How to Clean Suede: What I Learned from Listening to the Internet

suede YSL bag

Take care of that suede YSL, girl! (Photo: Getty)

Last winter, I bought an absolutely perfect—and pricey—pair of pink suede ankle boots that I meticulously cared for. Did I wear them outside if there was even a 10 percent chance of rain? Nope. Did I retire them to their box after each wear? You bet! When I packed them away for summer—wrapping them in tissue paper and setting them on a shelf—I beamed with pride at how responsibly I’d looked after the shoes.

Cut to last week, when temperatures here in New York started to drop. I unwrapped the boots, excited to trot them out for the season, only to be taken aback at how dingy they looked. WTF?

Being packed away in cardboard for four months probably didn’t do my suede boots any favors, but it also seems that last winter’s wear took its toll. I likely didn’t notice the scuffs, dirt, and grime at the end of last season the way I do now, after seeing so many pristine pieces on shelves and online.

I considered running my boots over to my local shoe-repair shop for a professional cleaning. But I am a ridiculously impulsive person, so I decided I absolutely had to wear the damn boots as soon as humanly possible—I couldn’t possibly part with them for the few days it would take my guy to spiff them up.

kate bosworth star boots

Suede boots and grass? Kate Bosworth’s going to need these tips. (Photo: Getty)

Thus, I did what any enterprising human would do. I Googled the eff out of how to clean suede. Here’s what worked for me.

Treat dried stains—like dirt—with a brush and white vinegar.
My boots weren’t caked in dirt, but they did have dark patches of grime and some lighter spots that looked like salt stains. The Internet suggests white vinegar to remove the gunk, but rubbing the shoe vigorously with a suede brush is a crucial first step. Naturally, I didn’t have one, but people online said that, in a pinch, a kneaded eraser or an emery board will do the trick.

I grabbed a nail file and gently buffed the discolored areas, and then I used a dry cloth to lightly pat the boots with distilled white vinegar. While I definitely saw a slight difference, I suspect the vinegar would have worked better on fresh stains, and a solid brush would have helped with old ones.

During my research, I came across a few other tips that people on message boards absolutely swear by. I plan to employ them immediately should I snag any other suede pieces this season. Read and learn, friends.

PARIS, FRANCE - MARCH 08: Fashion blogger Chiara Ferragni wears all Chloe at the Chloe show on day 6 of Paris Collections: Women on March 08, 2015 in Paris, France. (Photo by Kirstin Sinclair/Getty Images)*** Local Caption *** Chiara Ferragni

Head-to-toe suede doesn’t have to be a recipe for disaster. (Photo: Getty)

Seal suede.
The first thing everyone says to do is use a protective sealant on suede. Like a fool, I certainly did not do that, but you can—and should! Most drugstores and shoe-repair shops carry what you need (Gear Aid ReviveX Nubuck, Suede & Fabric Water Proofing spray is a popular choice; it’s $8.67 and available at Amazon
). A thin application will last several months, and it will help repel dirt like a champ and stop stains before they start. A tip to keep in mind: Be sure to brush with a suede brush before and after you spray your suede item.

Use talcum powder or cornmeal to treat a liquid spill.
In my research, I also learned that if you spill liquid on your boots—say, some juice or coffee—you should pat the area with a clean cloth or towel and then apply a layer of cornmeal or talcum powder. Let it sit overnight, and then brush the suede the following day to remove the dried powder.

Whatever you do, don’t clean suede with water.
This might seem counterintuitive, but you do not want to clean suede with water, which can affect both the color and the texture of suede. You can, however, hold your suede item above steam—even from a teakettle—for a few seconds, and then brush it to clean it or revive the fibers. Just don’t let water penetrate the piece.