9 Car Seats Cleaning Tips for Cloth or Leather

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Car upholstery gets dirty over time. Knowing how to clean car seats like a pro can save you a lot of money on trips to the car wash.

How often should you clean a car seat?

It depends on your lifestyle. If you work from home, don’t go out a lot, and don’t spill things on your car seats, you may only need a good car cleaning once every couple of months – or longer.

On the other hand, if you have kids or messy adults, you probably should clean it at least once a month. This will remove dirt, dust and crumbs that accumulate over time.

What are the best cleaners for car seats?

Hand wiping car seat with orange cloth

There are many cleaning products on the market that claim to be the best stain remover for car seats. But you don’t need to buy any special upholstery cleaner. You can clean car seats with products you probably already have around your home. You can get most any stain out with one or all of these:

  • Dish soap
  • Baking soda
  • Alcohol
  • Club soda
  • Vinegar

After the basic tips, we’ll go over some specific types of tough stains and your best bets for getting those dirty seats clean.

5 ways to clean car seats

1. Vacuum first

The first step should always be to vacuum the seats, whether they are leather or cloth. This will remove any loose dirt, dust or debris that could potentially scratch the upholstery as you clean it. This is especially helpful for getting debris out of crevices.

You probably want to use a brush attachment with the vacuum if you have cloth seats. The brush dislodges the dirt, leaving behind clean fabric. You’ll also want a simple wand attachment to go over the crevices.

Remember to remove the floor mats from the car and vacuum the floor under them. Vacuum the mats separately.

And sometimes, this is all you need to do to keep a car seat clean.

2. How to Remove Stains

For cloth seats, dilute some dish soap or laundry detergent with water. This is all you need for many stains and visible dirt. If you want to be sure your cleaning solution won’t damage your seats, test it in an inconspicuous area first to make sure it won’t damage the fabric.

Dip a microfiber cloth into your dish soap and water mixture. Wring it out a little so it’s only damp. You don’t want to get the fabric so wet that it takes a long time to dry. Too much water can cause the fabric to shrink or stretch. It can also promote the growth of mold and mildew. This is especially important with leather.

Wipe any visible dirt with your cloth. When cleaning, focus on one small section at a time and use a damp cloth rather than soaking the upholstery. Once you’re done, dip your cloth in clean water and go over the area again to remove all traces of soap. Go over it with a towel to soak up excess moisture and speed up the process of air drying.

You may have to scrub stains gently. Once you’ve removed them, you can wash the rest of it with this mixture. But if it looks good, you can also decide to skip this step.

Sometimes a spot cleaning is all your car seats need. If you’re happy with how the seats look at this point, just let the car to air dry and you’re done. If on the other hand you have stains that didn’t come out…

3. Club soda for deep cleaning cloth car seats

Club soda is great as a stain treatment for fabric upholstery. Dip a microfiber cloth in it, leaving it a little bit wetter than the damp cloth you used with the dish soap.

Instead of scrubbing, you want to blot the cloth on the stain. Press it against the stain and hold it for a few seconds. This helps the soda penetrate the cloth and lift the stain. Do this repeatedly until the stain is gone or until it’s no longer improving.

You can also use a spray bottle to spritz the soda onto stains. Give it a moment and then start dabbing with your cloth. Towel up any excess moisture and allow the cloth to dry.

You can also scrub gently with a brush (toothbrush will work, as will a shoe cleaning brush) to see if that gets more of the stain out.

4. Alcohol for vinyl or leather seats

If you have vinyl or leather seats, you should dip a cotton ball in alcohol and dab it against the stain for a few seconds. Once this has begun to lift the stain, you can switch to dish soap and water to completely remove it.

5. Still got stains? Try baking soda

Make a paste by mixing warm water into a cup of baking soda until you get a paste consistency. Put a thin layer on the stain and use a toothbrush to gently scrub it away.

You may need to let the paste sit on the stain for up to 20 minutes if it’s a difficult one. That lets the baking soda soak in and do its work.

And yes, baking soda is safe for leather, vinyl or cloth. It’s especially good on stains that are causing odors, because it’s so good at neutralizing a bad smell.

6. Add vinegar to it

Vinegar adds safe cleaning oomph to other mixtures. You can add a little vinegar to your dish soap and water mixture or your baking soda paste. Sometimes it will cut through stains the others can’t get on their own.

7. Steam clean your car upholstery

If none of these did the trick, there’s one more option for fabric car seats. You can steam clean them to remove dirt and stains. It’s very easy to do this.

First, vacuum the seats to remove any loose dirt. Then, fill a steam cleaner with water and add a few drops of mild detergent like dish soap.

Turn on the steamer and hold it over the fabric for a few seconds. Move it around to make sure all areas are covered. Once you’re done steaming, vacuum the seats again to remove any residual moisture.

8. Cleaning bad stains like spilled food or vomit?

Kids throw up in cars. Sometimes so do adults. And most people eat in cars, and that leads to spills. How do you clean up visible stinky stain like this?

The baking soda paste from #5 is your best bet. Baking soda absorbs odors as well as visible dirt, making it a great choice for this kind of stain.

9. Crayons and other greasy stains

If it’s just crayon marks, the dish soap and water mixture may do the trick. If it’s melted crayon that’s sunk into cloth or is badly stuck to leather or vinyl, then you need something else.

Put some ice in a plastic bag and hold it against the melted crayon. This will harden it, making it easier to chip off. If any traces remain, use dish soap and water to remove them.

If that doesn’t work, you can also use a small amount of WD-40, and yes this is safe for leather, vinyl and fabric upholstery. Once this loosens the crayon and you can remove it, clean the area with dish soap and water to remove traces of the WD-40.