What is Nubuck?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Nubuck is a type of leather with a soft, velvety surface and is some of the most expensive leather to purchase. Unlike the less expensive suede, this type of leather is far more durable and is excellent for use on items like furniture because it will last much longer than suede. It is subject to the same kind of easy staining that occurs with suede and often requires pre-treatment or stain resistant protection to extend its life.

Outdoor boots covered in nubuck and rubber.
Outdoor boots covered in nubuck and rubber.

It’s easy to get confused about whether a leather item is nubuck or suede since both look and feel similar. Both types of leather are sanded to produce the velvet soft feel that is so desirable. The main difference is that nubuck is sanded on the outer surface of the leather, essentially the part that would have been the exterior skin of the animal, while suede is sanded on the inner layer of the skin.

Since the outside layer of a skin is much tougher, nubuck lasts much longer and responds very well to this sanding process. It does show imperfections in the exterior layer of the skin much more easily, and is often treated with dyes, sometimes simply clear ones, to disguise any significant flaws. The sanding process can create further imperfections when not done correctly, so nubuck may be color-treated to hide these too.

You will find nubuck used in a variety of applications. Furniture made with this material is highly desirable, but will come at a much more expensive price than furniture made from lower grade types of leather. Nubuck shoes and purses are popular, as is clothing. Some companies prefer to use it instead of suede so that a product will last longer. For example, the Birkenstock® classic sandal is made from nubuck instead of suede. The company chose this particular leather because it is so much stronger than suede and will wear well with time.

Naturally, all nubuck is subject to significant staining and requires proper care even when it is stain treated. Unlike flat leather, you can’t use shoe polish on this material because of its nap. Instead, many leather manufacturers suggest one way to keep it from getting permanent stains is to use a brush on the leather regularly to remove any small dust particles. If you have furniture made of nubuck, you should additionally vacuum the furniture about once a week to remove dust.

If you do spill liquids on nubuck, it’s important to use cotton cloths to try to soak up as much of the spill as possible. You can buy special leather cleaners that are approved for the material that can help remove oily stains. Most cleaners suggest not allowing the stain to dry since it is much harder to remove a stain on nubuck after it has fully dried. Generally the older the stain, the more difficult it is to remove.

The easy stain properties of nubuck should be a consideration when you make a purchase. The material may be perfect for the home where adults are quite careful when they sit on the furniture. The expense may not be worth it, on the other hand, if you have young children or animals that like to leap onto furniture.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


So, is Nubuck "full grain" or "split grain"? Or, possibly, neither?


What brand of boots are in the example to the left "Outdoor boots covered in Nubuc and rubber"? They look as though they'd be very comfortable and durable.


Does nubuck get ruined if it gets wet?


can nubuck leather shoes be used in the rainy season?


i bought a suede/nubuck pair of boots in a brown color and they have this piece of the leather -- a flap you could call it -- that is held by straps and then buckled at the side. One shoe's flap looks more worn than the other. It's softer and seems more stretched or thin than the other which looks unworn.

I want to make the one that looks more unworn look like the one with the more worn effect, if that makes sense. Anyone have any ideas?


Is there a synthetic alternative to nubuck?


Help! My well-meaning cobbler, asked to restore the heels, also polished my beautiful dust-gray nubuck boots--with shiny black polish. Can I sand them? Thanks for any advice.


Thank you for this great article. I was thinking about getting the new Kipling Bagel handbag in nubuck online but just wasn't sure what nubuck leather actually was. This article has made it really clear. Will definititely buy the bag now.


Nubuck leather can be dyed like any other leather. Simply brush the leather lightly with a suede brush after the dye has dried. As stated elsewhere on the website, do not use shoe polish on it later as the wax in the polish will flatten the leather's nap and you'll lose it's soft feel.


Hi I have started a new baseball glove company & was thinking about using nubuck. My concerns were will it hold up to a 100mph fastball & just the every day beating that I baseball glove goes through. What I mean is being thrown around in the dirt. My second ? is what if I only used nubuck in the pocket of the glove & a regular cowhide on the rest of the glove would that hold up to the impact of a baseball. Thank you for your time.


I see that Nubeck comes in different colors. I would like to dye a pair of tan shoes that I bought recently. Is there any way I can do this?


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