- How to Clean Car Upholstery:The Simplified ApproachCarpeting, Fabric, Cloth, Velour, Vinyl
- Start With the Basics and Move Forward
- First Things First…
- How to Clean Car Upholstery:What Would Darren Do (WWDD)
- Laying Down the Rules: How to Clean Car UpholsteryFabric, Carpeting, Velour, Cloth, Vinyl
- How to Clean Car Upholstery Made Simple
- How To Clean Car Upholstery:Detail Specific Car Upholstery Cleaners
- How To Clean Car Upholstery:Ready to Use (RTU) Car Upholstery Cleaners
- How to Clean Car Upholstery: Steps for professional results
- Cleaning and Conditioning Plastic, Vinyl, and Leather
- Additional How to Clean Car Upholstery Tips
- How to Clean Car Upholstery Conclusion
- Clever tips for a tidy family car
- Cover it up!
- Protect your car interior
- Top tips for a cleaner family car
- Safety first = jackets off in the car!
- How to clean car seats
- Car Seat Cleaning Ingredients
- How to Clean Your Car Seats
- Uncleanable Situations
- Safe Cleaning Methods
- Unsafe Cleaning Methods
- Natural Cleaners?
- How to clean cloth car seats | Autoblog Details
- How To Clean Your Car Seats – The Complete DIY Guide
- How To Clean Cloth Car Seats?
- How To Clean Leather Car Seats?
- How To Clean Vinyl Car Seats?
- Final Words
- How to Clean Car Seats
- How to clean a child car seat
- Six steps to clean your child car seat
How to Clean Car Upholstery:The Simplified ApproachCarpeting, Fabric, Cloth, Velour, Vinyl
Like many areas of car care and auto detailing, how to clean car upholstery is an area filled with so many different opinions and strategies that many people like yourself feel overwhelmed at the very thought.
So day after day goes by and the only attention your car’s upholstery ever gets in the best of circumstances is a quick vacuum job. But vacuuming your car’s upholstery is only going to go so far in removing dirt that will accumulate within your car’s interior.
Eventually you will need to find some form of upholstery cleaner, get personal with the interior of your car, and do some scrubbing!
Start With the Basics and Move Forward
Looking into the interior of any car will quickly reveal the endless materials, fabrics, and surfaces that make up any car interior. Upon first glance, how to clean car upholstery within your car is an overwhelming proposition for most people.
Despite your immediate fears and anxiety, cleaning the inside of your car is far easier and simpler than your family, friends, and the neighborhood know-it-all has lead you to believe. The industry itself would have you believe that how to clean car upholstery you would need about 10 different cleaners. One specialized cleaner after another.
The many materials found within your cars interior
First Things First…
Unless your car is excessively dirty, (like junk yard dirty. The kind of filth where you feel the need to soak in a bath of bleach after a short ride) most of you can start by throwing out all the many ideas and opinions that are spinning around in your head:
- No hot water carpet extractors needed here.
- No high-pressure water systems needed.
- No complicated methods or overly specialized cleaning solutions.
Next, with the attempt to simplify things by breaking them down to smaller, doable tasks, I will limit this how to clean car upholstery to include the basic materials in most cars:
- Cloth/velour fabric
- Vinyl and rubber
- Plastic lined interiors; usually work trucks only.
How to Clean Car Upholstery:
What Would Darren Do (WWDD)
Today’s world is a world of free and endless information.
This is both the good news and the bad news. Many people like yourself become stuck due to way too many opinions and you find yourself frozen in anxiety trying to figure out which opinion to follow.
For this reason many of my long term followers that trust my decades of experience simple want to know what I would do. So I will start there if you think you are one of those people.
Car Upholstery Cleaner
Simple Green 13005CT Industrial Cleaner and Degreaser, Concentrated, 127.8 Fl Oz, Pack of 1
- Concentrate (this means you can custom blend to suit your needs)
- Non-caustic, environmentally safe
- Safe for you, safe for your upholstery, safe for the environmental
- An trusted all-purpose cleaner that has endless uses when it comes to cleaning and detailing your car
- No sticky residue or rinsing needed (despite bad information, using a cleaner of any kind is not going to suddenly attract dirt to your car upholstery after shampooing it even if you choose and all purpose cleaner like the one above)
Car Upholstery Cleaning Tools
Bar5F Empty Plastic Spray Bottles 32 oz, Chemical Resistant, Professional, Heavy Duty, Fully Adjustable Head Sprayer, Pack of 3 (Grey)
- Professional spray bottles you can use to mix your cleaner concentrate in
- The most ergonomically friendly sprayer heads I have ever used
- Use for any of your car care products
Rubbermaid Commercial Products – Rubbermaid Commercial – Iron-Shaped Handle Scrub Brush, 6″ Brush, Yellow Plastic Handle/Blue Bristles – Sold As 1 Each – Molded handle gives you a powerful grip. – Long-lasting blue polypropylene fill resists stains. – Durable plastic block.
- My go-to car upholstery cleaning brush
- The perfect balance of being soft enough and stiff enough
- Compact handle scrub brush I use most of the time
Nanoskin (85-639) 8.5″ Whitewall/Sidwall Tire Brush, White Nylon
- One of my favorite car upholstery cleaning brushes
- The handle allows for extra leverage when aggressive scrubbing is needed
- Low profile to access tighter spots
Kirkland Signature Ultra High Pile Premium Microfiber Towels (36-Pack)
- My “go-to” auto detailing cloths for both interior and exterior detailing tasks
- Highly absorbent (much better than the traditional 100% cotton cloths)
- Lint free (cotton cloths will leave lots of lint)
Laying Down the Rules:
How to Clean Car Upholstery
Fabric, Carpeting, Velour, Cloth, Vinyl
Allow me to explain: With any topic of life there are basic rules to understand and follow. I believe that it is best to first learn the rules, then you can learn to break the rules; and to every rule there are exceptions.
- Not all carpeting or upholstery is created equal; the tighter the weave, the more difficult it will be to clean. Some materials used on seating surfaces will never come completely clean if they are a very tight weave and have become excessively dirty.
- A tight weave means there is little, to no nap. (nap is a term that defines the amount of fibers that stick up above the bottom material. Like carpeting that has individual fibers that stick up and can be sifted through with your fingers and can be brushed to create patterns.)
- Carpeting or upholstery with no nap, or a closed loop weave like Berber carpeting, is very difficult to clean. Some entry-level (cheaply priced and cheaply made) cars have what is more like felt as carpeting than traditional carpeting; this type of “carpeting” is very difficult to not only vacuum, but shampoo. Due to the lack of separate fibers that stick up individually (like traditional carpeting), debris and dirt will embed and get stuck within these fibers, making it difficult to remove.
- The best way to describe this in a simplified manner is like trying to clean your dirty hand in the open position, with all your fingers representing individual fibers (nap), versus having your hand held in a fist with your fingers tightly closed and the dirt stuck in-between your fingers.
