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Caring for suede shoes

Suede is a type of leather that has a unique and interesting look and feel, but these exact qualities are what make it somewhat tricky to maintain. Suede is easily scuffed, scratched and damaged by water, but as with standard leather, the better you care for it, the longer it will last.

In this guide we look at what suede is made from, its qualities and its durability, with useful tips on how to care for and clean your suede shoes to help keep them in prime condition for longer.

First things first, what is suede?

Suede is a form of leather made from the underside of animal hide. What makes it noticeably different from other leather is that the surface is made up of small, raised fibres that are sanded to create a fuzzy and velvety surface that is smooth and soft to the touch.

How durable are suede shoes?

Suede is a very durable and tough fabric. It is made from a thinner layer of hide than standard leather, making it more flexible but less durable than its thicker counterpart, but when taken care of, with regular cleaning and protecting, suede should last just as long as leather.

Clarks Desert Boots

Is suede waterproof?

Unlike leather and nubuck, suede can be very easily ruined by water, which causes stains on its surface that are generally irreparable. As such it’s best not to wear suede shoes and boots in the rain.

Finishes can be applied to suede shoes to make them water-resistant or waterproof. However, it’s worth noting that covering the surface of suede can take away some of the texture of the raised fibres.

How to clean suede shoes

Importantly, suede shoes should never be put in the washing machine. They can generally be cleaned by rubbing them with a damp, lint-free cloth or a specialist suede brush. It's best to do this in straight motions but in different directions, as this will help remove dirt without pushing it deeper into the fibres.

The moisture from the damp cloth might temporarily darken the colour of the suede, but this should air-dry; while suede shoes aren’t waterproof, a damp cloth shouldn’t be enough to leave any visible marks.

If there are tough stains you’re struggling to remove or if you want to thoroughly clean the leather, a dedicated leather cleaner like our Active Foam Cleaner from our Shoe Care range is a more powerful option. Ensure it’s intended for suede specifically to avoid doing damage, and test the product on a small area first.

For a truly thorough clean, take your suede shoes to be professionally cleaned by a leather-cleaning expert.

How to fix a scratch on your suede shoes

Scratches can show up quite easily on suede, but if you notice one on your shoes then all is not lost. How you repair the scratch will depend on the size and depth of the scratch.

For small scratches, rub your finger over it to try and buff it out. For slightly deeper scratches, you may need to apply some suede conditioner to the scratch and the surrounding area, then buff it out.

If that doesn’t work, take a suede brush and gently brush the leather fibres. This might adjust the fibres enough to cover the scratch and make it less visible. If the scratch is very big or deep, you may need to try a leather filler kit, or ideally take your suede shoes to a leather expert for them to work their magic.

You can also treat your shoes to prevent them from getting scratched as easily.

How to treat suede shoes

It is important to frequently treat unfinished suede to make it more supple and resistant to scratches. After cleaning your suede shoes, use a soft cloth or brush to apply a suede conditioner, which will usually be a wax, oil or cream. Apply it in straight motions but in different directions to evenly distribute the conditioner over the shoe.

A protective finish can then be applied, like our Protector product from our Shoe Care range. This will help to resist water penetration and guards against stains.

How to store suede shoes

As well as regularly cleaning and treating your suede shoes, how you store them is also important. They should be kept out of direct sunlight to prevent the colour from fading, and they should also be kept away from heat, such as radiators.

If the seasons have changed and you’re not going to be wearing your shoes for a while, wrap them in tissue paper and put them in a shoebox or in a specialist shoe bag designed for this purpose. Store them somewhere cool and dry, as suede can become mouldy in humidity.

With some love and attention, your suede shoes should remain in prime condition for years to come. Explore our range of men's shoes and women’s shoes to find your perfect suede pair, or read our guide to caring for your feet.