A Step-by-Step Guide To Caring For Suede Shoes

Suede has an unjustified reputation of being difficult to maintain and looking shabby after a short time of wearing. Here are some tips and hints on how to treat and clean this type of leather in order to enjoy your shoes for a long time.

Suede is basically made in two different ways: either a skin’s flesh side is shaved and sanded and used for the suede outside, or a skin is split in several layers and the side which is closer to the split-off grain is used for the suede’s outside. The first type of suede is referred to as ‘reverse grain suede’, ‘full grain suede’ or, sometimes, ‘hunting suede’. The second type is called split suede.

Both types of suede are offered in varying levels of thickness, touch, appearance of the surface and quality of tanning. Both types have their specific fields of application. Bovine splits of 2.5 mm are often used for hiking boots and thinner versions for sports shoes or for classic men’s shoes when softness is not an important issue but a matt, short haired surface is wanted. Thin, full grain calf suedes are used for ladies’ dress shoes or moccasins when a glove like feel is required. This type of suedes often shows a scribing effect due to its softer and longer hair.

Very generally speaking split suede partly loses the leather’s natural ability to stretch because this capacity is linked to the grain layer of the leather and this layer has been split off. We mostly use reverse grain suede made from calf or, if a thicker leather is required, from small cows. In any case fostering for all kinds of suedes is more or less the same.

1. Brushing
For the everyday brush-up, any hard bristled brush will do fine. Crepe brushes or fine brass wired brushes available in shoe repair shops are suitable tools, but tend to pull the hair out of the leather. There is, however, a simple process to deal with this problem and make your suede shoes smooth again (see further below step 4).

2. When dusty or muddy
Use water and Soap and a Scotch-Brite type of sponge. Suede is not hydrophobic. Apply a mild soap on a sponge and squeeze to get some lather out. Wash the shoes all over and wipe off the surplus foam. Do not rinse under running water. The leather should be humid but not completely soaked through. Dry the shoes slowly and don’t put them on or near direct heating. Put only fitted trees into the shoes for drying. Non – fitted or ‘generic’ trees would deform the original shape of the shoe.
This procedure should clean off all kind of mud and white salt stains and is recommended once a year — in spring. For freshening up or daily dust removal, a squeezed sponge will do, no soap is needed.

3. Accidental oil and fat stains
First attempt: Use lighter fluid on a piece of cotton cloth, which is wrapped around your finger. Just moisten the cloth and rub gently in circles. Do not drip lighter fluid on the spot, since drying marks could appear on the suede. Do not use stain remover for textiles, they may contain acetone, which dilutes leather dyes.
Second attempt: You may try strong fat solvents like bicycle chain cleaner, rim cleaner or pan cleaner. All these solvents are basically strong soaps and often more effective than lighter fluid. But, it is important to dilute the cleaning solvent afterwards with water by washing the entire shoe.
Third attempt: Place piece of blotting paper on the stained spot and press the tip of a hot iron (at maximum temperature) on the blotting paper covered spot, for several seconds.

4. Torching
Brush your shoes with a regular shoe brush in one direction so that the long-haired parts are a bit fluffy. Hold the shoe upside down with the sole towards your hand and slew it over a gas flame of a stove or camping cooker. Keep the flame low and start with a distance of approximately 30 centimetres. Keep the shoe always moving while slewing it over the flame. Check after each swing if the hairy parts are burned smooth.
Watch out for your hands, they are less heat resistant than the leather. Remember when you were a child and learned to move your finger quickly through a candle flame: the slower you go, the warmer it gets.
The use of candles, kerosene lamps or paraffin lamps for torching your shoes is not recommended, since they would get fuliginous. For small fluffed areas a gas lighter or kitchen torch will do.

5. Sprays
Waterproof sprays are not needed on newly bought suede shoes. For heavily worn shoes, colour freshening sprays might help or at least won’t do any harm. Anyway, if you do wish to use such sprays, we recommend you do it only after a thorough brushing and cleaning.