How to Clean Suede

Credits:  Kristin Buchholz-MacKillop

Dropped a glass of Merlot all over your favorite pair of over the knee boots? Has your white suede bag been rubbing against your jeans and now it’s turning an odd shade of blue? We’ve got you covered.

As with so many life’s lessons, I learned about suede the hard way. I had only begun to make grown-up money – not a lot mind you, but enough to want to treat myself to a little something special. I found that something special in a beautiful light tan suede handbag.

Made in Italy, it was truly a thing to behold. With woven natural leather handles and the sort of louche, slouchy, hobo styling that was so popular at that time (that time being the “it bag” era of the late 90s-early 2000s), I carried that thing everywhere. Rain or shine, in all types of environments, I would plop it on the ground at an outdoor café, throw uncapped pens inside it, and even balance a half-consumed latte inside it.

Basically, I was clueless. In less than three weeks, my precious suede handbag looked as if it had been driven over by a convoy of construction cranes.

As it turns out, there is some maintenance involved in keeping your suede looking its best. Not a lot of maintenance, mind you, but some quick and easy ways to help you get the most out of your investment.

It’s quite simple actually, and taking the time to do it can mean the difference between keeping your suede around for years to come, or depositing it into a donation bin barely a year after purchasing it. I don’t doubt you can guess which category my beloved Italian suede handbag ended up in.

Suede is a fair weather friend


If you want something that will see you through every single day in life, and don’t live in an airlock on the International Space Station, suede is probably not your best choice. Because suede is a porous fabric with a very susceptible nap (that’s the fuzzy bit of the suede), it is very easily damaged by water.

Rain, snow, and anything else that might get on the fabric from just being outside has the potential to completely change the appearance of suede. Therefore, to keep it looking as fresh as the day you bought it, it’s best to bring it out only on those clear, sunny days.

Suede is also very susceptible to damage by chemicals. Hairspray, perfume, or any other chemicals that make up your daily routine are best used away from where you store your suede garments and handbags.

Even when you try to do everything right and save the suede for a sunny day, you can still get caught out by the weather. If this happens, don’t panic, but do take action as quickly as possible once you are able to.

In case of inclement weather


Remove any water stains by blotting the suede with a towel. Try not to press too hard on the suede, as this can drive the water deeper into the matrix of the fabric. If the entire piece is saturated, lightly blot the whole piece then allow it to dry thoroughly.

If it is a jacket, hang it on a sturdy, thick hangar that is an appropriate size for the garment so that it does not become miss-shaped. Shoes that are saturated should be placed on a shoehorn or stuffed with plain white paper. Bags should be molded into shape as much as possible and allowed to dry in a position that will cause the least amount of matting to the nap.

Do not dry a suede piece near a radiator, a fireplace, or any other source of incandescent heat. This will only dry out the leather and cause the shape of the item to warp.


A suede brush is an indispensable tool in the maintenance of any suede bag or garment. Most suede brushes have two sides to them. One finer side for buffing the nap, and another, more coarse side for removing stains.

You should only brush a dry suede item, so even if you are treating a very small area, wait for that area to dry thoroughly before attempting to brush it. You should use the more gentle brush first to get the nap of the fabric to stand up.

After you have successfully accomplished this part of the process, use the more coarse side to remove the stain, being careful not to press too hard and destroy the fabric. Gentle, short strokes should do the trick, and be sure to always brush in the direction of the grain of the nap to avoid damaging it.

Stains that are dry can also be removed using a pencil eraser. Make sure to select an eraser that is white or brown (if the item is brown), as pink and blue erasers can leave color transfer on suede that is of a different color. Again, short gentle strokes should be used when trying to rub-out the stain.

Deeper stains like wine and coffee can be removed using a washcloth dipped in white wine vinegar. Gently dab the washcloth over the stain, trying your best not to saturate it with the vinegar. Blot the stain dry and let the piece air-dry naturally.

Stains from cooking oil, hair products, or anything else that may be oil-based can be more difficult to remove, and time is really of the essence. As soon as you notice the stain, blot the excess oil from the suede with a towel.

When you have blotted-off as much as you are able to, sprinkle a generous coating of baking soda or plain talcum powder onto the stain and let it sit for a few hours. Follow with a suede brush to remove the powder.

Stains that cannot be removed by these means are best left to the professionals. A dry cleaner who also deals in suede garments will most often advertise that they handle suede, and may also be able to deal with cleaning handbags.

Shoes are best taken to a reputable shoe repair shop, where they have all of the necessary tools of the trade to attempt to breathe new life into a pair of suede shoes, and will also be able to give you advice on products for cleaning and protecting your suede.

Suede is a beautiful and sumptuous material that has a timeless classic appeal. To keep it looking its best, there is a bit of maintenance to undertake in order to ensure that your much-loved suede gives love back.

Hopefully, these simple tips on cleaning and maintaining your suede will keep your wardrobe in rotation for years to come, instead of joining a certain Italian suede handbag at the bottom of a donation bin.



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