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Stew Tips: Fear suede? Fear not!

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Today’s discussion is regarding a fabric that I am sure you have all had to deal with – the much feared care and cleaning of suede.  For some reason, our yacht owners and yacht designers think that a yacht isn't complete without abundant amounts of suede all over the interior. 

This fabric is certainly one of my top five most frustrating and frequent cleaning challenges.  Not only did I see this on every yacht I ever worked on, but the preferred colour is almost always white or cream.

It eventually became so problematic that I asked a shipyard worker to teach me how to re-upholster the headliner panels with new suede – a skill that served me well on many yachts. 

I have collected a few handy care and cleaning tips over the years – and I am happy to share these with you.  Please feel free to leave a comment with some of your favourite suede care tricks!

General Suede care

Genuine suede requires maintenance with a suede brush (a dense dry rubber sponge or dry chamois sponge also works well).  You can find these at dry cleaners or shoe repair stores.  Use water VERY sparingly on suede as it can damage the finish.  If there are any heavy stains, steam cleaners should be called in to professionally treat the stains.  Keep suede away from sunlight, excessive heat and moisture.  Regularly brush the suede headliners with the suede sponge around the area where the A/C blows out, otherwise the continuous dust and bacteria blown out from the A/C can turn the suede black.  Also keep the A/C filters and units clean by regularly detailing them. 

white glovesVery important note – no crew member should ever be allowed to touch the suede panels with bare hands – if the engineers change the light bulbs in the light fixtures in the headliners, they MUST wear surgical gloves!  If they need to take panels down to get to the wiring behind it, they must wear gloves!

Daily Suede care

You will be amazed how much dirt appears on your dry sponge if you do a daily brush of the suede.  Bacteria and dust from the air conditioners and from inside the yacht settles on the suede and it will do wonders to give it a daily brush with a dry sponge. 

General On-board suede maintenance

Suede can release dust easily.  Regular vacuuming with a soft, clean upholstery attachment and occasional brushing with a soft brush such as a nylon lint brush or dry, clean bath sponge, will keep dust and dirt from building up.

Spot Cleaning

Before applying any cleaner, remove excess wet stain by absorbing with a clean cloth.  For dry residue, brush lightly and vacuum.  Lightly applying and removing cellotape will often pick up surface dirt. 

Cleaning Procedures

  1. Select the appropriate cleaner from the chart below.

  2. Wet a small area of a clean white terry cloth towel or a soft sponge with the cleaner and dab it onto the stain.

  3. Blot up the cleaner and the stain with a clean cloth towel.

  4. Repeat the dabbing and blotting as necessary.  If the stain has been allowed to dry, it may take more than one application for the cleaner to dissolve the stain.

  5. DO NOT RUB AGGRESSIVELY. Let the cleaner dissolve the stain, and them wipe it up with a clean towel.

  6. After using a soap solution or vinegar/water, follow by dabbing and blotting with cold water to remove residual soap or vinegar.

Other Care and Cleaning Tips

If a ring develops after the stain is gone, re-wet the spot with the appropriate cleaner and lightly brush or “feather out” the edges as the spot dries. The drying process can be accelerated, with a hair dryer on a warm (low) setting.   Tend to spots as soon as possible.  Don’t wait for stubborn stains to build up. 

Woolite Fabric Wash resized200Removable suede cushion and slipcovers can be machine washed on gentle cycle using Woolite detergent in cold water followed by a cold rinse.  Allow to air dry overnight.  Lightly brush the suede after it has dried completely to restore the nap. 

It is recommended to use a wet (cold water) extraction to remove large or stubborn stains and for overall cleaning.  Professional cleaners provide this service or the equipment can be purchased or rented.

To Remove Stains

  1. Select the appropriate cleaner from the chart below

  2. Begin with the cleaner listed first and allow to spot dry

  3. If stain remains, proceed to the next recommended cleaner      


Stain Removal Chart for Suede 

suede care instruction

Product key

  1. Cold to lukewarm water, never hot.

  2. Mix one teaspoon of a mild soap (Woolite, Joy, Ivory, Fairy, or Tide powder) to a pint of cold or warm water.

  3. Pure white vinegar mixed 50/50 with water.  Use vinegar full strength for stubborn stains

  4. A petroleum distillate such as mineral spirits or naphtha.

  5. A dry cleaning solvent such as perchloroethylene or K2R.  “Dri-Clean” Carpet and Upholstery cleaner (In the plastic bottle with the spray trigger).

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I hope these tips help you as much as they did me.  Remember, the more you know about suede and how to care for it, the less stressful things are mid-season when a guest glistening in massage oil plonks herself down on the boss' suede couch.  


NOTE:  Exercise proper care when using solvents or solvent cleaners.  Some solvents are flammable.  Read and follow manufacturer’s directions on labels.  Use with adequate ventilation.  Wear protective gloves. 

About the Author: After working in the superyacht industry as a stewardess, chief stew and purser for 10 years, Isobel Odendaal moved back to her home country, South Africa, and co-started a training school for super yacht steward/esses, Super Yachting South Africa, where she continues to learn and teach every day. super yachting south africa logo

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