How to Clean Suede Shoes — A Step by Step Guide

10 min read

To get oil off suede, apply baking soda or cornstarch and leave overnight. To remove dirt and dust, use a crepe brush (hard suede brush).

For scuffs and stains, use a suede rubber. If that doesn’t help, clean with white vinegar, suede cleaner or hydrogen peroxide.

Hi! My name is George and I’m a shoe expert. Today I’ll show you how to clean a pair of suede shoes. 

For the experiment, I sprinkled cocoa all over my favorite faux suede ASICS. 

I’ll show you how to clean suede shoes step-by-step and with photos. I’ll also talk about restoring the nap and using household items like vinegar and suede rubber. 

Let’s dive in!

Table of Contents

1

Step 1 - Wait for the Suede to Dry

If your suede boots or shoes are wet, do not clean them. This can make your suede “flat” and leave a water stain. It can also rub dirt, salt and debris deeper into the material.

I recommend dabbing a paper towel or dry microfibre cloth to soak up some of the moisture. Then let the suede dry at room temperature.

Do not try to accelerate the process by heating suede. This can give you flat, hard suede.

The one exception is if your suede is wet with oil. If this is the case, immediately go to step 4 (remove oil stains). Oil is easier to remove before it sets in.

2

Step 2 - Remove Laces (Optional)

Suede shoe brushes have tough bristles that can damage soft laces – which we don’t want. Removing the laces will also help you clean suede more thoroughly.

If laces won’t get in the way of cleaning the suede, you can keep them on.

3

Step 3 - Use a Suede Eraser

See a stain or scuff mark? Get a suede eraser and start rubbing it. Once you’re done, use your suede brush to get rid of the rubber shavings.

If you don’t have a a suede erase, you can use a soft pencil eraser. Just make sure it’s 100% clean.

If your shoes are now clean, you don’t need to keep reading! You’re good to go.

4

Step 4 - Clean with a Brush

A good brush will get dry dust and dirt out of your suede. We want hard bristles because these will really get under the suede nap.

For best results, use a crepe brush; these are specifically made for suede boots and shoes. If you don’t have one, a clean nail brush or hard toothbrush will do.

With natural suede, brush with the grain vigorously. If this doesn’t help, go back and forth. For faux suede and nubuck shoes, you can brush back and forth or in circular motions immediately.

If you see a stubborn stain that won’t go away, don’t worry about it. We’ll get it in the next few steps.

5

Step 5 - Remove Oil Stains (Optional)

See a grease stain? Get some baking soda or cornstarch and sprinkle it on the affected area.

The powder will start soaking the oil up. Give it 10-15 minutes to do its work. If the oil stain is still there, shake off the powder and apply a new layer. Repeat until the stain is gone.

If your shoes are now clean, you don’t need to keep reading! You’re good to go.

6

Step 6 - Clean the Sole (Optional)

Use a toothbrush and dishwashing liquid to clean dirty soles. You can also use rubbing alcohol, vinegar or shoe wipes.

If you’re using alcohol, be careful not to get any on the shoe upper. Once you’re done, wipe the soles dry.

7

Step 7 - Apply Cleaning Solution to Brush or Cloth

Apply your cleaning solution to a suede or brush. You can use:

White Vinegar (use cloth)

1 Part Hydrogen Peroxide to 10 Parts Water (cloth or brush)

Rubbing alcohol

Suede Cleaner

Personally, I used suede leather cleaner for this tutorial. It lathers up and gets deep under the nap.

I’m not a big fan of rubbing alcohol. If you do use it, make sure it’s a weak solution (60% or below).

Do not use cleaner made for smooth leather shoes. Only the suede stuff.

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Step 8 - Brush or Rub Suede

For natural suede, start by working the cleaning solution with the grain. For faux suede and nubuck, go any way you like.

The tougher stains you didn’t remove in the previous steps should start coming right off.

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Step 9 - Dry the Suede Off

Now that you’ve cleaned your suede item, it’s time to dry it. Go over it with a clean cloth or paper towel, making sure to go with the grain.

I like microfiber for this step. It’s absorbent and it really soaks up whichever cleaning solution you used.

By this point, you should have clean suede shoes. If you don’t, try the next step for really tough stains.

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Step 10 - Apply More Powder

If you’re still seeing any tough stains, they could be oil mixed with dirt.

Take an absorbent, non-marking powder. Baking soda, cornmeal and talcum powder are best. Flour can work too.

