Suede is often seen as one of the scarier leather finishes to commit to, but in reality, it’s actually not as temperamental as its reputation. It’s kind of the dramatic house plant of the leather family. At some point, they both can end up looking kind of sad, and that may lead you to think it’s beyond saving, but with some basic care, both spring right back to life.
Though there are some things that you can’t come back from, like: balding, serve matting, and long set oil-based stains, but all of these are easily preventable. It kills me to see perfectly good suede bags sitting on shelves in need of homes or even trashed because they are simply dry and in need of a little cleaning, but in all fairness, that’s how I scored this Fendi Mama Forever bag for an amazing deal.
Before VS After
On the left is the before shot, and to be honest, the bag is in very good shape, aside from some minor scratches on the hardware where there wasn’t a lot of wear and tear to the bag. There were no set-in stains, nor was there any tough matting and balding. The corners were in good shape, the handle was in solid condition, and the lining inside was stain-free and intact. Honestly, he just seemed a bit dry and very dusty, but those are things we can fix. On the right is the final result, all done in one day. This post will show you how we got there.
Dry Cloth Wipe Down
Seems easy enough, right? Just take a soft (non-linty) rag to brush off hairs, lint, and other bits your bag may have on it. No need to use any pressure, really, as you don’t want to cake the grime further into the bag. Try not to over-fixate on any area at this point, as things that don’t come out now will very likely come out later with the brush. Simply rub lightly with the grain of the leather until there is no residue on the rag. You will be surprised how much dust and dirt can come off during this process.
Next: Wet Cloth Wipe Down
Since this bag was really dusty, I did a “wet” cloth wipe down to pick up some more of that dirt as I didn’t want to brush it into the suede. If your bag isn’t covered in dust, you may be able to get great results simply by brushing it, but unfortunately, this little guy was far beyond that point. Excessive moisture and wetness, in general, aren’t great for suede, so I used a thicker cloth that would be less absorbent and not so drippy. I dipped the tip of the rag in the water lightly. As you can see in the photo, the rag is hardly even damp. Then with the grain of the suede, I wiped the bag down gently, making sure not to press too hard.
The Critical Brush Step
If you own any suede at all, I highly recommend you buy a suede brush and keep it handy. They have saved the lives of so many of my favorite pieces, and I usually keep one in my purse if I’m wearing suede in case of an emergency. Aside from helping brush away dirt and grime, brushes are crucial to help prevent matting, and “refluffing” your suede is crucial for maintaining its softness.
For this project, I’ll be using the bristle side of the brush to lightly remove the remaining layer of dust from my bag. Like the previous steps, always go along with the grain of your leather, and you really do not need to go hard. There was some light matting at the edges of the top flap that I did apply a little more pressure to, but it was still ever so slight. When trying to de-matte, I go very slow. Sometimes I even take breaks as you really do not want to overdo it and damage the suede. Taking a break stops me from hyper-fixating and obsessing over a single spot, and it’s helpful to remind myself that it can be incremental!
In the photo below, you can see what a difference this made in the bag already! So so satisfying!
Moisturize Your Suede!
One of the tell-tale signs your bag is dry is a dull color, and it really shows in suede. I wanted to restore this bag back to the rich chocolatey brown of its youth and did so with Collonil Leather gel.
It is my all-time favorite leather moisturizer. It has done wonders on all of my bags. Though it is not so common in the States, it is very common in Europe, and you can buy it online easily (this is not sponsored by them; I just genuinely love this product). Suede doesn’t need a lot of moisture, and since this is a thicker conditioner, I will be using a small amount. Put a dime-size amount of conditioner on a cloth and pat the cloth together to thin the conditioner like in the photo on the right below. This way, you have a thinner amount in a wider area than a concentrated glob.
Remember to always spot test somewhere discreet to make sure you don’t ruin your bag. I tested in a corner under the flap to make sure there was no reaction. When buying preowned, this is especially important, as you just never know what the previous owners treated your bag with. You may even discover your bag is re-dyed (yikes)!
Once that’s out of the way, and you feel safe proceeding, you can gently massage the moisturizer into the bag, again with the grain and not too rough. If you noticed you accidentally applied it too thick, stay calm and blot gently with a rag, do not rub it in or try to wipe it off. Also, some spots may look uneven right after you apply, but do not panic! Give the bag some time to dry, and more often than not, it will dry down evenly. This bag required two coats in the end; I doubt it was ever conditioned previously and likely stored in a closet without a dust bag. Most bags will not need this much (especially with Collonil leather gel), and I allowed time for the bag to dry in-between applications. Below is a comparison, the right side has been brushed and moisturized, and the left half is still in its original condition.
How To Remove Odor Our Of Suede
This bag didn’t have a strong or offensive odor, but it did smell slightly of someone else’s perfume. Since it’s not too strong, it isn’t a deal-breaker for me, but it always does feel a bit strange, and frankly, I would rather it didn’t. Since it wasn’t too potent, I just put some coffee beans in a small dish and keep them in the bag for a few days. This has helped in the past. Since I just received the bag as I’m writing this, I cannot report back just yet, but my backup plan is a coffee ground and backing soda mixture. If that fails, perhaps a vinegar bath for the lining and a few hours in the freezer is the next course of action.
Tips For Aftercare
Keeping suede looking its best requires some care. Reading this may have you feeling a bit intimidated, but I promise you that you will get the hang of it with practice. Also, once you know what your bag should feel like, it’s easier to know when it needs some love. Many people ask me when they should moisturize their bags, and honestly, there is no single answer. There are many factors such as its environment, the leather type, how it was treated, how it’s being stored, what product you used previously, how much it’s being used, and so on. There is no right answer.
In my opinion, it’s intuitive. For example, I know it its time if when I notice my bag looks a little dull, or maybe it isn’t as soft as it usually is, or it’s scratching more than it should. The more you know your bag, the better you can gauge its needs. But most major suede disasters can be avoided with some preventative care. If you don’t have one already, invest in a nice suede brush. If you’re nervous about using it, practice on something less precious, maybe even go to the thrift and get a suede bag to test on. Secondly, get a good moisturizer. It will go a long way on all your leather items and help maintain your suede’s rich color.
Lastly, I would invest in a good waterproof spray if you live somewhere humid or rainy. I personally use Collonil Waterstop Spray and will be treating this bag with it as soon as I have access to my friend’s backyard.
A Special Touch
Lastly, just for fun, I decided to attach a gold-tone flat link chain. I thought it would be a nice pop against the dark brown and give him a bit of an edge. Having the chain as an option is super handy because if I feel a little more formal, I can remove the leather strap and just use the gold chain. You can buy the spring clasps and the chains from Etsy. They have all kinds of links in different colors and textures to choose from. You can customize the length and the type of rings you use to attach it. I also have some acrylic link straps too that are super fun to swap out. They really change the feel of the bag and are a great way to personalize your piece without damaging it or affecting its resale value.
Thank you all so much for reading. I hope you found it helpful. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, feel free to let us know in the comments, and I’ll try to get back to you right away. Happy restoring, everyone!