Several versatile new synthetic suedes have hit the automotive interiors market in the past five years. Soft, tough, and absorbent, Alcantara, Escaine, Dinamica, and Ultrasuede are rapidly replacing real leather interiors on high end vehicles.
These are all different types of microsuede, a fabric that, in spite of being more durable and stain resistant than real suede, is still very delicate. Because it can be easy to damage it requires special cleaning products and techniques to maintain its supple texture and rich appearance. Microsuedes are made of microfiber fibers which are very closely woven together to make it thick and soft to the touch. Over time, that thickness leaves it predisposed to matting, while its pliability makes it susceptible to crushing and flattening.
Originally introduced for use in high-end vehicles only, the first detailers to encounter microsuede had a lot at stake. Not willing to take any chances at ruining the plush new fabric in a Porsche 911, detailers found many of the traditional cleaning products, particularly those with strong chemicals, unacceptable.
Although water seemed to be the safest solution, water alone didn’t effectively clean areas like the steering wheel and gear shifter that are exposed to a lot of hand contact. As the material has become more mainstream, many luxury vehicles’ consoles, c-panels, and headliners are also wrapped in colorful microsuede. These hard, curvy surfaces are even harder to clean thoroughly.
The other problem is microsuede’s water absorbency. Detailers have to be careful not to oversaturate the area by spraying it with too much cleaning solution. The best course of action is to spray a microfiber towel with a microsuede specific cleaner and then gently wipe the area. Do not scrub or rub it very hard, or the fibers tend to ball up. Instead, “fluff” it using a brush with soft horsehair bristles to untangle any matted fibers.
Microsuede gives a luxury vehicle a fine, sophisticated feel, but if you clean it using a formula that is too strong, you can easily damage the material so that it is just the opposite. Poorly cleaned microsuede may become stiff and slick or rough and clumpy, a result that is impossible to undo.