How to Clean Suede

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So, tell me, what does the phrase “gants de Suede” bring to mind? If you can answer this one correctly and quickly, I’ll give you a tip of my leather chapeau!

Give up?

The literal translation for “gants de Suede” is “gloves” (gants or gauntlets) “of Swedes” in French. It appears that the Swedish were the first people to make gloves out of leather or, to be more precise, “refined” leather.

While there are many look-alike fabrics today, real suede is made of animal skin – leather. The difference between suede and shiny, slick or hard leather is that suede is actually from the flesh side of the skin. The hide itself is scraped clean of hair and tanned. Most suede leather is made of calfskin, lambskin, kidskin and goatskin.

Now that you know suede is actually animal skin of one variety or another, it would seem you could launder it just as you do your denim jeans or give it a bath like you do your dog.

NO! Not so! Tossing it into a clothes washer and agitating will upset the delicate balance of the oil impregnated into the fabric. Follow these tips to learn how to care for, and clean your suede properly.

All manufacturers of leather goods, articles of clothing, accessories, shoes, etc., most often recommend that you have these fabrics clean by professional leather cleaners.

It is expensive so if you can clean it yourself, you might be able to delay having them cleaned professionally.

Spot Cleaning Suede

  • If the droplet has just happened and is “beaded up” on the surface, try wicking it away. Touch it gently with a paper napkin or tissue. The absorbent material will draw or “wick” the moisture away. This little trick often works best on new fabrics as the oil content is much more repellant than when the article ages.
  • If the drop on your suede pants is dry and crusty, try brushing it off with an old toothbrush or nailbrush using quick, light motions.
  • Dry stains might also respond to “erasing” using a brown art gum eraser (not the pink kind). Rub gently across the suede.
  • Salad dressing or oil spots may be helped by a quick application of cornstarch if you can catch it before it is fully absorbed by the suede. Sprinkle a liberal amount of the cornstarch onto the stain, tap lightly with your finger, and let it sit for an hour or more. Then shake off the loose starch and apply a light brushing to the spot. Hopefully, this will remove most of the oil.
  • If you’ve dropped something on your suede shoes and it doesn’t respond to brushing, try rubbing with a damp cloth that has been dipped in vinegar. Not too hard and don’t soak it! Allow the suede article to “air out” to remove the smell of the vinegar.
  • Other people have also reported some positive results by using an emery board nail file on the suede to restore nap. I have not tried that – do so at your own risk.
  • There is a special brush made for suede. You can get one at a leather goods store.

Caring for Suede

  • I recommend pre-treating your suede garment with a leather protection and preservative spray before you wear it.
  • Suede shoes and outerwear may be sprayed with a water repellent. Be sure to check manufacturer’s instructions specifically before using on the item.
  • Leather car seats and furniture such as sofas and chairs can be cleaned with special upholstery cleaners. Look at the label for complete instructions before applying to the leather.
  • It’s a good idea to keep furniture dusted well to keep grime from adhering to and deteriorating the materials.
  • Kids of all ages are hard on furniture. Be strict! No shoes or food or drink allowed on leather furniture. And, heaven forbid! No kids with pencils or pens. We’ve seen serious damage done to leather cushions by a toddler with a ballpoint pen – it cannot be restored.

Cleaning Suede Shoes

Even if you take excellent care of your suede shoes, they scuff easily and the nap actually gets matted or mashed down. In this case, put a pot of water on the stove and bring it to a boil. When there’s a sufficient quantity of steam rising from the boiling water, hold your shoe above it so that the steam engulfs the matted suede.

Allow it to remain in the steam for a minute, then pull it back and brush lightly with a suede brush. You may need to do this a couple of times until you’ve restored the nap as much as possible.

Don’t let the shoes get wet or touch the boiling water.

Place the shoes on a newspaper in an out-of-the way area and allow them to air dry. When dry, rough the nap again with the suede brush. Then tell your friends, “You can do anything you want to do, but stay off of my new suede shoes!” (Apologies to Elvis, wherever he is.)

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