How to Waterproof Suede

Suede has attracted the eyes of the fashion-conscious for over two centuries and tallied up a reputation as one of the more luxurious and durable materials on the market. Odds are, if you’ve snagged a pair of suede shoes or a handbag at some point, it holds a place of honor in your closet. Naturally, you’ll want to protect it.

For all its charms, suede has remained difficult to categorize: waterproof or no? The answer may not be so easy to grasp at first, but the solution is straightforward.

Below, you’ll find all the ins and outs behind waterproofing your suede items as well as a detailed breakdown of how to do it.

Is Suede Really Waterproof?

Caring for your suede clothing and shoes has developed into an interesting division. For some camps, suede is treated with the same toughness and trust as the densest leather. For others, it’s more important to retain the suede’s stylish, fine, and soft veneer. While you’re free to rough up your suede or indulge in it, the question remains: is suede waterproof?

The answer falls somewhere between yes and no. Since the term “waterproof” applies to materials that let no water or moisture through, we can’t call suede waterproof. However, it is highly water-resistant. Just like most leather products, suede will endure quite a lot of rain and snow before you feel your skin or socks get damp.

We go into a lot more detail on the topic of if suede is actually waterproof in a dedicated article, so we recommend you check it out for more info.

In the end, if you’d like to avoid the more unsightly marks on your suede, it’s better to think of it as a strong but not quite waterproof material.

The Materials You’ll Need

For all the mix-ups and opinions about the durability and waterproof qualities of suede, the process of actually waterproofing it is remarkably straightforward. To assure your suede shoes, boots, bags, and coats are 100% ready to meet wet weather, there are only a few tools to collect. Prolonging the lifespan of suede doesn’t take too much effort at all.

Here’s what you’ll need to waterproof all types of suede:

Cleaning Brush or Dry Chamois Towel

You can use a special cleaning brush included with some shoe cleaning kits or simply a clean towel or cloth. Your brush should have stiff bristles and be non-abrasive.

Simple Hand Soap – Optional

We recommend adding a light washing step if the surface of your suede is too dirty to clean with a bristle brush alone.

Newsprint or Work Surface You’re Willing to Get Dirty

As with all waterproofing projects, don’t forget to lay down some newspaper before bringing out the sprays and polishes.

Well-Ventilated Work Area

Waterproofing sprays can be noxious if inhaled in confined spaces. Work in the garage or go outside when using these materials.

Water-Repellant Protective Spray

With all the options available for quality sprays right now, it’s hard to go wrong. However, opt for suede or nubuck-specific brands if you can. These products will usually include plant or animal-based ingredients like vegetable wax, turpentine, or mink oil.

You’ll want to avoid any silicone-based products, chemical additives, or anything that contains petroleums or resins. They will likely damage the fine, breathable suede leather surface.

Note: There’s nothing wrong with applying rub-on materials like oils, polish, or wax waterproofing products, but we recommend sprays for their superior and even coverage on the suede you’re working on. We also found that sprays are also much easier to use.

Wax Shoe Polish (For Footwear) – Optional

As mentioned above, polish and other manually-applied substances are an option for waterproofing shoes. Sprays may deliver a more even distribution of waterproofing material, though.

Sole Protectant (Also For Footwear) – Optional

Many fine shoe owners also apply an additional layer of polish to the sole.

Step-By-Step Guide on Waterproofing Suede

Once you’ve gathered all your materials and found a suitable space to work, it’s time to begin waterproofing your suede. Here is our step-by-step primer. We think it’s the optimal approach!

Clean the Surface

Before applying any sprays or polishes to your suede, it’s a good idea to remove all dirt and grit that may still be clinging to the suede surface.

Using a specialty, non-abrasive brush or a dry cloth, sweep across the suede surface. Dislodge any dirt particles. The more detailed you are with removing visible debris, the better coverage from the waterproofing spray you’ll get.

Check out this instructional video for a hands-on explanation of cleaning suede garments.

