Suede leather has a reputation as one of the most difficult materials to clean. And with good reason! So do any of the popular home remedies work to clean dirty suede? What’s the best way to clean suede without making it stiff? Or leaving behind water spots? I was determined to find out! Read on as I test different methods and discover the best way to clean suede leather.
In case you’re in a hurry, I want to give you the verdict at the beginning of the article. So here is the winner of my tests and my official best way to clean suede leather: Uniter’s Leather Soft Cleaner!
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.
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. 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 boots.
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.)
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. 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. I did, however, add relevant affiliate links. So I will receive a commission on Amazon purchases made through these links at no extra cost to you.
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 grime we’re working with. Suede absorbs skin oils very easily. If you have a suede coat, it’s a good idea to wear a scarf or a turtleneck underneath, to protect the collar from 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!
Cleaning suede with: 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. I whisked the Woolite and water mixture to make foam, then applied the foam to the grimy collar and rubbed it with a soft cloth. I blotted the excess moisture and allowed the suede 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.
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. The Woolite left the coats with 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.
Cleaning suede with: 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: I applied baking soda to the stained area, rubbed it in really well, and left it to sit for 4 hours. Then brushed off the suede with a nylon bristle brush.
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.
Cleaning suede with: 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 be important to the industry.
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: I applied the cleaner to a sponge, and squeezed it to produce foam. Then I rubbed the foam into the soiled area of the cuff. I wiped the cleaner off with a cloth, and left the suede 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.
Cleaning suede with: White vinegar
The reason: It’s widely recommended online.
The method: I barely dampened a cloth with vinegar, and then rubbed 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. It looks much worse than before I cleaned it.
The cloth I was using started turning pink. I suspect 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!
Cleaning suede with: 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.
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.
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.
As I kept working on the stain, I noticed that the suede was gradually changing texture. It was 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 same way you’d use a magic eraser to clean your bathtub). But, predictably, this left a water spot on the suede.
Cleaning suede with: Micellar water
The reason: It’s a cleaning hack I saw online for cleaning suede shoes.
The method: I actually tried two different methods to clean the suede with micellar water. First I tried dampening a cloth and rubbing it into the stain. 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.
How to clean suede boots:
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 all came out. I think the boots look great!
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. I’m thrilled to have the boots looking so good again!
Now my boots and I are ready for another adventure!
How to clean leather sandals:
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 curious how the leather cleaner would work on something that wasn’t made of leather, like the grimy footbed of the sandals.
It did a great job! The upper part only needed to be wiped once, but I had to go over the footbed several times. I applied the leather cleaner foam with a sponge, then wiped it off with a white cloth. I repeated the process until the white cloth stopped turning brown. They look absolutely amazing now!
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. Since it didn’t show up that much while I was wearing them, I wasn’t too concerned about it. If you look at the picture above, you can see that the leather on the left sandal is squashed to one side, and looks sort of rumpled.
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 you’d never know that there used to be creases there. 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! And now you know how to clean suede leather, too!