How to clean car seats: A step-by-step guide

How to clean car seats: A step-by-step guide

When it comes to cleaning car seats, you’ve basically got two options: send it to a detailer, or take care of it yourself.

We’ve outlined everything we know about the best ways to clean car seats in the blog below.

Can I clean my car seats myself?

Cleaning car seats at home can be pretty simple, and potentially save you a lot of money in cleaning bills. There are a couple of things to remember before you try to clean a car seat by yourself:

  • Don't use lots more water. To avoid mould in the fabric and rust under the seat, don’t get the seats too wet and let them air-dry on a warm day, ideally out of direct sunlight to avoid water marks on the fabric.
  • Be gentle. Try not to scrub too hard or use large amounts of harsh chemicals when cleaning your car seats to avoid unnecessary wear and tear.
  • Wipe down thoroughly. Some cleaners can leave stains, irritate children’s skin, or be toxic to pets, so it’s better to wipe your seats down fully after cleaning.

If you’re wondering how much you can save by doing it yourself, you can check out our blog ‘How much does car detailing cost?

How to clean fabric car seats

There are quite a few different ways to clean a fabric car seat yourself, from simple homemade solutions, to pricey professional fabric cleaners. These are the most common ways to clean fabric car seats yourself:

  • Bicarbonate of soda paste - For specific areas that need a bit of brightening up, you can mix 1 part bicarb to 4 parts warm water and use a toothbrush to lightly clean over the area. Wipe it with a damp cloth, leave it to dry, then vacuum the area.
  • Vinegar mixture - Mixing 1 part vinegar, a drop of washing-up liquid, and 16 parts warm water can help shift dirt from a car seat. You can use an old spray bottle to apply the solution, work it in with a cloth, then wipe the seat clean and leave it to dry.
  • Laundry detergent - Laundry detergent is designed to clean fabric anyway, so it can work great in a car. You can mix a small amount into a bucket of warm water and work it into the seat with a damp cloth. You can then use cold water and a clean towel to wipe off the seat and leave it to dry.
  • Shop-bought car fabric cleaner - There are a lot of options for car fabric cleaner on the market. Most need to be mixed with water, lightly scrubbed into your seats, wiped clean, left to dry, and vacuumed afterwards. They might cost a bit more than vinegar, but they can be very effective.

It can be a good idea to test your chosen cleaning solution on a small part of a seat before you start to see how it affects the fabric. Car fabrics can vary so it’s best just to check before you scrub the whole car down.

How to clean leather car seats

Cleaning leather car seats is a little bit different to cleaning fabric car seats, simply because of the nature of the material. The basic rules are pretty much the same though, so it’s still a good idea to use as little water as possible and let the seats air dry thoroughly. Here are some common ways to clean leather car seats yourself:

  • Laundry detergent or vinegar solution - The options we listed above can also work pretty well on leather seats, you just might have to let them sit on the leather for a couple of minutes to do their work. As before, wipe your seats off thoroughly afterwards and leave them to dry.
  • Bicarb paste - You can use the same paste as above to shift tougher stains on leather, even adding some lemon juice if you fancy. This can be harsh on the leather, so try to only use it on lighter leathers and make sure to test it on a hidden part of the seat first.
  • Nail varnish remover - Nail varnish remover, lightly dabbed on with a cotton bud, can help lift small marks and stains. It’s a good idea to go slow here to avoid working in too much of the alcohol as it can be quite harsh. You can wipe the seat off afterwards with a cloth dipped in warm water with some washing up liquid in it.
  • Store bought leather cleaners - There are plenty of very effective cleaners that are specially made for leather car seats. Wax, silicone and oil-based products might be too greasy to use on leather car seats, so try to find a glycerine-based cleaner if you can.

For a bit more detail on cleaning leather car seats, you can check out our blog ‘How to clean leather car seats

How to clean children’s car seats

Let’s be honest, as cute as our kids might be, they can make a real mess. There’s no telling what is living down in the crevices of a child’s car seat. Luckily, cleaning them can be pretty simple. Here is the easiest way to clean a child’s car seat:

  1. Remove the seat from the car
  2. Vacuum the seat thoroughly, making sure to get in all the nooks and crannies
  3. If possible, remove any padding and seat covers as per the manufacturer's instructions, setting aside the padding and machine-washing the seat covers on a gentle cycle with a gentle fabric detergent
  4. Lightly scrub down the seat with a clean cloth and either a vinegar or fabric detergent solution, as above
  5. Leave the seat and covers to thoroughly dry
  6. Reassemble the seat according to the manufacturer’s instructions and reinstall it in your car

It’s also important to point out that you should be very gentle with seat straps or seatbelts. Too much water, harsh chemicals, or scrubbing can cause them to lose their tensile strength and become unsafe. It’s best to either not clean the straps at all, or simply wipe them with a slightly damp cloth.

A few final tips…

Here are the last few things to keep in mind when you’re cleaning your car seats:

  • Try to keep your seats as dry as possible. Even when you’re using water to clean the seat try not to get them soaked, as seats can get mouldy over time.
  • Homemade solutions can be a great way to save money, but it’s best to test them on a small part of your car seat to make sure they won’t damage the fabric.
  • Try not to scrub your children’s car seats or straps too hard, as this can damage the fabric and make the seat unsafe.

Urban Jungle is not a financial advisor and information in this article should not be taken as advice or recommendation.