How to Clean Suede Leather: Testing and Reviewing Different Methods

stained suede boots
stained suede boots

Guys, I love these boots. I’ve had them for years, they always go on vacation with me, and they still looked nice after all we’d been through together. I had never cleaned them because I was careful not to wear them in situations where they would get grubby or muddy… until I found myself unavoidably wearing those boots one night on the side of the road. In the rain. Tromping through mud. For hours. I haven’t worn them since, because they are in serious need of a rescue and revamp.

dirty suede boots

I’ve heard about quite a few different methods of cleaning stained suede, but how well do the home remedies really work? Suede is a lot harder to clean than full-grain leather, because it can get discolored even by plain water. It absorbs stain-causing spills much more readily than full-grain leather, and it also has a nap (the little fuzzy parts that make it so soft to touch), which creates more places for stains to hide. I didn’t really want to experiment on my boots, so I needed some scrap material.

A friend of mine sells vintage clothing on ebay, and some of the suede items she obtains aren’t fit for sale due to holes, stains, etc. She’s graciously letting me use them as scrap material for my upcoming Heavy Mettle collection! I have big plans for them this fall, but right now I’m more interested in the stained collars and cuffs. They will be perfect to test various suede cleaning methods so that I can see what works and what doesn’t, and then choose the best method to use on my suede boots. So is there anything that will clean all the built-up grime off of these suede coats? Can it be done without discoloring the suede or making it stiff?

In my quest to rescue the boots, I’m experimenting with six different suede cleaning methods: Uniters Leather Soft Cleaner, three home remedies I found online (white vinegar, micellar water, and baking soda), and two that I haven’t seen recommended anywhere but they make sense to me, so I’ll give them a shot. (Diluted Woolite Delicates, and a Magic Eraser.)

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Disclaimer: Only one of these products is actually made for cleaning leather and suede. Your experience may differ, because your stain, garment, and application method will be a little different than mine. This post is an honest assessment of my experience and is intended to help you select a suitable method of cleaning your suede garment, but it’s not a guarantee of good results. It is also not a sponsored post, meaning I had to pay for all this stuff myself and nobody asked me to evaluate any of these products. So let’s get started!

Since I love the boots so much, I started by (unsuccessfully) looking for a replacement online in case I accidentally ruined them forever. No surprise, it looks like they don’t make them anymore.

(However, I did find this pair with appliqued leather flowers that I’m now drooling over.) Okay then, time to get cleaning!

Here’s a “before” picture of the gray coat’s stained collar area, so you can see the kind of grime we’re working with. Suede absorbs skin oils very easily, and if you have a coat like this, it’s a good idea to wear a scarf or a turtleneck underneath it to try to keep the collar from accumulating this type of stain. But life happens, and no matter what you do, the collar and cuffs will probably end up with marks on them after a lot of wear. Let’s see if we can do something about it!

The product: Woolite Delicates

The reason: I really like using Woolite to clean fragile garments, so I thought I’d give it a shot with suede. Although it’s not marketed for cleaning suede or leather, it seems gentle enough that it might work.

The method: I diluted 1 teaspoon of Woolite Delicates in 10 teaspoons of water. The Woolite and water mixture was whisked to make foam, and the foam was then applied to the grimy collar and rubbed with a soft cloth. The excess moisture was blotted and the suede was allowed to air-dry naturally. The 10:1 dilution ratio and application method were entirely made up; I thought using just the foam would make it easier to avoid oversaturating the leather with water or cleaner.

water spot on suede

The results: I was excited that the stains seemed to be fading, but the suede ended up discolored with spots that looks like water stains. The suede was also stiffer after it had been cleaned, like it was dried out. I thought I might have more success with a different ratio of water to detergent, or by using less of the mixture. So I tried using more water and less mixture… I tried it on two different jackets, but the results were disappointing: A darker, almost blueish spot where the stain had been, and a stiffer texture. I love Woolite, but it doesn’t look like it’s working to clean my suede leather.

The product: Baking soda

The reason: I’ve seen it recommended online for removing oily stains from suede. I didn’t have high hopes, because the collar stains seem pretty serious, like years-of-grime serious. But the stains do seem kind of oily, and baking soda is inexpensive and really easy to find, so I didn’t have anything to lose.