Wash in Case of Additional Debris

If a stiff brush or cloth effectively removed the surface grime to your satisfaction, there’s no need to wash your suede material. However, if there’s additional evidence of dirt on the suede which resists a brush or cloth, you can wash the especially dirty areas.

We recommend you use a professional leather cleaning product for this step, since suede is susceptible to staining if you overuse water and simple dish soap. However, there’s nothing wrong with using soap. Be sure to dilute it in slightly warm water.

A good rule of thumb: apply as little cleaning liquid or soap as possible to the needy areas. Let your suede goods dry completely before going on.

Prepare the Waterproofing Spray

Now you’re about ready to waterproof your suede. Before spraying, be sure you maintain a distance of four to six inches between the suede surface and the spray nozzle.

Apply Your Product

There are a few things to keep in mind when you spray the suede. These are our tips on spraying technique:

  • It’s preferable to apply less spray than you need per coat. Overapplication can risk spots or blotches on the suede surface.
  • Try to reduce the length of time for applying a coat to less than 10 seconds.
  • We find that the best hand motion to use when spraying is a moderately-paced waving gesture. Rapid crosswise sprays can potentially cause spotting. Spraying too quickly might not cover the surface 100%.
  • Don’t forget to spray into the welt of your shoe if that’s what you’re spraying. Water is likely to seep through that area near the sole.
  • Apply four to six coats. More coats may begin to compromise the soft, felt-like texture of the natural suede. You’ll feel a tackier feel to the suede if you start to overspray. The suede will also lose some of its breathability with excess coats.

Dry Between Coats

Allow your suede product to air dry 100% before lifting it back up and applying the waterproofing substance again. There’s no hard-fast rule for drying time; the best policy is to use the touch-test. If the suede feels dry again, you’re safe to reapply!

Reapply Every Month or So

Easy as that! Your suede shoes, boots, or bag should be ready to face wet conditions. On average, we recommend that suede owners reapply their waterproofing product of choice every month.

However, you can increase the time between applications if you live in drier climates or rarely use your suede. Conversely, people who regularly brave the rain and snow would benefit from reapplication every 20 days.

Enjoy the Benefits of Waterproofed Suede!

Keeping your shoes and clothing free from excess water is one of the surest ways to extend your clothing’s lifetime. Dry shoes and jackets harbor less bacteria than articles that are regularly testing wet conditions unprotected. They’re more hygienic too!

Protecting Your Suede in the Future

No matter how prudent we are about reapplying waterproofers to suede regularly, there’s bound to be times when we’re caught in the wet without protection. In these situations, the natural rigidity and semi-water resistant qualities of suede can save the day.

There are a few surefire things you can do to reduce a lot of the water damage your suede might encounter when out of the house. Some of the top preventative measures to take are:

  • Dab the suede surface with an absorbent towel as soon as you get back indoors.
  • If you’re dealing with suede shoes, fill them with paper or other absorbent materials. This step will ensure that you’re providing long-term absorption to the suede.
  • Though it may be tempting to apply heat to the suede, air drying is always preferable. Heat can potentially distort the leather’s shape or even discolor it.
  • As soon as the suede article is 100% air dried, reapply waterproofing as usual.
  • In addition to re-waterproofing, you can also apply a leather conditioner to protect against cracking which some leathers may exhibit.

The Last Drop

All over the world, suede has developed a certain fascination and allure. The combination of its buttery, velvet-like texture and its subtle and rustic fawn color is hard to outrank among fine materials.

Because of suede’s visual charm, it’s natural that we want to protect it from the elements. The good news is that suede is much more resilient and water-resistant than it looks. Unless you’re caught in a downpour without any overhead protection, most of your meetings with the wet and damp will end without stains or spots. It’s all owing to suede’s leather DNA.

With our suede waterproofing 101, we hoped to accomplish a straightforward task: to give a little direction on the basic tools you’ll need and the steps you’ll need to follow to guarantee your suede lives on for years and years.

For more tips and tricks, check out our detailed page on suede.