How To Care For Suede

The word “Suede” is actually taken from the French phrase, “gants de Suede, which translates to “Swedish Gloves”. In most cases, suede is produced from small skins such as pigskin, calfskin, goatskin, kidskin, and lambskin, and on occasion, cowhide.

There are differences between leather and suede, each offering its own characteristics and advantages. The differences between suede and leather include:

– Smooth leather, also called grain leather is the top outer layer of the animal’s skin. The difference between leather and suede is the finish applied to that skin.

– Suede is typically the underside of the hide that has been buffed to a smooth surface. Additionally, suede can be split from a thick hide with the top surface of the new layer looking like suede but not nearly as soft.

To help you determine which is best for your specific need, consider these differences as outlined below:

Advantages of Leather

This material is extremely versatile. It can keep you warm in the winter and cool during the summer. Because leather offers such outstanding insulation characteristics, it has the ability to provide both ventilation and evaporation. If you are looking for something that will provide years of service and durability, nothing beats good, quality leather.

In fact, leather’s popularity and value can actually increase over time rather than depreciate. Being among the oldest materials known to man, with all the tanning options, leather can be used for so many things such as clothing, shoes, handbags, luggage, saddlery, sporting equipment, and so on.

When buying, remember that leather is typically sold by the square foot with an average hide measuring from 54 to 62 square feet. Depending on the type of leather, quality of the leather, and location from which the leather comes (Russia, Asia, Canada), you could pay anywhere from $2.65 to $15.00 or more per square foot. For instance, good, quality goatskin might run about $12.00 per square foot while kangaroo leather, from $11.00 per square foot.

Advantages of Suede

With suede, you get a different look and feel depending on the hide. For example, with goatskin, the nap would be fine and shiny while with cowhide, you would have a coarse, long nap.

Suede is the leather that has a velvet-like surface on the corium layer. The nice thing about suede is that even hides that have a bad grain surface can be used as long as the corium layer is not affected. However, if the skin has inside defects or deep scars from disease, flay cuts, or vein marks, then it could not be used. Suede is an excellent choice for trendy outerwear and accessories.

Suede is an excellent option and while not always cheap, it is typically cheaper in price than leather. For example, you could purchase economy cow suede weight 3/4-ounce for $2.50 per square foot or for 2/3-ounce, $2.40 per square foot. The nap of suede is produced from buffering or wheeling on the flesh surface, also called the split side of the flesh.

However, to produce velvet suede, the grain side is buffed. To determine if the suede is high quality, the fibers of the nap should all be uniform in length and packed together tightly. This is what creates resilience to the nap.

For instance, if you were to run your fingers along the suede, you would not see any finger marks. Therefore, when buying suede, run your fingers down the hide and if you see heavy finger marks, the quality is poor. If you see only slight marks or no marks at all, the suede is high quality.

Additionally, the firmness of the nap will be dependant on the density as well as how compact the fiber structure is. If comparing velvet suede to flesh suede, you would find the velvet to be much finer. The goal in making quality suede leather is to retain a fine nap while still producing soft and supple leather.

If possible, find out how the suede was made. If you find that a method called Fatliquoring was used, you want to avoid buying that particular piece. The reason is that with this method, oil was used and if even the smallest amount of oil is used in the process the result will be a greasy nap.

Suede is a very popular choice for many people when it comes to coats and jackets. Some information floating around indicates that suede can be washed in the washing machine using cold water on a gentle cycle with Woolite. If you find this interesting but feel skeptical, before you do anything read the label!

Washing Suede

If you own a suede garment, the tag should provide you with care instructions so before you toss a suede jacket into the washing machine make sure you read the label. Normally water and suede do not mix, so chances are the suede garments people refer to as being “washable” are made from a special type of washable suede.

Keep in mind that there are two kinds of suede. The first is from leather and the second is what is called ultra suede, which is a non-woven micro-polymer based fabric that is not suede or leather at all. Do you remember ‘naugahyde’? It’s the same thing since Naugahyde is vinyl-coated fabric, not hide.

Consumers report that it is hard to tell the difference between washable suede and the real stuff’. The technology to make wash-n-wear leather was developed in the late 1990s. The process involved coating the leather with an enzyme and then pre-washing it to make it strong enough to toss in the wash.

Garments made of this type of leather started popping up at retailers and in less than two years was flying off store shelves. The appeal is obvious – dry cleaning is expensive at $50 or more and coats never come out looking or feeling the same, no matter how good the drycleaner.

Some makers claim that their washable suede not only stands up to the washer, as long as it is gentle, but can be tossed in the dryer on low. There are mixed reports about how items made by different clothing manufactures actually fare during the washing and drying process.

Soil removal works for some but not all types of stains. For example, in one test, oil came out reasonably well while cola stains did not come out at all.

Additionally, some color loss occurred around stress points such as buttonholes. Some garments seem to gain in wrinkles what they had lost in dirt.


Another complaint was with regular suede that has been dry-cleaned the garments stiffened and did not seem like the same coat. If you dry-clean a washable suede garment, it may stiffen or roughen. If your coat is not washable suede, there are things you can do to lengthen the time between dry cleaning, with one caveat – do not wait too long between cleaning. Remember, the longer dirt and oil sit on the coat, the more it permeates the pores and the harder it becomes to remove.

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