- No upholstery shampoo or cleaner has the ability to clean every form of dirt, and numerous factors will determine your overall results; eg. how long has the dirt been allowed to remain there, what is the composition of dirt, what type of fabric/cloth are you cleaning, the cleaners you have chosen.
- I merely inform and show you what I use professionally to get professional grade results.
- I always, always use a fabric protector after every shampooing/cleaning I do when it comes to cloth or fabrics of every kind.
If you break down the various materials in this particular van from above (Chevy Astro Van), you can see how to clean car upholstery could get confusing, over-whelming, or complicated for many people.
- Seating made using both cloth and vinyl.
- Rubber floor mats.
- Carpet fibers.
- Plastic threshold plates/steps.
People look at all these materials and think that each material is going to require its own special form of upholstery cleaner (and the manufacturers are more than happy to sell you a separate product for each form of material), when in fact a quality all-purpose cleaner does exist and can clean virtually everything in your car’s interior.
So the reality is that learning how to clean car upholstery is much more simple and straight-forward than you have probably thought.
How to Clean Car Upholstery Made Simple
How to clean car upholstery actually has some good news in that it can be a much more simple process than many people believe or have come to accept.
- All-purpose cleaners exist that can replace many of the dedicated cleaners filling the shelves of your personal garage, or the shelves of the retail store all screaming at you to purchase. For example: dedicated car leather cleaners, general upholstery shampoos, carpet shampoos, etc.
- Using the “right” all-purpose cleaner along with some strategic tools will not only provide better results, but make the various upholstery cleaning jobs that much easier.
- Using an all-purpose cleaner will also save you money with the use of a single product that has the versatility of a quality all-purpose cleaner like the one I recommend on this page
How To Clean Car Upholstery:
Detail Specific Car Upholstery Cleaners
Chemical Guys Fabric Clean
Chemical Guys CWS_103 Foaming Citrus Fabric Clean Carpet & Upholstery Shampoo (16oz), 16. Fluid_Ounces
- Massive amounts of positive ratings.
- One of my top picks for a dedicated car upholstery cleaner.
- Concentrate so you only pay for the actual cleaners; more economical.
- Dilute 20:1 (one part cleaner with 20 equal parts water)
- Combines a super biodegradable degreaser with enzymatic odor eliminator.
- No ammonia, bleach, or fabric damaging detergents or solvents.
- A super versatile car upholstery cleaner safe for virtually every material in your car including car leather.
- No sticky residue. No rinsing necessary.
3D Upholstery and Carpet Shampoo
3D Upholstery & Carpet Shampoo | High Foam Stain Remover | Clean & Deoderize | Odor Eliminator | Made in USA | All Natural | No Harmful Chemicals (16oz.)
- One of my professional choice in car upholstery cleaners.
- From shampooing to all-purpose cleaning of your car’s interior.
- This is a concentrate and will take you a long way.
- Professional grade results.
- Smaller container will save on any shipping costs using link above.
- No sticky residue; no rinsing necessary.
How To Clean Car Upholstery:
Ready to Use (RTU) Car Upholstery Cleaners
As I mentioned above, you might realize that you will need limited amounts of upholstery cleaners and the ready to use versions will be a better fit for you. It also allows you to “test” a particular product without over-committing to bigger sizes.
Chemical Guy’s Nonsense Super Cleaner
Chemical Guys SPI_993_16 Nonsense Colorless and Odorless All Surface Cleaner (16 oz)
- For the car enthusiast or driveway detailer looking for the convenience of a ready-to-use car interior cleaner.
- Safe for use on all interior materials.
- Carpeting, velour, leather, vinyl, rubber.
- No sticky residue; no rinsing necessary.
Car Guy’s Super Clean
CarGuys Super Cleaner – Effective All Purpose Cleaner – Best for Leather Vinyl Carpet Upholstery Plastic Rubber and Much More! – 18 oz Kit
- Another quality ready-to-use carpet cleaner that is suitable for use on all your interior cleaning and shampooing.
- Perfect size for the enthusiast or driveway detailer.
- Professional level results.
- No sticky residue; no rinsing necessary.
“How to clean car upholstery is not just about finding the best car upholstery cleaner, but using the perfect tool to achieve professional results”
Casabella Bottle Brush
Casabella Smart Scrub Bottle Brush with Replaceable Head, Lime
- This is the exact bottle brush I use in my professional world.
- More aggressive or stiff than the OXO brush below.
- Since I use this on hard plastics and fabric within cars, I prefer the much stiffer version.
- The softer OXO bottle brush below is not aggressive enough for many of the ways I like to use these bottle brushes when I am using any cleaner or on any surface. (no; I do not use these on car paint, clear instrument panels, or wood veneer within the car, but those are about the only surfaces/materials I don’t use them on)
- Amazing how many hard to reach areas these bottle brushes are ideal for: in-between car seats and center console, trunk carpeting to break loose dry debris, inside cup holders and side compartments, etc.
OXO Good Grips Bottle Brush
- Amazing how many uses I can find for a tool that typically has nothing to do with detailing a car!
- Incredibly versatile tool! You will continue to find more and more uses for it the more you use it.
- From shampooing hard to reach carpeting, to seat hardware, to breaking loose trapped debris in the trunk carpeting as I am vacuuming.
- Any “how to clean car upholstery” must have this amazing tool as part of the “must have” cleaning tools.
Natural Horse-hair Brush
Horsehair Detail Brush – GF-HH
- Winning combination of gentle and aggressive.
- For those tighter, harder to reach areas of the interior. (one of my favorite places to use this brush is when cleaning the carpeting/seat track between the side of the front seats and in between the center console. )
- Handle allows for greater leverage when using in tighter areas.
- The longer handle is also ideal for those tighter areas where a traditional length tooth brush or other cleaning brush will not reach.
Vinyl and Leather Interior Brush
Vinyl & Leather Scrub Brush
- Ideal for more detailed areas of cleaning.
- Winning combination of gentle and aggressive.
- Safe for use on any interior material from leather, carpeting, velour, suede, etc.
- Ideal for detailing/cleaning the tight area between the accent piping and seat cushion found on many of the car seats within many cars.
Dual Purpose Tooth-Brush Style Detail Brush
Chemical Guys ACC_S02 Dual Purpose Toothbrush Style Detailing Brush
- A detail brush I consider a must have.
- Ideal for very tight areas of cleaning.
- Stiff bristles make this a better alternative to traditional tooth-brush type detail brushes.
- Dual sized bristles make this detail brush very versatile.
Wheel Woolies Detail Brush
Wheel Woolies – Boars Hair A5D Detail Brush: 1″ Diameter
- I prefer this boars hair detail brush when I am using any chosen car upholstery cleaner to use wet rather than the other boars hair detail brushes that I keep dry.
- Boars hair is incredibly soft and gentle and only becomes even softer when the hairs become wet.
