How To Clean Car Seats
A car is its owner’s pride, but only if its exterior, as well as the interior, is in top shape. There are so many factors that can make the car’s interior dirty.
When people sit inside, they might be sweaty or even sick e.g., they might cough or sneeze, or may get injured. Or they might return from a beach carrying a lot of sand with them. Plus, dust and other types of debris may also make their way inside through small gaps.
Published: June 7, 2022.
On This Page:
- Intro to Car Seats Cleaning
- How to Clean Leather Car Seats
- How to Clean Suede Car Seats
- How to Clean Vinyl Car Seats
- How to Clean Fabric Car Seats
- Few Final Words
Intro to Car Seats Cleaning
Dirty car exterior and especially interior can make passengers sick, physically as well as mentally. Especially the car seats are the components that come in direct contact with the passengers (who include kids and pets too) and keeping them clean is a prime duty of the car owner for the health and safety of himself, his family, and friends who might travel in their car.
One need not send their car every time to a service center to get the seats clean. Sometimes, even they can clean them on their own to save the hassle and money.
Car seats are made from a variety of materials and the cleaning method that applies to one material can’t necessarily be applied to another. It’s a good idea to consult the car manual before buying any cleaning product and other materials, as the manual can recommend just the right products and also instruct about which products to avoid.
How to Clean Leather Car Seats?
There are so many methods and products available for car leather seat cleaning.
Before starting the clean-up of leather car seats, one should remember to vacuum the seats to remove any loose dirt, especially from crevices.
Some experts recommend even using an air compressor as it will help blow out any stubborn dirt particles in hard-to-access areas.
Check for Perforations or Other Damage
Before using any cleaner, one should check if the leather has any damage such as holes, tears, cracks, etc., or perforations. One should keep in mind to use any liquid in as small quantity as possible if the leather has perforations or other damage.
The cleaning product can make its way inside the seat and damage the foam inside. If one finds such perforations on the seat, they should not spray the cleaner directly on the leather but should take it on a bristle brush and brush it on the leather.
After that, they should wipe them with a microfiber cloth. Still, if the cleaner accidentally seeps in, they should immediately dry it with a hairdryer and a clean cloth.
Test the Product
Before using any cleaning product, whether it’s commercial or homemade, one should test it on a small hidden area first and make sure it’s harmless for the leather seat. Or else, they should try another product. After making this sure, they can start the clean-up.
Leather-cleaning Wipes and Other Commercial Products
For clean-up, the first option is leather cleaning wipes with which one can wipe leather seats. Leather cleaning solutions and leather conditioners are also available.
One can even use a protectant to make it easier to remove future stains.
Homemade Cleaning Products
Soaps: The car owner can even use a soft, damp cloth dipped in a mild soap to clean the leather and then rinse the seats with another clean damp cloth until all the cleaner or soap is removed, and then buff with a dry cloth.
The soap to be used can be castile soap or liquid dish soap (1 part), which should be mixed with warm water (5 parts).
Avoid Excess Soap and Water: As such, one should not use too much soapy water as it could pool in the seams and get absorbed in the cushion below. It can even stain the leather.
Avoid Bleach & Ammonia-based Products: Bleach or ammonia-based leather cleaners should be avoided as they can damage the seats.
Vinegar: Another DIY cleaning mixture can be made from ½ cup of olive oil and ¼ cup of vinegar. This should be sprayed on the seat, let sit for 5 minutes, and then wiped.
Nail Polish Remover/Rubbing Alcohol: One can also use nail polish remover or rubbing alcohol to clean leather car seats. They just have to dip a cotton ball in the nail polish remover or alcohol and blot the stain with it.
Once the stain is removed, they can clean the alcohol or nail paint remover with a mixture of dish soap and warm water.
Non-gel Toothpaste: Another alternative is non-gel toothpaste. One has to dab a bit of it on the stain and then gently scrub the stain with a toothbrush.
Lemon Juice: One can use a paste made with lemon juice and cream of tartar in equal proportions. They should apply this paste to the stain and let it sit for around 30 minutes and then wipe it with a damp sponge.
One has to keep in mind that this paste has a bleaching effect and hence should be used only on light-colored seats. This paste is especially effective on the stains of fruit juice and red wine.
Note: If the car owner takes their pets for a ride, they are better off avoiding a citrus-based cleaner such as the above-mentioned one, since citruses are toxic to many pets. Or else, they should carefully wipe it thoroughly with a damp cloth.
Baking Soda: Baking soda also does the job of cleaning leather car seats well, especially oil and grease stains. One has to sprinkle the baking soda on the stains and rub it with a damp cloth. Let sit for a few hours or overnight.
The soda will soak up the oil. Then one has to wipe off the powder with a soft cloth. The residue should be removed with another damp cloth and then should be dried with a towel.
