True suede is made from an animal hide that has been sanded or roughed up to create a velvety finish. While your suede couch may have been made from woven fabric, it still has a nap that needs maintenance. Anything that damages the nap can lead to fabric that looks tired and discolored.
Maintain the Material
Take apart your couch for regular cleaning at least once a month. Vacuum all the crevices for dust, debris, and pet hair. Use a brush attachment on the back, arms and cushions. Vacuum in an X pattern to remove any debris that may be embedded in the material and to refresh the nap.
Dried On Stains
The tools that work on suede shoes can help you work out how to clean a suede couch if something has been allowed to dry on the material. Go over the dried product with a suede brush. Brush in one direction only until the product and any underlying stain are removed, then go over the area again with a crepe cleaning tool to restore the nap.
A suede eraser can be used on tougher stains. You can rub back and forth with a suede eraser until the stain is out. Then, treat the eraser spot like another stain, by brushing it first and then using the crepe cleaning tool to lift the nap.
Spills need to be addressed quickly. Use a dry, white cloth to dab at the moisture and draw it out of the fabric. Too much pressure will force the liquid further into the suede, so dab and lift, dab and lift.
Turn the white cloth to only apply dry material to the moisture in the suede. If liquid ends up staining the suede, test an unobtrusive spot with a bit of rubbing alcohol to make sure it doesn’t discolor the suede once it dries, then dab it onto the stain.
Moisture will have an effect on the pile or nap of your suede couch, so if an old stain looks darker or discolored, try brushing it and using the crepe cleaning tool as described above to refresh the nap so it reflects light effectively.
If the stain remains, you can also try white vinegar to remove whatever is causing the discoloration. Never apply any liquid product to a suede couch without testing it first, however. You don’t want to replace an old stain with a new one.
Even if the upholstery is clean, a smelly couch feels dirty. Microfiber suede couches can be refreshed with baking soda. Keep your vacuum emptied and go back over the fabric multiple times to take up all of the baking soda, as it can be abrasive and may speed wear.
If your suede is really animal hide, you may need to use an enzymatic cleaner. These products can often be found in pet supply stores; they actually break down any bacteria that are causing odors. Any liquid product that you apply when deciding how to clean a suede couch should be tested on a hidden area.
Should you notice a musty odor, take apart the cushions of your suede couch and set the bare cushions in the sun for a few hours. Turn them so both sides get at least an hour of sun, then take them back inside and check again for odor. If the upholstery material is microfiber, check the washing recommendations.
If it’s real suede, put the cushion covers, inside out, in the sun to get rid of musty odors. Cigarette smoke odors can also be reduced by getting the piece outside; real suede can be damaged by sunlight, but bare cushions will benefit from sunlight and fresh air.
Call a Pro
If you follow the steps above and your beloved suede couch is still stained or smelly, call a professional cleaning service. You may need to have the couch picked up and taken away for an in-depth cleaning, or the cleaners may be able to work the cleaning process in house. Make sure to let your professional cleaners know of any products you already used on the upholstery to avoid a bad reaction.
Your suede couch may be a hand-me-down or might be the couch you have always wanted. Keeping it free of stains and odors, as well as maintaining the fabric with detailed vacuuming, is critical to keeping it looking great.