Your poor suede shoes. On the one hand, they look great. On the other, they’re shoes – which means they take a beating unlike anything else in your wardrobe. Moreover, they’re suede, which isn’t a bad thing by any means, but it does mean they’re a bit more, ahem, sensitive when it comes to caring for them. Or, so they say.
But not so sensitive that you can’t care for them on your own, or that you’re going to ruin them if you live in a place that gets any decent amount of inclement weather.
On the contrary, suede shoes are no different than any other kind of leather shoes. You can maintain them and give them long life with the right kind of care, or you can send them to an early demise with a lack of care. Too many men are afraid of ruining their suede.
Relax. You, too, can look great in suede shoes without worrying that you’re a couple of raindrops, or snow piles, away from ruining them for the rest of eternity.
What follows is a primer, as it were, on how to protect suede shoes. We’ll cover the basics, the essentials, and hopefully, reduce any angst you may have as a suede shoe owner.
1. Suede: The Basics
First of all, suede is leather. You may or may not know that already, but it’s worth repeating. Suede, however, comes from the underside of the skin, and primarily from lamb, although the skin of various other animals (including calf and deer) can also be used.
Because it comes from the underside of the skin and not the tough outer layer, suede is generally softer and less durable than typical full-grain leather. It’s not only softer, but it’s also thinner, and it’s popular not only in shoes and boots but also upholstery, bags, and many other accessories.
It’s distinctive from other leathers in that it has a soft, napped finish. You know it’s suede when you look at it, and also when you run your hand over it.
Designers also love the stuff. A 1930s French designer created a suit made of goat suede and wool, and suede can be pleated, gathered, draped and fluted. The possibilities, it seems, are endless.
2. Suede & Durability
Common knowledge (as well as long-held perceptions) tells us that, as mentioned previously, suede is less durable than other types of leather used to make shoes. Full-grain leather shoes are made from the rougher, tougher exterior of the skin, while suede comes from the underside of it.
But wait – not all suede is created equal. There’s a kind of suede called nubuck, which is created from the outer layer of the skin, usually calfskin, that has been sanded down. It’s inherently tougher than suede that’s created from the less-rugged underside of the skin.
There are two sides to every skin, however, and because nubuck is sanded from the outside, there can be natural marks and imperfections left behind. Manufacturers deal with these imperfections by staining or dyeing them away, which then results in a smoother, cleaner product, which some feel lacks the personality of traditional suede.
Of course, beauty is always in the eye of the beholder.
One more word on caring for suede. Some would argue that suede actually needs less maintenance than full-grain leather because the latter needs to be polished at least weekly. Not so with suede, which can be kept hale and healthy with an occasional dose of preventive care, which we’re going to touch on next.
3. How to Protect Suede Shoes
Caring for your suede shoes really isn’t rocket science. Sure, they can expire before their time if you don’t take the proper preventive measures, but that pretty much sums up everything in your wardrobe. Be vigilant, but skip the paranoia.
What You’ll Need
Your suede care kit should include a few essentials: a suede protector spray, a cleaning block, and a suede brush. All of these things can be purchased at your local shoe shop or local grocery or drug store for that matter. It’s your choice when it comes to spray, but some would tell you to avoid silicone-based sprays because they can darken the suede.
But we strongly encourage you to get a protector spray. You’re going to need it. A rubber cleaning block, which you should always have if the suede you’re sporting is nubuck, will help remove stubborn stains.
Suede brushes, meanwhile, are good for your suede shoes, clothing and accessories. Talk about handy; these brushes are equipped with both soft and metal bristles, enabling you to revive the nap of the suede material while also dealing with those pesky surface stains. They’re also relatively cheap, so you can keep a variety of different-sized brushes on hand.
The metal bristles are located in the inner brush, while the softer bristles are placed around the perimeter. There are a variety of variations on the traditional suede brush, including one popular model which doubles as a shoehorn. There’s nothing quite like a brush that has a side job.