Apply Leather Conditioner
Once the clean-up is over, one should apply a leather conditioner to the seats. The conditioner should be high-quality, water-based and with neutral pH. It should not contain waxes, silicone, or petroleum distillates.
Such a high-quality conditioner may contain sunscreen that protects seats from fading and cracking. It replenishes the natural oils in the leather. It also makes the leather resistant to future stains and offers it a beautiful shimmer.
Cheap leather conditioners may get clung to the leather and offer it a greasy finish.
A water-based conditioner can even act as a cleaning agent if used in almost the same way, except that one should apply it with a microfiber cloth, let sit for ten minutes and then blot and remove any excess product with another clean microfiber towel.
Some experts say that even one part of vinegar mixed with two parts of flaxseed oil or linseed oil can act as a good conditioner, whereas some other experts say that only coconut oil (or olive oil) can serve as a mild conditioner. One has to just apply it in small quantities and rub it with a clean, dry cloth.
But car owners should use conditioners sparingly. Just because it makes the seats shine, they should not use it after every clean-up. It’s perfect to use it once a quarter.
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Let the Clean-up Get Set
According to experts, one should let the clean-up get set. This means that one should not clean and condition their car seats right before starting a long road trip. They should let the car air dry for a minimum of one hour after the clean-up, but 3-4 hours would be ideal.
What if Stains Come Back?
If a car owner finds that a combination of leather cleaner and conditioner was not effective on their car seats, what should they do?
They need not worry, as there are many alternatives they can use, for example.
- Aerosol hairspray can remove permanent marker spots,
- A sprinkle of baking soda can obliterate grease stains,
How to Clean Suede Car Seats?
Suede needs a little more finesse while cleaning them as it cannot withstand too much water.
Suede Brush and Suede Eraser
Instead of vacuuming first, suede seats should be cleaned with a suede brush. Once the car owner does this, they should check for any stains and use a suede eraser to deal with the stains.
They should work in a swirling motion to remove the stains and then brush off the particles as the eraser disintegrates.
Then they should brush the seat once more to remove the eraser particles. If that doesn’t work, they should use a slightly damp cloth. They should not press too deep into the suede; otherwise, the stain will be pushed in further and will be trapped there.
How to Clean Vinyl Car Seats?
Just like leather car seats, vinyl car seats are likely to crack or be damaged in other ways if not cared for properly and regularly.
Check Car Manual
To make sure what’s right for one’s vinyl car seats and what’s not, one should first check their car manual regarding any instructions about how to maintain the seats.
Every vinyl seat is slightly different from the others. The care and maintenance instructions provided by the manufacturer will provide special tips and tricks that will work for one’s specific vinyl seat.
Avoid Certain Products
One should also remember that although vinyl seats are pretty heavy-duty and so, are widely used in cars, boats and even furniture, they can still be damaged by some cleaning agents. For example, undiluted bleach is too alkaline to use on vinyl.
Cleaning one’s vinyl seats regularly with bleach will eventually cause them to break down. Also cleaning solutions containing the following ingredients should be avoided:
- Acidic cleaners
- Silicone oils
- Dry cleaning fluids
- Concentrated detergents
- Petroleum distillates
Clean Removable Cushions Separately
If one’s vinyl seats include removable cushions, they should first remove them before starting the clean-up. They should clean the cushions separately. This will help them to clean the underside and back of the seats better. After cleaning the cushions, one should store them in a cool, dry room and not in a humid place to avoid mold buildup.
Avoid Sharp, Abrasive Products
One should also remember to clean vinyl car seats only with soft sponges, soft-bristled brushes, and dish cloths. Sharp cleaning tools, steel wool, or similar abrasive implements can cause vinyl seats to tear.
Before starting cleaning vinyl car seats too, one should first vacuum them to remove any loose dirt, debris, hair, etc.
If one skips this task, there is a risk of the dirt getting deep into the seats and staying there permanently, making the seats look no longer beautiful and comfortable.
Use Distilled Water
To start the clean-up, one should consider cleaning vinyl car seats with distilled water. They just have to dip a cloth or sponge in distilled water and gently wipe the seats as required.
Then they should dry them with another cloth or sponge. Distilled water is the safest cleaning agent for vinyl car seats.
Commercial Cleaner or Homemade Products
If plain water doesn’t do the job, one may want to use cleaning agents. In that case, one can either buy one from a shop or make their own. A homemade cleaner is fine if the stains are light.
Laundry Detergent: Among the homemade cleaners, the first option is a mixture of some warm water and a capful of laundry detergent. This is to be sprayed on the seats through a spray bottle.
