How to Clean Car Seats
By Steve Gillman
The basics of how to clean car seat upholstery are covered
below, with instructions for the various types. But first let's
look at how to prevent the need for frequent cleaning. There
are several things you can do to keep them cleaner to start with,
and make them last longer.
If you have children, and you can take the whining, have a
strict no-food-in-the-car policy. That will prevent more stains
than almost anything else you can do. Kids will spill things
if they have something to spill.
Another alternative is to have only foods and drinks which
do not create much of a stain when spilled. Keep it to bottled
water for drinks, for example. Have saltines or other non-greasy
foods for snacks in the car.
Seat covers are another option, whether or not you have children.
There are seat covers designed for bucket seats in the front,
and you can lay a nice blanket over the bench seat in back. It's
easier to wash a seat cover or blanket than to clean a car seat.
Cleaning Car Seats
If they are just a bit dusty and have some food crumbs, the
easiest way to clean car seats is to simply vacuum them. This
is the first step in any case, even if you are doing a deeper
cleaning. The vacuum cleaners at car washes usually have better
suction than the one in your house, so use those or take some
extra time if doing this at home. Beating the seats with your
hands before vacuuming can loosen up some of the dust and provide
a deeper cleaning (but skip this step if you have allergies).
You might want to check all the nooks and crannies for coins
and jewelry before vacuuming. I have read that the owners of
some car washes make extra income from the treasures they find
in their vacuum tanks. I have heard a coin or two get sucked
up when cleaning my own cars.
Vinyl seats are the easiest to clean. You can use window cleaner
if you like (and get those windows while you are at it). Just
spray them and wipe them off with a cotton cloth. Clean them
on a warm and sunny day and they'll usually be dry by the time
you finish off those windows.
Leather car seats can be trickier to clean. Use warm water
with a bit of a mild soap mixed into it. Apply this to a cotton
cloth and squeeze out some of the excess moisture. wipe down
a small area where it won't be visible, to test the solution.
Use another cotton cloth dipped in plain water to wipe away the
soapy mixture. Dry the spot with a clean cotton towel and see
if it look okay. If so, it should be safe to clean the rest of
the leather upholstery in this way, although water stains are
always a possibility.
Be sure to wipe all surfaces with a cloth wetted with clean
water, to remove any soap residue. To prevent the soap from drying
on the seats, do one area at a time, cleaning with the solution
and then rinsing/wiping it away. Afterward, always towel-dry
the leather as thoroughly as you can. Don't leave it to air-dry.
Cloth seats do not usually need wet cleaning. If there are
stains, see the page on Cleaning
Car Stains. Otherwise, vacuuming is often enough. To remove
lingering odors from car seats, sprinkle them with baking soda,
rub it in gently with your hand, and leave it overnight. Then
vacuum the seats the next day. If you don't have that much time,
leave the baking soda on the upholstery for two at least two
If you have animal hair on the seats, you can often get much
of it with a rubber glove. Rub your gloved hand across the material
and the hair will ball up. Pick up and dispose of the resulting
balls of hair and continue this process until you get no more
Fortunately most children's car seats now have removable covers.
So your lesson on cleaning kids car seats is a short one: take
the cover off and put it in the washing machine. Read the instructions
just in case the one you have needs air drying.