Unlike cleaning smooth leather boots, suede has it’s own set of rules when it comes to proper boot care. Suede, nubuck and roughout have a nappy texture that can be ruined by regular leather cleaners which means you’ll have to give them a little extra special attention to keep them looking clean and feeling great.
In this boot care guide we will be showing you how to clean suede boots at home in an easy to follow tutorial. We’ll also go over the difference in care for each so that you can keep your suede, nubuck and roughout boots looking better and lasting longer.
When to clean your suede boots
Suede is especially sensitive to water, dirt and salt and should be routinely cleaned and cared for to prevent unsightly damage and stains. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to do a light cleaning every 10 wears and a thorough cleaning whenever your boots are visibly dirty or develop a stain.
You’ll know it’s time to clean your suede boots when:
- Boots have stains, discoloration or are visibly dirty from wear
- After prolonged exposure to water, salt, mud or other harsh elements
- If suede develops spots with flattened nap (spots that appear waxy and smooth)
Supplies Needed to Clean Suede
The supplies needed for cleaning suede, nubuck or roughout are going to be different than your average leather boot cleaning supplies. Suede's nap is delicate and can be easily ruined by heavy creams, oils and solvents.
To get started you'll need:
- Suede Brush
- Cleaning Block (Eraser)
- Suede Cleaning Solution (for tough stains)
- Suede Protector Spray (optional but recommended)
- Cedar shoe trees (optional but recommended)
A suede brush and eraser are two suede cleaning essentials. Make sure the brush you use is especially made for suede or nubuck as other brushes may be too rough and can ruin the nap. You are also going to need a suede eraser to address stains. Purchasing a suede boot cleaning kit is recommended as it will include everything you need to get started.
Sometimes a suede brush and cleaning block won't be enough to get rid of tough stains. In these cases you'll want to use a cleaning solution especially made for suede, nubuck and roughout.
A suede protector spray is optional but highly recommend. After you clean your boots you are going to want to protect them from water and staining. A coat of suede protector is the easiest way to do this.
How to Clean Suede Boots
STEP 1: Brush off Dirt
The first step in cleaning your suede boots is to brush off any loose dirt, dust or grime from the nap. It’s important that you use a dry brush for this without any water or solution.
With suede it’s very important that you only brush in the direction of the nap. Brushing against the nap or in circles can ruin the suede. Using a suede brush is usually enough to remove most dirt that’s stuck on the surface of the nap. Suede is a delicate leather and it’s important to not brush too aggressively. The harder the bristles on your brush, the more carefully you should apply pressure.
Nubuck and roughout leather is more forgiving when it comes to brushing. You can get away with brushing in circles with gentle pressure to remove dirt, grime and dust that is stuck on the nap.
STEP 2: Erase Stains
For more difficult dirt spots or stains you can use a suede cleaning block or “eraser” to remove them. A cleaning block is safe to use on suede, nubuck and roughout. It works great on dry stains and will help return the nap that has flattened and developed a sheen.
How to use a suede eraser:
- Use the cleaning block like an eraser and apply even pressure to rub out stains
- Brush away any eraser debris with your suede brush
- Use your suede brush to brush in the direction of the of the nap to restore and soften
- Repeat as necessary
At the end of this step your suede boots should be dirt and stain free. For most people the cleaning process will end here and they can skip to Step 4. But sometimes there are stubborn stains and marks on your suede, nubuck or roughout that need special attention. This is when liquid suede cleaners should be introduced.
STEP 3: Use a Cleaner
For a deep cleaning you are going to want to use a suede cleaning solution. Suede cleaners usually come in two varieties: a foaming solution and a spray.
The key to effectively using a suede cleaning spray is to apply it in an even coat. You are going to want to follow the directions in your specific cleaner but the same general rules will apply when using any kind of spray on suede, nubuck or roughout:
- Apply cleaner in an even coat to avoid spotting and discoloration
- Always brush in the direction of the nap
- If spotting does occur then reapply the cleaning solution more evenly
Foaming solutions work like a shampoo and lathers the suede for brushing. The lather allows deep penetration into the nap to release dirt, remove stains, and revive the color. Most suede foaming cleaners come in small concentrated bottles that need to be diluted in water. We recommend Saphir Omnidaim Suede Cleaner as it’s safe to use on suede, nubuck and textile fabrics.
