How to Clean Suede Shoes

Cropped feet view of model wearing TOMS boots.

There’s a cool and crisp breeze in the air, the tree leaves are turning, and you’re ready to greet the changing seasons with a brand new pair of suede boots that’ll take you on all your upcoming adventures in comfort and style. Or maybe warm weather is beckoning your toes for a dance in your impossibly cute suede slides. 

Whatever style you’re wearing, you’ll need to know how to keep those suede shoes for women looking fluffy and fresh—no matter if you’re enjoying a romp through a pumpkin patch and can’t avoid a mud puddle, or strolling down a busy city street and wind up with your iced latte on your feet instead of in your hand. 

We’re here to let you know that keeping your suede in ship shape is as easy as following a few simple steps. Our complete suede cleaning and shoe care guide will tell you everything you need to know about how to clean suede shoes so you can keep them looking soft, clean, and brand new. 

Before You Begin: Gather Your Materials

Before jumping right into scoffing and scrubbing your suede shoes, gather all the essentials and just-in-case items you’ll need to make the cleaning process as easy as possible. These include:

  • Suede brush
  • Suede eraser
  • Soft brush
  • Suede shampoo
  • Water
  • Bowl
  • White vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Newspaper or paper towels
  • Weather-proofing spray 

Now that you have your supplies handy, you’re ready to get started cleaning your suede shoes.

Step #1: Brush Off The Build-Up

The very first step in cleaning suede shoes should be using a suede brush to loosen and remove any dirt, debris, and build-up from the surface of the shoe. 

Choosing The Right Suede Brush

Just like when you tackle tangles in your hair, using the right type of brush makes all the difference. When choosing a brush for your suede shoes, keep a few of the following details in mind:  

  • Bristle material – The stiffness and flexibility of the bristles depend on how stubborn the stain or whether or not your suede needs an extra level of oomph to get it back in top shape. From boar hair to nylon to brass, there are a variety of options to choose from.
  • Handle type – Look for a handle that’s long and easy to hold and maneuver as you brush circularly in all the surface crevices of your suede shoe. A good grip is essential when going after tough spots and stains.  

If you don’t have a suede-specific brush handy, any other soft-bristled brush (such as an old toothbrush) will do the job just fine. 

How to Brush The Right Way

Believe it or not, there’s a right way and a wrong way to brush your suede shoes. For this first round of brushing, the purpose is to remove any loose dirt and debris, so brush with the nap (or grain) of the leather. 

Cropped feet view of model wearing the women's Everly boot.

Step #2: Clean Like a Pro

After loosening surface debris, it’s time to give the shoe an even deeper clean. You can use a specially formulated suede shampoo or normal household kitchen products like white vinegar or a gentle dish soap. Be cautious when purchasing leather cleaner, ensuring beforehand that it’s safe for use on suede material. 

Use a Suede Eraser

If you have a lighter color or pattern that makes spots, stains, and scuffs more noticeable on a pair of shoes such as your suede wedge booties you love wearing with those mixed pattern outfits, a suede eraser will be your new best friend when spot-cleaning. Often made from natural rubber, a suede eraser helps to remove scuff marks. When using a suede eraser, rub with the grain of the leather prior to using any additional cleaner. 

Shampoo Your Shoes

A cleaner that’s specially formulated for cleaning suede is an easy option for giving your shoes a suds bath. If you don’t have any on hand, a vinegar and water solution will also clean very well. Here’s where you’ll want to utilize the softer-bristle shoe brush or an old toothbrush to evenly saturate the shoe using a circular motion. 

Step #3: To Rinse or Not to Rinse 

Using clean water, rinse the shoe to remove all traces of the cleaning solution. 

Alternative Tip: The jury is out on whether suede should get wet. If you’re unsure about soaking your suede shoes and would rather not use the shampoo and rinse technique, consider a dry cleaning method that replaces soap and water with baking soda that you simply brush in, let sit, and then brush out (see step #6). 

Shoes for moving forward. Shop women's slip ons.

Step #4: Dry with Care

Blot and pat with a clean cloth or towel to remove as much excess moisture as possible. It’s important to evenly remove the water, as uneven drying could lead to spotting or discoloration. 

