Suede vs. Leather for Footwear

Learn more about the differences between suede leather fabric and leather to determine which is the better material for your shoes depending on their form and function.

These are various suede and leather shoes in different styles and colors.

Are you looking for a new pair of shoes but not sure which would be better, leather or suede? Both of these items have some pros and cons; knowing exactly what you need will best help you make this decision.

Leather is less expensive and much more durable than suede. One makes leather from the tough outside of the hide, where one makes suede from the interior part of the hide. Suede is more flexible and softer than leather; however, it won’t last as long.

Leather might be more durable and less expensive than suede, but it is not as fashionable as suede and still has some benefits of its own.

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Suede vs. Leather For Footwear

This is a couple wearing a pair of leather boots and a pair of suede shoes.

Suede and leather are both made from animal skins. Suede is a certain kind of leather made from the underside of the animal’s skin, giving it a softer texture than the more typical leather, which has a rougher, more rigid exterior feel.

Leather is made from the outer hide of animals such as cows, goats, buffalos, or even some exotic animals.

Suede is a much softer material than leather and is therefore not as durable. Suede also does not do well with water; some suede can be treated to be more water-resistant. If the suede you are wearing has been treated to be water-resistant, it could handle some light rain, but you shouldn’t go jumping in any puddles.

Typical leather is much tougher than suede and would generally last longer. Leather fare slightly better when encountering water, although it is not waterproof and should not be submerged; when leather shoes are well looked after, they can last you anywhere from 5 to 15 years.

If suede shoes are well taken care of, they can last you a good few years; however, you would need to be more mindful of taking care of them than you would need to be of a pair of leather shoes. You would need to invest in a suede brush, but I will elaborate on this a bit later.

When going hiking or doing outdoor activities, leather shoes or boots would be the better choice as you won’t be too worried about your shoes getting scuffed or perhaps even a little dirty.

If you are going for something a bit more fashionable, a pair of shoes for a special event like a charity dinner or wedding, then suede might be the better choice. It does come down to what you prefer and what you are willing to pay, as some suede shoes would work outdoors and pretty stylish leather shoes.

What Happens if Leather Shoes Get Wet

This is a close look at a wet brown leather shoe.

As I have said earlier, try not to get them too wet; submerging your leather shoes in water even if you want to clean them is not a great idea. When leather shoes get wet and then get dry again, the water pulls out the oils of the leather, and the oils are what keep the leather supple.

When the oils are pulled out of the leather, it becomes dry and brittle. When leather is dry and brittle, it is no longer flexible and is prone to cracking. Another thing that happens if leather shoes get wet is that they start to show salt marks.

Salt is used during the tanning process of the leather, so when it gets wet, the salt rises to the top.

When the salt rises to the top of the leather, it starts to bubble, which then, in turn, creates salt stains. There are a couple of actions you could follow if your leather shoes have gotten wet. You could start by toweling, drying any water you can get out of the shoes, and placing newspaper inside your shoes.

Something else you could do to lessen the water damage is to let your shoes dry slowly at room temperature, and lastly, you can use leather cleaner and conditioner once the shoes have dried.

What Happens if Suede Shoes Get Wet

This is a close look at a pair of wet brown suede shoes.

Suede is a very soft material, and when it gets wet, it becomes pretty stiff; in some cases, the integrity of the shoe is compromised where it has been sewn together if the suede gets wet. Not to worry though, there are some methods to take care of your suede shoes if they have gotten wet.

It is not a disaster if your suede shoes get wet; however, it would be better to avoid them getting absolutely drenched in water. If your suede shoes got wet, the first thing you should do is to pat them down with a microfiber towel or something similar to soak up and out as much of the water as possible.

You would also need to brush the nap off the suede shoes; the nap is the tiny fibers that feel like they are standing up on the shoe. You would need a special suede brush to do this. You can find a suede brush at places like Walmart in the shoe section, at shoe stores, or repair shops, and you would also be able to find it online.

There is contradicting information available for whether using heat to dry suede is a safe option or not. Low heat that is constantly moving should be fine, do not concentrate on one area of the shoes for more than a couple of seconds, or it could damage the suede, which would defeat the whole purpose.

After using low heat to help dry the suede, you need to brush the nap again for the best results. If you cannot avoid your suede shoes getting wet, it might be best to take some pre-emptive measures, including applying a spray to the shoes that help repel water.

How to Take Care of Leather Shoes

This is a close look at the maintenance of a pair of dark leather shoes.

Like most things, when you take proper care of your leather shoes, they will last you a really long time, maybe even a lifetime. You can do things to ensure that your shoes last you longer and look good for a long time. One of these things is to place shoe trees in your pairs of leather shoes.

What are shoe trees, you ask? Shoe trees are contraptions that mimic the shape of a human foot, which you place inside your shoe to keep their shape; they also help dry the moisture inside the shoes out because of the wood they are made out of.

