How to Clean Nubuck and Suede Shoes
Tuesday Bote - February 1, 2021
Elvis may have left the building a long time ago, but he made his point about his blue suede shoes – or suede footwear in any color for that matter – pretty straightforward: you don’t step on his or anyone’s suede shoes.
While considered one of the most common materials used in shoemaking suede – and its close cousin nubuck – need more care than your average pair of kicks. These special leathers’ unique nature and appearance mean that conventional shoe care methods may not be the most practical course of action. You cannot buff and polish them to a high shine the way you can with both regular and patent leather, nor can you simply toss them into the washing machine and run them through your spin cycle.
Here, we share some practical tips for taking care of suede and nubuck shoes, along with recommended products and footwear from Oliver Cabell.
How to Care for Suede and Nubuck Shoes
To understand why it takes some effort to keep suede and nubuck shoes looking great and in constant working order, we first need to understand how they are sourced and made.
The Anatomy of Suede and Nubuck Shoes
Unlike most conventional (also referred to by cobblers as “full-grain”) leathers, suede is not made from an animal’s external skin. Rather, it’s made with the underside of the skin. In biology-speak, if regular leather is the epidermis, suede is made with the dermis – the inner layer – which is softer and more delicate in nature. Also, while cowhide or deerskin suede exists, the material is usually sourced from sheep and goats.
Softer, thinner, and more pliable than full-grain leather, suede was originally used for clothing and accessories rather than footwear. Glove-makers in Sweden, in particular, were famed for their buttery-soft but uniquely durable sheepskin gloves. These were referred to by the French as gants de Suède (literally: Swedish gloves), which was also how the material got its name. While its uses have extended to shoes, bags, and upholstery, suede’s napped texture, and open-pored surface makes it challenging to keep clean as it easily gets scuffed, smudged, and it quickly absorbs liquids if it gets wet – something which can quickly cause its quality to deteriorate.
On the other hand, Nubuck shoes are invariably made with calfskin (or even leather from an older bovine.) It’s also made with the external skin as opposed to the underside. In this case, to get the characteristic suede-like appearance and texture, the top-grain leather is buffed and sanded until it looks and feels like velvet. While understandably thicker and more durable than suede, nubuck is also more expensive. It also needs to be dyed to cover up the characteristic marks left behind by the sanding process. It also scratches quite quickly, and the color can be affected by exposure to either water or any other kind of moisture.
Some commercial shoemakers resolve exposure to moisture or the elements by finishing shoes with some form of waterproofing or protective coating. Even then, shoe owners must know how to keep their shoes and boots clean and in working order. In which case, how does one properly care for suede and nubuck footwear?
A Few Things to Remember When Caring for Suede or Nubuck Shoes
It may sound like a cliché, but Oliver Cabell’s Premium Shoe Cleaner is tough on dirt and stains but is gentle enough to use on suede and nubuck shoes that need extra TLC. This biodegradable cleaner is also free of harsh chemicals, making it safer for both your health and that of the environment
The thought of needing to get all sorts of fancy cleaners to keep suede or nubuck kicks in tip-top shape should be the farthest thing from your mind. Indeed, all you need is some common sense and a ready set of Oliver Cabell Shoe Care Solutions beside your shoe rack.
Caring for Suede Shoes
Suede can easily be damaged if exposed to water (as in the case of rain and puddles) or moisture, so be sure to invest in waterproofing sprays and solutions to safeguard them against the elements.
It may sound counterintuitive, but if your suede loafers or mules get wet in the rain or get splashed with water, it isn’t that big an issue: simply dry them thoroughly and give them a good brushing. However, oil and grease stains pose a more severe problem. Try using a stiff-bristled brush and some suede eraser (or try Oliver Cabell’s Premium Shoe Cleaner) on them to get the stain out. If this doesn’t work, you may need to seek the help of a professional cleaning service.
Don’t just stuff your shoes into a rack after use; mount them on shoe trees to help them keep their shape. Trees made of unvarnished cedar or pine are recommended as these woods have natural anti-microbial and deodorant properties to keep your shoes smelling fresh.
Pro-tip for wearing suede shoes: don’t wear them two or three days in a row. Give your shoes at least a day’s break before wearing them again to keep them from wearing out too fast. Also, if you have trouble putting them on, use a shoehorn.
If you managed to step into some mud on a rainy day, have no fear for your footwear. Let the mud dry out overnight, then use a stiff brush to take it off in the morning. In case of residue, wipe your suede well with a clean damp cloth.
Caring for Nubuck Shoes
Because nubuck’s appearance and texture are similar to that of suede, you can apply most of the essential tips for taking care of suede shoes to those made with nubuck.
Yes: sandpaper; it may sound ridiculous, but remember how nubuck is made – leather is sanded and buffed till it becomes velvety to the touch. Carefully rub any oil or grease stains on your nubuck kicks with fine-grain sandpaper; be sure to use a stiff brush to dust off any residue after sanding.
Like we said earlier, stains can be a pain to remove on both suede and nubuck. In case of light greasing on your kicks, spray on some leather degreaser; this turns the oil into a fine powder you can quickly dust off. Follow-up care calls for Oliver Cabell Premium Shoe Cleaner and a soft clean cloth. On the other hand, you need to deal with ink or paint stains using a particular ink-lifting chemical. Or, don’t risk ruining your kicks, and just take your shoes to a professional cleaner.
Whether You Choose Suede or Nubuck, It Has to be Oliver Cabell
Flats and drivers? We have them. We also have a great selection of ladies’ mules and men’s boots to suit your lifestyle. All of our shoes are made to the highest possible standards in terms of quality craftsmanship and sophisticated design
Oliver Cabell has an excellent selection for you, from sporty sneakers and rugged boots in nubuck to ladies’ flats and mules rendered in soft suede. All their luxury shoes are made according to the highest Italian craftsmanship standards. Each pair offers comfort, elegance, and sustainable sophistication as a most reasonable price.