Q: How can I tell if a royal blue jacket is a suede or an imitation suede? Do they require different cleaning methods?
A: Long ago, the color of “suede” was a good indicator as to its authenticity. Why would anyone dye a natural animal skin pastel pink, royal blue, or brilliant purple? Today many skins are dyed to imitate the range of colors used in the world of imitation suedes.
Natural suede is made by abrading an animal skin to produce a napped, velvet-like surface. Suede skins usually contain inconsistencies in the surface hairs, skin defects from disease and wounds, and a coarser surface texture on the reverse side.
Imitation suede is made from synthetic fibers in a non-woven construction or with a flocked pile adhered to a woven or knit base. The flocked pile suede is easily recognized by this base fabric, but the non-woven imitation suede can be difficult to distinguish from the real thing. Clues that distinguish an imitation suede include a similar appearance on both sides of the fabric, a smooth, even nap, and a defect-free surface. A label indicating that the garment should be cleaned like any fine fabric also suggests that the fabric is a synthetic suede.
Natural suede should be cleaned by an acceptable leather-cleaning method. Imitation suedes are usually labeled as drycleanable. Use very clear solvent in cleaning, as the non-wovens readily absorb impurities. In addition, minimize agitation and reduce heat (less than 120°F.) in tumble drying. If you would like more information, DLI Fibers & Fabrics 514 and 517 discuss suede and leather garments. TABS 317 covers weak and damaged areas on suede, TABS 333 covers puckering on suede coats, TABS 381 cover scar tissue in suede, TABS 447 covers rough areas on suede, and TABS 461 covers damage to synthetic suede finishes.