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What is Faux Suede?

By Caroline Cloutier
Updated May 16, 2024
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Faux suede is a man-made fabric used in clothing, footwear, and upholstery. It is designed to mimic the look of regular suede, which is a leather product made from the undersides of animal skins. Faux versions are not usually as durable, but they are often much less expensive and are also easier to clean and maintain.

Basic Characteristics

In most cases, imitation suede is designed to look indistinguishable from regular suede, at least at first glance. The fabric is usually very soft and has a matte finish. It also typically has a defined "grain," so that rubbing the fabric in one direction yields a different texture and color tone than rubbing it in another.

How It's Made

Faux suede is made entirely of synthetic polyester. Polyesters are durable chains of polymer molecules bound together through a series of chemical reactions. They are common in plastics and resins, but can also be formed into threads that can be used in weaving.

To make a fabric that resembles suede, manufacturers choose polymer threads that are close to the weight and consistency of leather fibers. The best imitations use multiple threads at once to create a double or triple weave because, although single weave fabrics often look good at first glance, they tend to feel much flimsier. After the weaving is complete, the manufacturer runs a coarse brush over the top of the fabric in order to create the matted, almost fuzzy texture.

Most of the time, color is added to the polymer threads before the weaving begins, although it is also possible to dye the finished product. Imitation suede that is designed to look natural is usually tan or light brown in color. It is not uncommon to find green, blue, or even pink imitation products, however, particularly when it comes to fashion items.

Where It's Used

The fashion industry is one of the biggest consumers of suede, and many designers and top fashion lines sell jackets, skirts, and pants made with this fabric. These products are often too expensive to attract mid-range shoppers, but imitation leather provides a similar look at a fraction of the price. It also appeals to consumers who want to avoid products made from animals. Faux suede shoes, handbags, and accessories such as belts are only a few of the more widely sold products.

There are also many uses for the fabric in the home décor sector. Faux suede sofas and loveseats are very popular, for instance, and can provide soft, durable seating for a much more affordable price than real leather. The material may also be used for decorative curtains or throw pillows.

Care Considerations

Caring for faux suede is usually no harder than keeping it dusted and occasionally wiping it down with a damp cloth. Stains are typically easy to treat, as well, and a bit of soap and water will lift most new blemishes. Tougher spots may require the use of mild detergents or a simple baking soda and vinegar mixture, often applied with a stiff brush. Experts do not recommend that stain solutions be left on the fabric for longer than a few minutes, however, in case they create new stains or water spots of their own.

Differences Between Real and Faux Suede

Aside from the fact that real suede comes from animal skins and faux is created from synthetic materials, there are a number of important differences between real and imitation versions. Real suede is typically more durable, although the quality can vary depending on how it is made. Imitation fabric tends to be more resistant to water and staining, however, and it is often easier to care for.

Natural suede is usually not water resistant, and even the smallest drop can leave a permanent stain. The leather can be treated with different chemicals to help improve its water resistance, but often with only mixed results. As such, most outerwear made from this material is designed to look good, but should only be used indoors or on sunny days. Faux suede, on the other hand, is usually water repellent if not completely waterproof all on its own. It is essentially made of refined plastic, which makes it very weather resistant.

Aging is another area of difference. Regular suede, like most leathers, tends to crack and discolor as it gets older. Different parts of the material react to sunlight and atmospheric elements differently over time, usually corresponding to the part of the animal that they came from. Parts of the body that were used and stretched more than others tend to produce tougher, more crack-prone leather than parts that were covered mostly in fat or protected muscle. Imitation suede is much more consistent and ages uniformly in most cases.

What Is Suedette?

Suedette is a material that looks like genuine suede. However, it is an imitation made of tightly woven fibers. It has a suede texture but is polyester, cotton, or rayon. Since it consists of plastic, synthetic materials, it has more durability than genuine suede. It is not as susceptible to water damage and is easier to clean. It also has stain-repellent qualities, making it an excellent choice for everyday wear.

Suedette does not have a strong smell like genuine suede. While some people like the smell, many do not want it present on their clothing or furniture. You may find that it is less expensive than the genuine alternative, making it a great money-saving option. It looks authentic but without the price or hassle of care.

