How to Clean Suede Boots Before You Stow Them Away for Spring

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night keeps you and your beloved suede boots from strutting through town. But all that unfortunate weather, plus salted sidewalks and the occasional spilled fruity cocktail, have left your shoes looking a little tired after this winter. So, if you’ve found yourself wondering how to clean suede boots and shoes, you’ve come to the right place.

Good news: Most scuffs, stains and marks are fairly easy to treat once you have the right tools. Bad news: Those tools are pretty much essential. You may be able to find substitutions with things around the house, but you’ll get the best results (read: the cleanest kicks) if you use items specifically made for the suede cleaning process.

Here’s What You’ll Need:

A Few Key Rules To Keep In Mind Before You Start:

1. Never clean suede while it’s wet. Always let your shoes dry completely before you dive in or you risk making the stain infinitely worse and harder to treat.

2. Always brush with the grain. Or at least almost always. For deeper stains you may need to brush back and forth to loosen whatever is stuck on there, but for the most part you should try not to rustle any feathers fibers.

3. The sooner you deal with the stains, the easier they’ll be to remove. This is why it’s a good idea to treat any scuffs or marks now before you stow your boots away until fall. (In fact, you should follow this rule for all of your clothes, shoes and accessories, as stains will only get worse and harder to treat while they sit in storage.)

how to clean suede boots suede brush
Claire Chung

Step 1: Use The Suede Brush To Remove Loose Dirt And Grime

Start with gentle strokes (remember, with the grain!), then apply more pressure as needed. Suede is a pretty durable fabric, hence its historical popularity with cowboys, so don’t worry too much if you feel like you need to get a little vigorous. Use the microfiber or flannel cloth to brush off as much of the stain particles as possible. For very new marks, this might be enough to bring your shoes back to how they looked when you first bought them.

how to clean suede boots suede eraser
Claire Chung

Step 2: For Deeper Stains, Grab Your Suede Eraser

This is when you might find you need to break rule number two and brush against the grain. If a stain is already pretty deep within the fibers, you’ll find more success in dislodging the grime if you use a back-and-forth motion. Scrub with the suede eraser, then pick up the suede brush and cloth once again to see just what kind of progress you’re making. Repeat until the stain is fully lifted.

how to clean suede boots white vinegar
Claire Chung

Step 3: Break Out The Tough Guy, Aka White Vinegar

It might seem counterintuitive to use liquid to treat suede, especially after listing “never try to clean suede while it’s wet” as rule numero uno. However, due to its acidic composition, white vinegar is actually really effective at lifting stains and is highly unlikely to leave any marks behind. If brushing hasn’t worked, dampen your cloth with a very small amount of white vinegar. Seriously, start with less than you think you need. You can always add more. Rub the vinegar into the stain by gently going back and forth, before leaving it to dry completely. Repeat steps one and two before trying more vinegar. Yes, this process is time consuming, but it’s also worth it if you want to restore your favorite booties back to their former glory. Repeat as necessary until the stain is gone.

Step 4: When In Doubt, Go To The Professionals

If you’ve tried and tried and tried some more, but you just can’t seem to brush that scuff out, it’s probably time to bring your boots to a shoemaker or suede specialist. They have the skills, tools, products and, let’s be honest, patience that the rest of us simply can’t match. The pros should be able to restore your shoes better than any at-home method.

How To Protect Your Suede Boots From Future Stains

Now that you’ve done all the work to make your shoes look as good as new, you’ll probably want to do everything you can to keep them looking as such. Apply a waterproofing spray or suede protector, like Bickmore Gard-More Water & Stain Repellent ($13) or Kiwi Suede Protector ($9), either as soon as you purchase a new pair of shoes or once they’ve been thoroughly cleaned and dried. These products work wonders and can protect your gorgeous footwear from needing another deep clean (although they might benefit from an annual brushing before storage). Also, be sure to read the directions and labels carefully, as you may need to reapply protector every six to 12 months, depending on the formula.

Abby Hepworth


Abby Hepworth is an RRCA-certified running coach who has worked in fashion for over 10 years. Want to know what shoes are in this season? She's got you. Need recommendations on...
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