How to Clean Car Seats: A Complete Guide

man vacuuming the crevices in car seats

Car seats get dirty over time. If you provide ride-sharing services or otherwise frequently have passengers, the chances of your car interior getting dirty are even greater. Knowing how to clean car seats the right way can help you get rid of any messes and stains, keep your car looking new, and eliminate lingering odors. Whether you want to keep your car seats consistently clean, think they need a deep clean, or are preparing to keep your car in long-term storage, the following guide to how to clean car seats will cover the proper steps for any situation.

How to Clean Car Seats with Stains

Spills can take place at any time, creating a mess and potentially leaving an unsightly stain in your car interior. If you want to keep your car clean and effectively remove any stains that have built up in the seating, you can use common household products to thoroughly clean your dirty car seats.

However, it’s important to use the right cleaning products and methods based on your car seats’ material. Follow these steps for fabric, leather, or vinyl seats.

How to Clean Fabric Car Seats

If your car has fabric seats or cloth seats, here are some steps for how to clean car seats’ fabric yourself:

Method #1: Club Soda

You can use club soda to clean fabric car seats by lightly spraying it onto the problem area and using a brush to remove the stain. You can then use a microfiber towel to remove the soda.

Method #2: Vinegar, Soap, and Water Mixture

A vinegar mixture can also clean fabric car seats. Make this mixture by combining a cup of vinegar, a gallon of hot water, and a few drops of dish soap in a bucket or other container.

Use a microfiber clean-cloth or sponge to gently apply the mixture to the stain; be careful to avoid hard scrubbing. Use a brush to rub the stain and rinse the seat with clean water.

Method #3: Baking Soda

Create a baking soda solution by mixing a cup of warm water with 1/4 cup of baking soda. Use a toothbrush to spread the mixture onto the stained area and gently rub it in. For stains requiring more thorough cleaning, you can let the mixture sit for around half an hour before wiping it away with a dry cloth.

Method #4: Laundry Detergent

Laundry detergent is another good solution if nothing else is available to you. Simply mix the detergent with hot water and apply it to stains. You can use a microfiber cloth and cold water to scrub the stain and remove the mixture.

Pro Tip:

Laundry detergent can gently clean a lot of surfaces, even outdoor furniture. Consider having a lemon-scented or unscented bottle on hand as an all-purpose cleaner.

How to Clean Leather Car Seats

Leather car seats require more extensive care than what you would provide for fabric car seats because of the high-quality material used in these seats. There are specialty leather cleaners that can treat the surface without interacting with the natural material. But if you want to use DIY cleaners, the following are some steps for how to clean car seats made of leather:

Method #1: Alcohol and Nail Polish Remover

Apply some rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover to the problem area on your leather seats. Then, use a cotton ball soaked with alcohol to blot the stain, which should gradually remove the stain. After you’ve successfully removed any stains on the car seat, you can then use warm water and soap to clean the alcohol off the seat.

Method #2: Lemon Juice and Cream of Tartar Paste

You can use a paste made with a combination of cream of tartar and lemon juice. Simply mix the two together in equal amounts into a thick paste and apply it to the stain. Let the solution sit on the stain for around half an hour, after which you can use a wet cloth or sponge to remove it. Keep in mind that this paste will bleach some seats, making it appropriate for light-colored car seats.

Method #3: Vinegar and Water Mixture

Like you might do with fabric car seats, you can also use the vinegar, soap, and water mixture on leather seats.

How to Clean Vinyl Upholstery Car Seats

If you want to know how to clean car seats made with vinyl upholstery, you can simply use an all-purpose household cleaner to spray over any stains or messes and let it air dry.

This should be sufficient for addressing most problem areas in these types of car seats. If you have white vinyl upholstery, consider using a car upholstery cleaner meant for light material.

How to Deep Clean Car Seats

hand wiping a newly cleaned car seat dry with a microfiber cloth

Knowing how to clean car seats is one thing, but it’s also important to know how to deep clean car seats if there’s accumulated grime. You can take the following steps to perform a deeper clean and ensure that your seats and surrounding areas are in prime condition on a consistent basis:

1. Vacuum the Seats

Begin by vacuuming your car seats. Using a vacuum cleaner will help dislodge any contaminants and particles from the nooks and crannies in your seats, including any dirt, sand, food, hair, or fur that might be present, among other debris. To get to those hard-to-reach spaces, you can also use a hose attachment. Also, vacuum underneath your seats and in between, including cup holders and other crevices.

2. Shampoo the Car Seats

Use shampoo to get rid of dirt and other types of buildup such as chocolate, spilled drinks, oil, blood, or other substances. Go with organic shampoo, which doesn’t contain any potentially damaging chemicals that might otherwise eat away at the car seats.

3. Thoroughly Wash the Car Seats

Using any of the previously described methods depending on the types of car seats you have, apply a car cleaning solution of your choice and thoroughly scrub and remove any stains and messes from your seats.

Pro Tip:

Deep clean your car seats on a regular basis to make the process easier each time. It can also keep your car looking and smelling its best. Create a schedule for a time to clean both the exterior and interior of your car.

Car Seat Cleaning Hacks

Keeping in mind some of the conventional steps for how to clean car seats, the following are some car seat cleaning hacks to help get the job done right:

Keep a Squeegee in the Car When Driving with Pets

Whenever your pets are on the road with you, it can be a good time. But they’re also likely to leave a mess in the form of clumps of fur. You can mitigate this problem by keeping a spray bottle with plain water in the car, which you can use to spray the seats lightly. You can then use a squeegee to scrub the upholstery and lift the pet fur right off.

Use Cupcake Liners in Your Cupholders

After cleaning your cupholders, place cupcake liners in them, which are likely to be a perfect fit. These can contain any debris and gunk and make it easy to get rid of. Also, it can keep the spaces between your seats clean.

Consider Seat Covers

Seat covers can shield your car seat’s upholstery from stains, pet hair, and dirt. If you want to have clean seats but spend less time cleaning them, look for seat covers that can be removed and cleaned in your laundry machine.

Roll Those Seats Forward

The easiest way to clean beneath your car seats is to roll your seats forward, which will enable you to get to those areas that you might otherwise have a hard time reaching. You can then vacuum the space and remove any objects that might have slipped under the seat. These include water bottles, food crumbs, bags, and much more.

Pro Tip:

Be careful with hacks that replace specialty materials with cheap or odd alternatives. One leather care “hack” is using olive oil instead of leather oil, but it’s only a temporary fix and can leave lingering odors. Look like lanolin-based products and approved oils to protect real leather.

Remember How to Clean Car Seats to Keep Your Car in Great Condition

The more you practice these steps for how to clean car seats, the more you’ll remember them and routinely use them to maintain your car’s interior. Try to schedule regular cleaning for your car. This will help you avoid the hassle of having to deal with dried stains and other messes. If you’re cleaning your car for winter storage, check out more tips for winterizing your lawn mower and storing your motorcycle.

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