You can coat this material to enhance its durability and keep it looking new. This coating can protect the textile from spills and stains that are challenging to remove. It also prevents fraying or matting, which keeps the material looking new and clean.

You may find that pillows, home decor, carpets, and other upholstered items use suedette material, along with many clothes and accessories.

What Is Suede?

Suede is a high-quality leather made from the underside of an animal hide. It is well-known for having a soft, smooth surface. Many accessories use this material, like belts, shoes, and jackets. You will notice that suede is thinner and more flexible than traditional leather, but it is still durable. You create the material from lambskin, but you can use other animal skins. Common types of this material include sheepskin, cowhide, and pigskin. There are some differences among the three to consider.

  • Sheepskin: This material is the softest and most delicate form of suede. It is smoother and more lightweight than other types. It's not entirely waterproof, but it can be valuable for keeping warm during cold months.
  • Pigskin: This suede is rough and thick. It is very tough, so you can use it in situations where durability is necessary. 
  • Cowhide: This material is the roughest type of suede. The material can be very tough and thick, depending on the animal's age. It can also be quite durable. 

Because of its versatility, it is easy to create everyday items like outwear, footwear, and other accessories. If handled with proper care, suede can be long-lasting and look new. To ensure you are buying genuine suede, look at it closely. Authentic material will have uneven edges, patterns, and colors. The faux fabric looks perfect.

This material has a smooth appearance, is pliable, durable, and long-lasting. However, it is also thin and can look dirty quickly. It can also be expensive. Keep this in mind when purchasing suede items, and if you need something even more durable, consider traditional leather. If you want the look of suede without the price, you may want to try an imitation material.

What Is Microsuede?

This material is a lightweight faux suede. It is made from polyester and has millions of fine microfibers, hence the name microsuede. It is one of the most popular imitation suede forms and comes in hundreds of colors. The color customization options, lower price, and ease of care make it a popular choice for many objects, from home goods to clothing.

Unlike genuine suede, it does not matter if it gets wet. The integrity of the material is not damaged, and if it gets dirty, you can wipe it clean. It is very similar to how easy it is to care for suedette. Both are faux suede materials that look like the real thing.

You can use microsuede for:

  • Home decor
  • Upholstered items
  • Shoes
  • Clothing
  • Accessories

When it is dry, the microsuede feels like velvet and is very soft. You can spot clean the material with soap and water if it needs cleaning. It is excellent for items like sofas and other objects you can't launder traditionally. If it gets dusty, you can vacuum it. Do this once a week to maintain the material and keep it new-looking and clean. You can also sprinkle powdered laundry detergent or carpet cleaner on the fabric and vacuum it up to make it smell fresh. If you have the occasional water stain, you only need to dampen the spot and dry it quickly.

Like other faux suede materials, microsuede smells like plastic. When shopping, keep this in mind. It is an easy way to tell which fabric is faux. As mentioned, if you are searching for genuine material, it will smell like animal hide and have minor imperfections.

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Discussion Comments
By anon993806 — On Dec 16, 2015

They forgot to mention Faux suede is not made out of tortured or skinned alive animals. It is animal cruelty free. It also does not smell like the real ones that smell like an stable full of crap.

By anon353662 — On Nov 01, 2013

Quite a good article on faux suede (a.k.a. polyester suede). Thank you for this helpful overview and discussion. One of the better online articles I managed to find.

By anon143859 — On Jan 18, 2011

I'm looking to buy some faux suede furniture for my conservatory, but want to know if it will fade in the sunlight?

By DinoLeash — On Jul 21, 2010

@alex94: It is best to send it to the cleaners for routine laundering, but you can do a mild cleaning at home and remove small stains. I wouldn’t recommend putting it in the washing machine.

Microsuede blankets and comforters are very durable and soft but they show stains easily. If you have a rather large stain on your comforter, sprinkle it with a mild powder detergent. Gently rub it into the microsuede with a scrub brush. Let it sit for about 10 minutes and vacuum it up.

For very stubborn stains, use rubbing alcohol. Put some alcohol on a white cloth and blot the stain with it. Be careful not to soak the fabric because you will end up with water stains.

By alex94 — On Jul 21, 2010

I bought a comforter set that is micro suede. It says "dry clean only" but I'm sure that would be pretty expensive. Is there a way to wash it at home?

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