How to Clean Car Seats: Making Your Cloth, Leather, or Vinyl Seats Look as Good as New

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If you’re like many car owners, you probably devote a good amount of time each month to keeping the outside of your car clean. You take your car to the car wash, and maybe you even get the exterior waxed. But how often do you thoroughly clean your car’s seats? If you’re like many people we meet at Take 5, the answer is probably “rarely” or maybe even “never.”

Your seats deserve a regular cleaning. Those comfortable cushions can become the target of crumbs, spilled coffee, and even pet hair. If you’re wondering what’s the best way to clean your car’s interior, including your seats, continue reading. This guide will cover everything you need to know to get started.

Clean Car Seats

How to Clean Your Car Seats: A Step-By-Step Process

Cleaning your car’s seats doesn’t have to be overwhelming if you break the process down into easy-to-do chunks. Follow our simple step-by-step process to learn how to clean your car seats effectively and thoroughly.

Step 1. Gather the Supplies

Contrary to what some might think, cleaning your car’s seats is not difficult. All it takes are some proper tools and strategic thinking. Regardless of whether you have leather seats or cloth seats, you’ll want to gather the following products:

  • A handheld vacuum cleaner
  • A scrubbing brush
  • A fabric cleaner
  • A microfiber cloth
  • Homemade solutions (e.g., vinegar, dish soap, and baking soda)
  • A sponge

Step 2. Remove Personal Items

The second step in the cleaning process is removing personal items from your car’s seats.

These include, but are not limited to:

  • Quarters
  • Hairpins
  • Baby toys
  • Jewelry
  • Paper
  • Plastic items

You’ll want to remove anything you don’t want to get sucked into a vacuum cleaner, which may slow your cleaning process.

Step 3. Use a Vacuum Cleaner

The next step is to get into the nitty-gritty of the cleaning process by sucking up any leftover dirt or debris with a vacuum cleaner. When doing so, you’ll want to ensure you get in between the seat backs and bottoms to avoid missing any spots, especially hard-to-reach ones.

Step 4. Treat Unwanted Stains

Learning how to clean stains out of car seats requires specialized cleaning products, like a fabric cleaner or a home-made cleaner.

Spray a coating of cleaner onto the stains, but be careful not to spray too much. Over-spraying can lead to mildew. In most cases, four to five sprays should be enough, but when in doubt, follow the instructions on the cleaning product.

Alternatively, you could use a homemade solution. Simply mix two cups of water, one cup of vinegar, and a tablespoon of dish soap and pour it into a spray bottle.

Step 5. Brush and Wipe Down Your Seats

Use your brush to scrub away any dirt or stains that have made their way into your seat’s fabric. Keep scrubbing and spraying until the stains have disappeared or decreased in size or intensity. Then use your microfiber cloth to wipe away any excess moisture.

A couple of pro-tips:

  1. Make sure to rinse your brush in clean water every time the brush becomes noticeably soiled to avoid worsening the stain.
  2. Always allow your seats to dry completely before using your car. The standard recommendation is two to three hours, but use your best judgment.

How to Clean Leather Seats

You may be wondering why we’ve included a separate section on how to clean leather car seats, specifically. Isn’t the process the same as non-leather seats? For the most part, yes. However, leather seats require special handling. Leather seats can fade and crack when exposed to heat and UV light exposure, so you’ll need to be extra gentle when cleaning.

Avoid using bleach or ammonia-based cleaners since they can damage the leather. For the best result, you’ll want specialized cleaning products, which include:

  • Leather cleaner
  • Leather conditioner
  • Toothpaste
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Baking soda

All of these can be used to polish leather seats, although baking soda is a solid choice for removing oil and grease stains. After letting the baking soda absorb the oil for a few hours, use a cloth to remove any residue. Use a leather cleaner and a soft-bristled brush to break down any stubborn stains for upholstery car seats.

After you’re done cleaning, use a damp towel to wipe away any leftover cleaning solution and then follow that up with a wipe down using a microfiber cloth to absorb any moisture.

Use a leather conditioner to add a layer of UV protection and to prevent rotting, but let your seats dry for several hours before doing so.

How to Clean Cloth Seats

Cloth seats are either made of nylon or polyester. Although both can be cleaned, polyester is more difficult to clean than nylon.

If your car has cloth seats, you’ll need the materials we discussed in the first section, plus:

  • An upholstery cleaner
  • A fabric protector (optional)
  • Disinfectants

Cleaning cloth car seats is similar to cleaning any other type of seats—Vacuum, scrub away dirt, and wipe away excessive moisture.

The main difference, however, is that with cloth seats, you’ll want to use an all-around upholstery cleaner to limit the amount of product that seeps into the fabric. Cloth seats are also susceptible to unpleasant odors, so spray some disinfectant to keep your ride smelling brand new.

Since polyester and nylon are popular upholstery types, the tips above work well for learning how to clean car upholstery materials.

How to Clean Vinyl Upholstery Seats

Like polyester and nylon, vinyl is a type of upholstery seat material. The good thing about vinyl upholstery seats is that they’re easier to maintain. The material doesn’t stain or tear as easily as cloth or leather, and best of all, cleaning vinyl car seats is a simple and straightforward task.

You can use a special vinyl upholstery cleaner, but soap and water often work. Spray the cleaner directly onto the seat and then wipe with a cloth.

How Often Should You Clean Your Car Seats?

The answer to this depends on personal preference, but a general rule of thumb is that you should clean your car seats once every 1.5 weeks. The reason for the frequent cleaning schedule is to avoid accumulating messes that morph into caked-on dirt and stubborn stains that are hard to remove.

Regular cleanings will result in less work and hassle in the long run.

Keep Your Car Clean with Our Pro5™ Detail Center

Clean car seats might not seem like a big deal, but vacuumed, freshly scented seats can go a long way to making a great first impression and giving your vehicle that delicious “new car” feel.

Take 5 wants to keep your ride clean and shiny for the long road ahead. Take advantage of our car wash services and enjoy the convenience of pre-soak treatments, superb wheel cleaners, and wax products for paint protection.

As a bonus, we’ll throw in free vacuums as part of our Pro5™ Detail Center offers. Enjoy a hassle-free car cleaning experience. Find a car wash station near you today.

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