How to Clean Your Cloth Car Seats and Upholstery

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Complete Guide to Cleaning Your Car Cloth & Leather Seats: Tips & Tricks for a Spotless Interior

If you’re like most people, your car interior is a place where you spend a lot of time, whether it’s commuting to work, running errands, or just general use cruising around. With all that time spent in your car, it’s natural for the seats and upholstery to get dirty and stained.

But don’t worry, keeping your cloth car seats and upholstery clean and looking like new is easier than you think. Today we’ll walk you through some of the best ways to clean and maintain your car’s interior that are also simple and effective.

First, let’s discuss when you should consider cleaning your car’s upholstery.


How Often Should I Be Cleaning My Cloth Car Seats?

Well, that really depends on how much you use your car and how messy you or your passengers are. If you’re someone who eats and drinks in the car often, or if you have kids or pets, you may need to clean your seats more frequently.

If you find yourself cleaning your seats constantly, you might consider a different strategy. Employing car seat covers to protect your seats may be the route for you.

On the other hand, if you primarily drive solo and keep your car tidy, you may be able to go a little longer between cleanings.

A good rule of thumb is to give your cloth car upholstery a quick once-over every couple of months and a deep cleaning every six to twelve months. That way, you can keep any spills, stains, and grime under control and maintain the look and feel of your car’s interior. In the long run, that can help maintain a good used car value, too.

Remember, the key is to act quickly if something does spill or stain your seats and regularly maintain your car’s cleanliness to prevent buildup. The good news is the best way to make it easy on yourself is to keep things clean. That’s your overall best option as an easy way to maintain a clean look.

What Tools Will I Need to Clean My Car Seats and Carpet?

For cleaning your cloth car seats, upholstery, and carpet, you’ll need the following essential tools:

Vacuum Cleaner

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For best results, remove any loose dirt, crumbs, and debris first thing. This is the easiest first step. Pet owners, you know getting rid of the pet hair goes a long way toward a clean interior!

A wet/dry vacuum is the best options for the home detailer. Seat cleaning is a perfect example of the benefits that come with being able to quickly dry an area.

Brush or Scrub Brush

For scrubbing tough stains and removing dirt from the seams and folds of the seats. Removing car seat stains is critical if you want to feel really good about your ride.

Cleaning Solution

You can use a commercial car upholstery cleaner or make your own solution with a mixture of warm water, dish soap, and white vinegar. A common recipe is to mix 1 cup of vinegar with 1 teaspoon of Dawn dish soap (or liquid laundry detergent) in a spray bottle. This vinegar mixture is eco-friendly and often gets better results using household products.

Depending on the level of stains, dunking your scrub brush into a bucket of cleaning solution may be needed. See the video below for a more aggressive approach using a wet/dry vac.

Microfiber Cloth or Towels

To apply the cleaning solution and wipe down the seats. (You can read more about our detailed guide on microfiber cloths here). Being able to reach for a dry towel quickly is a great way to sop up excess moisture. Keep a clean stack handy.

Paper Towels

Paper towels are great for blotting up spills and set-in stains. Use paper towels when you’d rather throw away the results instead of washing them.

Additional or Optional Equipment That Might Come in Handy

Steam Cleaner

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If you have one, this can be an excellent tool for deep cleaning and sanitizing your car seats – or almost any part of your vehicle for that matter.

This is also sometimes called an Extraction Cleaner and can make a big difference with really dirty upholstery and carpet.

Car Upholstery Protectant

To help keep your seats looking like new and to make future cleanings easier.

Make Job Easier with the Right Tools

With these essential and optional tools, you’ll be able to tackle even the toughest stains and keep your car’s interior looking its best. Remember, if you think there should be an easier way to accomplish a task when detailing your car, you may just need the right tool.