- I use this when I have to use a cleaner that is going to be required to break loose debris and dirt when detailing intricate parts within the cars interior.
- A must have in my professional detail arsenal.
Boars Hair Vent Dusting Brush
Boars Hair Ultra Soft Car Detail Brushes – Set of 3 – Perfect for Washing Emblems Wheels Interior Upholstery Air Vents, NO METAL Brush Parts
- A must have for dusting your dash vents.
- Ideal set; reserve one for dry and one for getting wet (with one as a back-up) with cleaning solution.
- Use on vents, cup holders, or any intricate parts of the cars interior.
- Boars hair is a very soft bristle.
How to Clean Car Upholstery: Steps for professional results
Use the following bullet point list for specific how to clean car upholstery steps:
- Vacuum any and all areas first! Very important, as the more dry and loose debris/dirt you can remove before getting any area wet, the better.
- Simply spray the pre-vacuumed area with cleaner, scrub with brush aggressively, mop up by hand using a micro-fiber cloth (my preferred cloth of choice).
- Light applications, repeated as often as necessary for desird results is far better and far more realistic than to think you are going to get it all in one, heavily saturated application.
- As a professional, I will have to repeat heavily soiled areas anywhere from 3-6 times based on amount of dirt and material I am cleaning.
- Despite what you have learned in regards to how to clean car upholstery, using a quality car shampoo will not make your car’s upholstery or floor mats now suddenly attract dirt.
- Many manufacturers will disparage their competitors products by claiming to be free from sticky residue or cleaners that attract dirt; simply follow my lead and you will be fine.
- With that said, you need to remain realistic and understand that once your carpeting/cloth/fabric/floor mats have been cleaned, they will still have the ability to get dirty yet again; shampooing them is not a one time only moment and I always recommend a fabric protector after every shampooing.
“Darren, you’ve just shown me how to clean the fabric and carpeting of my cars interior, but what about the rest of my cars materials that isn’t fabric or carpeting”
Cleaning and Conditioning Plastic, Vinyl, and Leather
Within every part of the car detailing and cleaning process, the ripple effect is always at play.
Meaning this; cleaning the fabric and carpeting areas of your car is one thing, but the very next question for most people will be “How to clean the vinyl, leather, and plastic within my car.
For this reason I have added these extra links for dedicated pages for these specific questions.
Cleaning Car Leather and Vinyl
Auto Upholstery Protector
Car Interior Dressing
Additional How to Clean Car Upholstery Tips
Cleaning and shampooing the carpeting/floor mats in your car will be easier than the actual seats in your car. As a rule, most cars contain actual carpeting with individual fibers that is used to cover the floors and used as floor mats in cars. In contrast, car manufacturers use many different types of materials and textures to create the seating surfaces within cars today. These seating surfaces will prove to be much more difficult if you car has been made using these modern, tightly woven, synthetic materials. These seats may look cool, but trying to get them clean can be especially frustrating.
It is important to know that any professional detailer with any amount of experience will confirm this. Some seating materials are simply unable to be cleaned back to original condition due to the way in which they are made and the materials being used to construct these new, hip looking interiors. Seat belts are one such example and represent a problem for any professional detailer.
Below are a few examples based on the type of seating you may find in your car’s interior.
Traditional Weave Car Seating Upholstery
“This shot is taken from a Honda Civic and represents what I call “typical” cloth seating in a car; not overly thick, not specifically tight woven either.”
Medium Weave Car Seating Upholstery
“This picture is from a Toyota Highlander and represents what I call medium weave; tighter than the Honda from above with less nap or fibers protruding above the base material itself. Represents a harder proposition of cleaning with less individual fibers actually exposed to the cleaning process.”
Tight Weave Car Seating Upholstery
“This shot is taken from the infamous Jeep Wrangler. I say infamous as any professional detailer will tell you, these types of synthetic, tight woven seats are a nightmare to clean. My professional advice is to never let them get dirty in the first place. Repeated applications will be required to produce any significant results especially on this light colored material.”
How to Clean Car Upholstery Conclusion
All I can say is that much time and effort went into this page and I hope I have laid out enough information for you to get the kind of results I get in my professional world. Don’t forget to pass this page along to any of your friends who might benefit from all the info on this how to clean car upholstery page.
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Clever tips for a tidy family car
As a parent, you know how easily your children get dirty. Once it’s raining or snowy, it seems like your children (and everything they wear) become mud magnets. Unfortunately, this means your car interior wears the dirt too.
Some days, keeping your children clean feels like a never-ending battle. Here are some simple tips that might help you at least protect your car from their mess!
Cover it up!
During the wet months, your child car seats will take even more of a beating than usual. Kids put their hands, feet (and sometimes their mouths) on EVERYTHING. You can’t always clean them down before getting in the car so, the simplest solution is to protect the child seat with removable, washable covers. After all, it’s so much easier to clean a cover than a whole seat. As an added extra, BeSafe Child Seat covers have installation tabs to make it easy to fit the covers onto seats.
Protect your car interior
The best way to protect the car’s interior from those muddy shoes is to use a protective cover. Our BeSafe Tablet and Seat Cover is a great long-term accessory for your car because it can be used for both rear and forward facing car seats. Once you move your child into a forward facing booster seat, the bottom part of the cover will even protect the vehicle seat in front from muddy shoes and kicking feet.Besides protecting the vehicle seats, the Tablet and Seat Cover also keeps tablets free from dirt by having an extremely sturdy and water-resistant tablet pocket, that still allows you to use the touch-screen of the tablet.
Top tips for a cleaner family car
It’s inevitable that you’ll have spills and mess – that’s just part of life with kids! The other certainty is that you won’t always have time to clean the car. If you follow some of these tips, you’ll save yourself a big clean-up job later:
- Keep disposable rubbish bags in the car and get the older kids to clean up after themselves at the end of the trip.
- Baby wipes are ideal for wiping sticky hands and faces and cleaning up small messes. They’re also great for wiping down the dashboard and car interior (or cleaning bird poo off the windscreen!).
- Pack a spare outfit – when you have kids, it’s never a bad idea to have a change of clothes handy!
- Good quality floor mats that you can remove, clean and vacuum will ensure your car floor is protected from mud and mess.
- Keep spare towels in the car, either to dry wet kids or clean up bigger messes.
- Besides protecting the vehicle seats, the Tablet and Seat Cover also keeps tablets free from dirt by having an extremely sturdy and water-resistant tablet pocket, that still allows you to use the touch-screen of the tablet.
Safety first = jackets off in the car!
While BeSafe accessories are equipped with covers to protect them from dirt, your children don’t need those extra layers in the car. In fact, wearing a jacket in the car can be unsafe. It keeps them cosy and warm outside, but a thick jacket prevents you from tightening the car seat harness close enough to their upper body. Read more about why this is dangerous and how you can keep your child warm in the car in other ways.Wishing you lots of family fun, inside and outdoors during the muddy season. And remember, the dirt will wash off but their happy memories of playing in the mud will last a lifetime!
