I’ve a few pairs of suede boots in the menagerie for cleaning and repairing (Pete and Jess, I’m looking at you), so I thought I’d put the cleaning process down.
Suede and nubuck are easily damaged – these types of leather have an exposed nap (re: velvety finish) and haven’t any grain to protect them from water, grease and other gunk (the grain was the surface skin of the beast/ animal). It’s best that footwear and garments made from these leathers aren’t taken out into the rain, snow, or rubbishy environs, and that you protect your clean footwear/ garments with a stain repellant waterproofing spray every 4 months or so (follow the manufacturer’s instructions). Also, mind you don’t drip blood/ red wine on your suede boots. That shit is hard to get out.
(Ed: I have a pair of suede Pendragon “Buckle Boots” purchased in … 1993 … worn to death and still going strong, ‘cept the heel that I need to replace… however, the pair of second-hand suede witches’ boots covered in years of cemetery mud will need some special tender loving care).
If footwear/ garments made of suede/ nubuck are soiled, it’s best to remove the stains and dirt ASAP (‘cept cemetery mud, of course. Or maybe I shouldn’t have worn the boots there. Either way.) You’ll be able to remove most dirt and stains by yourself, provided you take time and care with the process. If you’ve doubts, though, find a reputable leather-restoring-person and ask for their help.
The leather must completely dry before you start cleaning. Brush away the dirt with a suede brush or an old toothbrush you’ve set aside for this purpose – brush only in the direction of the nap (the surface will look smooth).
If the leather is wet, gently use a soft towel to soak up as much of the water/ liquid as possible (mind you don’t press firmly – this will damage the nap); if it is an oil based stain, gently blot up the oil/ grease with paper towel then sprinkle baking powder or cornstarch over the stain to draw the oils out of the leather. If the leather is muddy, ensure that the mud is completely dry before you begin cleaning.
Pad the footwear/ garment out with white paper towel to retain shape during drying/ cleaning.
Oil-based spots can also be cleaned using suede degreasers/ shampoo sprays – you can find these at shoe repair kiosks or shoe stores. These specifically formulated mild solvents remove stains by lifting the oil/ grease out of the leather’s pores and bringing it to the surface to be blotted or brushed away. Ensure that the degreaser penetrates the leather by gently rubbing the surface with an old toothbrush in circular motions. After the degreaser has dried, blot over the area with a white cloth damp with white vinegar – don’t press down or rub the leather as this will push the vinegar into the leather’s pores. The acid draws the degreaser to the surface and breaks it down, so after the leather has dried again you can brush away the suspended dirt and grease with a suede brush, old toothbrush, gum eraser or suede cleaning block. Repeat this process as necessary.
If the stains were water based, let the leather dry and brush away the dirt with a suede brush, old toothbrush, gum eraser or suede cleaning block. If this process doesn’t remove the stains, follow the steps above for degreasing/ shampooing the leather.
The cleaned areas may look flatter than other areas as the nap has been smoothed. Gently brush the leather with a suede brush or old toothbrush in a circular direction. If this process doesn’t work to wick up the fibres, the nap may have been damaged. Just turn a blind eye.
On a regular basis, work to protect your footwear/ garments – gently brush the leather with a suede brush or old toothbrush in a circular direction; this will wick up fibres and remove dust. Every few months, clean the footwear/ garments and spray the leather with a waterproofing stain replant.
South Brisbane Cemetery, where I once tromped on a weekly basis (APE-047-01-0025, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland).