Woman cleans a leather car seat

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?

In This Article

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

1. Using A Baking Soda Solution

turned over jar with baking soda

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.

2. Using A Vinegar Solution

vinegar for cleaning

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.

3. Using A Laundry Detergent

laundry detergent with laundry in the background

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.

1. 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.

Vacuuming a car seat with a battery vacuumer

2. 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 a car seat

3. 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.

Wiping clean the car seat

4. 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.

1. Lipstick

5 lipsticks in various shades of red

A non-gel toothpaste and a damp cloth will remove most lipstick stains. If not, then rubbing alcohol may work.

2. Coffee

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.

3. Gum/Chocolate

chocolate pieces in a jar

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.

4. Vomit

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.

5. Oil/Grease

oil on top of water - abstract

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.

6. Alcohol & Pop

Use our vinegar solution to remove the stain with ease.

7. Protein (Milk, Eggs, Blood, etc.)

poured milk

Rinse the stain with cold water immediately, and then apply our baking soda solution to remove the rest.

8. Ink

Our baking soda or vinegar solution should work on the stain, but you can also try hairspray and rubbing alcohol.

9. Pet Smells

dog in the back seat of a car

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

Seat cleaning with a carpet cleaner 1

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

Seat cleaning 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: 5 Best Commercial Steam Cleaners for Home and Business Use

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?

white leather car seats in the back

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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

brown suede car 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.

Vinyl Cleaners

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.

Final Words

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).

Andrea Soke

Andrea has a background in economics and finance, but she's also passionate about gardening, sustainable living, and finding new ways to maintain a clean and orderly home. She believes in quality over quantity.

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