How to Clean Suede Shoes (and Save Them from Future Stains)

using a damp cloth on synthetic suede

The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 15 - 20 mins
  • Total Time: 15 mins - 8 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $10 to 15

Suede shoes are everywhere from Birkenstocks to sneakers to Uggs to combat boots. If you got caught in a rainstorm or dropped a slice of pizza with suede shoes on, they'll need some TLC when you get home. Natural suede is animal leather that gives shoes a napped or fuzzy finish. It is thin, porous, and can be dyed or undyed. Microfiber suede shoes are created from polyester and nylon fibers that are woven and cut to mimic the soft, plush feel of natural suede but are more resistant to stains.

This guide addresses how to clean natural suede but many of the steps can be used to clean faux suede shoes.

How Often Should You Clean Suede Shoes?

Ideally, you should use a soft-bristled brush to brush away loose particles from suede shoes after every wearing or at least weekly. Suede can easily absorb oils and soil that sit on the surface, so prompt removal means fewer stains. Always clean suede shoes that have become wet from rain or melted snow as soon as possible.


Always test cleaning solutions on a small, hidden area first to check for any discoloration or damage before proceeding with the stain treatment.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Microfiber cloth
  • Suede or soft-bristled brush
  • Old toothbrush
  • Art gum or pencil eraser
  • Emery board nail file
  • Blunt-edged knife or old credit card


  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Suede protector
  • Cornstarch
  • Isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol
  • Cotton balls
  • Hydrogen peroxide


How to Clean Suede Shoes

  1. Brush Away Loose Dirt

    • Use a specialty suede brush or a soft-bristled brush to whisk away loose dirt after every wearing.
    • Brush in the same direction as the nap's grain.
    • For heavy soil or stains, use a gentle back-and-forth motion.
  2. Rub Away Scuffs

    • Use an art gum or pencil eraser to remove small scuffs.
    • Following the nap, rub the eraser gently back and forth over the mark.
    • If the mark doesn't budge, try an emery board nail file. Rub very lightly and stop immediately if the suede begins to look damaged.
  3. Complete an Overall Cleaning With Distilled White Vinegar

    • Dampen a microfiber cloth with distilled white vinegar. It should be wet but not dripping.
    • Wipe the entire shoe and apply gentle pressure on heavily stained areas.
    • Allow the shoes to air dry away from direct heat and sunlight.
    • Repeat as needed if stains remain after the shoes have dried.
    • Brush the shoes with the suede brush when fully dry to lift the nap.


    Vinegar can temporarily alter the color of the suede while it's damp. As the shoes dry they should return to their original color. 

How to Remove Set-In Stains From Suede Shoes

  1. Oily Stains

    • Sprinkle the oily stain with a heavy layer (about 1/4-inch thick) of cornstarch or baby powder.
    • Allow the cornstarch to absorb the oil for at least four hours.
    • Brush away the cornstarch with a suede brush.
    • Repeat until the stain is gone.
  2. Mud Stains

    • Lift away as much of the mud as possible with a blunt knife or the edge of a credit card.
    • DO NOT RUB the mud stain with a cloth because it pushes it deeper into the suede.
    • Allow the stain to dry and then brush away the dried dirt and complete an overall cleaning on the suede.
  3. Blood Stains

    • Dampen a cotton ball with hydrogen peroxide.
    • Gently dab the blood stain.
    • Allow the suede to dry and repeat the steps if necessary.
  4. Sticky Adhesive, Gum, or Wax Stains

    • Slip the shoe into a plastic bag.
    • Place the bag in the freezer for at least one hour.
    • Use a blunt knife or the edge of a credit card to lift away the residue.
    • If residue remains, refreeze and gently pick away the sticky goo with your fingernail or the edge of a credit card.
    • An emery board can be used to remove any small particles remaining on the suede.

Other Ways to Clean Suede Shoes

  • If you don't have any distilled white vinegar on hand, use isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol to wipe away soil from suede shoes. Follow the same steps recommended for using vinegar.
  • If your suede shoes have wet areas and you don't have vinegar or alcohol, dip a microfiber cloth in plain water. Wring the cloth so it is not dripping and evenly wet the entire shoe. The suede will dry without watermarks. Brush well to lift the nap.

Additional Tips for Keeping Suede Shoes Clean Longer

  • While some suede shoes and boots are pre-treated to resist stains and moisture, you can add protection to keep the suede clean longer. Use a commercial suede protective spray and apply following the label instructions.
  • Do not wear suede shoes when rain is predicted.
  • Brush away soil after every wearing.
  • How do I clean suede shoes at home?

    You can clean suede shoes at home with simple tools and products you probably have on hand. The most important tool is a soft-bristled brush that should be used frequently to remove loose soil from the suede.

  • How do I clean suede shoes without ruining them?

    Suede shoes require a gentle touch so don't scrub while cleaning. Follow the nap of the suede and work slowly. To prevent water marks, evenly clean the entire shoe.

  • Does vinegar restore suede shoes?

    Distilled white vinegar is a good overall cleaner for suede shoes to remove dirt, scuffs, and most stains.