Interior Brush: Most of the time, one can use a cloth to clean the dirt off. However, if the seats are particularly filthy, one should use an interior brush in the following steps:
Firstly, one should try a soft-bristled brush and the cleaning solution chosen on a hidden corner of the seat to check if both of them don’t cause the seat any damage. This will also let one know if the brush is too tough and causes any tears or rips.
Once the car owner confirms that the brush and cleaner are safe for the seats’ material, they can spray the solution on the seats in sections, and work the sections with the brush.
They should exert slightly more pressure or a slightly stiffer brush on tougher stains, although they should not go too hard as it can damage the vinyl.
Next, they should wipe the vinyl with a damp cloth to remove any remaining product.
Lastly, they should dry off the seats using a dry cloth. This will also remove any lingering grease or dirt.
Baking Soda: Another cleaning agent alternative to clean vinyl car seats is a paste made of a small quantity of baking soda, a dash of washing liquid, and a few drops of water. A thick layer of this paste should be applied over the stain, left for a few minutes, and then gently scrubbed off with a brush.
Bleach for Old Seats: If one’s vinyl car seats are old and need some extra care, they can revive them with a mixture of bleach and water in a 1:1 ratio, applying it with a brush or cloth. However, one should be aware of the risks that come with bleach. They shouldn’t forget to try the mixture on the underside of the seat to check if it has any bad effects.
Ammonia for Discolored Seats: For discolored vinyl car seats, one can use a solution of one tablespoon of ammonia, ¼ cup of hydrogen peroxide, and ¾ cup of water. This mixture too should be applied with a cloth or soft brush and used to clean carefully until one sees any improvement.
Avoid Direct Sunlight
One should remember to keep their vinyl car seats out of direct sunlight. The excessive temperature of direct sunlight may dissolve the fabric adhesive that binds them and vinyl seats may crack.
One should take care to park their car in various spots to prevent the sun from falling on the same spots. Keeping the vinyl seats covered can prevent direct sunlight from hitting them.
One should clean any stains or grime on vinyl car seats as early as possible once they notice them. The longer the stain sits, the tougher it will be to clean.
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How to Clean Mildew Stains from Vinyl Car Seats?
Vinyl is a popular material for car seats because it’s durable, easy to clean, and looks stylish. However, it has a major disadvantage in that it’s susceptible to mildew growth, especially when it’s exposed continuously to moisture.
Mildew can at times be hard to remove, but one can still remove it with the following methods.
One should first mix a little dishwashing liquid in warm water in a bucket. Most mildew stains are removed with this mixture.
Then they should dip a soft cotton cloth or sponge in this mixture and wipe the vinyl seats with mildew stains on them with the cloth or sponge.
Now they should take another clean cotton cloth or sponge and another bucket of clean water, dip the cloth or sponge in the clean water and rinse the vinyl surface with it.
If the mildew stains are tougher, they can mix 3 tablespoons of white vinegar, 1 teaspoon of borax powder, and 2 cups of hot water and fill it in a spray bottle. They should shake it well and spray it over the tough mildew stains.
They should allow the mixture to sit on the surface for around half an hour and then should wipe it clean with a soft cotton cloth.
Preventing Future Mildew Stains
This can be done by mixing one part of white vinegar and 3 parts of water and treating the area with it. This should be done regularly to make the vinyl surface mildew-resistant.
How to Clean Fabric Car Seats?
One should know what kind of fabric has been used for their car seats. The most common fabric used to make car upholstery is nylon since it’s durable. However, it’s very porous too and easily absorbs spills.
Another material is polyester which looks like microfiber or microsuede and its soft texture appears like suede leather and feels great.
However, this one too is harder to clean. For cleaning cloth car seats, one can vacuum the seats, use a cloth- or fabric-cleaning product, scrub the stain with a brush, wipe away excess water and foams with a towel and let dry.
Vacuuming is necessary to remove all dirt, debris, pet hair, and crumbs before one moves on to stain removal. They should make sure to vacuum into the seams.
They can separate the seams with their fingers and stick the vacuum’s nozzle inside the seams to pull out any loose debris. One should prefer a vacuum that comes with a crevice tool and upholstery brush.
A crevice tool can be used to reach between the seat and back, whereas an upholstery brush helps one lift the fibers of the fabric.
Before one starts overall cleaning the seats, it’s a good idea to first pre-treat any stains.
For this, one can use a little upholstery cleaner on mud, grease, and, food and drink stains, and work it into the cloth with a scrub brush. They should allow it to stay for a minimum of 15 minutes before they start the overall clean-up.
Bleach for Dye-based Stains
If the stains are dye-based, one should lightly wet the stained area. Then they should make a paste of dry oxygen-based bleach and a few drops of water, and spread it over the stain.
They should allow it to stay for a minimum of one hour. They should vacuum away the powder and repeat as required.
