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It’s a common misconception that suede shoes and boots will be instantly ruined when they get wet, but that’s not true if you take the right steps to treat and protect them.
Yes, suede shoes can get wet and still be wearable, but in order to prevent damage, you need to to treat them quickly afterward, which can be time consuming. If you know it’s going to rain, or you know you’ll be at a place where your shoes may get wet, it’s best to avoid wearing suede shoes entirely.
Normal leather is more water repellent than suede because the visible surface is the outside of the hide, which is more durable. Suede is different because the visible surface is the inside of the leather hide, which has been partially deconstructed to have a smooth, velvet-like nap.
The nap is made of small leather “hairs” which become stiff and brittle when they get wet, or when they dry after being wet. Brittle hairs are more likely to break off, and once that happens the suede has been permanently damaged.
The key to treating wet suede is drying out the nap while simultaneously brushing it to maintain the smooth feel. The sooner you can treat wet suede, the less likely it is to have permanent damage.
First, use a microfiber towel or clean cloth to lightly blot the suede and soak up as much water as possible. Don’t rub the nap, the goal is to start to dry out the suede without causing any damage.
While the suede is still damp, gently brush the nap back and forth using a soft bristle brush. If you don’t have one handy, go to the nearest drug store or convenience store and buy a soft bristle toothbrush.
Use a hair dryer to accelerate the drying process, and keep brushing the nap as heat is applied. Normally, using a hair dryer to dry leather shoes is a big no-no because the heat can dry out the leather and cause it to get stiff or crack. The approach to drying suede is different, you need to keep brushing the nap while it dries to prevent it from getting stiff and brittle. Waiting for it to air dry would take too long and introduce too much brushing, so you need to accelerate the process using a hair dryer or heat gun.
Make sure the heat isn’t right next to the shoes, there should be space between the hair dryer and the shoes. The suede should never feel hot to the touch - this is an obvious indicator that the heat source is too close.
After the nap has dried, brush it again, preferably using a soft horse-bristle brush. The suede should be just as soft and velvety as it was before it got wet.
If there are stains, the easiest way to treat them is using a suede eraser. Apply soft to medium pressure and rub the eraser with the grain of the suede. (Follow our full guide on how to clean and care for nubuck and suede shoes).
If you’re wearing suede shoes or boots and getting them wet is unavoidable, you can apply a suede/nubuck protectant that will help waterproof them. These are usually available in spray form and can help proactively repel water and prevent damage.
Samuel Hubbard has a large selection of suede shoes in dozens of styles for both men and women. Browse the collection today.