How to clean suede fabric – 5 gentle tips from experts

These five natural cleaning steps prevent further damage to this luxury fabric

(Image credit: Suchada Tansirimas via Getty Images)

Suede is a fantastic, luxurious fabric perfect for everything from clothing to couches. However, many people avoid this soft material, believing it to be impossible to clean.

While it is certainly not as easy as wipe-clean faux leather, with the right tools, suede can be relatively simple to maintain, professional cleaners assure.

Here, designers and cleaning experts explain how to clean suede fabric – be it on shoes or furniture – so you can enjoy this plush material and learn how to clean upholstery without panicking.

How to clean suede fabric

Most modern suedes are far more durable than we realize. While we wouldn’t want to jump in puddles with suede boots or spill our coffee all over our suede couch, any accidental spills and stains are usually quick to clear up.

Whether you're exploring how to clean a couch, or have stains on a set of suede dining chairs, this is how the experts clean suede fabric.

Blue wall and drapes, suede chairs glass table

(Image credit: Ward & Co.)

1. Collect your tools

Suede becomes much easier to clean if you have the essential cleaning tools before you start, begins Milly McEwan, product and design manager at RJ Living. Unlike most household cleaning, you will need a few specialist tools to ensure the best results, she shares:

2. Start by brushing

Much like cleaning a velvet couch, the easiest way to clean suede without risking any damage is to start by brushing the area with the soft-bristled brush first, to see if this will dislodge the dirt without the need to introduce water, suggests Will Cotter, cleaning expert and owner of HappyCleans.

‘If you plan to clean anything with a suede fabric, I suggest using a suede brush or even a soft-bristled toothbrush. Gently brush the fabric in one direction to lift the nap or those soft fibers,’ he recommends. ‘If you’ve got a lint roller, such as this one from Amazon, use that to make picking up loose dirt easier. Just don’t press too hard to avoid embedding it further into the fabric,’ he adds.

3. Spot clean stains

If brushing has not been enough to remove the dirt, you will need to use a suede cleaner, or clean with vinegar, to gently lift the residual stain, continues Milly McEwan, product and design manager.

Before you start cleaning, she suggests spot-testing your cleaning agent on a small, inconspicuous area first to check that it does not matt the fibers, or leave lasting stains.

‘Then, to give the suede a good clean if there has been a spill, blot the area as soon as possible with a white cloth (so no color transfers) or use a paper towel to try and absorb the liquid. Please remember though to not rub the cloth on the fabric, and to blot instead, because rubbing can spread the stain further,’ Milly begins. ‘If you’re using a suede cleaner, follow the product instructions. Alternatively, mix equal parts white vinegar and water.

‘Dampen a white cloth or sponge with the cleaning solution and gently blot the stain. Avoid soaking the fabric, as excessive moisture can damage the suede. Blot until the stain lifts. Finish by using a clean, dry towel to blot the area and remove excess moisture. Allow the suede to air dry completely.’

4. Avoid too much water

While suede does not need dry cleaning at home and can stand up to a little moisture, it is best to avoid oversaturating the fabric when removing stains, urges Hyacinth Tucker, a.k.a. The Laundry Lady, founder of Laundry Basket:

‘When it comes to cleaning suede, using water is a big no-no,’ she warns. ‘Too much water can easily damage the suede. Forget about water and reach for gentler options like white vinegar, dish soap, or rubbing alcohol. These do the job without causing harm.

‘Don't soak suede fabrics, either,’ she adds. ‘Too much moisture is its worst enemy. Avoid hydrogen peroxide, too, because it might mess up the color. Skip soap and water. Soap will leave film and water stains.’

5. Restore the texture with a brush

A great cleaning tip for suede is to brush off the surface once after cleaning too, to help re-lift the fibers and give it the ‘fluffy’ appearance, adds Milly McEwan, product and design manager:

‘After you have made sure the fabric is dry, use the suede brush to restore the nap. You can do this by gently brushing the suede in one direction. Don’t go back and forth with the brush though, because this will make the nap ununified, and won’t look very good,’ she advises.


Does baking soda clean suede?

Baking soda can be a great cleaning agent for suede, especially if it gets wet. Sprinkle baking soda onto the stains and let it sit for a few minutes before rubbing it in with a soft brush. This will help the powder absorb liquid or grease and lift away stains.

It is also helpful to help deodorize suede, too.

How do you dry suede after washing it?

After cleaning suede, it is important to let it dry completely and quickly. Start by blotting (not rubbing) the fabric with a dry, clean cloth to remove most of the excess liquid, before setting the shoes in a warm, dry, well-ventilated area, such as in a window, or outside in the sun. If you have one of the best dehumidifiers, this can also help to remove moisture and circulate dry air around the shoes to prevent staining.

So long as you avoid using too much liquid and use gentle cleaning methods, it is relatively difficult to mess up cleaning suede fabric, says Milly McEwan, product and design manager. ‘Avoid using harsh chemicals, bleach, or household cleaners that are not specifically designed for suede. These can damage and discolor suede. If you want to use cleaning product, make sure you’re looking for something specifically made for suede.’

Chiana Dickson
Content Editor

Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for two years, having started her journey in interior journalism as part of the graduate program. She spends most of her time producing content for the Solved section of the website, helping readers get the most out of their homes through clever decluttering, cleaning, and tidying tips – many of which she tests and reviews herself in her home in Lancaster to ensure they will consistently deliver for her readers and dabbles in the latest design trends. She also has a first-class degree in Literature from Lancaster University.