How a boxfresh Ronin should look...
[December 2010 - it's snowy out there! Suede and nubuck HATES snow, and rock salt to boot (natch). So, protect your shoes BEFORE you destroy them! Get some suede or nubuck protector spray, I mention some later in the article, and give your shoes a good treating before you step out! My shoes are still great, and I last protected them almost a year ago. Â£5 and half an hour will make a big difference.]
I recently went out in some brand new trainers (a pair of Etnies Ronin skate shoes, which are black and white suede/synthetic material mixture with a white trim round the sole). Unsurprisingly, it rained on Saturday evening, and when I came back my shoes were DESTROYED.
Unfortunately, mine weren't quite caked, but were fairly smattered in nasty looking mud. But what to do? Well, after some careful research (and even more careful testing), here's some tips for cleaning these kinds of skate shoes.
Shoes like the Ronins aren't all suede - they have what Etnies describe as an "action leather upper" combined with synthetic, woven sections (for example, the material around the E motif on the side of the shoe is a different fabric). However, in my case, the whole lot was just smothered with nasty, gunky mud.
So, what to do?
Well, first thing's first - DON'T TRY TO CLEAN THE SHOES WHILST THEY'RE STILL WET! All you'll do is rub the dirt right into the fibres, ruining them pretty much forever (or until you get them professionally cleaned which could cost a lot).Â Resisting the temptation to grab the scrubbing brush, put them in a warm place overnight and let the mud dry completely.
Before you start to remove the mud, you'll need a couple of things:
- A suede brush (they come in all shapes and sizes; a photo of one here - I bought mine from Timpson's)
- A suede eraser/cleaning block (or a soft white pencil eraser like a Staedtler if you can't find a suede eraser - again, I got one from my local Timpson's)
- A small dish/bucket/container, into which you'll put a mix of warm tap water and a small amount of bleach or clear vinegar (not brown malt vinegar!)
- Optionally, something like the soapbar-shaped Vanish stain remover bar (which I used)
- A small plastic-bristled scrubbing brush and/or J-cloth/dishcloth (I just used a J-cloth)
- Some paper tissues / absorbent towels or cloths
- Some spray-on suede/leather/nubuck protector (Kiwi and Punch make this stuff, along with loads of shoe shops' own brands - I ended up finding some in Asda)
Start by using the suede brush to rub off most of the heavy soiling - you'll be surprised, as long as you brush with the nap of the fibre, just how much comes off once the mud's dried. The suede is also more resilient than you'd think - of course, having coloured or very light suede/nubuck shoes will affect the end result slightly as you may have some more permanent discolouration, but my black shoes looked almost spotless after this first brushing.
I ended up starting off gently, then slowly increasing pressure and speed as I got most of the mud off. To continue, I used the suede eraser - it's quite hard and crumbles easily, taking the dirt with it, so I used that to crack off the more stubborn mud flakes and remove some of the smaller stains and marks.
I grabbed the Vanish stain remover bar (it looks like a bar of soap, but you can rub it onto problem stains), daubing it where necessary for the more heavily soiled areas - of which there were, fortunately, not many. Once that was done, I got some water/bleach mixture onto the J-cloth and used it to thoroughly wash the shoes' outer fabric - NOT completely soaking the shoes or utterly drenching the fabric as that's really bad for it. Being methodical is the key here, and then take the time to then go round the shoes with the paper towels and dab off the excess liquid. Repeat for the other shoe, then leave to dry overnight.
Once completely dry, give your shoes a good spray treatment with the protector - this will help to stop moisture ingress and keep your suede/nubuck/leather looking newer for longer! If you have coloured material be sure to test on a discreet area first, juuuuust in case it adversely affects the dye of the material). Some protectors state that the colour of your shoes may darken slightly after application - sometimes it's just unavoidable, but it's for the best in the long run. After the shoes have dried, use the suede brush to bring up the pile of the fibre again to restore some of its natural look. Finally, enjoy your newly-restored shoes again - without having to resort to professional shoe cleaning services!
However if you do need professional suede/nubuck cleaning, a professional shoemakers like James Taylor and Son in London look like a promising place to begin your search. (Watch their VideoJug feature on cleaning suede shoes - recommended viewing for all suede shoe owners regardless)
So, at all costs:
- avoid washing your shoes straight away, avoid putting your shoes in the washing machine (AWFUL for both the shoes and the washing machine)
- avoid using suede/nubuck cleaner as some people report that it actually spoils the fabric completely
- don't leave your shoes wet after cleaning them yourself and
- don't forget to BUY A MORE APPROPRIATE PAIR OF SHOES FOR MUDDY WEATHER!
I learnt that the hard way so you don't have to (fortunately my shoes are as good as new now). Given all this snowy weather we're having, the amount of mud/snow/grit you'll be getting on your shoes is certainly not good for brand new suede or nubuck, so it pays to protect your footwear before you head out the door 🙂