The method: Baking soda was applied to the stained area, rubbed in really well, and left to sit for 4 hours. The baking soda was then brushed off of the suede with a nylon bristle brush.

suede after cleaning with baking soda

The results: The stain really didn’t go anywhere. I think it might have lightened a little bit, but I’m not sure if that’s due to some baking soda being left on the surface and actually hiding the stain. Either way, the line of grime is very much still on the coat collar.

The product: Uniters Leather Soft Cleaner

This product comes as a kit, along with leather conditioner, sponges, and cleaning cloths. The water-based cleaner is made for every kind of leather, but you don’t use the conditioner on suede or nubuck. The kit is made in Italy, which doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s high-quality, but Italian leather is world-famous and it makes sense that leather care and maintenance would need to be an important focus.

The reason: Home remedies can be great (like how I use ketchup to remove tarnish from metal), but I want to try a product specifically made for cleaning leather. If it works well, then it’s a sound investment compared to the cost of replacing my beloved boots.

The method: The cleaner was applied to a sponge, which was squeezed to produce foam, and then rubbed into the soiled area of the cuff. The cleaner was wiped off with a cloth, and the suede was then left to air-dry.

The results: The stains are gone! The leather isn’t discolored, and it still feels as soft as the areas I haven’t cleaned. I’m very happy with the results.

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The product: White vinegar

The reason: It’s widely recommended online.

suede before cleaning with vinegar

The method: A cloth was barely dampened with vinegar, and then rubbed on the dirty areas of the suede collar. The vinegar was allowed to evaporate naturally.

The results: It hardly seemed to remove any dirt at all, and the suede was darker after the vinegar had dried. I tried the vinegar two separate times, and it didn’t seem to remove or even lighten the stains. The suede has fully dried in the picture, but the discoloration is so bad that it almost looks damp, and much worse than before I cleaned it.

The cloth I was using started turning pink, and I’m suspecting that the vinegar was discharging some of the pink dye from the suede, resulting in a darker color being left on the surface. This makes sense, because I’ve used a vinegar bath in the past to discharge and lighten certain dyes. But regardless of the reason, I think we can all agree that the suede looks terrible afterwards, and the stains haven’t gone anywhere!

The product: Magic erasers

The reason: Magic erasers are very gently abrasive, and I really love them for cleaning scuff marks. I haven’t seen them recommended for cleaning suede, but I kept coming across suggestions online to use nail files, artist’s erasers, and even wire-bristled brushes to remove stains from suede. The magic erasers seemed like a gentle method that might accomplish the same thing: essentially scraping the grime off of the suede without using any cleansing agents.

suede before cleaning with magic eraser

The method: The stains on the suede were rubbed with the dry magic eraser. I’m cleaning the area above and to the right of the tag.

suede after using magic eraser

The results: It seems to have done a good job with minor surface crud. Random dust and dirt came off pretty well, with no ill effects. The magic eraser did not remove the gray coat’s heavy collar stain, but it did lighten it. I tried it on the pink coat’s collar stains with similar results, but I noticed that the eraser was turning pink after I’d been working on the stain for a minute, so some dye or minuscule particles of the leather were definitely being removed.

suede after cleaning with magic eraser

As I kept working on the stain, I noticed that the suede was gradually changing texture, becoming shinier with a thinner nap as more material was coming off. So if you do use a magic eraser, you should go easy on the leather and stop if the crud isn’t coming off fairly readily.

I also tried wetting the magic eraser, squeezing the water out, and rubbing the stained area with the damp eraser (the way you’d use a magic eraser to clean your bathtub). But, predictably, this left a water spot on the suede.

The product: Micellar water

The reason: It’s a cleaning hack I saw online for cleaning suede shoes.

The method: I actually tried two different methods. First I tried dampening a cloth and rubbing it into the stain, and then I tried dampening a sponge, squeezing it to produce foam, rubbing it into the stain, and wiping off the excess with a dry cloth. The sponge method worked better than the plain cloth, because it was a little easier to avoid over-saturating the suede.

