing is the texture change and possible color change if you use the wrong product. As a result, if the color of your shoes matters a great deal, don’t waterproof.

Best Waterproofer for Suede

It helps to pick a product that does double duty, and won’t significantly change the color of your shoes. For my suede, I always choose Collonil Waterstop + UV Protection. It works great and doesn’t make my shoes three shades darker. Plus, I like the UV protection since suede dye is often photosensitive, so it fades in the sun. I suggest you reapply about once a season, but more or less is fine depending on your needs, how often you wear the shoes, and local weather. To check out the details for yourself, click here.  

Washing Suede

Whatever you stepped in, if it’s not water, then you have a very different cleaning issue on your hands. To care for suede that’s muddy or stained, you might expect that you need some crazy, and expensive magic shoe wash. Don’t buy into the hype about so-called hard to clean suede. I’ll walk you through the cleanup.

First, if you have mud or other caked-on debris, you need to make sure you give it a good dry brush. I’m not certain this will work if your issue is paint or superglue. However, for standard stains and crud, you stepped in, a brushing will remove most of it.

If the usual water-only wash that you’d use if you got a water stain on the shoe doesn’t work, then it’s time to kick things up a notch. (Bam!) Whip out that eraser brush and give it a whirl. The eraser will remove a small amount of the felt, but it may take the stain along with it.

Soap on Suede

Tougher stains might be better off if you use a professional suede cleaner on them. However, it’s a cost-effective option that isn’t hard to find. I keep a bottle of Refreshed Shoe Cleaner & Conditioner around for spills. You can grab your own container for emergencies when you click here. Naturally, using products that are specially formulated for your suede is often the best plan. 

When you’re in a bind and out of suede cleaner, then a little mild, unscented, and un-colored dish soap can work almost as well. Make sure you scrub all the residue out before you set the shoes up to dry. Unfortunately, leaving dish soap in your suede is a recipe for disaster. If you’re not sure, dampen it and gently scrub and blot again.

The advantage of soaps is that they may help lift out an oil stain. Usually, oil and water don’t mix. However, anyone who had a fun chemistry teacher as a kid can tell you that when you add soap to the oil and water, they blend better. It’s not a guarantee, but I’ve used soap to get out oil stains successfully in the past.

Water & Vinegar

For those especially tough, non-oil-based, stains you can reach for the old standby for suede care. Water plus vinegar will clean most things, and suede is no exception. You need white vinegar for this trick. Using apple cider vinegar can stain your suede shoes.

  • Fill your shoe with paper to hold the form.
  • Take your white vinegar and a soft cloth.
  • Wet the cloth and wring it out.
  • Dab at the stains on your shoe with your vinegar, until the whole stain is damp.
  • Let the shoe dry completely.
  • Wash it normally to remove the stain.
  • Dry it again, and you should be able to wear it.

You can combine this with suede soap for even better results. Instead of using a water-only wash, scrub the shoe with soap instead. If that doesn’t do the job, you might need professional help, but there’s more on that later in the article.

Re-stretching Suede Shoes When They Deform or Shrink

Sometimes you forget a step when you’re washing or storing your suede shoes. Alternately, perhaps your shoes got soaked, and you didn’t have time or materials on hand to dry them properly. Never fear, there’s a great, simple solution for this problem too.

You can pick up special suede shoe stretching spray, but I usually dampen mine with a quick wash instead. Using shoe stretchers isn’t difficult since they typically come with directions. Plus, you can find a ton of helpful videos on YouTube for stretching shoes.

If you don’t already own a pair of shoe stretchers, you can get them on Amazon when you click here. The Eachway Shoe Stretcher Shoe Trees are among the best I’ve found so far. I like being able to adjust in multiple directions. Moreover, they can double as shoe trees to hold the form when you’re just putting your suede shoes away for the day, and they come with a bonus shoehorn. 

Caring for Suede That has Heat or Sun Damage

So far, it’s all been good news and easy fixes when it comes to caring for your suede shoes. Now it’s time for the bad news. The reason I’ve stressed proper drying techniques is that they’re vital. If your shoes shrink a little bit, then you can carefully re-stretch them to fit again.

Unfortunately, there are drying, and especially heat-related problems that you can’t fix at home. I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. You absolutely cannot heat-dry your suede shoes. Using a blowdryer, heating vent, floor heater, or even a patch of sunlight to dry your suede will ruin it.

When you dry suede too quickly, it warps. Heat can cause the material to crack as well. If either of these things happens, sadly, there’s nothing you can do about it. This is another scenario where you need a professional to restore, replace, and repair your shoes. Unfortunately, your only other option is to scrap them, or at best donate them to the needy, who care less about fashionable shoes than having functional soles and foot coverings.

