Suede adds luxurious texture and softness to jackets, shoes, purses and more. But when it comes time to clean suede, can you safely use a garment steamer? In certain circumstances, steaming provides an effective, gentle way to refresh suede between deeper cleanings. However, precautions are required to avoid damage to delicate suede.
What is Suede?
First, let’s review what defines suede:
Suede is leather that has been brushed and split to expose a fuzzy, napped surface on the inner hide split. This creates the signature soft texture.
The delicate fibers on the surface of suede make it ultra soft and plush but prone to damage.
Jackets, shoes, bags, furniture and more showcase suede’s beautiful draped properties. But it requires careful maintenance.
The napped surface traps air close to the skin making suede excellent for insulating cold weather outerwear.
With proper care, suede grants stylish softness to any item.
Benefits of Steaming Suede
Used properly, steaming offers several advantages for maintaining suede:
The gentle heat helps coax crushed fibers upward, restoring the supple piled texture.
Light steaming can help smooth out minor wrinkles and creases on suede garments.
The heat accelerates off-gassing of odors from perfumes, food or sweat trapped in fibers.
High temperatures also decrease populations of bacteria that cause stains and odor when active on suede items.
Drawing moisture out helps suede fully dry to prevent mildew growth in damp conditions.
With no detergents or chemicals, steaming provides gentle cleaning for those with skin sensitivities.
When done carefully, steaming freshens up suede between deeper cleanings.
Risks of Steaming Suede
However, there are also serious risks associated with steaming suede:
Distortion and Shrinkage
Excessive heat and moisture from improper steaming can distort and shrink suede.
Glued or bonded suede can delaminate when the glues and backings are degraded by high steam heat. Check item construction first.
Dyed suedes also face potential bleeding and fading of colors from exposure to heat, moisture and pressure.
Loss of Texture
Over-steaming may flatten and mat down the delicate raised fibers that create suede’s signature soft texture.
Without proper drying, condensed steam may leave water stains on suede which become permanent if not treated promptly.
Any remaining moisture leads to a high risk of mold and mildew growing which causes staining and deterioration of the leather.
Improper steaming can lead to irreversible damage to fine suede.
Tips for Steaming Suede
Follow these precautions when steaming suede:
Check tags – confirm item can be steamed. Many shoes and bags advise not to.
Use low, indirect steam so moisture penetrates product gently without over-wetting.
Avoid seams and decorations – sequins, stitched areas at higher risk of damage.
Rotate and flip frequently during steaming to evenly distribute moisture.
Maintain constant motion to prevent water pooling in any spots.
Stuff and reshape immediately while drying to restore texture and structure.
Allow to fully air dry before wearing or storing to prevent mold growth.
With great care, steaming can be safe for some suede items.
Alternate Suede Cleaning Methods
Since steaming has risks, safer cleaning alternatives for suede include:
Specialty Suede Cleaners
Mild foams and oil-based suede shampoo gently lift dirt when brushed gently with a suede brush.
Professional Dry Cleaning
Most dry cleaners offer specialty solvent-based suede cleaning for jackets and other garments.
Suede Eraser Blocks
Rubbing suede erasers on stains whisks away dirt from the surface.
Vinyl and Rubber Cleaners
Gentle vinyl/rubber protectants can clean suede well too. Apply lightly with soft cloth.
Vinegar and Salt for Stains
Mixing these pantry ingredients makes a light stain remover safe for suede shoes.
Suede Brush for Debris
Gently brushing with a suede brush lifts dust and dirt from the nap without damaging the hide.
Multiple cleaning options exist beyond steaming to safely care for suede.
Can You Steam Suede FAQs
Here are some common suede cleaning questions:
Can you put suede in the washing machine?
Never. Washing risks destroying suede completely through excessive water exposure. Strictly dry clean only.
How do you get stains out of suede?
Use a suede stain remover or eraser on light stains. For deep stains, seek professional suede cleaning. Avoid excessive rubbing or moisture.
How do you soften stiff suede?
Use a suede brush to gently lift the nap. Steaming may help relaxed fibers but risks damage – use very carefully. Lightly dampen a soft cloth with distilled water to smooth fibers down.
Does suede need to be cleaned professionally?
For the best results long-term, yes – specialty leather cleaners have the right products and methods to thoroughly deep clean suede while avoiding damage from moisture.
Can you iron suede?
Never use an iron directly on suede – it will damage the delicate fibers instantly. You may be able to use an iron on low heat with a protective cloth covering thick suede pieces.
How often should you clean suede?
Fully clean professionally once a year or as needed. Otherwise use gentle home methods like suede brushes and erasers for light, periodic refreshings.