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The Difference Between Caring for Suede and Leather Footwear

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Buying new suede and leather footwear is certainly a buzz. Opening the box to that heady leather smell, navigating the often brutal, but rewarding, break-in period—and of course—having a new pair of shoes! And whilst we’re all about patina in this neck of the woods, there is a difference between wearing your shoes in nicely, and just straight up not looking after them.

The ideal is somewhere in between. You want your everyday life to be reflected in the scuffs and creases that build over time, but you don’t want always want to just straight up crock the shit out of them. This is where shoe-care comes in.

Proper shoe care will allow your leather footwear to patina to its full potential and keep your shoes and boots looking their best, but there are strict differences between caring for suede and leather. We’ve teamed up with Cobbler’s Choice to give you a one-stop guide on the fundamentals of caring for both leather and suede footwear and the differences between the two.

Caring for Smooth Leather

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Step 1: Clean

The essential first step for a good leather care regime is to clean the surface of the leather regularly. Cleaning leather is the quintessential precedent for restoring and protecting leather and should be the most frequently repeated step for leather care. It stops dirt build-up which can make cause staining if the dirt is diluted by rain and keeps the leather in tip-top condition, ready to absorb all of the good oils and moisture that will allow it to develop a lustrous patina.

Substances to look out for are visible dirt, salt, alcohol, or other toxic materials like glues—it’s best to remove these as soon as you can, but any visible dirt build-up is usually a good sign that your shoes need a clean.

  1. Always make sure to remove the laces before starting your clean.
  2. Using a Premium Shoe Brush or Microfiber Cloth, brush off any surface elements such as dirt or dust, leaving the face of the leather bare.
  3. Then, apply a leather cleaning substance like Cobbler’s Choice Leather Cleaning Spray onto a clean cloth and work into the affected area.
  4. Repeat this process as needed or until you’ve reached your desired cleanliness.

Step 2: Restore

The second step for proper leather care is to restore it, which helps to rejuvenate the leather and give it that rich luster that makes shoes pop. Conditioning your footwear will prolong the life of leather by providing the proper nutrients for it to heal. Remember, leather was the skin of an animal once, so conditioning it will allow it to soak up essential nutrients, moisten the surface, and refresh the leather’s pores. It can also help to restore any scratches or cracks on the surface caused by daily wear.

  1. Apply the Leather Cream or Conditioner onto a clean Microfiber Cloth and work evenly into the leather using a circular motion. Be sure to apply small amounts at a time to avoid over-saturating your leather.
  2. Work the products into the leather with the tips of your fingers covered by the cloth often yields the best results and helps reach pesky areas.
  3. Leave your shoes to air dry. During and after conditioning, it is completely normal for the leather to darken slightly. The color will more than often return to its original luster after a couple of hours drying or a few days wear—depending on the type of leather.

Step 3: Protect

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The third step for leather care is to protect your leather from the elements. This is the most effective preventative step for leather care if you want to keep your leather as clean as possible, and should be done prior to the first wear.

Waterproofing sprays are a popular form of protection, and one offered by Cobbler’s Choice. They do not last year-round, and need to be applied as needed based on the amount exposure and type of environments you’re using your footwear in. It’s best to apply a waterproofing spray at the beginning of every season, but in strenuous climates, Cobbler’s Choice recommends applying 2-3 times per season, if not more.

Caring for Suede

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Suede is probably one of the most attractive materials that can be used on leather footwear. Its texture can range from a smooth buttery nap, all the way to a rough, almost stringy hand that gives the most rugged aesthetic.

As beautiful as suede may be, it’s also notoriously difficult to maintain and this can put people off wanting to spend a few hundred bucks on some suede shoes or boots. Suede’s nap easily picks up and traps dirt, and the nature of the material can be somewhat difficult to condition. With suede, preventative care is much more effective than reactive care and being proactive in protecting, cleaning, and conditioning will prolong the life and look of your suede goods.

Step 1: Dry Treatment

When confronted with stains and dirt buried deep within the nap of suede, it’s best to begin cleaning with a dry treatment. Cobbler’s Choice Suede Brush & Eraser come with a 100% natural gum eraser that picks up dirt buried deep in the suede while the soft nylon bristle brush revives the nap, restoring the suede back to its original texture.