To start an overall cleaning, the cloth-cleaning product should be sprayed on the fabric just to cover it lightly. One should make sure not to spray the cleaner so much that the area gets saturated because the excess cleaner can cause mold and odor on the cushion beneath the cloth.
One can spray the cleaner over the entire seat or work only a small area at a time. Once they spray the cleaner, they should immediately brush that area with a soft or medium stiff interior brush.
While cleaning the entire seat together, one should work every inch of the seat, starting from the top so any dirty solution drips down. They should periodically clean the brush as it’s soiled, in a bucket of clean water and shake it to remove excess water.
Then they should wipe away dirty suds using a clean microfiber towel. Massaging the cloth with this towel will bring dirt to the surface and also will lift any matted fibers. This should be done before it dries because drying will push the dirt back into the seat.
All the steps of spraying, massaging, and wiping should be repeated until the seats become clean. The spray should be light so as not to saturate the area. 3 to 6 coats may be needed for the clean-up.
Vacuum Again after Cleaning
After the clean-up is over, one should vacuum the seats again to help dry up any wet saturation and dry up the cloth. The seats should be allowed to dry up completely before driving the car again.
This may take around 2-3 hours. To speed up drying, one can place a large fan inside the car blowing towards the seats or park the car in the sunniest spot. Still, if the seats feel damp, one can place a small can of moisture-absorbing crystals in the car to soak up the moisture.
Carpet Cleaner for Set Stains
If the stain is set in, one can use a carpet cleaner. This cleaner is to be sprayed on any stains and brushed with a medium-stiff brush. If the stain is severe, more pressure should be applied. Then with an absorbent cloth, it should be blotted to dry.
Laundry Detergent: Another alternative for cleaning fabric car seats is to use a laundry detergent which one should mix with hot water and spray it on the seats or dampen the seats with the mixture with a sponge.
To rinse the seats, they should wet a microfiber towel with cold water, squeeze it to remove excess water, and scrub the seat to remove the detergent and dirt.
Vinegar: Another alternative is a mixture of one cup or 250 ml of white distilled vinegar, a gallon or 4 liters of hot water, and a few drops of dish soap.
This mixture should be dabbed on the seats and should be cleaned with a brush. The area should be rinsed with a microfiber towel wetted with clean water.
Baking Soda: Still another mixture to clean cloth car seats is ¼ cup or 60 ml of baking soda and 1 cup or 250 ml of warm water. The car owner should spread this mixture into a light layer on the seats and work on stains with a toothbrush.
This mixture can remove really tough stains. For really difficult stains, the mixture should be left for 30 minutes. Then one should blot away the stain with a clean cloth.
Club Soda: Even club soda can be used to remove stains on cloth car seats. Club soda is especially good for removing vomit stains. One should spray a light layer of club soda on stains and remove them with a brush.
One should repeat as required making sure to wipe the excess as it’s brought to the surface.
How to Keep Fabric Car Seats Clean for Longer?
Towel for Protection: It’s a good idea to keep a towel inserted over the seat for the times when one eats in the car. The towel will protect the seats from any spills.
Detailing a car is perhaps the best way to deep clean the car’s interior and upholstery. The more the car owner details their car, the cleaner and in better condition their car seats will be.
It’s recommended to detail the car every few months depending on how dirty it becomes throughout the year.
Vacuum Often: As a preventive measure, car owners should vacuum their cars often. This will prevent dirt and debris from sticking to the upholstery. One should consider getting their car vacuumed every one or two weeks, depending on the amount of dirt.
Clean Immediately: Car owners should also clean spills and other stains as soon as they find them to avoid getting them stuck to the cloth seats.
Especially, stains like grease, blood, or mud should be immediately cleaned. For this, one should use a cloth or towel to soak up the dirt. Also, if one finds something like makeup, food, or mud on the seats, they should clean it using a fabric cleaner as soon as they get home.
Use Fabric Protector: One can consider using a spray-on fabric protector to help stop dirt and stain from settling into the fabric. This way the clean-up will be a lot easier the next time.
Using a Steam Cleaner
Steam cleaners are wonderful for removing molds and bacteria (which in turn remove odors too).
A steam cleaner looks like a regular vacuum cleaner but applies steam to a surface.
After the user applies the steam, they can rub the stains with a microfiber cloth. They should apply more steam if the stain remains. Once the stain is removed, they can clean the moisture with a clean microfiber cloth and let the seats air-dry.
Few Final Words
Cleaning one’s car seats regularly not only keeps them looking good but also prolongs their life and makes rides enjoyable for the driver as well as other passengers.
It’s also necessary for everyone’s health. One just has to spare a few hours from time to time to perform the deep clean-up and feel proud to own a clean car. Or one may take the car to the professional car wash and let them take care of the car ...