Faded Suede Restoration and Care

Sunlight fades many of the dyes used on suede shoes. When you discover over time that your shoes are looking a little less than their best, there is something you can do about it. First, make sure that the problem is fading. Second, keep your shoes from drying in the sun in the future. Normal wear is one thing, but carelessness is just a waste of money.

In some cases, an apparent ‘fade’ can actually be a mineral or soap deposit on your shoes. Take the time to do a thorough wash. Occasionally it’s a case of saltwater on your footwear or poorly rinsed out soap. You may find you get lucky and there’s no real problem at all.

Re-Dye Suede Shoes

Unfortunately, photosensitive dyes can’t be ‘fixed,’ with a wash. However, you can re-dye your suede at home.

  • Put down some newspaper and get yourself a good pair of rubber gloves, so you don’t dye your body. A suede dye is hard to get out of skin because it was designed to stain organic material. Leather is skin.
  • Use paper tape around the soles to avoid dying them. It’s essential to do this even if your soles are the same color. A waterproof bottom covered in color may drip or stamp an imprint on carpets when moisture from being outdoors or cleaning the suede mixes with dried dye you can’t see.
  • Stuff the shoes just like you would when washing them, and remove your laces if there are any.
  • Use the suede shoe dye of your choice and a soft-bristle toothbrush.
  • Dip the brush, but don’t soak it. The brush shouldn’t drip.
  • Starting with the tongue, if your shoe has one, use small gentle circular motions to work the dye into the material.
  • If the shoe has a tongue, you may want to let that dry first and go back to dye the rest of the shoe later.
  • Once the dye is dry, you should be able to wash, dry, and brush, per the norm, to fully restore the shoes.

Re-dying old and faded suede is incredibly rewarding. There are so few suede problems that can’t be fixed. However, other than removing mud, only dying them is quite as visually dynamic and noticeable.

Warning Scam: Faded Suede “Fix”

Should you ever hear or see a video that suggests using oil or baby oil to fix faded suede, please don’t believe it. Yes, the oil will temporarily darken the suede a bit, but it’s oil. First, you don’t want oil on your suede shoes. Secondly, the same oil that makes the dye darker for a short time can cause the remaining stain to begin coming off the natural material.

In the end, using a cheap, unresearched ‘fix’ can cause more damage than it does good. Do your homework before you try a crazy new miracle repair. After all, someone once posted a video that told people they should put their cell phones in the microwave to charge them. Many explosions, injuries, and wasted phones later, people still believe everything someone posts on YouTube.

Don’t twist my meaning. There are literally millions of incredibly useful videos to help you solve problems like how to re-dye faded suede. Take the time to vet the information first, and you’ll save yourself a lot of heartache, and probably at least one pair of shoes as well.

Care and Removal of ‘Fuzzies’ on your Suede

There are special tools to remove ‘pilling’ from sweaters. Some suede care enthusiasts swear by them for removing the ‘fuzzies’ or ‘hairy look’ from shoes. Others seem to think burning is the right way to accomplish the removal.

I don’t suggest burning your shoes. Particularly given how sensitive suede is to drying, cracking, and warping, it seems like the wrong way to keep them in good condition. While it might not show up on back shoes, it is likely to stand out on lighter colors. Plus suede, like all leather, goes through treatment to become leather. It smells awful when it burns and could be toxic.

Veg tanned, or natural leather is alright, but most commercial leather isn’t put through the natural process. Instead, it’s ‘chrome-tanned‘ in a mix of chromium salts, which are quite toxic if burnt.

I suggest using a single blade razor. Also known as a safety razor, you can gently run the blade across the surface of the leather in a process akin to shaving it. Don’t push downward, but rather pull it carefully across in a scraping motion. If you cut into the leather, it will be ruined, so only do this in extreme circumstances.

Remove Lint From Suede Shoes

Lint removal is much easier, and it’s just basic common sense to care for your suede by keeping it dust-free. A simple lint remover, like the one you use on your shirt, will do the job just fine. If you do have to scrape the ‘fuzz’ off your shoes, you can also use a lint remover to take the fluff you cut off from the surface safely and completely.

Alternately, you can use canned air in short bursts to blow dust out of any seams or cracks. Be aware that the supercooled canned air can do damage if you let the cold freeze your suede. Nitrogen inside the can is what causes it to get cold when you spray the air out. Use only quick, very minimal bursts to do the job.

Stinky Suede Shoes: How To Avoid Odors

There are many ways to deodorize smelly shoes. However, keeping them from getting that way in the first place is the best way to care for your suede shoes. Don’t wear them for more than a day. Letting your shoes ‘air out’ for a day or two has the added benefit of killing most of the odor-causing bacteria, which needs the sweat and heat from your feet to thrive.

Should you find that your shoes are a little overripe, baking soda is among the most accessible and effective deodorizers for the insides of your shoes. You can use a dusting of baking soda powder inside your shoes in the evening to absorb excess moisture and odors.

