How to clean nubuck shoes

Nubuck leather is a popular material used in making shoes, boots, and other accessories due to its velvety texture and unique appearance. However, nubuck is also known for being delicate and prone to staining and discoloration. Proper care and cleaning are essential to maintain the beautiful look and longevity of your nubuck footwear. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore various techniques and step-by-step instructions on how to clean nubuck shoes effectively.

clean nubuck shoes

The Nubuck Leather

Before diving into cleaning methods, it’s crucial to understand the nature of nubuck leather. Nubuck is a top-grain cattle leather that has been sanded or buffed on the outer surface to create a soft, velvety nap. Unlike traditional smooth leathers, nubuck has a more delicate and porous surface, making it susceptible to water stains, oil marks, and dirt buildup.

Characteristics of Nubuck Leather

  • Velvety texture
  • Porous surface
  • Prone to staining and discoloration
  • Requires regular care and maintenance

Cleaning Nubuck Shoes: Step-by-Step Guide

Regular cleaning is the key to maintaining the beauty and longevity of your nubuck shoes. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you clean nubuck shoes effectively:

Step 1: Gather Your Supplies

Before you begin, gather the following supplies:

  • A nubuck brush or a stiff-bristled brush
  • A clean, dry cloth
  • A nubuck eraser or a rubber eraser
  • A nubuck cleaner or mild soap (optional)
  • Water (if using soap)

Step 2: Remove Loose Dirt and Debris

Start by removing any loose dirt, dust, or debris from the surface of your nubuck shoes. Use a nubuck brush or a stiff-bristled brush to gently brush away any particles. Be sure to brush in the direction of the nap, not against it, to avoid damaging the material.

Step 3: Treat Stubborn Stains

If you notice any stubborn stains or marks on your nubuck shoes, treat them before proceeding with the general cleaning. Use a nubuck eraser or a rubber eraser to gently rub away the stains. Be careful not to rub too hard, as this could damage the nap of the leather.

Step 4: Clean with a Nubuck Cleaner or Mild Soap (Optional)

If your nubuck shoes are particularly dirty or have set-in stains, you may want to use a nubuck cleaner or a mild soap solution. Mix a small amount of mild soap with water, and use a clean, damp cloth to gently scrub the affected areas. Be sure to avoid saturating the nubuck, as excessive moisture can cause discoloration and damage.

Step 5: Brush and Dry

After cleaning, use the nubuck brush or stiff-bristled brush to gently brush the entire surface of the shoes in the direction of the nap. This will help restore the velvety texture and remove any remaining dirt or soap residue. Finally, allow your nubuck shoes to air dry completely before wearing them again.

Maintaining and Protecting Nubuck Shoes

Proper maintenance and protection are essential to keep your nubuck shoes looking their best for years to come. Here are some tips to help you care for your nubuck footwear:

  1. WaterproofingNubuck leather is prone to water stains and discoloration, so it’s essential to waterproof your shoes regularly. Look for a nubuck-specific waterproofing spray or cream, and apply it according to the manufacturer’s instructions. This will help repel water and protect your shoes from the elements.Some popular waterproofing products for nubuck include:
  2. ConditioningJust like smooth leathers, nubuck benefits from regular conditioning. Use a nubuck-specific conditioner or a leather conditioner designed for porous leathers. This will help keep the material supple and prevent cracking or drying out.Recommended nubuck conditioners:
  3. StorageProper storage is crucial for maintaining the condition of your nubuck shoes. Store them in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight and heat sources. Consider using shoe trees or stuffing the toes with acid-free paper to help retain their shape.
  4. Avoiding AbrasionNubuck’s delicate surface is susceptible to abrasion and scuffing. Avoid wearing your nubuck shoes in rough or abrasive environments, and be mindful of contact with rough surfaces that could damage the nap.
  5. Professional CleaningFor heavily soiled or stained nubuck shoes, it may be best to seek professional cleaning services. Experienced cobblers or leather care specialists have access to specialized cleaning products and techniques that can effectively restore the appearance of your nubuck footwear.

Nubuck vs. Suede: What’s the Difference?

While nubuck and suede are often used interchangeably, there are some key differences between these two materials:

Leather TypeTop-grain leatherSplit leather (inner side of the hide)
Surface TextureSanded or buffed for a velvety napBrushed for a soft, fuzzy surface
DurabilityMore durable than suedeLess durable than nubuck
Water ResistanceSlightly more water-resistant than suedeProne to water stains and discoloration

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Can I use a regular shoe brush on nubuck?It’s not recommended to use a regular shoe brush on nubuck leather, as the bristles may be too stiff and could damage the delicate nap. Instead, use a nubuck brush or a stiff-bristled brush designed specifically for nubuck.
  2. Can I use water to clean nubuck shoes?While water can be used in small amounts when combined with a mild soap, it’s important to avoid saturating the nubuck leather. Excessive moisture can lead to discoloration, staining, and potential damage to the material.
  3. How often should I clean my nubuck shoes?The frequency of cleaning will depend on how often you wear your nubuck shoes and the environments in which you wear them. As a general rule, it’s a good idea to clean them every few weeks or whenever you notice visible dirt, stains, or discoloration.
  4. Can I use a regular leather conditioner on nubuck?It’s best to use a conditioner specifically designed for nubuck or porous leathers. Regular leather conditioners may not be suitable for the delicate nap of nubuck and could potentially cause discoloration or damage.
  5. How can I restore the nap on my nubuck shoes?If the nap on your nubuck shoes has become flattened or matted, you can try using a nubuck brush or a suede brush to gently brush the surface in the direction of the nap. This can help restore the velvety texture.
  6. Can I use a suede cleaning kit for nubuck shoes?While suede and nubuck have similar textures, it’s generally not recommended to use suede cleaning products on nubuck leather. Suede products may be too harsh or contain ingredients that could damage or discolor nubuck. It’s best to use nubuck-specific cleaning products.


Cleaning and maintaining nubuck shoes may require a bit more effort than caring for smooth leathers, but it’s well worth the effort to keep your footwear looking its best. By following the steps outlined in this guide and incorporating regular cleaning, waterproofing, and conditioning into your routine, you can ensure that your nubuck shoes maintain their beautiful appearance and longevity. Remember to handle nubuck with care, use the appropriate cleaning products, and seek professional assistance when needed. With proper care, your nubuck shoes will continue to be a stylish and versatile addition to your wardrobe.

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As the founder of Clean It Spotless, I am Melissa Walker, a leading expert in removing tough stains from fabrics, carpets, and upholstery. With over 10 years of experience in the cleaning industry, I have developed my own natural, non-toxic stain-fighting formulas that lift stains while preserving the integrity of the underlying material. My stain removal tutorials are widely read online, and I have appeared on local TV segments demonstrating my techniques. I also present popular stain removal workshops at community centers and schools.

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