How to clean car seats
Whether you have cloth car seats or leather upholstery, it’s bound to get dirty as you and your passengers spend time in the car, regardless of whether you spill drinks or drop crumbs. Black seats are perennially popular because of their extra practicality when it comes to disguising dirt, but even these will still start to lose their lustre over time.
Cleaning your car seats will not only make your car interior look better, it will keep it smelling fresh too. More regular cleaning will prevent upholstery from becoming permanently discoloured or wearing too quickly and will increase the value of your car when it’s time to trade it in. Keeping car seats free from debris can even be a safety benefit, ensuring you rid your car of potentially nasty bacteria and any choking hazards a baby or toddler could pick up and swallow.
Read on for the best way to clean car seats…
How to clean cloth car seats
Firstly, remove any large items of debris and crumbs from the upholstery with a vacuum cleaner or soft-bristled brush. If your seats are covered in pet hair, this can become embedded in the seat material, so it can be helpful to use a pet hair brush to tease it into one spot before vacuuming it up.
Once free from visible dirt, take a bottle of upholstery cleaner or shampoo and spray one part of the seat, following the manufacturer’s directions. Usually it’s best to make the area damp, but not soaking wet, and gently agitate the cleaning solution with a soft-bristled brush. Mild weather is best when tackling this job, as this will help the seats dry more quickly than a cold winter’s day.
Once the cleaner has been left to work on the seat for a few minutes (unless otherwise stated on the bottle), take a clean microfibre cloth – that you set aside just for jobs inside the car – and mop up or gently rub the damp area to dry the seat as much as you can.
We recommend concentrating on small areas so that the product isn’t left in one spot for longer than others and to ensure each part of the seat is thoroughly cleaned before moving onto the next. It’s also important to ensure an even spread of upholstery cleaner or shampoo to avoid water stains when the seat dries.
Take a look at our guide to the best car upholstery cleaner to buy in 2017.
How to clean leather car seats
While cleaning leather car seats is similar to maintaining cloth seats, there are a few important differences. While leather can be good at repelling stains, it can also be delicate and prone to abrasions, so you will want to be especially gentle when vacuuming it with a plastic nozzle. Another difference is that you’ll need to use a specific leather upholstery cleaner, which could be a cream rather than a spray or shampoo.
Follow the directions on the product and once it has been applied and left to work its magic, lightly rub the treated area of the seat with a clean microfibre towel. You should be able to see the leather becoming brighter and less shiny, because clean leather is typically matte in appearance. As above, observe the transfer of dirt onto your towel until you’re satisfied it’s a job well done.
Take a look at our guide to the best car leather cleaner to buy in 2017.
How to dry clean car seats
Once you’ve finished cleaning the car seats with upholstery cleaner and a microfibre towel, they should only be slightly damp to the touch. Most products recommend being left to dry naturally, so always plan to clean your seats when you aren’t planning any journeys, or can use another vehicle or method of transport.
It’s best to clean upholstery early in the day, when the weather is mild and there’s no rain forecast. If there’s no risk of theft and you can keep an eye on the car, it can be helpful to leave your windows open a crack to prevent moisture being trapped inside the car.
On a warm day, the seats should be dry in just a few hours and you’ll be able to take your fresh-smelling car for a spin.
How to keep car seats clean for longer
Once you’ve cleaned your car seats, it’s a great idea to protect them as well. For cloth seats this will ward off stains and repel dirt, meaning you won’t have to clean them as often.
In a car with leather upholstery, conditioning the leather will not only help it stay clean, it’s an essential part of their maintenance. Because leather is a natural product, if it dries out too much. it becomes cracked and loses its supple feel and great smell.
To read more about protecting and conditioning your seats, check out our guide to the best car seat protector to buy in 2017.
Forget what’s probably hiding underneath them; cloth car seats can be big collectors of gunk, food bits, and spills — and it’s probably been a while since you gave them a quick cleaning. If it’s time to freshen up your ride, mix together this simple solution that will leave them free of stains and smelling fresh using ingredients you may already have at home. Once they’re clean and dry, finish with a spritz of linen spray for a really fresh vehicle.
Car Seat Cleaning Ingredients
- 2 tablespoons dish soap
- 2 tablespoons washing soda
- 2 cups hot water
- Mixing bowl
- Cleaning brush
- Clean towel
- Linen spray (optional)
How to Clean Your Car Seats
- Start by giving your seats a quick vacuum, or gently wipe with the dry cleaning brush to remove any bits and also give the fabric a bit quick refreshing.
- Mix together the cleaning solution to use on your seats. Dish soap is so gentle, lifting grease stains while refreshing the fabric, and washing soda is also a cleaning booster that leaves your seats happy. And both are safe to use on fabrics. Add the hot water, and give it a quick whisk.
- Lightly dip the cleaning brush in the mixture, and then work over car seats in a circular motion. You’re not looking to soak the fabric — just slightly dampen it to lift any stains. This also helps to remove any pilling from the upholstery.
- Wipe the car seat with a towel, and continue working until all seats have been cleaned. Lower the windows, and let air dry.
- Finish by giving your car another vacuuming using the hose attachment, and then spritz with linen spray. You’ll love your wonderfully smelling vehicle!
Want more car DIYs? Check out our car-cleaning list.
Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Sarah Lipoff
(Last Updated On: May 16, 2019)
As a CPST, over the years I’ve had more than a few parents contact me with a tale of bodily function woe. Their potty training children have had unspeakable accidents. A bout of car sickness left the seat looking like a sea of cottage cheese. In one memorable case, a skunk sprayed the seat. (And in case you’re wondering, if a skunk sprays the seat, you’re pretty much out of luck.)
As a parent myself, I know the feeling. You’re driving along, and hear the unmistakable ‘urp’ from the back seat. You white knuckle it until you find a safe place to pull over, but, too late, and you are left with a terrible, awful, no good, very bad mess to clean up.
We absolutely respect every caregiver’s right to attempt to clean any mess that comes their way. Sometimes, trashing a seat just isn’t an option and you have to make it work. However, we’ve found a number of scenarios where removing the stain or the smell is nearly impossible, even after following the manufacturer’s instructions to the letter. Here’s a short and kind of gross list of those bad, bad times for car seats: mold, animal urine or feces (most often, cat), fire, bedbugs, broken glass, skunks, bears, large spider nests, bees, certain parasitic infestations or infections, human waste if it’s too large in volume or has a chance to set into the seat.
Sometimes, the seat’s shell can be saved even if the cover cannot. Manufacturers usually sell replacement covers so you may be able to order one and get some more use out of the car seat.
Safe Cleaning Methods
So your child threw up a smurf all over their car seat
The question you are left with is, ‘how do I clean this thing?’. Some parents jump in with both hands and a bottle of bleach. At the end, they are left with an entirely clean, and entirely unusable seat. Other parents mistakenly believe that the car seat is a delicate flower that cannot tolerate any sort of cleaning at all. They anxiously wonder if they should simply replace the seat for a minor spill of a cup of water.
