how to clean suede shoes

How to Clean Suede Shoes

“You can do anything, but stay off my blue suede shoes,” crooned Elvis in that famous ode to his footwear. And the King had good reason: Suede is hard to maintain. If your favorite suede kicks are in need of repair, use this handy how-to guide to bring them back to life.

1. Get the right equipment.

If you want to keep your suede looking solid, the bare minimum you’ll need is a suede brush and spray-on suede protector. Depending on the damage, you might also need a suede eraser, shoetree, nailbrush, sponge, and cornstarch (we'll get to those in a bit).

2. Prevent stains from the start.

The best way to protect a suede shoe is not to wear them until you’ve applied a water and stain protector. This will protect the material and make the cleaning process quite a bit easier. Be sure to reapply the protector each time you clean it as well.

3. Know the motions.

To remove dirt and scuff marks, apply a suede brush repeatedly in the same direction. This will lift the nap and remove any dirt. If scuff marks remain, brush repeatedly back and forth until they’re gone. If that doesn’t get it out, scrape a knife across the area to raise the nap. If it still won’t budge, bust out your special suede eraser (a pencil eraser or piece of crepe rubber will work) and rub it over the stubborn marks.

4. Target each stain differently.

Mud stains: Once the mud has dried and hardened, use a nailbrush to get out the remaining dirt particles, being sure to keep your brush strokes moving in the same direction.

Water stains: It sounds paradoxical, but you’ll need to lightly coat the entire outside of the shoe with water. Dab a sponge or dry cloth across the exterior, soaking up excess water and ensuring an even wetness everywhere. Put your shoetree in—or ball up paper and fill your shoes with it—and let them dry overnight. This will help your shoe retain its shape. Avoid filling with newspaper, though, unless you like the idea of ink soaking into your shoes. Once the shoes dry, lightly brush them using your beloved suede brush.

Oil stains: If the water stain doesn’t seem to go anywhere, chances are it’s actually an oil stain. First, try attacking it with a suede brush, vigorously brushing back and forth. If it doesn’t respond, bust out the nailbrush and repeat. If it still isn’t going anywhere, don’t despair—try sprinkling cornstarch over the stain. Let it sit overnight, then brush away the starch and mist with an iron. If it’s still not vanishing, we’d like to offer our condolences: It’s probably there to stay.

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