Another thing you could do to take care of your leather shoes is not to wear them every day; if you absolutely must wear leather shoes every day, make sure that you have multiple pairs of leather shoes. Leather needs to breathe and wearing your shoes every day would not give the leather the appropriate time to do so.

The way you store your shoes could also affect how long they last; the best way to store them would be in a dust-proof bag when you aren’t wearing, cleaning, or planning to wear them.

Try not to wear your leather shoes in bad weather like rain or snow, clean them regularly, and polish them after wearing them a couple of times. There are wax or cream polishes that work well to aid in taking care of your favorite pair of leather shoes. It would add some shine to your shoe and cover any ugly marks.

How to Take Care of Suede Shoes

This is a close look at the maintenance process of a brown suede shoe.

If you love your suede shoes, as we all know Elvis Presley loved his blue ones, you would want them to last as long as possible. There are some simple things to be mindful of when taking care of your shoes to ensure they will last and keep looking good.

If you aren’t wearing your favorite pair of suede shoes, they should be neatly packed away far away from direct sunlight; in fact, they should not be stored close to any kind of heat. Keep them away from your radiator or central heating too. A lot of heat will cause suede to crack and warp.

You could store your suede shoes in a high-quality shoe storage packet when you aren’t intending on wearing them anytime soon. Placing shoe trees in them would go a long way to help them maintain their shape, especially if you don’t wear them often.

When you buy yourself a pair of suede shoes, you should invest in a suede cleaning brush; it removes any dirt particles from the suede and helps to keep the suede looking its best. In maintaining your suede shoes, you should regularly use your suede brush to keep them looking great.

Don’t panic too much if there are stains on your shoes; there are some ways to sort these out. You could use a suede eraser if it is a minor spot on the shoe; if it is a bigger stain, you might need to bring out the big guns and use a damp cloth with vinegar or rubbing alcohol to rub on the stain.

Which is More Expensive Leather or Suede Shoes?

These are suede and leather shoes on display for sale.

We know that generally, suede is more expensive than leather, but there might be some cases where suede works out better priced. Different shoe companies create different quality levels of shoes, whether leather, suede, or made out of other materials.

You can find suede shoes that are less expensive than their leather counterparts. They may not be made with the same expertise and craftsmanship as the genuine leather shoes have been made with; however, if you take good care of them, they could still last you many years.

Both leather and suede shoes would need some decent looking after, and you might need to re-sole them from one time to another. When it comes to maintaining leather shoes, they are cheaper to look after than suede shoes as suede shoes need the suede brush.

Knowing the Quality of Your Leather Shoes

These are various leather shoes on display.

You can check the quality of your leather shoes by looking at the surface of the shoes. If you can see skin pores (which are the hair follicles on the grain structure of the leather), you know that the leather itself is of the best quality. If you can see the skin pores, the shoes are made from full-grain leather, which is the best.

You can also check the integrity of the shoe itself when you look at the sole. If the shoe’s sole has been glued together, you might need to keep looking for a different pair of shoes. However, if the shoe’s sole has been sewn together, you have found yourself a great quality pair of shoes.

Knowing the Quality of Your Suede Shoes

These are various suede shoes on display.

Good quality suede is soft and smooth, and the fabric’s nap won’t be too tough. Lambs are thought to produce the best quality of suede, although the tanning process can also affect the quality of the suede. The tanning process treats the collagen and protein fibers in the hide to prevent them from biodegrading.

If this process is subpar, there could be extreme consequences to the extent of the leather or suede rotting in your cupboard, so make sure you buy from a reputable manufacturer. As with leather shoes, you should also look at the soles of your shoes to see the quality of artistry that goes into your shoes.

The chances are that if the soles of your shoes aren’t made up of the best quality craftsmanship, the suede used on your shoes will be a bad quality as well.

Conclusion

When you’re looking for a durable shoe, you should go with a pair of leather shoes. Suede shoes can last you a long time, but they will require some careful maintenance, which might be more trouble than they’re worth. You can find suede and leather shoes in the same price range.

When you look after your shoes well, they will look after you well. It is crucial to invest in good-quality leather or suede shoes when you purchase a pair and get a good idea of the quality when you look at the artistry on the soles of the shoes. It all depends on what you like, leather or suede footwear.

References:

Master Class: What is Suede Fabric Leather

WikiHow: How to Clean Suede Shoes

Esquire: How to Clean Suede Shoes

E-How: Freshen Suede

WikiHow: How to Clean Road Salt Off Leather Shoes

Love to Know: How to Get Salt Stains Out of Shoes

Quora: Better Material for Shoes: Canvas Leather or Suede

The Baltimore Sun: Shoe lifespan: How to tell it’s time to throw out your shoes

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