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How to clean suede shoes: The best methods and products for removing stains

We explain how to properly clean and protect your prized pair of suede shoes

There’s nothing quite like a good pair of suede shoes or boots. The furry, matte appearance and soft feel makes suede a luxury choice. Suede is also thinner and more pliable than leather and so often makes for a more comfortable shoe.

Sadly, suede shoes are not quite as durable as their shiny, leather cousins – as beautiful as they are, suede shoes can be high maintenance, particularly if you get them dirty or wet.

It’s drummed into us that you shouldn’t wear suede shoes if it’s going to rain, and this often means your favourite pair is left languishing at the back of the cupboard because, let’s face it, rain-free days in the UK can be few and far between. But, contrary to popular opinion, they’re actually not too tricky to clean once you know how, and, with the right care and attention, your suede shoes should be able to last as long as your leather ones.

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What do you need?

A suede brush is a great tool to have in your shoe care kit, but, if you don’t have one, a nail brush or clean, old toothbrush can be used instead. A clean, lint-free cloth is essential and, if your shoes are stained, some white vinegar, bicarbonate of soda, or a suede eraser all come in handy.

General cleaning

Water can damage suede, so while a dampened cloth can be used in some circumstances, we recommend dry-cleaning methods as your first port of call.

A suede brush is your best friend when it comes to removing day-to-day dirt and grime as well as the odd water mark. So while, as we said above, you can get a decent clean using a nail brush or toothbrush, for best results it’s worth buying a dedicated suede and nubuck brush. These usually have different bristles that are designed to remove dirt from all parts of the shoe. A suede brush is also useful for removing scuffs and restoring suede that’s lost its furry appearance and gone shiny.

Always try to brush in the direction of the pile – if you think about when you stroke a dog or cat, you would naturally stroke it in the direction of its fur, not against it, and this is how you should approach brushing suede. And don’t be too abrasive – the brush might be designed for suede but it can still damage it if you’re a bit over-enthusiastic

Removing stains

After cleaning your shoes with the suede brush, it’s possible that some stains may remain, but don’t panic, here are a few tips to try:

For some stubborn marks a suede eraser, or even a normal pencil eraser, is worth a try – rub the mark gently with the eraser to remove it.

For oily, greasy stains, sprinkle with bicarbonate of soda and gently rub the powder into the stain with your brush. Leave for anywhere between 20 minutes to several hours, then brush away the powdery residues, which should take the oil with it. For very tough stains you may need to repeat the process.

For food stains, and other unknown stains, try white vinegar. Perfect for all sorts of cleaning around the home, white vinegar is a fantastic, eco-friendly, natural cleaner. Simply moisten a clean cloth with some vinegar – don’t soak it – and gently rub the stain. The white vinegar should break down the stain, and, unlike water, it doesn’t mark the suede. You may have to repeat the process if the stain isn’t fully lifted the first time around.

Be warned though – if you don’t have any white vinegar, don’t be tempted to reach for that bottle of brown, malt vinegar that you shake over your chips, not only is it stronger smelling, the dark colour could stain the suede.

If all else fails

If you’ve tried everything and there’s still a stubborn stain on your shoes, it might be time to call in the professionals. There are plenty of shoe cleaning services that you can easily find online. It’s as simple as posting your shoes to the company to give them a professional-level clean and post them back to you.

Some dry cleaners also offer a suede shoe cleaning service, so it’s worth checking with your local branch if you prefer a face-to-face service.

Protecting suede

Once you’ve cleaned your shoes or boots, apply a suede protector to help the material resist stains and water marks. There are various suede protectors you can buy, they usually come in spray form and are very easy to apply. A good suede protector, like Liquiproof Premium Protector, will waterproof the shoe and repel stains, so you’ll be able to wear your favourite suede shoes without having to obsess over the weather forecast for that day.

Ideally use a suede protector on brand new shoes, and then spray again after every clean, to make sure the shoes retain adequate protection and last as long as possible.

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