How to Clean a Thrift Store Suede Jacket for Under $10

by Yvette in Comment — Updated April 19, 2024

Suede is one of the materials that never goes out of fashion – probably because of its luxurious and velvety texture.

But what is suede, other than a fancy-sounding word?

Suede is a type of soft, high-quality leather that’s made out of the underside of animal hide.

Although this material is pretty durable, it’s miles more delicate than your run-of-the-mill leather. And the nap (suede’s fuzzy surface) is also pretty notorious for collecting dust and lint.

Luckily, caring for suede is relatively straightforward. You’ll need a suede brush, vinegar solution, pencil eraser, and cornstarch.

A suede brush and pencil eraser will deal with dust and lint clinging to the nap, while the cornstarch and vinegar solution will take care of oil-based stains and any unpleasant odors.

Unfortunately, suede is a pretty tough material to clean. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can shrink your suede jacket, stiffen it, or get damaged.

Luckily, you’re at the right place. In this article, I will go over everything you need to know on how to clean suede jacket from thrift store – all for less than ten bucks (give or take)!

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Key Takeaway

  • Suede requires gentle handling and specialty cleaning items like a suede brush, pencil eraser, and vinegar solution to lift stains and restore naps.
  • Inspect suede items carefully before cleaning to mark damaged areas and identify stain types requiring professional care.
  • Suede is prone to stains from water, oil, pet hair, smoke, dust, etc. Some stains can be treated at home with diluted vinegar, cornstarch, airing out, or brushing.
  • Maintaining suede long-term calls for regular brushing, protector spray reapplication, proper storage techniques, and avoiding moisture and harsh weather.

Shopping List and Prices

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Before starting to clean your suede jacket, let’s go over the materials you’ll need:

  •  Suede brush with eraser ($5.49) – A suede brush will be your bread and butter. It’s specially designed to brush surface dirt and dust gently. This brush has a stiff rubber part for removing tough stains and scuff marks.
  • Hi-Polymer Pencil Eraser ($1.68) – A simple pencil eraser does wonders in removing dried stains.
  • White vinegar ($1.66) – You’ll need a white vinegar solution for dealing with extra stubborn stains.
  • You can use an Empty spray bottle or buy a new one from Walmart for ~$1.41. You can’t go all out on white vinegar. You need to put it in a spray bottle to avoid overdoing it.
  • Microfiber Cleaning Towels ($1.28) – You’ll need a microfiber cloth to wipe off stains and other gunk from the suede jacket.

Total: $10.11

Looks like the cost of cleaning is experiencing a bit of inflation, but don’t worry; your thrifted suede jacket will still come out looking like a million bucks!

Extras Items

Besides these essential tools, you can also pick up some extra things if the stains on your suede jacket are particularly stubborn. Consider getting:

  • Lint Roller – A perfect thing for getting rid of that pesky lint that likes getting stuck to suede.
  • Baking Soda – A must-have if your suede jacket picks up any nasty smells from the thrift store. Here’s a DIY guide to deodorize thrift store finds!.
  • Corn Starch – This will come in handy if you have to deal with extra greasy stains. Corn starch does wonders in absorbing oils and grease.

Assessing the Jacket’s Condition and Preparing the Workspace

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Now, just because you’ve got all the tools you need to clean a suede jacket, that doesn’t mean you can start cleaning and brushing away.

Before cleaning, inspect the jacket and see what you’ll be working with.

First, inspect the entire jacket inside and out to see its current condition.

Don’t worry if it’s dusty or smelly. You can’t deal with tears and holes – you’ll have to find a leather repair specialist to deal with those.

Next, mark down (mentally) all stains and damaged parts of the suede jacket. I also recommend you identify each stain you spot. This will greatly cut down the cleaning time since you won’t have to experiment so much with cleaning solutions.

You should also check the label to see if the jacket still has it and if it requires special care.

Don’t forget – suede is a pretty sensitive material, and one wrong move can wreak havoc on it.

The label will also tell you whether you have a real suede jacket or a faux one.

With the inspection done, it’s time to start cleaning. Make sure you do this in a well-ventilated area since some of the cleaning solutions have pretty strong fumes.

Removing Surface Dirt

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Dealing with dirt on your suede jacket is pretty easy – take the suede brush and use the soft bristles to lightly brush out any dust and lint clinging to the nap.

Don’t exert too much pressure on the brush. Otherwise, you’re risking damaging the nap.

Next, use a dry, soft cloth to wipe the jacket down and remove any fine dust still clinging to the nap.

Lastly, if there is any dried dirt on your thrifted leather jacket, you can use the pencil eraser to lift it.

Rub the pencil eraser over the dirty spot until you’ve lifted the crusted dirt. Then, you can use the suede brush to remove any dirt that you got loose.

Dealing with Tricky Stains and Odors

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If you didn’t note the type of stains you’ll have to deal with while inspecting the jacket, you should do that now.

Go over the entire jacket (inside and out) and note the type of stains you must deal with.

You can only deal with water and oil-based stains. If the jacket has discolored spots or colored stains, take it to the dry cleaners.

If you’re unsure about the cleaning process, pick an inconspicuous part of the jacket and do a little test with cleaning solutions.

If the suede starts losing color or the nap gets damaged, that’s a good sign you shouldn’t use it on the stains.

Cleaning Water-Based Stains

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Dealing with water stains is pretty easy. Before you start cleaning, you must make a white vinegar solution.

Simply mix two water parts with one white vinegar and pour the solution into a spray bottle.

