Following our guide on how to clean other types of sneakers, we’re back with a step-by-step guide on how to clean leather and suede sneakers. While the last sneaker cleaning guide was more of a general overview, this one covers the specific intricacies of cleaning leather and suede — important knowledge to have when most sneakers feature either suede, leather, or a combination of both. For those unaware, suede is actually a type of leather that is made from the underside of an animal’s skin. It is softer and more pliable, however, not as durable as the outer layer that is used to make smooth leather.
In the guide below, we outline what you need to get started, how to clean and maintain leather, and how to treat different kinds of stains on suede.
What do you need to clean leather and suede shoes
A bowl of water A suede brush A suede or nubuck block or eraser A hand towel A microfiber towel A magic sponge Cleaning foam or solution Leather conditioner Weather-proofing spray Shoe trees or something to stuff your shoes with Your leather or suede shoes (of course)
How to clean leather shoes
1. Remove excess dirt
First, remove any excess dirt from your leather sneakers by knocking together the soles and using a soft brush to rub off any dirt. If you have shoe trees, use them to stuff your sneakers. This gives them more volume and makes them easier to clean by letting you get at the dirt found within the creases of the leather.
2. Clean your sneaker using a leather cleaning solution
Dip your brush into hot water and pour some cleaning solution on it. Apply the brush to the upper and gently scrub back and forth, working up a lather so the bubbles get to work.
3. Inspect your work
Use a towel to remove excess soap and suds and then inspect your work. If you feel your sneaker needs more attention, repeat the previous step.
4. Clean the midsole
On the midsoles, you can use the cleaner and brush combination or — our pro-tip — a magic sponge. Apply more solution to the wet brush or magic sponge and scrub lightly until the midsole is clean. Wipe down the shoe with your towel and set it aside to dry.
5. Condition your sneaker
Additionally, you can lather a leather sneaker with conditioner, which will moisturize the leather and help keep it supple.
6. Weatherproof your sneaker
Once dry, use weatherproofing spray to add a layer of protection. This will keep your sneakers in good condition for longer, reducing the need for deeper cleans.
How to clean suede sneakers
1. Prep your sneakers and your station
Remove the laces from the shoes and make sure your sneakers are totally dry, your station is set up, and everything is within reach. When cleaning suede, it’s important your shoes are dry. Suede is almost always dry-cleaned because water can have an adverse effect on the material.
2. Clean simple scuffs and marks
For simple scuffs and marks, all you need is your suede brush. Just gently brush the suede to remove the stains. Be sure to brush the suede in one direction. This helps keep the material’s smooth appearance.
3. Clean set-in stains
For set-in stains that are harder to remove, you’ll need the suede eraser, which is usually a block of crepe rubber. Do this over a towel or an easy-clean surface as things will get messy. Rub the eraser over the stains and don’t be afraid to apply a little pressure. Keep rubbing until the stain is gone. It can take a few minutes, so be patient. After you’ve removed the stain, bring out your brush and gently brush the suede, bringing back some of the nap and color lost during cleaning.
4. Clean stubborn stains
Finally, for stubborn stains such as water stains, you can use a cleaning solution meant specifically for suede, such as the Collonil one we used in our video. As always, follow the instructions, as methods can vary. Normally, cleaning with a solution involves brushing the solution into the suede using the brush provided.
Once you’re done, let your shoes dry overnight. You’ll then want to use a combination of the crepe suede eraser and the brush techniques from earlier to bring back the suede’s nap and get rid of what’s left of the stains. Finally, gently brush out the suede to give it a natural, fresh look.
5. Weatherproof your sneakers
If you want, you can also use a weatherproofing spray to protect your shoes from the elements. Beware, though, that not every spray is compatible with suede — water-based sprays can change the suede's color or texture. _
If cleaning sneakers is too tedious for you this season, be sure check out our best black sneakers.