It's a special type of leather…and very stylish.
But oddly enough…
A lot of men avoid wearing it. Some never even try.
Why? You may hear reasons like:
- It's not for me
- It's expensive
- It's difficult to maintain
The first 2 are honestly excuses…the third is usually the problem.
But let me tell you…
If you have at least one suede jacket or a suede pair of shoes in your closet – and you take good care of it – it'll come in handy at some point.
Because suede can look fantastic on a guy (if he wears it confidently).
So if you're on the fence about suede care and maintenance…don't worry. Check out this ultimate guide to cleaning, storing & protecting your suede items. I've designed it to make life easier for suede wearers.
Read up, learn, and no more excuses.
Suede Care: Part 1 – Cleaning Methods
Suede is a stylish but delicate clothing material. This means there are multiple techniques for cleaning suede items you can pick. I'm going to break down each one of them. But always check the label of your item for cleaning instructions before you proceed with any method.
Cleaning Method #1 – Brushing (After Heavy Use)
This involves a brass wire brush (for very short suede) or an actual suede brush (the kind with a visibly fuzzy nap). Perform quick, light strokes while using either one so the bristles get deep into the fibers removing dirt/scum or dust.
Do NOT press too much except if you’re dealing with stubborn marks. Don’t brush on a hard surface – place a towel underneath the shoe.
Always brush the nap of the suede in one direction. This keeps the item looking consistently clean and tidy. For suede with a longer nap, it's better to use a multi-headed brush or crepe brush for extra softness. Another option is the double-sided brush – with a soft-bristled brush on one side and a suede block on the other.
Alternatively, try a suede eraser (or a standard pencil eraser if you don't have) to remove dirt smudges or stains – and it's okay to rub harder with it. But for nubuck suede, use a suede block. This will erase any stains plus soften any leathers which have sheen from overwear.
If the nap of your item looks tired and flattened all over, hold it above steam from a kettle (or better yet a steam cleaner) for a few seconds and then proceed to brush.
Cleaning Method #2 – Dab With Water (For Wet Shoes)
This is a legitimate way to use water for preventing stains – particularly on a pair of clean wet suede shoes. If you’ve just now spilled water, apply pressure on them with a paper towel.
If you have the patience to do this until it’s dried up most of the moisture…you may avoid a water stain. For shoes that are water-stained but not soaked all over, spray/brush a thin layer of water evenly over the whole upper. Brush the stains gently and work around the edges.
The next step is the same whether your shoes got soaked in the rain or you just covered them with water. Use a sponge or dry cloth to soak up any excess water. Dab gently until the leather is evenly wet. Stick blank white paper (not newspaper) and shoe trees in your shoes to soak up water and help the shoes retain their shape.
Leave the shoes overnight in a dry, well-ventilated area. Once dry (or while they’re drying if you prefer) go over the shoes lightly with a suede brush. This helps shake out the grain back to its original look.
Note: Never put a suede item next to a heater or through a dryer. The high heat can cause it to shrink, fade, become warped or as hard as jeans.
Cleaning Method #3 – Cornstarch / Talcum Powder
If you've spilled liquid on your suede item, pat the affected spot with a clean cloth and apply a layer of cornstarch or talcum powder. Let it settle overnight. Then use a suede brush to remove the dried powder. Don't be tempted to clean wet stains – you’ll only make them worse.
Once the stains are dry – rub over them using either (A) a suede cleaning block, (B) the suede of the other shoe, (C) either an emery board or (D) a low-grit sandpaper but rub carefully. When you’ve removed the stain, brush and re-spray the item. Then use an eraser to restore the nap.
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Cleaning Methods For Specific Types Of Stains
- Mud Stains: Wipe away excess mud without pushing too hard against the suede then leave to dry. Break off the larger chunks with your hands before finishing with a suede brush.
- Blood Stains: Dab at the stain with a peroxide-soaked cotton ball slowly until the blood comes out.
- Wax/Chewing Gum: Put your item in the freezer for a few hours to harden the gooey substance so you can chip it off. Finish with a suede brush.
- Coffee/Tea/Juice: Place two layers of paper towel over the stain before you start using a brush. Apply moderate pressure with your hands or a flat object.
- Ink Spills: Quickly grab a paper towel and try to blot the ink up. If it sets, scrape the stain off with sandpaper or try using a rubbing alcohol-soaked cotton ball.
- Salt Lines: Apply a small amount of white vinegar through a soft rag or towel. Let it dry and then agitate with a suede brush.
- Oily/Unknown Stains: Use a suede brush to scrub the stain as you would for dirt or dust. Then use a nail brush with warm water to scrub off stubborn stains.
For Irremovable Stains On Your Suede – Try Professional Cleaning
If all else fails and the stain just isn’t coming off:
- Take your stained suede shoes to a cobbler
- Take your stained suede jacket to a dry cleaner who specializes in leather & suede
It may not be the cheapest solution but it does guarantee results. You won’t risk ruining the suede whatsoever. This would also be a great thing to do BEFORE you stow away your winter suede shoes/boots or jacket during the warm months.
Suede Care: Part 2 – Protection Tips
Here's the reality with suede items. They're mortal – bound to wear down and lose their stylishness over time. It helps to know how to de-stain them…but they'll never be 100% safe from the elements of rain, snow or salt (unless you keep them in your closet forever). You also can't avoid wearing them in cold weather all the time.
The good news? You can take protective measures so you can wear suede even with those elements present (except for days with heavy rain). All you need is a suede protector spray which you'll find in shoe repair stores or drugstores. It's water- and dirt-repellant…and the best version would be a waterproof silicone-based spray with a neutral color.
When you've got this spray at home, learn to use it after each time you clean your suede and the item has fully dried. Here's how to apply the spray to your suede items:
- Check that the suede material is clean and dry (you would've done the appropriate cleaning method first).
- Test the spray on a small area to see if there's a drastic change in color.
- If the color is fine – spray the suede-covered areas of the upper and then spray the entire item evenly (some slight darkening overall is natural). Make sure you don't over-saturate.
- Do one final quick brush in a single direction over the suede.
- Let the item air-dry on a towel for 24 hours in a well-ventilated area.
How often should you spray your items? I'd recommend spraying suede jackets & belts once every 2 months, and suede shoes once a week (unless you don't wear them for extended periods of time).
Note: Do NOT consider using leather creams or shoe polish. They don't work on suede the way they do on other leather types. They can disrupt the fibers and spoil your suede items even if they aren't stained or dirty.
Suede Care: Part 3 – Storage Tips
There are two main issues to watch out for when storing your suede: (1) direct sunlight and (2) a lack of air circulation. So you ought to keep them in a cool, dry place that doesn't receive sunlight. Suede that's left exposed to the sun can shrink, fade or harden. Avoid wrapping the items in plastic as well. The fibers in the suede need some breathing room.
Another tip is to use shoe trees made of unfinished cedarwood for your suede shoes/boots. Choose the kind with a split toe and fully shaped heel for a close fit. They're meant to quickly deodorize and absorb moisture. But remember to take the suede off the trees within 1-2 hours so as to maintain their foot shape.
If you don't plan to wear your suede footwear for quite some time, you can either…
- Store them in a dust bag.
- Wrap them in tissue paper and then store in a shoebox.
Now with a suede jacket: you need a well-shaped plastic hanger for hanging up the jacket. See to it there are no folds or creases. Make sure the sleeves are fixed, the pocket is lined flat, and everything is buttoned. This is how you'll keep the jacket in perfect form after every use.
Remember…Well-Kept Suede Is A Luxury
Is this guide (with all the work and patience required) really worth following? Only you can decide for yourself. Take a look at your suede item and think: “What do I feel when I've got this on and it's in perfect condition?”
Does your suede jacket sharpen the look of your arms, shoulders, and torso? Do your suede boots help you walk more confidently to work, or help you kill at while dancing at the next party you're in? Do people you encounter nod and give you second looks or ask about your clothing? Those are the things which actually matter.
The lasting impact of suede – both on you and on others – is what you're after. Suede is awesome to wear. It'll probably be the case for many years to come. So if you have some well-kept suede in your wardrobe…you've automatically got an edge over many other guys.
Suede is a style luxury. Invest in it.
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