Nubuck leather can be used for at-home leather crafts like making a wallet or belt, but it can also be something you purchase for your shoes or jacket. Nubuck leather is more durable and waterproof than suede, and it’s easier to clean with a soft brush.
If I had known how easy it was to clean nubuck leather, I wouldn’t have let the stains on my leather bag and leather boots rest as long as they did. So, with that in mind, learn from my mistakes, and let’s go over how to clean nubuck leather right away, no matter what type of stain or surface dirt you have.
Bottom Line Up Front
Knowing how to clean nubuck leather is simple, but it goes against typical cleaning methods (water) and primarily uses dry cleaning methods. With a few simple tools like a brush and dry cleaning bar, you can get rid of any dirt or dust that builds up on your shoes. Investing in some quick shampoo or liquid cleaner makes it even easier to remove deep stains.
Tools to Use
Tool #1: Brush and Bar
Given the investment that your nubuck leather is, get a Fiebing’s Nubuck Cleaner Kit. I have mentioned in other articles that I only use Fiebing’s for my liquid leather products, and there is a good reason for that; they have high-quality, reliable products that do precisely what they promise. No surprises and no disappointments.
This kit comes with two of the most essential tools you will need to maintain your nubuck leather:
- Dry Cleaning Bar
- Dry Cleaning Brush
- Nubuck shoes
Tool #2: Nubuck Stain Eraser
If you don’t buy the cleaner kit that comes with the dry cleaning bar, you can get a nubuck stain eraser. The eraser, dry cleaning bar, and dry cleaning brush are perfect for surface-level cleaning. These are the tools you should use regularly. I recommend using them after wearing your leather or at least every week if you often wear your nubuck.
- Nubuck shoes
- Sandal sock linings
Note: The stain eraser is good for removing old dirt, oil, or dark stains, but it won’t work as well in getting rid of water stains.
Tool #3: Nubuck Spray Cleaner
You should also get something like Bickmore Nubuck Cleaner. This liquid cleaner removes oil stains, hard dirt, and water stains. I like this brand because they have a wide range of products that you can use, like a water and stain repellent spray and a cleaner. They have a leather conditioner product and oil restorer.
Customers have reported how well it removed dried and wet stains, incredibly sticky stains from walking around downtown or spilling drinks. What’s more, it restores shoes back to their old glory, so you don’t even need to have a stain you’re trying to remove in order to use this to clean your boots or your jacket or anything else.
Note: This particular spray cleaner even works on faux nubuck and suede.
You can also invest in the Saphir line of high-end leather cleaning products. They, for example, sell a nubuck leather liquid cleaner with a dry cleaning brush in a set. I’ve never used them, but they are a reputable French company, and they come highly recommended for nubuck Footwear and apparel.
Tip #4: Waterproof Spray
After adequately cleaning your nubuck, it’s always a good idea to consider applying waterproofing spray like Nikwax or YeezySolution. The latter comes with a foam cleaning shampoo, a water repellent spray, and the brush you need for a deep clean.
How to Clean Nubuck Leather: Surface Dirt or Dust
I’ve found myself forced to walk through a construction zone before, resulting in boots caked with dirt. Thankfully, loose surface dirt or dust is the easiest to clean off nubuck leather.
- Take a soft cloth and wipe it down with back and forth strokes; vary the direction of your strokes. This will extricate any loose dirt or dust from the surface of your nap.
- You can also use a dry cleaning brush and do the exact same thing.
How to Clean Nubuck Leather: Scratches
Nubuck leather scratches easily. If you notice a deep scratch on your product, you can use your dry cleaning brush to brush the nap fibers over that scratch. It won’t remove the scratch but will hide it from view.
How to Clean Nubuck Leather: Dried Stains
If you put your leather boots or jacket on later and find a dried stain (I was lucky enough to see that my newborn cousin had burped spittle over my shoulder without my noticing), you can take an unwanted toothbrush to it and gently wipe back and forth.
Tip: I keep a 12-pack of cheap toothbrushes in a cabinet for cleaning purposes. It’s much better than using an old toothbrush and accidentally leaving old bits of toothpaste on your leather.
You can also apply Fiebing’s dry cleaning bar and dry cleaning brush to dry stains.
- Lightly rub this dry cleaning bar back and forth over the dried stain. Do this in several directions. If your stain is deep, you might notice the dry cleaning bar crumble as you apply more pressure, but that is to be expected.
- If the stain still won’t come off with added pressure, you can apply water to both sides of the dry cleaning bar and the stain and repeat the same back and forth rubbing motion. Let it dry completely, and then rub it with the dry cleaning bar to remove the remaining water spots.
- When you are done, use the dry cleaning brush to go back and forth over the nap.
How to Clean Nubuck Leather: Wet or Difficult Stains
I once spilled red wine on the tip of my nubuck leather boots. I figured that was the end of my new boots and the start of winter; I had just bought them. I was devastated.