As always, your number one resource is your child restraint’s manual. Every manual will have instructions on cleaning the seat, and do’s, and don’ts.
Here at CSFTL, we want to give you some basic, general tips for cleaning and decontaminating your car seat or harness. As always, defer to your manual. If there is a conflict between this article and your manual or manufacturer’s instructions, defer to your specific seat. Contact your car seat’s manufacturer if you need additional, seat-specific advice.
Assemble what you need in advance: the seat, a bowl of fresh tap water, a bottle of gentle soap, baby wipes, and clean rags.
1. Speed is your friend
The quicker you start working, the better chance you have of salvaging your child’s seat. It might be tempting to stick that seat on the porch until tomorrow, but it’s not worth the risk, especially if you can’t afford to replace the seat. Assemble what you need in advance: the seat, a bowl of fresh tap water, a bottle of gentle soap, baby wipes, and clean rags.
Use a baby wipe, and pick off any substance that is removable without rubbing, scrubbing, or using a cleaning solution.
2. Remove gross matter
Use a baby wipe, and pick off any substance that is removable without rubbing, scrubbing, or using a cleaning solution.
Using a soft cloth and cool water, wipe off the harness. If water isn’t going to cut it, use a gentle soap.
3. Wipe down the harness
Using a soft cloth and cool water, wipe off the harness. If water isn’t going to cut it, use a gentle soap. “GENTLE” AND “NATURAL” ARE NOT THE SAME THING. (see below)
Invert the buckle in a cup of tap water, keeping the webbing out of the water. Swishing it around will dislodge anything trapped in the mechanism.
If the harness is removable, lay it flat in the sunshine for a few hours. Any remaining odor is likely to dissipate.
4. Clean the crotch buckle
Invert the crotch buckle in a cup of tap water, keeping the webbing out of the water. Swishing it around will dislodge anything trapped in the mechanism.
5. Sun and fresh air can help
If the harness is removable, lay it flat in the sunshine for a few hours. Any remaining odor is likely to dissipate.
6. Rinse and repeat
If you’ve followed these steps and your harness still has an odor or significant staining, try, try again. In some cases, the harness is replaceable for a small fee from the company. If you still have staining or odor, consider calling your manufacturer to ask if you can purchase a new harness for your existing seat.
It can be comforting to realize that manufacturers understand that children are, well, wet. They leak unmentionable fluids from impolite orifices. They spill things. They have accidents. Car seats can be intended to last a child many years. A harness that melts like sugar the first close encounter it has with a sippy of apple juice would not be a practical design for a product intended for children.
Unsafe Cleaning Methods
While the harness is hardy and durable, there are certain DO NOTS that you must keep in mind when cleaning your child’s restraint.
Do not machine wash your harness.
1. DO NOT: ever, ever, ever place your child’s harness in the washing machine.
Sure, it seems like a practical idea, and it’ll come out sparkly clean, no doubt.
So, why can’t you do this? The answer lies in the tensile strength of the webbing. Car accidents hurt people because, among other things, of the short amount of time between traveling at whatever speed you may be traveling, and coming to a full stop. Restraints serve the purpose of slightly elongating that period of time (Called ‘ride-down time’). The webbing (material out of which the straps are made), specifically, will stretch, in a crash, reducing the amount of force transmitted to the body of the child. Spinning those harness straps around in the washing machine will prematurely pull all the stretch right out of the harness and take away that increased ride down protection they provide your child.
Do not use anything abrasive to clean your harness.
2. DO NOT: use abrasives to clean your harness.
No matter how tempting, please don’t go at the harness with steel wool. You’ll chew up those delicate fibers, and while an individual broken fiber may not mean much, a whole bunch of them will eventually weaken the restraining capacity of the harness.
Do not use harsh chemicals on your harness, this includes things like baking soda, bleach, and vinegar.
3. DO NOT: use harsh soaps.
If soap is permitted by the manufacturer in cleaning the restraint, always choose a gentle soap. GENTLE AND NATURAL ARE NOT THE SAME THING.
I’ve had parents earnestly tell me, “Well, I live naturally, and I clean everything I own with vinegar. How could vinegar possibly hurt a car seat? It’s all-natural!”
While as an aside, I would like to point out that many things are natural, like poison ivy and small pox, but not necessarily desirable, the primary point is that natural does not necessarily mean gentle. Vinegar, specifically, is an acid, and a rather strong one.
The pH scale measures the concentration of hydrogen ions in solution. A neutral pH is 7.0, and what you would expect your drinking water to measure, if you were so inclined. (Human blood is around 7.35-7.45). Common household vinegar runs around 2.3-3.0 pH depending on which of the numerous available articles on vinegar available on the internet you consult. In comparison, hydrochloric acid (dependent on molarity and other things, of course), runs around 1.0). Lemon juice is a 2.0.
On the other end of the scale (>7.0-14), we have what are known as ‘bases’. A well-known example of a base is household bleach, which has a pH of 12.6. Another common household cleaner, Borax, has a pH of 9.3. And the most common household base, which we all know as a quick pinch solution for a bad case of indigestion, is baking soda, with a pH of 8.3.
It’s important to remember that the pH scale is logarithmic, so these differences in numbers are not small potatoes. The difference between 7.0 and 2.0 is not ‘5’ but 10 to the fifth power.
So why is a cleaning solution with a pH not near neutral bad for a car seat harness? Acids are corrosive and bases are caustic. Remember the example of steel wool up above, which uses friction to break down the integrity of the car seat webbing? Corrosives and caustics do the exact same thing, but on a chemical rather than mechanical level.So what ARE gentle soaps? Anything with a pH near neutral is probably gentle enough to use safely on a car seat harness. While we can’t recommend a specific brand, some examples of commonly available gentle soaps include Dawn Dish Soap (7.4 pH), Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Wash (6.5-7.0) and Dove bar soap (7.0).
No. Bad. Stay away. Cone of Shame.
The above images were selected from the manuals of different seats manufactured by the companies in question, or from the FAQs section of their websites. Some companies provide no specific information about cleaning in the manual, or only address cleaning the seat pad but fail to give specific instructions for cleaning the harness. In those cases, it’s best to call the provided customer service number and speak with a customer service representative for further assistance.
The bottom line? Avoid this, and you’ll likely be in good shape.
Wishing you clean thoughts!
How to clean cloth car seats | Autoblog Details
One thing I can guarantee is that if you have cloth seats, they’re gonna get dirty. On today’s episode, we’re gonna walk you through the step-by-step process for removing dirt and grime from your fabric seats. Coming up on Autoblog Details. My name is Larry Kosilla and I’m a professional detailer. Together with Autoblog, we’re creating the ultimate collection of quick car care videos. This is Autoblog Details.
