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Buying Dance Shoes
Do-It-Yourself Suede Soles
Dancing on bad floors

Suede Soles Maintenance

Suede soles are just about ideal on almost every dance floor. They are durable, but they need more care than regular soles. On this page we tell you everything we know about suede sole maintenance.

  • Wear them indoors only. Don't wear 'em outdoors on street or sidewalk; there's too much chewing gum and glop out there that you'll never be able to brush out. This means bringing them to your Dance Palace and changing into them.

    • This in turn means that you'll eventually want some sort of shoe bag for them. A grocery bag works fine but lacks a certain elegance. You can get shoe bags at dance supply stores -- or at your nearby bowling shoe emporium. (Maybe even at a regular shoe store, come to think of it, but we've never asked.) Teddy Shoes in Central Square, Cambridge, and Patterson's in downtown Boston sell an okay black nylon shoe bag by Coast for about $20; it has two inside plastic pockets for holding your shoe brush, moleskin, etc. Patterson's also sells some nice handmade shoe bags in various textures and colors.

  • Watch your step, even indoors. Don't step in a puddle of beer -- the suede will soak it up and glaze over. This means watching your step in alcohol-serving dance joints.

    • If you step in water (say, near the sink in the rest rooms, or near the water jugs at some of the local dances), your suede soles will feel like all-grip, no-slip until they dry out, but there's no permanent harm done.

  • If your suede soles DO get glazed over with street gunk or dried beer, scrub away with a wire brush until they are suede-ish again. If you don't have a wire brush, scrape with the blade of a sharp knife. (Don't cut. Just scrape by holding the blade sideways.) For a really thickly glazed surface, you can do a preliminary chiseling with a flat screwdriver's tip -- or if you like power tools, grab your vibrating finishing sander and some coarse 80 grit paper, and zap your soles for about 5 seconds. (A tip of the top hat to John C for this power tip). If the soles are not glazed but simply clogged up with dust, scrub gently.

    • Most Ballroom dance places have very clean floors, because almost all ballroom dancers bring their suede-soled shoes and change into them. So you will rarely have to brush anything but dust from your shoes.

    • Most Swing places that are not in bars have fairly clean floors. This is thanks to the dance's organizers, who are usually scrupulous about cleaning the floor before a Swing dance. Again, very little sole cleaning required afterwards, usually.

    • Most Swing places that are in bars, and almost all Salsa places, have filthy floors. This is due to spilled drinks and all the stuff that sticks to it, including street-shoe dirt. Your soles will usually be jet black and thickly caked after dancing at one of these joints, and a long, hard scrubbing of your soles is going to be necessary to return them to suede.

  • Wire brush. To keep the nap in your suede, get a wire brush with short steel bristles. Use it whenever the soles get clogged up with dust and don't seem fuzzy anymore, or if the nap gets "glazed over" from street use. You won't really need it very often if you don't step in liquids -- maybe once a month or two just to fluff up the suede a bit. Don't worry if you eventually brush away most of the nap -- you only need the tiniest nap to get the good effects. (When the nap is completely gone, you can replace the suede soles yourself -- see our do-it-yourself suede soles page.)

    Typical brush for suede soles. Approx. 8 inches long.
    Buy at any dance shoe store -- or in hardware stores where it is called a "file brush."
    (This is your author's well-used brush, shown complete with bits of suede fuzz caught in the bristles.)

    • Wire brushes for suede soles come in several shapes and sizes. Above is a typical one. Another common type is smaller, looking like an oversized toothbrush. Both styles have steel bristles that are slightly bent in the middle, and are not too densely packed. Note that these are quite different from the gentle brass-bristled brushes used for suede uppers!

      • We strongly recommend (a) steel bristles (brass is too soft), and (b) a handle -- the unguarded steel bristles around the edge will give your hands really nasty perforations otherwise.

    • Where to buy. You can buy an appropriate brush at almost any dance shoe store for about $7 or $8. Or you can buy the identical brush by walking into any hardware store and asking for a "file brush" -- it's used for cleaning the metal or wood grit out of large files. (In most Home Depot stores, they will tell you "We don't sell those." They are lying because they are stupid. Ask them where the files are -- wood files and metal files. The file brushes are hanging next to them.)

    • How often to buy. Everything wears out -- even steel-wire brushes! The bristles work best when sharp edged (new). Amazingly, the suede of your soles will round off the edges of the bristles fairly quickly, and your shoe brush will be worn out before your suede soles! It is time to splurge on a new brush when you notice that :

      • obscure edges of your brush (say, near the handle) seem a lot more effective than the parts you prefer to use (say, near the front or middle);
      • it is easier for your brush to slide across your suede soles than to dig into them and fluff them up;
      • when you borrow a friend's brush, it works much faster and more effectively than your own.

    • Caution. Be really careful when reaching for your brush, and when brushing -- the bristles around the edge tend to splay outward a bit and will perforate you every time if you're not careful. If you keep your brush in your shoe bag, do not place it with the bristles against the bag fabric -- they will poke through and stab you. (This is the voice of bitter experience talking at ya.)

  • Knife blade trick. Instead of using a wire brush, try scraping your suede soles with a sharp knife blade held sideweays. This should do a good job of fluffing up the suede and getting rid of dust and other junk. (This tip comes from Pete's Theatrical Shoe Repair, formerly located inside the Capezio flagship store in New York City.)

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Page updated 9-12-2006
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