Why Do People Like Suede Shoes so Much?

“You can do anything, but don’t step on my blue suede shoes” is one of the most iconic lines from the early years of the rock-and-roll era.  Elvis Presley slyly cautioned an unseen friend (or lover) not to step on or even scuff his favorite footwear. 

While it does sound ridiculous to the modern ear, those passionate about suede goods – especially suede shoes – know precisely how the King feels about his blue suede kicks. Why not, indeed? Suede shoes are incredibly comfortable, durable, and can easily take a casual outfit up a notch or soften the effect of a severe, more formal look. 

Likewise, their unisex appeal has made them great favorites among both men and women. Women appreciate the velvety texture of suede for its softness and how it adds a sophisticated nuance to even the most outdoorsy outfits. On the other hand, men like the rugged, rustic look of suede boots: classic masculine style for city and country living.

However, if there is just one thing that people don’t like about suede shoes, they think that they are a pain in the backside to clean. This isn’t exactly true: suede may not be the most comfortable material to clean, but keeping your kicks as neat and fresh-looking as the day you bought them is not as complicated as you think.

Just to Make Things Clear: What exactly is suede?

Technically, suede is defined as a napped – velvety-textured – leather crafted from the underside of an animal’s skin. To get very biological about it, we are talking about the animal’s dermis – the softer, more delicate underskin – as opposed to the tougher epidermis, which is used for conventional leather. It is also ovine in nature: most commercial suede is prepared from the underskins of goats and sheep, as opposed to cow, buffalo, or even deerskin.

Because of its delicate nature, suede was originally used in glove-making. Sweden became so well-known for the exceptional quality of its gloves (the famed gants de Suède), that the French translation of the country’s name would become the general term for the material. Over the years, the use of suede has gone beyond glove-making. It has also evolved into the creation of cold-weather clothing like cloaks, coats, jackets, and shoes.

While the material’s soft and velvety texture is appealing, it’s also the reason why suede shoes are a challenge to clean. Its open-pored surface makes it vulnerable to scuffing and smudging. Suede’s porous texture also means it can absorb liquids rapidly if it gets wet which can cause permanent staining and deterioration. That said, many commercial shoe manufacturers finish their products with waterproof coatings to prevent water damage – but, without proper care, this can only go so far as to keep one’s suede shoes in good condition. Is there, at any rate, a right way as to how to clean suede shoes?

So, how do I clean my suede shoes?


In general, caring for suede shoes should be just as easy as caring for leather shoes and sneakers. In which case, we offer several ways for cleaning suede shoes. Before that, we also suggest that you have the following items on hand if you have more than one pair of suedes:

  • A hard-bristled suede brush;
  • Clean rags for wiping off dust, stains, and smudges;
  • Rubbing alcohol or white vinegar;
  • Waterproofing or fabric protectant sprays; 
  • Shoe trees; and
  • Shoe horns.

General Rules for Stain Removal

  • For light stains, simply brush the shoes with a firm back and forth motion using a stiff-bristled brush. Alternatively, you can clean spot stains by rubbing over a suede eraser. 
  • For heavier stains, dampen a clean rag with any of the following: white vinegar, rubbing alcohol, or liquid shoe cleaner (but be sure that it's marked as safe for suede!) Rub the dampened rag over the stained area with a firm, circular motion, and let your shoes dry completely. When the shoes are dry, give them a good brush to fluff up the nap and remove any residual dirt.


Five Key Steps to Cleaning Suede Shoes

  • Give it a good brush: Gently brush the stained area towards a single direction in order to scrape the top layer of grime off the surface. Once this has been removed, brush the area again. Do so more vigorously in a back-and-forth motion to take out deep-seated dirt from the fibers in the nap;
  • Use a suede eraser: Stains that go in a bit deeper in the nap need to be rubbed out using a suede eraser. Made of a chemical compound that crumbles on contact with suede, suede erases draw out dirt and contaminants that have sunk deep into the fibers of the material. Rub the eraser firmly over the stains and keep rubbing until the stain is removed. It does take a bit of time and effort, and it can get messy, so be sure to take your shoes to your back yard or garage if you're using a suede eraser to clean them;
    1. Skip the Water for Cleaning Suede: Water can only make matters worse when it comes to cleaning suede shoes, as it can actually set stains and cause permanent discoloration. Instead, dampen a clean rag with either white vinegar or rubbing alcohol to effectively wipe out stubborn stains. Leave the shoes to dry thoroughly, then brush well to fluff up the nap to velvety softness;
    2. Shave the Strings Away:  If your suede shoes are starting to look ratty or stringy, it would be best to trim off any fluff or loosening strands with an old shaving razor. Carefully shave off the stringy bits, and then brush off any residue when you're done; and
    3. Spray on a Protectant: Once you’ve fluffed up your clean shoes, be sure to evenly spritz over a waterproofing spray or protectant .

    A Few Frequently Asked Questions

    Can I use water to clean my suede shoes?

    Using water to clean suede is an absolute no-no as it may cause irreparable staining and discoloration. Instead, as stated above, use white vinegar or rubbing alcohol to clean off stains. In the case of the latter, the stronger 70% formulation for isopropyl alcohol helps. 

    How frequently can I wear my suede shoes?

    Rule of thumb: try not to wear your suede shoes two days in a row. Ideally, give your shoes at least a day or two off before wearing them again. Not only does this keep your shoes from wearing out too fast, but these also prevent the buildup of odor-causing bacteria on the outside and grime on the outside.  

    You mentioned the use of specialized shoe cleaners to care for suede shoes; can you recommend one?

    There are a lot of brands you can choose from, but Oliver Cabell Premium Shoe Cleaner is specially formulated to deal with the toughest stains on any form of leather, including suede. Not only is it a hard-working cleaner that easily removes grime and stains, but it’s also health- and environment-friendly as it’s made without harsh chemicals that may be detrimental to your well-being.

    I got my shoes wet on the way home last night. What do I do to stave off water damage?

    While we have said that water damage is not good for any sort of suede shoe, you needn’t worry if you walked into a puddle or got your shoes splashed. Simply let them dry overnight; come morning, use a stiff-bristled brush to remove any mud. Afterwards, dampen a clean cloth with either white vinegar or alcohol to remove any residual staining. 

    Is it okay to just put my suede shoes in my shoe rack?

    Storing your shoes in a rack is fine, but if you want them to keep their shape for a long time, mount them on shoe trees before putting them away. Not only do these help your shoes retain their form, but they also prevent moisture damage and inhibit the growth of odor-causing bacteria as many of these products are made with unvarnished cedar, fir, and pine wood – all of which have natural anti-microbial and moisture inhibiting properties. 

    Looking for Suede Shoes and Boots? Just ask Oliver Cabell.

    While best known for its line of premium leather sneakers, Oliver Cabell also offers an extensive and elegant range of suede footwear for both men and women. From boots and drivers to flats and mules, one can be sure of exceptional quality, fine craftsmanship, and a dedication to sustainability and ethical production.