When Elvis sang, “Don’t you step on my blue suede shoes,” he wasn’t messing around. As awesome as suede shoes look and feel they can be a pain to keep clean. Getting knocked down and having your name slandered all over the place pale in comparison.
Suede leather comes from the underside of an animal’s skin. It’s usually a lamb, calf, or deer hide that’s used. The suede side of the skin is softer and has that great hand feel. The trade-off is that it’s not as tough and resilient as the other side of the skin which is exposed to the elements.
But with a little preventative care and some ongoing maintenance, you can rock your suede shoes in all but the snowiest and rainiest conditions without worrying about lasting stains. Here’s how to keep your suede shoes looking good, even if someone steps on them.
1. GET A SUEDE KIT
You should be able to find one of these at any drug store. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy, just a brush (a toothbrush will even work in a pinch) and a suede eraser, which is basically the same as a pencil eraser except it isn’t pink so no color transfers onto the leather.
2. USE A WATERPROOF SPRAY
The first thing you’ll want to do when you get a new pair of suede shoes is to coat them with a waterproof spray. (With all products, make sure they are suede specific. Using things like standard leather shoe polish on suede can ruin them.) Waterproofing sprays should be standard fare at a drug store, but shoemaker Allen Edmonds also makes a very good one. Before spraying the shoes, use the brush to remove any dirt of debris. Be sure to brush with the grain of the suede. Then spray the waterproofer from a distance of about six inches away. Cover the shoe completely and evenly and allow it to dry completely before wearing.
3. LET MUD DRY
If you do get dirt of mud on your kicks, do nothing. If you try to brush off mud while it is still wet, you will just smear the dirt over a larger area and push it deeper into the suede. Give it a full 24 hours and then use a brush to remove the dried dirt. Keep in mind that suede is more delicate than other leathers so don’t put all your might into your brush strokes.
4. ERASE THE EDGES
When water and dirt stain suede, they tend to leave a thicker ring around the edge while the center is less discolored. Use the suede eraser to move the edges of the stain away from the center. Then take a velvet lint brush and run it over the stain a few times to smooth things out.
5. AVOID OIL AND GREASE
Suede shoes are meant to be worn, but you should still consider your destination or activity before putting them on. While water and dirt are relatively simple to remove, grease is trickier. So if you’re going to be deep frying anything, you might want to pick a different pair of shoes.
6. SHAMPOO FOR A DEEPER CLEAN
If your suede shoes are really beat to shit, you may need to bring in the big guns. A suede shampoo can give your kicks a deeper clean. Saphir is a French version that does the trick. Combine the shampoo with water in a bowl. The ratio of shampoo to water should be 50-50. Then dip a soft-bristled brush into the solution and work it over the entire shoe, allowing a lather to build up. You want to work quickly so that the water doesn’t sit on the shoes for too long. After the shoes have been cleaned, rinse them with warm water to remove the shampoo. Then stuff them with paper towel and lay the shoes on their sides to dry. This will take at least 12 hours. After the shoes are completely dry, give them another once over with a dry brush to revive the texture of the suede.
7. SEE A COBBLER
When in doubt, go to someone who cleans suede shoes for a living.