Now apply a thick layer of powder to the dirty areas. Let them sit there; preferably overnight.

Once you’re done, use suede leather brush and eraser again. The dirt should come off easily.

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Step 11 - Restore the Nap (optional)

After cleaning suede shoes and boots, you may find the suede flat. It might also look shiny and threadbare in some areas.

If this happens, rub a suede brush over the leather. This will lift the nap, remove excess shine and let the leather breathe. If an areas resists brushing, use a metal brush very carefully.

If you see any suede strings poking out, get them with manicure scissors. They’re a lot more precise than a razor, which is what some folks use.

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Step 12 - Waterproof your Suede

Treating clean suede boots and shoes with a suede protector is always a good idea. This will give them some protection from water, oil and salt stains.

To waterproof, get a good suede protector spray. Now apply to the shoe or boot. No need to drench the suede fabric; just enough to cover the whole upper.

Alternatively, you can always opt for waterproof shoes. But why would you do that if you can just waterproof the footwear yourself?

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Step 13 - Enjoy!

Treating clean suede boots and shoes with a suede protector is always a good idea. This will give them some protection from water, oil and salt stains.

To waterproof, get a good suede protector spray. Now apply to the shoe or boot. No need to drench the suede fabric; just enough to cover the whole upper.

How to Keep Suede and Nubuck Shoes Clean?

Remember these few simple rules:

  1. Never clean wet suede. You’ll ruin the nap and work dirt deep into the leather.
  2. Never use smooth leather products on suede. You’ll ruin it.
  3. Apply a suede waterproofing spray regularly. Water and dirt won’t stick to the suede as easily.
  4. Don’t wear suede anywhere that’s dirty or wet
  5. If you got salt or reagent on your suede, wait for it to dry; clean thoroughly; insert a shoe tree. This will stop shrinkage and discoloration

How to Clean Suede Shoes with Household Products?

1. Use a nail brush or hard toothbrush to remove dirt. Brush natural suede with the grain; faux suede and nubuck can be brushed back-and-forth.

2. To remove a scuff mark, use a pencil eraser and rub back and forth. Once you’re done, use your brush to remove rubber residue.

3. Mix water with vinegar and/or hydrogen peroxide. Apply to a soft brush or cloth. Now rub any remaining dirty areas back and forth to remove stains.

4. Wait for the shoe to dry, then brush back and forth with a hard brush. This will restore the nap and lift it.

FAQ

How to clean stained suede shoes?

For water stains and scuff marks, a suede eraser should work. If it doesn’t, cleaning the suede with white vinegar, a suede cleaner or hydrogen peroxide will do the trick.

For oil stains, apply baking soda or cornstarch and leave overnight. If necessary, repeat until all the oil is soaked up by the powder.

How to Clean Faux Suede Shoes?

Just use the instructions on this page! I specifically clean faux suede sneakers in the photos.

How to Clean Suede Tennis Shoes?

Follow the instructions on this page. Cleaning suede tennis shoes is easy because they’re usually faux leather. This means you can clean with or against the grain.

How to Clean Suede Shoes with Baking Soda?

Apply baking soda to the affected area(s). For oil stains, leave for 20 minutes, then remove with a suede brush. Repeat if necessary.

For dirt and scuffing, leave overnight. Then remove with a suede brush.

How to Clean White Suede Shoes?

White suede shoes can be tough to clean because even slight discoloration is visible on them. For this reason, white nursing shoes are one of the most demanding pieces of footwear you can get.

To clean white suede shoes, follow the instructions above. Use hydrogen peroxide or a quality cleaning solution; they’ll get the job done.

In Conclusion

Cleaning suede shoes starts with using a suede brush to clean away dry dirt and dust. Afterwards, use a suede rubber or clean pencil eraser to get scuffs and stains off.

If the suede has a grease stain, soak it up by leaving baking soda on the shoe for a few hours. If the shoe is still dirty after this, apply vinegar, suede cleaner or hydrogen peroxide.

Once you’re done cleaning the shoe, wait for it to dry. Then apply a water-resistant suede protector.

If you want to get a good shoe cleaning solution that won’t dry the fabric out, check out our best shoe cleaner article. You can use the product you buy to clean a suede jacket, suede couch, etc – which is handy.

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Writer:

George P.H.

Last Updated:

April 26, 2022

George P.H.

George is the founder of Shoethority. He started testing and studying shoes after a series of sports injuries. He now shares his knowledge with Shoethority readers as a writer, tester and editor.