You Can Do It: How to Clean Suede

So whether it’s human error, someone else’s fault, or a freak accident, take care of that stain on your suede.

Suede makes for super-cute shoes, bags, shorts, jackets, pants…heck, sometimes it even finds its way into a candle. What’s not so cute? Stained suede. Seriously, is there anything worse than looking down and realizing your treasured suede (insert clothing item here) has a big ‘ol splotch on it? As far as sadness-inducing wardrobe stuff goes, no, there’s nothing worse than that.

So whether it’s human error (you dropped a meatball on your pants), someone else’s fault (that idiot who stepped on your foot on the subway), or a freak accident (some mysterious substance fell from the sky right onto the shoulder of your jacket), take care of that stain. Here’s how.

First thing’s first: Understand your suede.

Suede is a type of leather made from the underside of the animal skin, so it’s softer than the outer layer. While that soft texture is a pleasure to touch, it means suede isn’t nearly as durable standard leather. What’s more, suede can vary in “length” depending on how raised the fuzzy surface is. (The technical term for this fuzzy, raised surface is “nap.”) This is important because the tools you use to treat your suede will depend on the length of the nap.

Protect your suede before you leave the house.

I know, I know, you want to show off those cute boots ASAP, but if you take the time to perform some preventative measures, those shoes will stay pristine a lot longer. Luckily, all this takes is a quick application of both water and stain protectors, both of which act like a barrier that repel unwanted substances from coming in contact with your suede. Any shoe store or pharmacy should carry this stuff, then just follow the directions and get to spraying. Unfortunately, there’s no solid way to DIY this step — just the experts here and reap the benefits — you can DIY later on.

Invest in a suede brush.

This may seem like an gratuitous purchase, but it’ll become your suede’s best friend. If your suede falls prey to something dry like dirt or a scuff, reach for the brush and get to buffing. You want to buff the suede vigorously back and forth but not so vigorously that it starts to fade, the point being to raise the nap up (aka get it “fluffy”) so dirt and other dry particles aren’t caught beneath a flat nap.

Remember that suede is technically skin. You spend a lot of time and effort taking care of your skin, so show some of the same love to your suede. After each wear, brush the piece to remove dust and dirt before putting it away. The better you care you of it regularly, the longer it’ll last.

Can’t bring yourself to buy a suede-specific brush? A good ‘ol fashion nail file will work in a pinch, just be very gentle.

If your suede gets wet…

Gently blot away as much of the water as possible, as fast as possible with paper or cloth towels, then let it air dry at room temperature. If it’s shoes, blot and then stuff with towels so they hold their shape. Do not, under any circumstances, try to dry it with heat. Have patience, grasshopper! If the water dries and leaves a stain behind, break out your spray bottle and spritz the whole thing with a light mist of water. When that dries, it should help the stain blend in.

If a non-water liquid is to blame, blot like usual but with a bit more force. When you’ve blotted up as much of the liquid as you can with the paper towel, bring in some white vinegar. Dampen a clean, white towel with water, dip it into the white vinegar, then gently rub at the stain without soaking the suede. Not into the idea of putting vinegar on your suede? After you blot, sprinkle the spot with cornmeal or talcum powder. Let it sit overnight, then brush the suede to get rid of the powder (and stain!).

If it’s oil or grease, grab a box of baking soda (which you should already have in your kitchen for all the fabulous DIY beauty things you can do with it!). As fast as humanly possible, blot up excess oil with dry paper towels, then sprinkle the spot with baking soda. Gently wipe off the baking soda, then reapply. Keep wiping and adding more until it seems like you’ve removed as much oil as possible. Then add one more layer, let it sit for a few hours to give the baking soda one last chance to work its magic, then gently brush it away with a suede brush.


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