  1. To begin, brush the suede downward towards the sole. This should help remove any light surface elements residing on the surface.
  2. Using the Gum Eraser, lightly rub any stained or affected areas of the suede until you’re happy with the result. Remember, the dry treatment won’t always get more stubborn stains or marks out, and you may need to go onto step 2—wet treatment.

It’s good practice to give your suede shoes a light brush down after every wear. With the nap being so complex and rough, it will undoubtedly pick up some level of dust and dirt with each wear, so it’s good to keep on top of it if you can. Despite the availability of wet treatments, you really want to minimize how often you’re wetting suede.

Wet Treatment

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An alternative or additional treatment is to apply Leather Cleaner. It’s best to save these treatments for when the suede really needs it, but doing this will leave the suede looking great—you just need to take extra care.

Simply spray leather cleaner onto a clean microfiber cloth and gently work into the affected part of the suede. Repeat as needed and let air dry for 1 hour. make sure you’ve given even coverage to the desired area to allow even drying and avoid oversaturation.

The naturally occurring enzymes and pH balancers in the Cobbler’s Choice leather cleaner help to effectively lift up dirt buried deep beneath the surface of the suede, while the tea tree oil acts as a natural cleaning agent and subtle conditioner on the suede’s surface, which helps to rejuvenate the suede and keeps it free from toxic and harmful elements.

Protecting Your Suede

Arguably the most important step in a solid suede-care routine, protective, preventative care will minimize the chance of needing to saturate or clean your suede more often than you need to. It’s advisable to avoid wearing suede on days that it rains, snows, or at crowded bars. Suede + alcoholic beverages = trouble.

Most importantly, always apply waterproofing treatment on your suede to guard it from the elements. This will add an invisible, protective barrier on your suede that will help to repel water and other elements and prevent them from damaging the suede.

Cobbler’s Choice Waterproofing Spray is 100% all-natural and safe to use on leather, suede, and nubuck. To use, simply apply an even coat over the surface, work into the suede, and air dry for 1 hour. For best results, we recommend you repeat the process 2-3 times or as needed.

The Difference Between Caring for Leather vs. Suede

In conclusion, there’s more similarities to taking care of leather vs. suede footwear than there are differences. Both are made of animal hides that need to be regularly cleaned, moisturized, and protected from the elements.

Suede, however, with it’s naturally porous makeup, should be brushed more regularly to prevent buildup of dirt and grime in its surface. You may also want to limit the use of creams and other wet care products to suede if you would prefer your shoes to not darken from their original shade.

Regardless, you should focus on using care products like Cobbler’s Choice that only contain natural ingredients. Synthetic chemical-based alternatives like you’d pick up at the drug store can infuse your footwear investment with dyes and solvents that could potentially damage the leather.

Cobbler’s Choice Products

Leather Cleaner

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Cobbler’s Choice Leather Cleaner is a phosphate-free formula made with all-natural ingredients. It includes tea-tree oil, which effectively penetrates the pores of the leather with its anti-mildew properties for a fresh and long-lasting clean.

Coming in a 6oz. bottle, it’s made in the USA and available for $12 from Cobbler’s Choice.

Leather Cream & Leather Conditioner

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Cobbler’s Choice Leather Cream & Leather Conditioner is made with a unique blend of all-natural ingredients, including seed oils and triple filtered beeswax which penetrate deep into the leather’s pores, providing a safe and effective treatment. Unlike other leather conditioners, creams, and balms on the market, the Leather Cream and Leather Conditioner are both made with a petroleum-free formula, meaning it will not dry out the surface of your leather over time.

Leather Conditioner and Leather Cream available from Cobbler’s Choice for $18 and $10, respectively.

Waterproofing Spray

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The Cobbler’s Choice Waterproofing Spray leaves an invisible shield over the surface of the leather and without any waxy finishes, protecting your footwear from the elements. Free of synthetic silicons, hazardous aerosols, and petroleum, the formula consists of distilled water infused with carnauba wax.

Available for $16 from Cobbler’s Choice.

Microfiber Cloth

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Cobbler’s Choice non-abrasive Microfiber Cloth effectively apply polishes, creams, and conditioners to your leather products. The delicate fibers are gentle on the surface of your leather and effectively pick up dirt and dust and can be easily laundered.

Available for $10 from Cobbler’s Choice.