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One of the downsides of being a fashionista: your clothes are bigger divas than you are. Take suede, for instance. The high-maintenance fabric looks chic, and definitely looks expensive… until they get dirty.
But take comfort, dirty does not mean ruined. You can make that suede jacket look practically like new as long as you know what do to, which we’re here to help you out with.
How to Clean Suede
1. Read the Directions
Not all suedes are created equal. Some versions of the fabric are easier to clean than others, so check the label to see what you’re working with.
2. Choose Your Weapon
Depending on the mess you’re dealing with, you may need a blade or knife, a suede brush (a nylon nail brush or toothbrush will do), and crepe rubber or a #2 pencil. You may also need a bath towel or even low-grade sand paper. The tools are diverse depending on what you’re garment and your mess, but combined, they’re still be cheaper than dry cleaning. Another tool you’ll want: good cleaning products, of course!
3. For Slight Defects: Ladies, Start Your… Brushes
Use a suede eraser, crepe rubber, or a pencil eraser to remove marks, shine, and some dry stains. The suede eraser works great, and they only cost a few dollars. Whatever you use, start out gently and add pressure as needed. If dealing with grime or stains, you’ll be able to see the marks actually lift off of the suede and onto the rubber—even marks that have been ground deep into the suede. When finished, use the suede brush or bath towel to work the fabric back into its original smoothness.
Latex & Suede Eraser, $11.81, Amazon.com
For clumps of dirt or scuffs, use a nail brush or toothbrush and gently rub back and forth. If the small suede stain is dry, use a pencil eraser to literally erase the stain away. Make sure you use a new pencil eraser that hasn’t been used to erase pencil marks, lest you create more stains for yourself to clean up.
4. For Second-degree Flaws: Rain on Your Suede
If the suede is recently wet, let it dry and then try using the suede brush or bath towel. If the water marks are old (most common with suede shoes), one method to try is re-wetting the whole item with a spray bottle and then sponging off excess moisture. When the suede dries, the trouble spot should blend with the rest of the suede. If your get suede shoes wet, insert crumpled paper to maintain shape as they dry.
If the small suede stain is wet, blot up the wetness with an absorbent paper towel. If possible, hold the paper towel on either side of the suede and press together. Do not rub, though, otherwise you risk spreading the stain. Use a diluted white vinegar (1:1) and a tooth/nail brush and gently scrub. Repeat until the stain is removed and then wait for it to dry.
5. For the Bad stuff: Handle with Care
For fresh, pernicious stains such as ink, oil, food, or (gasp) blood, first blot up the excess liquid. This should be done with extreme care; using too much force will push the stain deep into the suede’s pores. Let the suede dry, and then attack the enemy with a suede eraser and suede brush. If that fails, try the sandpaper. If your suede product came with instructions on how to clean it, they will more than likely have certain suede degreasers and cleaners in mind for this kind of disaster.
For oily or greasy stains, use a degreaser suede cleaner and a nail/toothbrush to gently remove them. You can also try the diluted white vinegar, but a degreaser will be more effective.
Finish up by using a suede brush to restore the nap. Note that if you have an extremely large or complex stain (e.g., wax, wine, ink) it’s probably best to take your suede goods to a professional.
Cleaning your suede isn’t impossible, but it isn’t much fun either. Protect your suede with a spray-on product designed for suede and leather. Hard as you may try, sadly, many stains and marks, once set, are impossible to remove, but you can avoid them in the first place by spraying the garment every six months. Suede should also be brushed on a regular basis to keep it looking fresh and new.
Leather & Suede Protector, $4.50, Cole Haan
7. Last Resorts
If the above tips didn’t work for you, it’s probably time to suck it up and take the garment to the dry cleaner. But before you do that, give white vinegar a shot. Use a damp cloth, cotton balls, or cotton swabs to gently massage the offending area, and then let it dry. Follow up with a nylon brush or suede brush.
Don’t let a case of sorry-looking suede get you down. While the finicky fabric may seem daunting to tackle yourself, you can actually clean suede pretty easily–and with items found in your home, to boot. That includes suede shoes and suede hats, accessories, clothing, gloves and even furniture.
Before you begin, use a clean, dry washcloth to gently rub the surface of the suede. This lifts the nap and makes it easier to get to the bottom of the suede for a more thorough clean.