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How to Clean & Condition Suede & Sheepskin Lined Shoes

In this article, I demonstrate how I care for my sheepskin shoes, slippers, and boots to keep them fluffy on the inside and looking great on the outside.

I’ve always appreciated the visual appeal of soft sheepskin, but I didn’t really fall in love with the material until my trip to Patagonia in 2019. With the opportunity to slow travel through southern Chile and Argentina, I began to grow a greater appreciation for sheepskin. In Patagonia, sheepskin is a basic element of design and traditional decor. Even more importantly, sheepskin rugs and throws kept me warm on many cold nights as I spent a month there braving the end of the Patagonian winter. When I came back from my trip, to cold and wet Seattle, I began curating my own collection of sheepskin rugs and sheepskin lined shoes and slippers.

One step in cleaning sheepskin and suede slippers

How I Learned to Care for Sheepskin

Now, if you’ve had sheepskin before, you may think that it’s hard to care for – I sure did! I remember buying my first sheepskin rug shortly after I moved to Hawk Hill and when it became matted and not fluffy, after just a few months, I threw it away in disgust. “How,” I thought, “do people afford sheepskin rugs when they have such a short time that they look good?!” Little did I know that sheepskin just takes a bit of unique kind of care. Although it doesn’t take much time, sheepskin needs regular combing and maintenance. If given the proper care, sheepskin can last for years even in high friction applications like chair pads or shoe lining.

My Sheepskin

Since returning from Patagonia I have picked up a collection of four sheepskin rugs and bought myself a pair of sheepskin-lined suede slippers for quarantine comfort. The first two sheepskin rugs I managed to snag from the goodwill outlet bins for around a dollar each, although they each needed a bit of cleaning and reconditioning before being brought into my home.

My third rug, the largest, was purchased from a small-batch tannery in Colorado. (It’s the thick pile on my office chair underneath me even as I write this article). Although information on cleaning sheepskin rugs is widely available, I noticed that there aren’t very many tutorials out there on this specific cleaning method for sheepskin lining of shoes and boots like uggs.

how to clean sheepskin and suede slippers
BEFORE: Matted sheepskin lining on my suede slippers left these slippers uncomfortable, clammy, and unable to insulate my toes.

If you’re like me, you may have purchased your first sheepskin shoes and wondered why, after a few weeks of use, your shoes were much less warm and comfortable. In fact, without regular care, sheepskin lined shoes quickly become matted, and matted sheepskin is unable to insulate and cushion in the same way that fluffy sheepskin can. Similarly, if debris is matted in your sheepskin shoe lining, the insulative properties are decreased.

One step in cleaning sheepskin and suede slippers
AFTER: despite being my everyday shoes for most of 2020, these sheepskin-lined shoes can be restored to clean exteriors and fluffy interiors using the process described below.

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How I Clean and Recondition sheepskin-lined suede shoes like Ugg boots

Supplies you’ll need:

Brush exterior with a stiff-bristled brush

Brush the suede on the outside of the shoe with a stiff brush to raise the pile of the suede and remove dirt and debris trapped there.

Use a Wire Brush to Brush Slick Suede

Brush any slick or shiny portion of the suede shoe with a wire brush designed with a stiffness and sharpness for cleaning suede. The fine wire bristles of this suede brush shown scrape individual suede fibers our from the debris-matted slick section of suede. The wire brush will restore the slick spots to clean and fuzzy new-looking suede. Follow with the stiff brush to remove fine debris freed from the fibers.

Use a Slicker Brush to Comb Lining

Use a sheepskin comb or a simple slicker-style dog brush with wire bristles to comb the sheepskin lining. Comb aggressively in all directions to break up the matted fiber and restore fluffy texture to the sheepskin.

Use a Smaller Comb to Fluff the Lining of the Toes

To reach deep into your shoe and comb the matted sheepskin in the toe of your fleece-lined boot or shoe, you may need to invest in this Extra-Small 2.75″ Slicker Brush made for small dogs.

Most sheepskin brushes and slicker dog brush will be too wide to reach the toe of your shoe. For portions that you can’t reach, this narrower brush can help break up the mats located deep in the shoe bed footbed. Diligent combing of this hard-to-reach area restores the sheepskin to a fluffy, luxurious cloud-like floof around your toes. For best results, you should comb the sheepskin in your shoes weekly, so investing in a tool that makes it easy is a good idea.

Deodorize with charcoal

If your shoes have a lingering odor, add DIY shoe deodorizers using activated charcoal shoe deodorizers.

By repeating this cleaning and fluffing process on a regular basis, you can keep your sheepskin lined slippers or UGG boots looking brand new even if they are your most beloved pair of shoes. For tips on caring for boots with a traditional leather exterior, check out my article on caring for Blundstone boots.

