In college, I lived in London for a few months during a winter study abroad. And one of the first things I learned from the locals is that suede shoes are, shall we say, stupid. When it rains a majority of the time, high-maintenance shoes that shouldn’t get soggy are a waste of money. And that got me wondering… why are most winter boots made from suede when they’re so hard to keep slush stain-free? It’s a mystery, eh? Whether you’ve got Uggs, Bean Boots or anything in between, here’s how to clean suede boots and keep them looking tip-top all winter long.
How to Clean Suede Boots
The key to cleaning suede boots is having the right tools. Suede shouldn’t get super wet, remember? So, taking some stain solution and a sopping wet towel to your expensive boots may do more harm than good.
Instead, pick up a special suede or nubuck cleaning kit, which can can be found online or at a local shoe store. It’ll come with things like a cleaning cloth, brush, and eraser to help fluff the fibers and get rid of scuffs or stains, without the need for water. And it should only run you about $15 — a bargain, if you ask me.
—Suede cleaning kit (with wire brush and eraser)
—Clean towel or dish cloth
—Optional: baby powder to get rid of odors or grease stains
Step 1 | Remove dirt and debris
Before you get started, tidy up your boots by trimming any stray threads, cruddy fleece or damaged rubber on the soles or around the edges.
Next, using a natural or wire bristle brush, gently brush the suede to remove dirt, re-fluff the pile and even out the texture. How hard you brush will depend on the type of brush you have. A natural bristle brush is gentler than a wire brush, so you can use firm pressure without damaging the material. Just make sure to keep an eye out for damage or discoloration as you go over the shoe.
Some people recommend brushing suede before and after each use to help keep it looking pristine. If you’ve got the patience for that sort of thing, go for it! Otherwise, brushing every 1-2 months, or whenever you do a deep cleaning, should be fine.
Step 2 | Get rid of scuff marks
Using the eraser that came with your suede cleaning kit, go over any scuff marks using firm pressure, much like you would use a pencil eraser. If the eraser leaves a flaky residue behind, gently brush the area with the bristle brush to get rid of it.
Step 3 | Wipe with a vinegar mixture
For stubborn stains, you’ll want to use some diluted vinegar and a damp cloth. Although I said earlier that you don’t want to get suede shoes wet, using a slightly damp cloth can actually help dissolve stains and lighten discoloration, without matting down the suede or leaving water mark behind.
Combine 1/2 cup cold water and 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar in a small bowl or measuring cup. Dip a clean, light-colored cloth into the mixture, then squeeze out any excess water.
Gentle wipe away any lingering stains on your boots. Make sure to be gentle. Rubbing too vigorously can damage the suede or remove some of the color, leaving a light spot behind.
Step 4 | Protect with a waterproof spray
This is probably the most important step in cleaning suede boots: protecting your shoes from future stains and water damage. A waterproof spray made especially for suede will keep your shoes looking new for years to come.
Different suede protectants have different application requirements, so make sure to read the instructions on the can. For mine, the instructions said to hold the can about 6 inches away from the surface of damp, freshly cleaned shoes, and spray a light, even coat. Whatever you do, don’t saturate the suede! Just lightly mist it lightly and allow the shoes to dry.
Then reapply. Continue to reapply every 2-3 months to keep shoes stain-free.
Helpful Suede Boot Tips:
—If the inside of your Uggs or shearling boots are stinky and matted, mix together 1 tablespoon each baking soda and cornstarch, and pour it inside the boot. Shake them around a bit and use your fingers to work it into the shearling. Let sit for 2-3 hours, then dump out. If possible, use the drapes attachment on your vacuum cleaner to suck up any lingering dirt and help fluff up the shearling.
—If you’ve got a grease a hard-to-tackle grease stain on your shoes, apply a little bit of baby powder or cornstarch to the stain. Let them sit overnight and brush off in the morning. The powder should soak up the grease stain, but you may need to reapply 1-2 more times to get rid of it entirely.
—For obvious water stains, try rubbing the other boot against the stain. It’s said that rubbing sheepskin on sheepskin can help get the stain out — or at least lighten it considerably.
And if you have leather boots, learn how to nix scuff and salt stains without damaging your favorite pair of boots!