Here are the items you’ll need for this task. To start off, make sure the fabric is free and clear of loose debris by vacuuming first. Open the seams of the seat bottom with your fingers and slide the vacuum nozzle into the crease to remove hidden dirt prior to using cleaning liquids. Lightly spray the area with a specific fabric and cloth cleaning solution. The most common mistake is to use an all-purpose cleaner in these situations. The trick to cleaning seats and carpet is
to avoid allowing the fabric cleaning liquid to saturate or over-soak the area being cleaned. Our goal is to clean the top layer of fabric, but leave the underlying cushion as dry as possible to avoid future mold or potential smells down the road. So, work one small area at a time. After applying four or five sprays of fabric cleaner to the seat, immediately massage the area with a soft or medium stiff interior brush. This will agitate the dirt to the surface, but will not hurt the integrity of the fiber themselves.
Avoid using stiff bristle carpet brushes as they tend to damage the fibers and cause the cloth to fray. As the suds encapsulate the dirt that was pulled up by the brush, you must immediately scoop up the dirty suds with a clean microfiber towel before it dries
and reattaches to the fabric. Repeat this process until the seat has released all of the dirt. If a stain persists, an interior scrub pad can be used for extra power, but be
careful not to push too hard and damage the fibers. Light to medium strokes should be enough
to loosen even the most stubborn of stains. Once the dirt is removed and the color has been restored, quickly vacuum the area once again to remove any areas of heavy saturation, and to pull the fibers up to help wick any remaining moisture away from the fabric. Be sure to give your seats some time to dry before you go for a ride, as no one likes a wet butt. For more how-to car care videos, visit autoblog.com/details. I’m Larry Kosilla from ammonyc.com. As always, thanks for watching guys. We’ll see you next time.
How To Clean Your Car Seats – The Complete DIY Guide
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No matter how careful you are, you are always going to get some dirt or grime on your car seat. Unless you have something water-repellent, then the dirt is going to soak in and make a mess. Even with leather, you need to get the material cleaned quickly before the stain becomes stubborn.
So, what can you do to combat dirty seats?
Well, you can read on and find out how to tackle even the most stubborn stains, and how to clean almost any car seat material. So, what are you waiting for?
How To Clean Cloth Car Seats?
It can be hard to clean cloth seats if stains become stuck in the fabric, and you can be left with unsightly marks or dull material. Thankfully, it is easy to keep your car seats clean and deal with more stubborn stains as they appear, or after they appear.
The first step in clean your cloth car seat, and the most obvious, is to grab that vacuum cleaner. Sure, you can just brush off the crumbs, but there is so much that you are missing. Give it a good vacuum to remove the top surface of debris before it is ground into the fabric.
Using Household Products
Using A Baking Soda Solution
There is no need to grab the nearest chemical, or even take a trip to the grocery store to find a cleaner. In fact, you probably already have an excellent natural cleaner in your home.
Take 1/4 of a cup of baking soda and mix it up with 1 cup of warm water. Mix the solution until the baking soda is dissolved, and use it straight away. A toothbrush will help you to work the solution into the stain and help you to scrub the patch.
We have even found that this mixture of baking soda and water is often better than a chemical solution which you may find at the store, and costs a lot less too (it can also be a real time saver). For nasty stains in fabric, this is our go-to cleaner.
Using A Vinegar Solution
Again, this is a solution (no pun intended) that you probably have around the house. Simply mix one cup of vinegar with a gallon of hot water, and throw in a squirt of dish soap. This is a solution which you can bottle up and keep around the house for future fabric stains or general cleaning.
Dab some of the mixture on the stain and let it soak into the fabric a little, scrubbing it with a soft brush to remove the stain. Once you have treated the stain, dab some warm water to remove the soap, and use a dry cloth to remove as much of the liquid as possible.
Using A Laundry Detergent
If you do not have any baking soda or vinegar, or do not want to use them (there are always cakes to be made and buttermilk to create), then laundry detergent will also do the job.
Dilute a little laundry detergent in some warm water, and use the solution much like you would use a fabric cleaner. To use, pour (or spray) some of the mixture onto the stained area of the fabric, letting it soak in a little while not adding too much liquid to the area. Scrub the spot as you would do with a regular cleaner, and remove the cleaner when done, drying the fabric out as much as you can.
You can also clean your seats by using some dish soap and warm water.
Using A Cleaning Solution
Keeping your car seats clean is essential, and if you want to opt for a dedicated cleaning product, then that is just as good a choice as making your own. It can often be better as there is no need to worry about the freshness of your baking soda or the proportions of your vinegar mix.
Maintaining your car seats with a cleaning solution is an excellent way to prolong the life of your car.
Superficial dust & dirt: Always start by vacuuming your seats to remove the superficial dirt and debris. If you skip this step, then you can be working more dirt into the seats in the next steps. Use the brush attachment to remove as much of the dirt as you can.
Upholstery cleaner: Make sure that you choose an upholstery cleaner which is appropriate for your car seat material. Apply the cleaner to the fabric, following the instructions, and not using more than is needed. The fabric will only need a light misting. Let the cleaner sit on the fabric for around 5 minutes.
Cleaning: Using a moist cloth, rub the stained area gently to remove the soiling. Continue to work the area as needed, adding more cleaner if you need to. If the stains are stubborn, then a soft-bristled brush can also be used.
Clean-up: Rinse the affected area with a little warm water to remove the cleaner, and dab with a dry cloth to dry. Let the area air dry before sitting on it.
Specific Stain Removal Tips & Tricks
While the solutions above will remove most stains from your fabric or cloth car seats, there are times when a specific stain requires a specific cleaner.
A non-gel toothpaste and a damp cloth will remove most lipstick stains. If not, then rubbing alcohol may work.
Rinse the stain with some water to remove as much of the coffee as possible. Apply some glass cleaner to the area, let it sit for five minutes, rinse with some cold water, and blot the spot to remove the liquid. If that does not work, then you can also try lemon juice or vinegar.
Grab an ice pack or some ice and rest it on the chocolate or gum for ten minutes. Once frozen, the gum or chocolate will come right off, and you can scrape the remainder off with a butter knife. Our vinegar solution from above will remove any excess.
We never want to have to clean it up, but baking soda is your friend again here. Sprinkle some on top of the vomit and let it sit there for 20 minutes to soak up the liquid. Scrape up what you can when it has dried in, and then clean. Use the baking soda solution to clean the remainder of the stain, repeating as many times as necessary to remove the stain and the smell.
Dishwashing liquid will help to break down the oil and grease. Use some on a toothbrush to work it into the stain, and rinse the solution off with warm water.
Alcohol & Pop
Use our vinegar solution to remove the stain with ease.
Protein (Milk, Eggs, Blood, etc.)
Rinse the stain with cold water immediately, and then apply our baking soda solution to remove the rest.
Our baking soda or vinegar solution should work on the stain, but you can also try hairspray and rubbing alcohol.