Use this technique between uses for a better deodorizing effect than airing alone. When you’re ready to wear them again, knock the dust out over a garbage can. If you make a mess, the same techniques that will remove dust and fuzz work fine for baking soda.

Suede Vs. Nubuck: Care For Both

When it comes to suede and nubuck, there’s a lot of confusion. What are the differences? Do you care for them in the same way, or is it a whole different process? Here’s another secret for you: Suede and nubuck can be made from the same sheet of leather.

Suede is one side of the leather, and nubuck is the other. That’s it. In both cases, the material is created through a similar process. Nubuck tends to be a little more durable, but otherwise, there’s almost no difference for you.

If you have nubuck shoes, you can follow this comprehensive suede guide, and you’ll have tidy, clean, and well-kept nubuck shoes. In fact, if you can’t tell the difference, or accidentally mistake one for the other, it hardly matters except to people in the footwear or fashion industries.


Know When to go to a Pro for Intensive Suede Care

There are times when no amount of care can prevent an accident from happening to your suede shoes. Whether it’s a cut, warp, burn, crack, or stain, you have to know when to call in the pros. The first thing to do is damage control. By this, I don’t mean you should intervene further yourself.

Stuff your shoes so they’ll hold form, and dry them if necessary. Otherwise, you need to leave them alone. Many dry cleaners handle suede shoes. They already clean suede jackets, but you should still call ahead to be certain that your local dry cleaner knows how to handle your shoes.

Conversely, when the problem is cracked, torn, or otherwise damaged leather, you may need a cobbler to replace or repair the material. Again, you’ll want to call ahead since you may need an appointment. Plus it’s just good manners.

Proper Long Term Storage: Suede Shoes Forever

Proper long term storage is the final step in caring for your suede. When you don’t plan to wear your suede shoes for a while, for example, when they have extra warm liners for winter, you need to take extra care. Longevity is one of the best things about suede shoes, other than their good looks and comfortable fit.

Like most other aspects of suede-care, storing them is simple enough. First, stuff the shoes like you would for washing and drying. Second, wrap them in paper or natural fibers like cotton to allow better airflow. Synthetics or plastic won’t ‘breather’ the same. Third, keep them somewhere dark and dry. Suede can get moldy if you store it in damp conditions.

A shoebox in your closet with a couple of ‘do not eat’ moisture absorbers is ideal. Avoid attic and basement storage. Attics collect heat and may become too warm, drying, and cracking the suede. Basements are the opposite since they’re prone to leaks and water issues.

Finally, check on your shoes about once a season. Pull them out, inspect them, and, if necessary clean them. Doing this should prevent any problems. However, if you do see signs of trouble, take care of it immediately, and find a new location to store your shoes.

Restore Your Dry or Badly Cared for Suede

Whether you suede shoes have been in storage for a while, or you didn’t know how to care for them, no worries. There’s a simple process for restoring old suede. As long as you haven’t cracked a shoe, in which case you need a cobbler, you can renew your suede in a few minutes. Follow these steps to restore dried older suede shoes:

  1. Do not bend or wear distressed suede shoes.
  2. Take a large clean pot and fill it with water.
  3. Bring it to a rolling boil with lots of steam.
  4. Carefully, so you don’t burn yourself, hold the surface of your suede shoes over the steam for a couple of minutes.
  5. Move and rotate the shoes, so the whole surface gets steamed. You don’t need to soak the shoes. The goal of steaming is to dampen them lightly.
  6. Brush the suede.
  7. Fill the shoes with tissue or newspaper.
  8. Dry naturally. Do not use a heater, fan, or hairdryer. Seriously, be patient, just let them sit and dry.

Remember the beginning of this article when I told you that suede care is easier than leather care? I meant it. There’s nothing else to do for dried out older suede shoes. It’s truly that simple to renew older and poorly cared for suede shoes.

If more men knew how easy and rewarding it is to take care of suede, we’d see it everywhere. Sadly, somewhere along the line, wires got crossed, or maybe the truly fashionable men of a previous era started a conspiracy to keep the less stylish men from competing.

Regardless of how it happened, men began believing suede was difficult to own. Now that you know better, you can enjoy your suede shoes without concern. You should be able to tackle the ‘challenging’ care process easily.


Final Thoughts

Being a well-groomed man is more than a shower and a shave. Upgrade your wardrobe with an outstanding pair of suede shoes to bring any look to the next level. Caring for your suede shoes isn’t very difficult or time-consuming as long as you make an effort.

A good pair of suede shoes will last forever if you treat them right. More importantly, they’ll make you look both handsome and classy. Even though suede takes some effort to maintain, it’s well worth the trouble.

As long as you keep this guide on hand, you’ll be able to troubleshoot any suede care issues that might come up from day to day. Feel free to bookmark this guide and refer back to it when your suede shoes get messy.

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