So while I cried upstairs over the fact that my grandparents would somehow know of my failure thousands of miles away, my better half took out their old shoe shining kits which contained a nubuck leather cleaner like Bickmore. The next day I was presented with a completely restored set of boots.
- Use the instructions for removing surface dirt, dust, and dried stains with a stiff brush or toothbrush.
- Shake the bottle of cleaner and apply it directly to the stained area. Blot it with a clean cloth and let it dry.
- Once it is dry, use your brush to brush the nap.
- You can do this as many times as it takes.
How to Clean Nubuck Leather with Shampoo
If you have stubborn stains left to dry, which penetrated down through the nap, you might need some leather shampoo.
I have a nubuck leather purse, and I took it out one day when it started raining. Most of my bag was under my arm, so it was protected, but two of the four corners bore the brunt of the bad weather. And it showed.
I didn’t really think anything of it; I was just glad to be out of the rain. So I left it. And then I took it with me, set it on the counter a few times while buying Subway tickets or visiting a museum, and I managed to get a lot of, for lack of a better word, schmutz on it.
It was starting to look bad. But, because I had left many of the stains to sit for months, they didn’t just come off with a quick brush.
Side note: I was very young, and I didn’t know any better, but now that I’m older, I want to share the fact that you should never let stains sit for months at a time. You shouldn’t even let them sit for days. This is why you should invest in home care and cleaning products to figure out how to clean nubuck items as soon as something goes wrong.
The sooner you try to remove the issue, the more success you will have. Even high-quality nubuck shampoos may not remove the stain if you wait too long.
I methodically went through all the steps for removing surface dirt, dried stains, and difficult stains with no success. So I spent the money and bought some shampoo.
- Follow the instructions on the shampoo mix you have. Mine required a combination of equal parts shampoo with water.
- Use your dry cleaning brush, mix it into that liquid combination, and roughly scrub in circular motions all over the nubuck.
- Clean the entire item, not just the area where you visibly see a stain.
- Rinse the shampoo off entirely.
- Take a clean towel and blot off the remaining water.
- Grab some shoe trees or crumpled paper like brown paper and shove it into your shoe. The brown paper will help maintain better airflow while your boots dry. If you are using this method to clean a purse or a jacket, do the exact same thing; just make sure you have more brown paper that you can shove down the jacket sleeves or use to fill the inside of the purse.
- Once it is completely dry, take the (now) dry brush and use it to bring the nap back up.
Tip: If you are using shampoo, do a small test in a less conspicuous area and let it dry to ensure there isn’t any discoloration. If there is discoloration, it’s up to you to decide whether you want to thoroughly shampoo your entire item and make it all the same color or find a different product.
How to Prevent Water Stains
As I mentioned, applying some waterproof spray like Saphir to any of your nubuck leather products is an excellent idea, especially after you have completed a comprehensive cleaning. Almost all leather spray is very easy to apply because you just spray it as the name suggests.
- Hold your nubuck leather item away from you and spray it entirely.
- When you spray, ensure the weld line where the leather meets the bottom of a shoe and all of the seams that the leather might join with other materials on apparel, purses, or bags.
Question: What household items can I use to clean nubuck leather?
Answer: As mentioned, rudimentary cleaning can easily be done with a new toothbrush or a dry cloth. If you get a heavy oil stain, you can sprinkle cornmeal on the oil stain and brush it off after the oil has been soaked up.
Question: Is vinegar good to clean nubuck leather?
Answer: You can create an at-home mixture of equal parts water and vinegar and take something like a Q-tip to gently soak up the solution and dab the affected area on your new black leather. Using your dry cleaning brush and the methods described above, you can brush away any dirt or oil soaked into your leather’s second or third layers. Make sure you dry it off immediately by rinsing and blotting the solution the same as you would with shampoo.
Note: This is a tip I got from my grandparents, but I’ve never used it myself. I would advise you to do the same as you would with any type of shampoo; conduct a small test area to verify it won’t leave any discoloration before you apply it to the rest of your jacket, purse, belt, or shoe.
Question: Can I use a regular leather polish?
Answer: You want to steer clear of leather polish, cream, or lotion unless it is specifically designed for nubuck leather. Why? It will usually leave a stain.
Question: Why can I use water with shampoo but not for regular cleaning?
Answer: The shampoo or liquid cleaning products you use with your leather contain many specialized chemicals designed specifically to protect your nubuck leather. When you use the water and liquid cleaner mixture, you also have to dry it as quickly as possible. You won’t damage the product by getting it a little bit wet so long as you dry your nubuck leather products quickly and you limit how wet it gets and how frequently.
This is why knowing how to clean nubuck leather with dry cleaning methods and having the tools to do so is so important; you can quickly get rid of minor problems before they become big problems that require shampoo and water.
When we think of cleaning off a stain or dirt, the first thing most people imagine is using water, but now you know how to clean nubuck leather without water. Having a few key tools in your closet will make it easy to maintain your leather products for years to come.
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