With the vinegar solution ready, all you have to do now is lightly spray the water stain and dab out the solution with a damp microfiber cloth.

Don’t overdo it with the vinegar since that will make a bigger stain and damage the nap.

If you accidentally spill water on your suede jacket, you should blot out the stain immediately with a clean rag or a paper towel.

Osmosis will take effect, and the water will transfer from the jacket to the towel/rag.

Cleaning Oil-Based Stains

The first thing you need to do when dealing with oily stains is sprinkle some cornstarch or talcum powder over them and leave it for around an hour.

The powder will slowly absorb the oil from the material. Keep an eye on it, and gently brush it away once you see the powder looking a bit oily.

Sometimes, an oil stain might be an ink stain. So, if the previous method didn’t work, you can gently use the pencil eraser to rub away the stain.

If the stain is still there, you can also try spraying it with a vinegar solution.

Smelly Jackets That’ve Been in Storage for Years

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Since you picked up a suede jacket from a thrift store in NYC or anywhere else, it probably has all kinds of dirt and debris over it, not to mention the smell.

Just follow these steps:

  1. Take your jacket from the wardrobe and hang it out somewhere well-ventilated.
  2. Use a soft suede brush to brush the jacket in all directions. This will help to remove any loose dirt and debris.
  3. If the jacket is very dusty, you can use a vacuum cleaner with a soft brush attachment to vacuum it. Be careful not to vacuum too hard, which can damage the suede.
  4. Once the jacket is free of dust and debris, you can use a suede eraser to remove stubborn stains. Rub the eraser in circular motions over the stain until it is gone.
  5. Once the jacket is clean, you can brush it again to restore the nap of the suede.

Jackets That Smell Like Smoke

Suede is notorious for soaking up smoke. If you have a suede jacket over two decades old, it probably smells like an ashtray.

Thankfully, dealing with a smokey thrifted suede jacket is pretty easy. Just follow these steps:

  1. Hang the jacket up in a well-ventilated area for several days. This will help to air out the smokey odor.
  2. If the jacket is still smelly, you can place a bowl of white vinegar in the closet or room where the jacket is hanging. The vinegar solution does wonders in absorbing the smoke odor.
  3. If your thrifted jacket still smells like an ashtray, spray it with white vinegar. Let the solution sit on the jacket for a few hours before blotting it dry with a clean cloth.
  4. Once the jacket is dry, you can brush it to restore the nap of the suede.

Jackets That are Covered in Pet Hair

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Another thing suede is notorious for is collecting pet hair. To make things worse, simple brushing won’t do away with the hair. You’ll have to pull out the big guns for this task – a good old lint roller!

Here’s how you can remove pet hairs from your thrifted suede jacket in three simple steps:

  1. Use a lint roller to remove as much pet hair as possible.
  2. If pet hair is still on the jacket, you can use a damp cloth to wipe it away. Be careful not to wet the suede too much, as this can damage it.
  3. Once the pet hair is removed, you can brush the jacket to restore the nap of the suede.

If there’s still pet hair hanging to the nap, you’re out of luck – you’ll have to take it to a professional cleaner.

Touching Up Napped Areas

While inspection is important, there’s still a great chance the suede jacket you napped from the thrift store will need some touching up.

The nap has probably seen better days, and there are probably a couple of spots where it’s completely matted.

The good news is that you don’t have to take it to professional cleaning to restore the suede to its previous luster. Follow these steps:

  1. Use a nail file to revive flattened areas. Lightly scuff the suede with a nail file to unmatt it and restore the nap. Don’t overdo it – otherwise, you risk damaging the sensitive leather.
  2. Apply suede protector spray to the area you just filed to prevent further damage.
  3. Use a suede brush gently and gently rub the affected area until you’ve restored the nap’s texture.

Drying and Finishing the Jacket

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If you got your suede jacket wet, hang it somewhere where it will be under direct sunlight so it can slowly dry out. This will also air out any unpleasant smell it might’ve picked up.

Since suede is a leather material, you can’t just chuck it into a clothes dryer and forget about it. Drying suede takes time and patience.

You can also use a hair dryer if you’re in a hurry. Set the dryer to the lowest heat and cycle setting and start blowing on the jacket.

Don’t linger too much on one spot since that can damage the material.

Once the jacket is fully dry, apply a leather conditioner to prevent the suede from shrinking or cracking.

If the jacket is in good condition and the label allows it, you can also steam it and press it to get rid of any wrinkles and make it look nicer than before.

Caring for Suede Long-Term

Suede is one of the most sensitive materials there is. If you don’t take care of it properly, you’ll soon have a matted and messy jacket.

So, how do you care for the suede long term?

Well, for starters, don’t wear it when it’s raining. Water will make the nap all stiff and brittle. The same goes for cold weather.

Since the only thing keeping suede fresh is the natural oils inside the leather, you’ll have to replenish those regularly.

Thankfully, that’s pretty simple. Just buy a good suede protector spray and apply it at least once every two weeks.

However, applying a suede protector isn’t enough. The nap can still get matted.

That’s why you should brush it with a soft brush whenever you see the nap is losing its luster.

You need to get a cotton or linen garment cover when storing your suede jacket.

This will protect the leather from collecting dust and lint while also letting it breathe.


Although suede is a pretty sensitive material, taking care of it is simple.

All you need is a bottle of white vinegar solution, a suede brush, a pencil eraser, and some elbow grease.

Restoring old garments is way more sustainable and cheaper than getting a new one.

Moreover, older suede jackets have pretty intricate designs that are more visually striking than the stuff they make these days.

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