Cleaning Your Car’s Cloth Seats and Upholstery

Now let’s get down to business. Here’s some easy steps for how you can clean your car’s cloth seats and upholstery:

Vacuum the Seats

Start by using a vacuum cleaner with an upholstery brush attachment to remove any loose dirt, crumbs, and debris. Pay special attention to the seams and folds of the seats, as this is where dirt tends to accumulate.

Mix your Cleaning Solution

Combine a small amount of warm water, a few drops of dish soap, and white vinegar in a spray bottle. Shake the bottle well to mix the solution.

Pretreat Any Stains

It’s always good to test a small area first. You want to make sure the results are what you would expect.

If you have any stains, use a stain remover, nail polish remover or a solution of equal parts water, dish soap, and white vinegar. Use a clean cloth or paper towel to blot up as much of the stain as possible, taking care not to rub the stain into the fabric. Dab – don’t wipe.

Apply the solution to the stain, then let it sit for 5-10 minutes. Use a soft scrub brush to gently agitate the stain, then blot it with a clean cloth or paper towels.

Apply the Cleaning Solution

Lightly mist the cloth car seats with the cleaning solution, then use a clean microfiber cloth or towel to gently scrub around the stained area. Use circular motions to make sure you cover the area completely. Make sure to work the solution into all the seams and folds, as well as any stubborn stains or spills.

Wipe Down the Seats

Use a clean microfiber cloth or a clean towel to wipe down the seats, removing all the dirt and cleaning solution. If the seats are filthy, you may need to repeat this step a few times, using a clean cloth each time.

Addressing food stains promptly by dabbing with club soda helps to keep the car’s seats from getting too soiled and hard to clean.

Let the Seats Air Dry

Leave the windows of your car open for a few hours to allow the seats to air dry completely. If you are continuing to work on your car’s exterior, you might leave your car doors open to aid in drying.

Apply an Upholstery Protectant

To help keep your seats looking new and make future cleanings more effortless, you can apply an upholstery protectant according to the manufacturer’s instructions. The same advice is true here: apply first in a small, inconspicuous area to make sure the results are what you expect.

What if I Have Leather Seats?

Cleaning leather car seats requires a slightly different approach than cleaning cloth seats. While the broad steps remain the same, you may need to slightly alter the cleaning solution and change the cleaning process.

For a cleaning solution, combine a small amount of warm water with a few drops of mild soap, such as baby shampoo or dish soap. Avoid using harsh chemicals, as they can damage the leather.

Then dip a soft cloth into the cleaning solution, then wring it out until it’s only damp. Gently wipe down the seats, taking care not to soak the leather.

There are of course many fine leather cleaning products on the market as well.

It’s a good idea to use a clean, damp cloth to wipe down the seats, removing any dirt and cleaning solution. Avoid using too much water, as this can damage the leather. And to keep the leather soft and supple and to protect it from cracking and fading, apply a leather conditioner.

Carpet Cleaner

Your car’s carpet can benefit from much of the upholstery advice contained here. When you prepare to clean cloth car seats, expanding your focus to the mud stains on your carpet is an efficient strategy for cleaning the inside of your car.

First, remove your car mats and begin with the dry vacuum process. Even the best car upholstery cleaner won’t be very effective on carpet or carpeted floor mats if they are still covered with debris. Continue as you would with other cloth upholstery cleaning.

There You Have It!

With these simple steps, you’ll be able to keep your cloth car seats looking their best, no matter how much you use your car. Just remember to clean up spills and stains as soon as they happen and to vacuum and clean your seats regularly to keep them looking their best.

Keeping your car’s interior looking its best is important for both aesthetic and practical reasons. Whether you have cloth or leather seats, taking the time to clean and maintain them regularly will help extend their lifespan and keep your car looking great.

With the right tools, and a few simple steps, you can easily clean and protect your car seats, and keep your car’s interior looking like new.

As you can see, with a few household products transform into great car cleaning products. Add a little elbow grease, and the interior of your car can be as shiny clean as the exterior!

So why wait? Get started on cleaning your car seats today!

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