The Difference Between Suede and Nubuck Leather – Beckett Simonon
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The Difference Between Suede and Nubuck Leather

Do you know the difference between suede and nubuck leather? On the surface they look very similar, but dig a little deeper and you will find out just how different they are.

Yes, they are both sumptuous materials that look great when used to make different products. (I actually have a weakness for suede shoes, boots and sneakers.)

Come along with me on this road to discover the qualities of suede and nubuck leather, how they differ from each other, how you can enjoy and care for both. It’s kind of like going on a treasure hunt. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?

What is Suede?

suede dean oxfords

Sometime way back when in France, someone imported pairs of super soft gloves from Sweden, or ‘gants de Suede’ thus the word “suede” was born to refer to the nappy material. However, it wasn’t until the 20th century that suede became so popular.

The underside of the hide that has contact with the animal’s skin is split from the top which gives way to a soft, smooth, supple and nappy leather. During the sanding process the short hairs are lifted to create a fluffy texture. Suede can be fashioned out of many kinds of animal hide, such as sheep and pigs, however, the toughness of the nap depends on the type and age of the animal. For example, thicker hides usually come from cows and deer.

Bear in mind that some fabrics, such as sueded cotton, are made with a nappy finish to resemble suede. Plush microfibers like Ultrasuede or Alcantara also feel like suede, and tend to be more stain resistant than natural suede.

Waxed suede, on the other hand, is a natural suede that has been treated during the tanning process with natural waxes and emulsions to create a strong and durable surface - similar to pull-up leather.

What is Suede used for?

Given its luxurious texture and appearance, durability and pliability, suede material is used for a wide variety of products including curtains, jackets, pants, dresses and gloves. My personal favorites - and weaknesses - are suede shoes like the Durant Oxfords, suede boots like the Bolton Chelseas and suede sneakers like the Geller Trainers. To keep things together, these styles should all be paired with a suede belt.

What is Nubuck Leather?

suede bolton chelsea boots

Nubuck was originally made from the skin of male deer, moose or elk and some believe that is how the name “new buck” was derived. Nowadays this leather is typically made from calfskin by sanding the exterior - or grain side - of the hide which results in a soft, velvety texture.

After the sanding process, the leather is dyed or stained to conceal the sanding marks and any imperfections to create a smooth, evenly colored surface. Although thicker and more durable than suede, nubuck isn’t as supple, and it will take a very long time to develop a patina. It also tends to be more expensive than suede.

It can also scratch easily and should be kept away from mud, oil and grit which can stain the surface. When it gets wet, nubuck will darken but it should return to its original color when dry.

What is Nubuck Leather used for?

Just like suede and other leathers, nubuck is used to create a wide variety of products such as upholstery, mobile phone and electronics covers, handbags, skirts, wallets, gloves and jackets.

We use nubuck to reinforce and line our Nelson Belts, and construct several of our boot, shoe and sneaker styles including Nolan Brogues, Bolton Chelseas, Reid Sneakers and Jones Slippers.

Comparison of Suede and Nubuck Leather

Use this handy table as a quick reference tool for an overview of the difference between suede and nubuck leather:

comparison of suede and nubuck

Caring for Suede and Nubuck Leather

Even though suede and nubuck are different, both materials need some TLC to help extend their life and your enjoyment of them. And, you can care for them in pretty much the same way.

The suede we use for our products has been treated during the tanning process to be naturally water-repellant. However you might still want to apply some high-quality waterproofing spray to your suede items as an extra layer of protection. You must do this in a well ventilated area.

While nubuck leather does have minimal water-resistant properties, it really needs the extra boost to make sure it is protected.

Be sure to air dry wet shoes and boots. If the insoles are wet, take them out and let them air also. You may want to stuff newspaper or some other absorbent material into the shoe to help it dry quicker.

Never put suede or leather footwear in a dryer, or try to dry them with a hairdryer or in front of a fireplace or heater. This can really damage the material, and in some cases, result in a fire.

Always remove the laces before cleaning, brushing or polishing your shoes and boots. Then remove surface dirt and dried mud with a brush made for that material. You should also brush clean the welts, heels and soles.

Heavy dirt will require some elbow grease. But, in general, dish soap diluted in warm water. Dip a clean cotton cloth into the solution, ring it out so that it is barely damp and rub the soiled area. You want to avoid saturating the surface. You should also use shoe care products specially formulated for suede and nubuck to clean, shine and protect your footwear.

It is also a good idea to have the appropriate toolkit, which should include:

  • Soft bristled brush
  • Brush with gum bristles or an eraser
  • Suede / Nubuck cleaning solution
  • Soft cloth

 

Some experts also recommend using a wire bristled brush to remove dirt, and using the rubber bristles (or an eraser) to smooth the nap out.

The rubber can also be used to remove marks and stains from suede.

Use it as you use a pencil eraser. Simply rub the stain with the rubber brush or eraser until it is removed, then lightly brush up the nap until it is fluffy again. Keep in mind that not all stains can be removed, however, the rubbing action should help them fade.

Talcum powder works great for wet stains. But if you have a stain that’s already dried, try a little bit of white vinegar.

For really tough stains, like red wine and juices, take the item to a professional who knows how to deal with the issue.

As a general rule, you might want to brush your suede and nubuck shoes and boots down after every wear to keep them healthy.

Conclusion

Now you have the information you need to start, or continue on, your journey to enjoying the marvelous world of suede and nubuck leather.

Go ahead, let yourself enjoy these beautiful and amazing materials and let me know what your preference is (if you have one) by leaving a comment below.

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for upcoming posts.
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