Suede is leather’s softer cousin. Its napped surface feels like nothing else while its breathability makes it beautifully wearable. With the proper care, a suede garment can see years of wear, but this delicate hide is notoriously difficult to maintain. You can make the job easier, though, by knowing how to keep your suede in good shape.
Suede’s two biggest enemies are oil and water. Protect it from them by spraying your suede with a protective sealant before its first use. Consider where the suede will wear. Jackets, for example, touch the nape of the neck where natural skin oils darken and stiffen the delicate material. Use other fabrics to protect suede at heavy-use points. Wear a scarf to preserve the collar of a suede coat, for example. Cover parts of furniture with fabric throws and pillows to prevent the natural oils from hair and skin from darkening the suede.
Unlike smooth leather that appreciates the occasional rub with oil-based leather conditioner, suede does not agree with oil of any sort. Oils almost invariably darken suede; even dark colors that aren’t affected by oil can lose their velvety texture and become shiny in spots.
Suede benefits from regular brushing. The hide’s texture flattens over time, but a suede brush can revive it if hard use hasn’t stripped away the nap completely. A natural boar-bristle brush will restore the nap to suede without scratching it. Work with the grain and stroke the suede with the brush, then follow with a dry washcloth rub. Cheap washcloths are ideal as they’re rough enough to lift the nap but still treat the hide gently.
Store suede in fabric instead of plastic to allow moisture to evaporate. While too much moisture ruins suede, too little stiffens it. Keep suede away from vents or heaters that could dry it like beef jerky.
Avoid storing or displaying suede in direct sunlight, as ultraviolet rays may discolor it. Suede furniture, especially if it’s been dyed, should get occasional rearrangement to ensure that sunlight isn’t hitting the same area over time. It’s hard to re-dye suede to match, so once it’s been sun-bleached, the damage is likely permanent.
Small stains darken with age, especially if the staining fluid contains sugar, so give your suede a professional cleaning before storing for a season or longer. That imperceptible coffee stain on the sleeve of your beige suede jacket could look like a big espresso blotch by next winter if you store the item without cleaning.
Water and mud are common suede-killers. Brush solid soil from the suede first, then blot the affected area with an absorbent cloth. If the suede remains damp, scatter cornstarch on the area and leave it overnight to wick away moisture.
Erase superficial scratches, small stains, and scuffs with fine sandpaper or a pencil eraser. Avoid using either too vigorously, as it’s possible to erase suede’s texture entirely and leave the hide “bald.” If erasers, brushes, and starch haven’t removed a stain, it’s best to take the item to a professional cleaner.
If you decide to clean a suede garment yourself, buy a product specially formulated for suede and not leather. Most leather cleaners are oil-based and will ruin suede. Even special cleansers can discolor suede or alter its texture; be prepared to say goodbye to your suede item if it doesn’t work and consider home-cleaning beyond cornstarch and erasers a last resort.