The trick to keeping shoes looking new is regular maintenance.

I don’t know about you, but it can be tempting for me to delay cleaning or care for my sheepskin lined shoes just because it’s so satisfying to see them come back to life like the slippers pictured here. Seeing them restored from gross matter fleece lining to fluffy and soft sheepskin pile is pretty cool. Despite this, the best practice for care is regular maintenance that prevents sheepskin from matting and suede from getting slick in the first place. It’s much easier to keep sheepskin lined shoes warm and cozy if you make it part of your regular routine to brush out the suede exterior and comb the lining of your shoes.

The right tools make the job work

Buying a kit of supplies to care for my suede and sheepskin and has been the best in investment in my shoes and sheepskin decor, by far. With only about $20 worth of supplies, I can keep my expensive ugg boots, sheepskin house shoes, and shearling hide rugs looking brand-new. When you’ve spent a hundred dollars or more on each rug, pair of shoes, or boots, it makes sense to invest a bit in the care they need to stay looking great.

Combing a Sheepskin Rug

Sheepskin rugs are even easier to care for than sheepskin lined shoes, but many people skip this essential part of care for their sheepskin rug. Although good sheepskin vendors sell their products with care instructions – and even, in the case of really good vendors, free sheepskin combs with purchase – many people buy sheepskin with no idea that sheepskin requires regular maintenance. 2 to 3 minutes combing once a month – or more frequently depending on use – can make sure that your sheepskin looks great for years to come.

Combing a shepskin rug to clean, soften, and restore the soft fluffy pile

Using the right tools to clean sheepskin

Although any comb is better than no comb when it comes to combing sheepskin, you’ll want to avoid combs with very short tines. In an effort to reduce manufacturing costs, many of the sheepskin combs you can find on major retail websites are insufficient for cleaning premium sheepskin. Short combs are fine for shearling fleece (fleece that has been clipped short) but for high-pile, high quality sheepskin pelts, you’ll need a better comb. A good comb with long tines ensures that the fiber is being combed deeply – rather than just on the surface making the sheepskin appear to be fluffy while actually growing increasingly matted underneath.

Believe it or not, I’ve had the best results cleaning sheepskin by using a dog brush. Sheepskin brushes are modeled after dog grooming slicker brushes, which dry cleaners were using to “professionally” clean sheepskin a few decades ago. Manufacturers caught on and, as manufacturers do, they began to convince consumers that they needed a special brush in order to clean their sheepskin.

My favorite dog grooming brush that I use for cleaning both shearling and sheepskin is this Miller’s Forge Slicker Brush. With an extra-wide 4-inch width and long tines, it makes fast work out of cleaning even larger sheepskin rugs. (NOTE: avoid using the same brush on your dog and your sheepskin, as you may accidentally embed dog fur in your sheepskin! If you must share brushes, use a fine-tooth comb to completely clean the bed of the dog brush before combing sheepskin)

How to clean a sheepskin rug

To comb your sheepskin rug, place it on a flat surface and use your non-dominant hand to press down and hold the rug in place. Holding the slicker brush in your dominant hand, drag the brush across the surface of the sheepskin starting near your nondominant hand and brushing towards the outside of the sheepskin. Repeat brushing the same section, in the same direction, 4 to 6 times, and then moved to a new section. Once the entire rug has been combed, change directions and comb the fiber back in the opposite direction from which you initially combed it. This helps break up matted fibers just below the surface.

Combing a shepskin rug to clean, soften, and restore the soft fluffy pile

Once you have combed the full sheepskin hide in 2 to 3 directions, you will see that your sheepskin is softer, fluffier, and more “puffy.” It’s pretty satisfying to see the fleece come back to life, sometimes looking even fluffier than new!

As you comb, you may find that your comb fills with fiber. This is normal. Remove the fiber when it begins to fill the pad of the brush (sometimes you can simply peel the fiber back off the comb, other times you may need to use sometime to free the fiber from the pad holding the tines).

If you are cleaning a well-used sheepskin rug, you’ll also find that much of what is transferred to the brush is debris or non-sheepskin fibers – this is a sign that your cleaning is working!

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Friday 14th of May 2021

Where can I find a nice little wooden slicker brush like yours? None of the pet ones I can see online will fit inside my Ugg boots! The heads are too wide!

Lindsayanne Brenner

Friday 14th of May 2021

I'm with ya! cleaning the fleece in the toebox is essential to making the shoes as comfortable as new, but the tool I used for that particular bit I actually don't recommend- it was a little too sharp and pulled more fiber out than it actually combed! The next thing I plan to try is a rake designed to clean hairbrushes- I think it might reach up into that narrow space well. Here's a (full disclosure, affiliate) link to the product I'm describing trying.