The results: The micellar water came in second place for removing the stains. A lot of the grime is totally gone, but you can still see some of it hanging around at the top and lower left in the picture. However, the suede is noticeably stiffer where it has been cleaned.

It’s hard to take a picture of how stiff something is, but here are the two cuffs of the same gray coat. One was cleaned with micellar water, and the other one was cleaned with the leather soft cleaner. See how much higher the one on the left is standing up? It also has a strange surface texture, firmer than suede should feel. It wouldn’t be too bad if you were cleaning a pair of sandals or something that doesn’t really need to be very soft, but for a coat, it’s just not sitting right.

The final verdict:

If your garment is stained, expensive, or special, I highly recommend the Uniters Leather Soft Cleaner. I don’t have any complaints about it, and I’d use it again. In fact, I have decided to use it on my boots!

If you have some surface dirt on your suede garment that isn’t exactly a stain, you will probably be able to remove it by rubbing it with a dry magic eraser. Be sure not to overdo it; you can remove some of the suede nap if you’re not careful, and end up with a thin or shiny spot on your leather. If the crud is not coming off fairly readily, then you should stop and use the leather cleaner instead.

The suede boots:

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If you’re curious how the boots turned out, here are some before and after pics!

Before I applied the cleaner, I used a nylon bristle brush to gently remove any clumps of dried mud from the surface of my boots. Then I applied the Leather Soft Cleaner according to the directions and wiped it away with a clean cloth.

There were a few really dark spots that I needed to go over twice, but the dirt came out and I think the boots look great!

cleaning suede boots

It was easier to apply the foam to one section of the boots at a time, and then wipe that section off before I moved on to a new area. I tried getting the foam on one whole boot and then wiping it all off at once, but it seemed like the first area had started to dry before I was ready to wipe the foam off. So for the next boot I only did 1/5 of the boot at a time, and it was easier to get everything cleaned that way.

There were some scratches and scuff marks on the plastic heels of the boots. I used a damp magic eraser on those, being very careful not to get any water on the leather. There wasn’t anything I could do about the scratches, but the scuff marks all came out, and I’m thrilled to have the boots looking so good again.

wearing suede boots standing on fence

Now my boots and I are ready for another adventure!

Leather sandals:

leather sandals before cleaning

Since I still had plenty of the leather cleaner left in the bottle, I decided to clean my white leather sandals too. (I could probably clean an entire couch with one bottle, lol.) The upper part of the sandals is made of leather, but the footbed and sole are not. However, I decided to use the leather cleaner on the entire sandal, because that way I wouldn’t have to worry about getting an incompatible cleaner on the leather part. I was also kind of curious how the leather cleaner would clean something that wasn’t made of leather, like the grimy footbed of the sandals.

It did a great job! I only had to wipe off the top part once, but I had to go over the footbed several times. I just applied the leather cleaner foam with a sponge, then wiped it off with a white cloth and repeated the process until the white cloth stopped turning brown. They look absolutely amazing now!

leather sandals, one dirty and one clean, with text overlay: how to clean leather sandals before and after

One thing I did not expect was that a deeply creased area on the leather has disappeared. The left sandal used to have several creases that made the white part of the sandal misshapen, but since it didn’t show up that much while I was wearing them, I wasn’t too concerned about it. You can sort of see it in the picture above, how the leather on the left sandal is squashed to one side, and looks sort of rumpled.

removing a crease from leather

If I had known the creases were going to disappear, I would have taken a good closeup “before” picture of them, but honestly I never thought the leather cleaner could fix something like that. Here’s an “after” picture, and really you’d never know that there used to be creases there, because the leather has plumped back up and looks new again. I’m not sure how it happened, but it did!

I think I can close the book on my leather cleaning experiments. Next time my boots end up in the mud, I’ll know how to make them look spiffy again!

About SnazzyBot

I am an artist and fashion designer with a passion for helping people bring their own creative dreams to life. I love sharing my projects with fellow crafters, and I hope you find ideas and inspiration on my blog! As an Amazon affiliate, I earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you) if you use my affiliate links to make a purchase.

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