If you have a pet, you have a pet smell. Sprinkle some Borax powder onto the spot of the odor, or stain, and use our vinegar or baking soda solution to finish it off.
How To Deep Clean Cloth Car Seats?
You know, a little scrubbing can get out tough stains, but there is only so much that can be done by hand. There are times when you might just have to bring in the big guns. And, that is precisely what we have for you.
If nothing else will do it, then one of these heavy-duty machines will take care of the problem.
Cleaning Seats With A Carpet Cleaner
Carpet cleaners, or extractors, are a fantastic tool in your fight against stains. They blow hot water onto a fabric surface and suck it back off at the same time. The moisture has enough time to clean but not enough to soak the seat.
Make sure to vacuum or brush the seats first to remove any debris, and then use the cleaner on one seat at a time to clean them. If stains are too stubborn, then use a brush attachment or a separate brush to agitate the stain as needed. Go back over any dirty areas.
Cleaning cloth seats with a carpet cleaner.
Cleaning Seats With A Steam Cleaner
Steam cleaners are not as heavy-duty as extractors, but they are fantastic for removing mold and bacteria (and that means that the smells disappear too). They apply steam to a surface, so are not as heavy on the moisture, and look like a regular vacuum cleaner.
Related Article: 5 Best Steam Cleaners For Every Job
Once you have applied the steam, use a microfiber cloth to rub the stains as needed, adding more steam if the stains remain. Remove the moisture with a clean microfiber cloth, and let the seats air-dry.
Cleaning cloth seats with a steam cleaner.
How To Clean Leather Car Seats?
Leather seats are a luxury, and bring something extra to your car.
Granted, leather is very durable when it comes to resisting dirt and grime, and it is more resistant to stains too, but it can also be harder to clean once there are stains in the material.
So, here is all you need to know about cleaning it.
Why Is It So Important To Clean Your Leather Seats?
It may take some time for stains to get into your leather, and by that time, it may be too late. By staying on top of your car maintenance, you can prolong the life of your leather seats.
You do not need to see any dirt to clean your seats, and cleaning them will bring multiple benefits. If you do no take care of your seats, then you are eventually going to get cracks in them and, by then, it is going to be too late.
Dirt can also be abrasive on leather seats, and wear them down, removing the top protective layer. Once your fabric has become weakened, it is more susceptible to tearing and breaking.
Moisture can also soak into your leather seats, and this can leave them looking dull and worn. By cleaning your seats regularly, you can keep them looking better for longer, and protect them from wear.
Car Seat Leather Types
Aniline leather is not as commonly used as it used to be, but it is something which you may come across due to its quality and smooth and natural finish. The only problem is that it does not have a protective coating, so you have to be careful not to spill on it, and it should be cleaned regularly.
Semi-aniline leather is used in many modern high-end cars. This leather does have a coating, which helps to repel moisture, but does not stop it if there is a lot. This material can be tricky to clean as many chemical cleaners can damage the material.
Napa leather is the highest quality and has the thickest coating of all three. It also has a richer pigmentation that the other leathers. It is a luxury leather, so it is only used in the most luxurious cars. It costs more, but it is also more durable and is not as affected by the sun or moisture.
Corrected leather is the leather which you will find in most regular cars. The leather is stain-resistant and easy to clean. It has a thick coating, making it durable, but is not as soft as the other leathers.
Commercial Leather Cleaning Products
If you do not know what you are doing, then we recommend buying a commercial leather cleaning product. Always read the label to make sure that you purchase a cleaner which is not going to damage your leather, and follow the instructions to clean the leather properly.
Most commercial cleaners can be ordered online from Amazon, or found at your local hardware store. We recommend looking for a cleaning product which is specific to your type of leather, rather than one which is for general use. However, if you can’t find a specific cleaner, then you can use one of these high-quality leather cleaning products which are safe to use on all kinds of leather.
Homemade Leather Cleaning Solutions
Commercial cleaners can do a lot for your leather seats, but there are times when you want to go natural, or you just do not want to have to go to the store. The good news is that you can make do with some products that you may have laying around the house.
Follow these homemade recipes to clean up your leather in no time.
Laundry detergent: mix a teaspoon of laundry detergent with some warm water. Once mixed, place the mixture in a spray bottle and spray onto your leather seats. Let the mixture sit for a few seconds before wiping it down with a cloth. It works on simple stains and is a lot cheaper too.
Vinegar: fill a spray bottle 3/4 full of vinegar, topping the bottle with warm water. Spray the mixture onto the seats and remove with a soft cloth.
Vinegar & essential oil: mix 1/2 cup of vinegar to 1/4 cup of essential oil. Spray this on the seats and wipe off. The advantage of the oil is that it neutralizes the smell of the vinegar, so your car does not have a vinegar smell when you are done. You can add your favorite essential oils to add to the scent of your car interior.
The Step By Step Guide To Cleaning Your Leather Seats
You have your cleaner; be it commercial or natural, and you are equipped with the knowledge on why you need to clean your leather seats, but how, exactly, do you do it?
Here is our step by step guide:
- Vacuum your seats. You could use an air compressor to blow the dirt away or a brush to brush it all off, but a vacuum will remove most of the dirt. Use the brush extension to remove as much of the dirt as possible.
- Use one of our natural cleaning solutions above, or a commercial cleaner. Spray the seats and wipe them down with a damp (almost dry) cloth. Test the cleaning solution on one small patch of the seat first, just in case.
- If you have some stubborn stains, use a foam leather cleaner and spray it on. Let the solution sit on the stain for a few minutes before using a cloth to clean the area. A soft brush will work for tougher stains.
- If that does not work, then a steam cleaner may be your only option. Rent (or buy) a steam cleaner and use it to kill the bacteria and remove the most stubborn stains.
“Detail Groove” has a great video on how to clean leather car seats.
How To Get Stains Out Of Leather?
If you do have some tough stains which are not coming out, then there are some extra things which you can try to get rid of the stains. Here are some natural solutions.
A non-gel toothpaste works on many materials, and on leather too. Dab a little on the stain, and use a toothbrush to work it into the stain. Use some warm water to remove the excess toothpaste, and dry with a cloth.
Nail polish removers are also effective for leather. Use only a small amount, and remove the excess with dish washing liquid. Dry with a cloth.
Baking soda is great for grease and oil. As soon as you can after the grease has spread to the seat, sprinkle it with some baking soda, and let it sit for a few hours. Rub it down with a damp cloth to remove the baking soda and grease.
Lemon juice and cream of tartar mixed in equal measures to form a paste and left to let to sit on a stain for 30 minutes will do wonders. Try on a small section of the leather first in case it bleaches.
Cleaning Suede Seats
Suede takes a little more finesse to get clean as you cannot let too much water get onto it.
Instead of vacuuming, you should brush off the seat with a suede brush. Once you have brushed your car seats, inspect for any stains, and use a suede eraser to treat the stains. Use swirling motions to remove any stains as best you can, brushing off the particles as the eraser disintegrates.
