Compared to just about any other fabric in your wardrobe, suede is a different beast. It lends your handbag versatility and texture like no other, but its unique napped composition makes it a very particular fabric to care for; you know that when water isn't part of the cleaning equation -- due to its tendency to leave rings and affect the fabric's nap -- you'll have think just a bit outside the box.
Although plenty of care procedures apply to suede in general, always consult and follow your handbag's manufacturer-provided instructions before cleaning.
To spruce up your suede after a few days of wear, a suede brush is your best friend -- you can even keep one in your bag for easy access. This special tool, available at footwear shops, features a combination of rubber and copper bristles that offer just the right balance of softness and toughness to lift out dirt while going gentle on the fabric.
Start by giving the handbag's suede exterior a rubdown with a clean, dry cloth towel, going against the lie of the nap to free the garment of any loose dirt or debris. Follow this up with a thorough brushing, first going against the nap to loosen stubborn particles, and then with the nap to give your newly cleaned handbag a smooth, uniform texture.
If your handbag has dry spots, try rubbing them away with a clean pencil eraser or a suede cleaning block -- another shoe-store staple -- followed up with a thorough brushing.
If the eraser doesn't do the trick or you're treating wet stains, it's time to break out the white vinegar. Lightly dampen a clean, soft towel with vinegar, and wipe the stain against the direction of the nap. Allow the handbag to air-dry completely, and then repeat if necessary.
For dried-on clumps of debris or stubborn scuffs, gently rub against the nap with an emery board before spot treating with an eraser or vinegar. For oil-based stains, use a bit of cornmeal or talcum powder to sop up residue before using the vinegar-brush combo.
To prevent a wet suede handbag from staining, first blot -- don't wipe or rub -- the damp surface with a clean cloth towel. Wrap the handbag in an absorbent towel, leaving the towel to soak up excess moisture. If your handbag is soaked through, stuff the interior with white butcher paper or newspaper for extra moisture-fighting power. Once dry, brush the bag with a suede brush to restore its nap.
If your handbag develops water rings or stains, give the suede an all-over misting with clean water from a spray bottle, and brush it against the nap while damp; then allow it to air dry. Treat this as a worst-case scenario option; it may permanently darken your handbag's shade, but it should eliminate irregular splotches.
Never use heat to dry a suede handbag or any other type of suede garment, as you risk making the material brittle, irregular and unworkable.
Detail Work and More Tips
To prevent stains and water damage, picking up a specialized suede protection spray at the shoe store or leather specialist might be worth your while. According to the manufacturer's instructions, apply the spray to all suede surfaces of the handbag when it's brand new, if possible. Remember to always test a small, out-of-the-way patch first, just in case discoloration occurs.
Handbag lining fabrics vary greatly per bag, but as a catchall cleaning process, first empty the bag and give it a vacuuming with a nozzle attachment. Turn the lining inside out and lie it over a folded, absorbent towel. Blot one side thoroughly with a water-dampened cloth, and then allow it to air dry. Flip the bag and the towel over, and repeat on the other side. If the lining is attached, first blot it, and then fill the handbag with white butcher paper to absorb the moisture.
Give metal trim such as zippers, latches and logos a simple rub with a metal polishing cloth, carefully avoiding the suede and fabric elements of the bag. You might cut your cloth down to size to make it more manageable for polishing these small details.
For a long and healthy life, store your suede handbag in a cool, clean area away from direct sunlight. For long-term storage, place it in a breathable bag -- such as a cotton pillowcase -- and give it some space on all sides. With just a quick brush-up upon returning it to your regular wardrobe, your suede bag will be ready to face the next season in style.