- Use a brush to wash the suede as the solution lathers
- Apply even pressure and pay extra attention to stains you want to remove
- Rinse the boots in water and make sure all cleaning solution is rinsed away
- Use a suede brush in the direction of the nap to restore
- Give your boots time to completely dry before applying suede protector or wearing (see Step 5)
STEP 4: Protect Your Boots
After you are finished cleaning your boots you have the option of offering extra protection from future staining by applying a layer of suede protector. Before you apply any suede protector you want to make sure your boots are completely clean and dry.
You should follow the directions on your suede protector bottle for best results but you can still follow these general rules when applying a suede protector:
- Spray a small inconspicuous spot on your boots to make sure the protector plays well with your particular suede, nubuck or roughout.
- Always apply an even amount of protector to avoid spotting or uneven color
- Allow 24 hours for your boots to completely dry before wearing
Unlike with smooth leather boots, suede, nubuck and roughout will be ruined by leather conditioners in the form of waxes and boot oils. This is why you’ll most often see suede and nubuck protector’s come in the form of a spray bottle.
We recommend a few brands for suede protection. For the very best we recommend Saphir Renovateur Suede & Nubuck Conditioning Spray. Thanks to it’s special almond oil formula it’s one of the only suede waterproofing sprays that also conditions. If Saphir Renovator is out of your budget, Simple Shine Premium Water & Stain Repellent is a good alternative. For roughout leather boots Red Wing makes a leather protector spray that protects, waterproofs and restores color.
STEP 5: Let Your Boot Dry
The last and final step in cleaning your suede boots is to let them completely dry before wearing them again. It’s important to give your boots enough time to restore their nap and reshape.
- Give your boots at least 24 hours to completely dry
- Do not expose boots to direct heat. No hair dryers or heaters.
- Keep boots away from direct sunlight. Sunlight can discolor and damage suede and leather.
- Use cedar shoe trees to aid in the drying process and reshape your boots.
We recommend cedar shoe tress to aid in reshaping your boots while they dry. Not only should shoe trees be an important part of your daily boot care but they really help with the drying process. Cedar wood does two things very well: kills oder and draws out moisture. Cedar’s natural antimicrobial properties will help you boots smell as well as look better at the end of the cleaning process.
You can use regular shoe trees on your boots but Red Wing does make special boot trees that perfectly fit 6 inch boots. If you can’t get your hands on cedar shoe trees then stuffing your boots with newspaper is an good alternative.
HOW TO GET STAINS OUT OF SUEDE BOOTS
So after a night on the town you discover a nasty stain on your new grey suede chelsea boots. Don't panic just yet! All you need is a little extra TLC. Here are some things you do to get your suede boots looking new again.
Using your suede brush, apply some water to the stain and brush over the water stain. Yes, water can be used to remove water stains! Soak up excess water using a dry cloth. Dab gently until the water stain is gone. Make sure your boots are placed in a dry area away from bright sunlight or direct heat as this can cause the water to dry unevenly and worsen the stain. It is recommended that you use a shoe tree while the boots are drying so that they may retain their shape.
Wipe away excess mud and then let mud dry before further cleaning. The mud will clunk up and you will be able to break off the mud once dried. You can use a butter knife to remove large chunks of mud or a toothbrush to brush off the smaller pieces. When the mud is dry proceed to clean your boots with a suede brush.
If your boots are still wet from the oil stain then dab a clean towel or cloth to soak up as much of the oil as possible. Proceed to cover the oil stain with baking soda or cornstarch and let your boots sit for up to a day. The baking soda or cornstarch will absorb the oil from the suede. Once the baking soda/cornstarch is removed you can proceed to use a suede brush to restore the suede nap.
Salt stains on suede
Using your suede brush or a soft thistle toothbrush, brush off as much of the excess salt as possible. Using a clean cloth rub a small amount of white vinegar into the stained suede. Blot the suede dry with a cloth. Use the suede brush to rub the nap back in forth until the salt stain is gone. This process can be done multiple times until the salt stain is removed.