Try not to rub the shoes dry, as that could affect the way the suede grain looks after it dries. Blot, press, and apply pressure to soak up moisture rather than rubbing in a circular motion. 

Step #5: Absorb Any Lingering Moisture

After you’ve brushed, washed, and patted dry, fill your shoes with newspaper or paper towels (anything absorbent will do) while they air dry for a minimum of 24 hours. This will help your shoes retain their shape as they complete the drying process. 

Be sure that your shoes are completely dry before continuing on in the cleaning process. 

Step #6: Fluff for an Ultra-Soft Finish

You know how a puppy’s hair is extra fluffy after a bath, dry, and brush? Well, the same often applies to your suede shoes. A post-bath brush for your suede sneakers or boots will return the surface to its ultra-soft and velvety glory—or maybe even make them look better than ever. 

Bring that bristle brush back out and give your clean, dry shoes another brushing, this time to loosen and lift. Gently and quickly brush in the direction of and away from the nap to soften and smooth as well as to give an even fluff to the touchably soft surface. 

Be sure to brush the full surface of the shoe so that the appearance of the grain remains even throughout. 

Step #7: Apply a Protective Spray

Just like when we put on sunscreen to protect our skin from harmful UV rays, your shoes will benefit from added protection from the elements too.  

Spray your freshly cleaned shoes with a quality suede and leather protector to put your best suede-covered feet forward. Providing an invisible layer of protection, our suede protectant spray fights moisture and stains while retaining the suede’s quality. 

Having an added layer of protection will give you peace of mind so you can worry less about damaging your shoes and focus more on the fun places they’ll take you. 

Cropped feet view of model wearing TOMS shoes.

Quick Spot-Cleaning Tips & Tricks

Even though you’ve been extra cautious to keep dirt and grime away from your supple suede flats and fashion-forward booties, sometimes accidents happen. 

If you’re on the go and suddenly find yourself with a drink drip or a mud splash on your typically pristine shoes, keep these extra tips for how to clean suede sneakers, shoes, and boots in mind. That way, you can mop up the mess before you can give them the full spa-day treatment: 

When in doubt, blot it out. If you accidentally step in a parking lot puddle or spill your morning coffee on your business casual with sneakers look while you’re rushing to a meeting, find a towel or cloth to blot as much of the liquid as possible. Do your best to avoid letting the liquid air-dry. 

If you get stuck in the mud, gently wipe away excess grime and leave the leftover dirt to dry before going through a full brush and cleaning regimen as described above. 

Why Does Suede Need To Be Cleaned? 

Suede is an in-demand form of leather made from the underside of animal skin. Soft and supple, it’s the perfect material for a comfortable, stylish, and long-lasting shoe. But just like any other wardrobe item that you want to keep as a trusted staple in your closet, proper maintenance is necessary—especially if you want your suede shoes to keep you dancing ‘til dawn for years to come.

Think of cleaning your suede shoes like taking your car through the carwash or your dog to the groomers—proper maintenance means a longer lifespan, giving you extra years with your favorite suede alpargatas or your go-to suede sneakers

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your suede shoes may get scuffed or stained. Because of the delicate and unique nature of the fabric, it’s important to take certain precautions when cleaning your suede shoes. Refer back to the cleaning steps above whenever your suede footwear is in need of a little TLC. 

Keep Your Suede Shoes Pristine with Help From TOMS

Maintaining the dashingly good looks of your fabulous flats, favorite boots, and suede slip-ons is simple with the right knowledge and tools. Consider adding a cleaning routine for your non-suede footwear friends as well. 

Now that you know how to clean suede shoes, add a few more trendy suede styles to your collection from our variety of women’s shoes for every season and occasion, from brunch outfit ideas to lounging at the beach, and more. When you’re on the hunt for an ultra-comfortable and endlessly stylish suede shoe, trust that TOMS will deliver the very best in footwear options. 

From flats and alpargatas to sneakers and boots, the soft durability and sleek, stylish appearance of suede makes for quality shoes that can really take you places, and with a little help from a suede cleaning brush, your TOMS will be trotting for years to come. 

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Reviewed By Andrew David Stewart

Andrew David Stewart is the Manager of Digital Marketing at TOMS and has been working in the digital marketing and social media world for 6 years. Andrew is a lover of nature and the outdoors, and is passionate about telling stories through digital media.