Brush the seat once more to remove the particles of the eraser. If that does not do it, then you may have to use a slightly damp cloth to treat the area. Do not press too deeply into the suede or you will push the stain in further, and it will be caught there.
Dab the stain with the wet cloth and then with a dry cloth to remove as much moisture as you can. If there is still a stain, repeat the use of the eraser.
Autoblog shows you how to clean suede and alcantara car seats.
How To Clean Vinyl Car Seats?
Vinyl is an excellent material for almost any seat, due to how easy it is to clean, and how well it resists dirt, grime, and stains. Cleaning a vinyl seat only takes a few minutes, and you can do it with a professional cleaner or a homemade one. Here is what you should know.
There are numerous vinyl cleaners available at your local hardware store or online at retailers such as Amazon. Many are available for use on other materials, and you can also find cleaners which are specifically for vinyl.
Many commercial cleaners also have Scotchguard or Rustoleum, which will further protect your vinyl over time.
If you want to go down the natural route, then you can use a mix of baking soda and warm water or vinegar and warm water.
How To Clean Vinyl Seats
As with all car seats, you should vacuum the seat first to remove any larger debris. Once you have done that, apply your cleaner (store-bought or homemade) to the seat with a spray bottle, to mist a large surface area.
A soft brush or cloth will help you to work the cleaner into the vinyl. Work with small sections so that your cleaner does not dry out, working with one seat at a time. After cleaning, dry off the seat with a dry towel or cloth.
If there are any smells on (or in) your vinyl seats, then sprinkle some baking soda on the seats first and let it sit for twenty minutes before vacuuming off and cleaning the seats.
If you have any stubborn stains on your vinyl seats which will not come off with a cleaner, then you can make a stain-busting paste with baking soda. Mix three parts baking soda with one part water, and 5-10 drops of dish soap. If the mixture is not a thick paste, then add some more baking soda. Work some of the paste into the stain and let it sit there for five minutes. Wipe off the residue and continue to clean as normal.
“Chemical Guys” explain how to easily clean your vinyl car seats.
Keeping your car seats clean is not only easy but is somewhat of a necessity. By regularly cleaning your car seats, you are preventing them from becoming dirty and prolonging their life.
The cleaner they stay, the less chance of rips, abrasions, wear, tear, and permanent stains.
Take the time to clean your car seats on a regular basis, treat stains as quickly as you can, and use the correct cleaners and methods, and your car will look as clean as on the day you bought it (the seats, at least; we can’t speak for the rest of the interior).
How to Clean Car Seats
When was the last time you cleaned your child’s car seat?
Let’s face it: Kids are messy, and car seats often suffer the consequences. Considering spilled milk, dropped snacks, blown-out diapers, drool, spit-up and vomit, your child’s car seat can quickly transform from a safety device to a breeding ground for germs.
In fact, scientists at the University of Birmingham discovered that children’s car seats have twice as many harmful germs as the average toilet seat. Yuck!
But there’s good news: There are things moms can do to get rid of these unwanted cooties. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to clean car seats when the unfortunate happens, or just as part of regular maintenance.
Tip: Before you begin, take a photo of the car seat so you can easily and correctly reassemble it when you’re finished.
Step 1: Remove the Car Seat
Disconnect straps or latches that connect the car seat to your vehicle. If you are using an infant seat with the latch system, make sure to disconnect the plastic base as dirt, dust and debris can fall into its nooks and crannies too.
Move the car seat and plastic base to a flat, clean surface with good lighting. This will allow you to thoroughly clean the car seat without having to climb into your backseat, risking soaking the seat fabric… or hurting your back.
Step 2: Clean Up Loose Debris
Give the car seat and plastic base a good shake, both right side up and upside down, then using baby wipes, cleaning rags, or paper towels, wipe away any loose debris inside the car seat – abandoned dry cereal fragments, orphaned animal crackers, you name it.
If you have a vacuum cleaner with a small attachment, you can use it to remove any lingering debris hiding in the crevices of the car seat and your back seat.
Step 3: Remove Harness Straps and Fabric Cover
Remove the fabric cover (if detachable) and harness straps from the plastic body of the car seat. If you have your product manual handy, consult it for specific cleaning instructions. If not, most fabric covers can be removed by unfastening clips, snaps, or buttons from top to bottom.
Step 4: Cleaning the Fabric Cover
Check your product manual or the cover label for the manufacturer’s recommended cleaning instructions. One possible cleaning method:
- Using a circular motion, rub a mild detergent into any noticeable spots or stains.
- Place the fabric cover in the washing machine.
- Wash it on delicate cycle with cold water and a mild detergent.
- Let the fabric cover air dry.
Note: If the fabric cover isn’t detachable, spot clean it using a clean sponge and mild detergent.
Step 5: Clean the Harness Straps and Buckle
Spot-clean the harness straps and buckle with a soft cloth, warm water, and gentle soap. Rinse and let it air dry. Make sure the inside of the buckle completely dries to prevent rusting or corrosion.
Note: Many car seat manufacturers do not recommend machine washing or putting harness straps in the dryer because this can compromise the strength of the straps, resulting in a safety hazard.
Step 6: Clean and Sanitize the Plastic Base
If your car seat uses a plastic base, clean it using a damp cloth or sponge, warm water, and a mild detergent. To prevent water and mold buildup, rotate the seat a few times after you have rinsed it. Use a disinfecting wipe to gently sanitize the plastic base. Let the seat air dry.
Step 7: Reassemble the Car Seat
Once everything is completely dry, put the car seat back together, making sure the straps are not twisted, and reattach the car seat to the car. Refer to your product manual for any specific questions about reassembling the car seat.
And that’s it! With these tips, you can help keep your littlest co-pilot healthy, happy, and cootie-free.
How to clean a child car seat
Six steps to clean your child car seat
1. Check the instructions
Find your instruction manual and check how the covers come off. If you’ve lost the instruction manual, head to the internet and download a new copy, or check what to do online, if you prefer to save paper.
2. Take a photo or a video
No, not for Instagram. It’s so you can remember exactly how to put the car seat back together after you take it apart. The is vitally important if you need to clean more than just the top covers, such as the harness for example. If you put the car seat back together incorrectly, or forget a part of the harness, it could affect how well the car seat performs in a crash.
1 in 3children are not properly strapped into their car seats*
3. Wash the covers
Remove any harness pads, or removable seat liners, then remove the covers. Always check the care labels for your baby or child car seat before you wash them. Each car seat can have a different set of instructions, don’t just stick them in your washing machine on your usual program. Check what temperature they need to be washed on, and double check for any other specific instructions, like using a specific detergent.
And some car seat covers are hand-wash only, which makes cleaning up in-car spills or bodily fluid incidents much trickier.
Our child car seat reviews highlight those covers which are machine washable or hand wash, and our car seat experts also rate how easy the car seat covers are to remove from the seat.