Yes, Virginia, You Can Wash Suede (Really!)

But you'll have to crawl out of a cat's butt first.
Publish date:
July 28, 2014
shoppables, style, what's in a costume designers kit, shoes, suede care, Minnetonka

In case you weren't aware, this past weekend marked the 45th year of Comic-Con International, an event that draws 130,000 some-odd geeks, nerds, cool kids and celebs to beautiful San Diego, California. I attended, partly for work (the Costume Designer's Guild helps judge the big masquerade ball every year) and partly just to drink and hang out by a hotel pool. The sheer madness at Comic-Con never disappoints -- and the giant, inflatable, 15-room Adult Swim Funhouse party I attended on Saturday night was no exception. The Funhouse is an interactive experience that must be seen to be believed. I couldn't even begin to describe it properly, but this rambling video sort of does:


At the very end of the Funhouse maze, you crawl into a washing machine that is being humped by a robot (yes, it's a Robot Chicken reference) that (depending on which path you take) leads you either down a slide, into a forced karaoke cage, or through a horrible, warm, black, suffocating tube that ends with you being, well, spit out through a cat anus:

It used to be a lady crotch you crawled out of, but there must have been some sort of furor over it, because a cat butt is indeed the end of the experience now. I'm just glad I happened to be wearing flat shoes while crawling through that terrifying tube -- specifically, my favorite knee-high Minnetonka Moccasins, which I recently had to replace because I literally walked holes in the soles of my old ones.

However, I made the terrible mistake of ordering a new pair and not doing even a short test wearing them before making them the ONLY PAIR OF SHOES I brought on this particular weekend trip which requires a TON of walking. So it was a very unpleasant surprise when I suddenly remembered that a brand new pair of black suede Minnetonkas will turn every single part of your body they happen to touch jet black for the first 20 wearings or so. I mean even through your socks! I'm just lucky I brought my Baiden Mitten with me on the trip so I could slough the stained skin off my feet and legs every night in a somewhat expeditious manner.

I like to pride myself on having never met a wardrobe malfunction I couldn't solve, but the shoes purging copious amounts of dye onto your feet problem was one I've never been able to figure out a solution for. Minnetonka's own website admits this dye transfer does indeed occur, and would like to remind you that it will eventually subside, so just chill out, would ya?

While waiting it out is indeed an obvious option, I was over it -- and as I was lying in my hotel bed that night, bemoaning the fact that I had to put those horrible foot-staining boots on again the next day, my mind randomly drifted to that robot humping the washing machine, and it suddenly hit me: if the solution to jeans that are relentlessly staining your legs and shoes blue is a few quick spins in the washer on cold, why couldn't the same idea work on a pair of moccasins? So with absolutely nothing to lose, I jumped out of bed and decided to try it. (Albeit in a hotel tub and not in a proper clothes washer.)

I soaked and swirled the moccasins in a bath of cold water and a little bit of shampoo for about 10 minutes, then rinsed them in clear running water for another ten. (I made sure to stand them up and rinse the inside too.) The amount of dye that came out in the water was shocking -- no wonder my feet were black as night! I then laid them to dry on a towel on the shaded balcony of my hotel room (never, ever put wet suede in direct sunlight) and they were almost completely dry by morning.

To my eternal surprise, it actually worked! My feet were barely black the next night after wearing them all day. They were a little stiff at first due to getting wet, but they softened up as the day wore on. If I'd had a suede brush with me, I could have given them a fast brushing to fluff 'em back to the original texture and they would have looked good as new instantly.

The common wisdom is that you can't ever get anything suede wet EVER, but I tend to think we are a little too afraid of water when it comes to getting suede bags, shoes and clothes clean. You can actually cold water wash most suede items gently and carefully, as long as you don't put them in the dryer or wring them out too forcefully. Suede is not as fragile as you might have previously thought, and it is actually far sturdier than regular calf hide due to its softness and flexibility.

(Keep in mind, I'm talking about washing actual suede, made of cowhide that has been buffed on the flesh side to create a raised nap -- not to be confused with buckskin or nubuck, which are tanned on the exterior side of the hide. Neither buckskin nor nubuck should ever be put in water, so make dead sure what you are working with before attempting to wash it.)

The idea that you need to fear water on suede actually refers to them getting water spots due to rain or snow -- as that will indeed leave a ring on your item. However, if you submerge the ENTIRE item in water, it gets 'water-stained' evenly -- meaning zero spots! There are even certain manufacturers that come right out and suggest washing your suede items using cool water and Woolite detergent. So washing a suede item that is either badly stained or just won't stop purging dye isn't as crazy of a notion as you might have originally thought. And while I think hand washing is always best, you could actually pop whatever you're washing into your machine inside a tied-up pillowcase to protect it a bit.

After I hand-washed my moccasins, the fringe was a little warped and twisted, but a quick perusal of the Minnetonka website revealed a most clever solution to this particular conundrum: just press them with an iron as you would a wrinkled shirt. (But be sure to use an old towel as a press cloth in order to avoid scorching or damaging the suede.)

Don't forget that something made of real suede used to be part of an animal -- and they sometimes get caught in the rain, so you kind of don't have to be so precious about it. I've put plenty of random stuff in the washer that everyone says you shouldn't and had it turn out perfectly fine. So when all else fails, just crawl into a washer, out of a cat butt, wash your suede and get on with your life, okay?

I'm on Twitter: @IveyAlison