One rule of thumb to keep in mind when it comes to suede brushes: the harder the bristle, the gentler you should be during the brushing process. Don’t be a caveman. Another rule of thumb: the longer the suede, the softer the brush. Very short suede should be brushed with wire bristles.
4. Don’t Step on Those Suede Shoes (And Other Basic Care Advice)
As much as we hate to admit it, the weather is clearly out of our control. That’s an issue for everyone who wears suede shoes, but particularly for those of you who live in wintry or rainy climates. If you live in the Midwest, for example, it probably hasn’t been that many weeks ago since you stepped in ankle-deep snow, or narrowly averted disaster by stepping over a slush puddle that awaited you just beyond the curb.
But you also know what it means to be prepared. You don’t leave home without a winter coat. You wear gloves or keep them with you just in case. Maybe you wear a hat or scarf. The point is, you understand the necessities of how to live in your environment, just like folks know the importance of sunscreen in hot, sunny climates.
Now let’s circle back around to suede shoes. You know, for a fact, that they require a bit of extra attention because of what they’re made of. You know stains can spell disaster. But you come prepared. How? By following these steps:
We’ve already touched on suede protector spray. We’re mentioning it again because it’s, well, important. Protective sprays act as sealants, and a thin layer applied now should last you at least a couple of months. They’ll repel dirt and block the door on stains before they even get to the porch. Experts say you should brush your shoes with a suede brush both before and after you spray them.
Dealing With Water Stains
If we lived in a perfect world, we’d never get our suede shoes wet. If you don’t live in a perfect world, then here’s some advice for dealing with water stains, and there seem to be two schools of thought. Some say clean water stains with water (huh?). Others say avoid water at all costs, and the cost could be the life of your shoes.
The first school of thought says to spray a thin layer of water evenly over the surface of the shoes, and then scrub the stained area with a nail brush. It’s advised to start at the edges of the stain and scrubbing in toward its center. Next, blot the water with a damp cloth, and then let your shoes dry in a cool, well-ventilated area. Don’t put them in front of a heat source to dry, because you could end up with uneven drying.
The second school of thought says, ‘never use water to clean your suede shoes.’ Why? Because water can affect both the color and texture of your shoe.
Dealing With Dirt and Mud Stains
Your initial reaction may be to go after that mud and dirt the very second they appear on your suede. Don’t. Let the mud dry first, then attack it with your suede brush. Follow that by rubbing off the rest of the dirt by brushing in one consistent motion, using short strokes.
A suede cleaning block, which works like an eraser, also works well with dirt and scuff stains. Use the block to brush the stained area in one direction. Then brush away the remaining residue. And, seriously, you can even use a pencil eraser for minor dirt stains and scuffs. Oh, and don’t forget white vinegar. It can be used on heavier stains by blotting it on with a clean towel. Continue the process until the stain disappears.
Dealing With Difficult Stains
OK, mud, dirt and water stains are never going to be a desired part of suede shoes’ charm. But it could be worse. Permanent marker? Wine? Oil? Now, those are serious stains. In some cases, you might want to consult your local cobbler, who will have the professional know-how to really deal with those stains. But if you do get a small oil stain, for example, try to remove the excess moisture with a paper towel. Then, and only then, try brushing it away with your suede brush.
Wait, There’s More!
A couple of other thoughts from the good folks who know how to take care of suede.
- You can treat a liquid spill with talcum powder, or corn meal. Just pat the area with a clean cloth or towel, apply a thin layer of the powder (or meal), and let it set overnight. Brush the suede the following day to remove the dried powder.
- A clean toothbrush is your friend in many ways, including when it comes to caring for your suede shoes. If your suede is starting to look weary and drab, scrub it with a clean toothbrush. It can bring that suede back to its typically perky self.
Clearly, there are many ways to deal with the various stains which, inevitably or not, can mar the look of your suede shoes. That’s reassuring, especially if you feel as if your suede must be handled as carefully as fine china. Of course, you’ll want to take good care of them, but wear them with confidence. There’s no reason you can’t have a long life together.