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Your car seats are used every day as a rideshare driver. With frequent usage naturally comes more dirt and grime, which can lead to actual damages. Knowing how to clean car seats will help you extend the life of your upholstery, while saving you the cost of professional help.
Luckily, a clean cloth car seat can easily be achieved from home, often with materials you already have. It doesn’t require much time — and will usually cost next to nothing — on par with what passengers expect from their rideshare experience. Keep reading to learn about the DIY car cleaning process from start to finish.
- Types of Car Upholstery
- How Often Do I Need to Clean Car Seats?
- How to Clean Car Seats in 8 Steps
- Frequently Asked Questions
Types of Car Upholstery
Before learning how to clean car seats, it’s important to understand what type of car upholstery you’re dealing with. Depending on the material your seats are made of, the types of cleaning solutions and techniques you use may vary. Here are five common types of upholstery you’ll find in vehicles:
- Nylon: This type of cloth car seat is the most common in the vehicle marketplace. This is the material we’ll be focusing on in this article. Cleaning nylon is a fairly forgiving process for beginners, and will be our focus for the remaining sections of this article.
- Polyester: This is a fairly common type of car upholstery, sometimes known as microsuede or microfiber, that is only slightly less popular than nylon. When cleaning this material, we suggest using a polyester car upholstery cleaner, which tends to be gentler, and never over-wetting your car seats. This is because the material is more susceptible to damage and water stains.
- Leather: Most common in luxury vehicles, leather car seats require special care and leather-specific cleaning solutions. Read our full guide to cleaning and protecting your leather car seats.
- Faux leather: As opposed to real leather, faux leather is manufactured to be far more durable, while providing the luxury look. This material can be cleaned with a mixture of detergent and water, which should be applied and removed with a damp cloth, before you dry the seats completely. Only purchase faux leather cleaner if you run into stubborn stains.
- Vinyl: If you have an economy vehicle that doesn’t have fabric or faux leather seats, there’s a good chance you have vinyl seats. This material is extremely easy to clean, as simply wiping down the seats with a clean towel dampened with water will do. Again, only purchase cleaning agents specific to vinyl if you have stubborn stains.
If you’re still unsure which type of car seat upholstery you own, check your owner’s manual or look online for more information about your vehicle model.
How Often Do I Need to Clean Car Seats?
Regardless of what type of car seat you have, following a monthly cleaning regimen is highly recommended. This is because materials like leather and faux leather can easily be damaged by abrasive materials, whereas fabric materials can quickly take on spots and stains.
That said, it’s also important to tackle any stains or noticeable debris as soon as possible. You don’t necessarily have to clean your entire car interior when a small mess occurs if it’s only been a couple weeks since your previous cleaning. However, keep in mind that Uber and Lyft both require all aspects of your vehicle to be in top condition. Tackling problem areas straight away will prevent you from having to completely reupholster your car seats, which would only add on to expenses you need to personally cover.
How to Clean Car Seats
Every car owner with nylon upholstery must understand how to clean their vehicles on a routine basis, as well as how to erase stains as soon as they occur. The car seat cleaning process in this section will cover both of these needs.
As we noted earlier, this process should only be used for common nylon fabric car seats. Other materials are more susceptible to damage if the right process is not followed and improper chemicals are used.
First, you’ll need to gather all necessary materials. All you need is:
- A car vacuum cleaner
- A soft-bristled scrub brush
- A handful of clean cloths (microfiber works great)
- A cleaning solution
- Spray bottle (optional)
When cleaning nylon material, you have plenty of leeway on the cleaning solution you select. This means you absolutely do not need to purchase specialty cleaning products, as household products will do an equally effective job without damaging the relatively sturdy material. Here are two popular DIY cleaning solutions you can use for your cloth seats:
- One cup of white vinegar, one gallon of water, and a few drops of dish soap
- One gallon of hot water and a small amount of laundry detergent
- A half gallon of water and a half gallon of dish detergent
When mixing these solutions, be gentle to avoid creating too many bubbles. If desired, pour your solution into a spray bottle for easier application before beginning the following process.
The 8-Step Car Seat Cleaning Process
Now that you’ve gathered the required materials, follow these steps to clean your car seats effectively:
- Vacuum your car seats to get rid of loose debris. If you have one, use your car vacuum cleaner’s crevice tool extension to ensure you’re vacuuming all the seams and corners.
- Lightly dip your scrub brush directly into the cleaning solution, making sure to get just enough that the brush isn’t excessively dripping, or spray the about five times onto a small area of your car seat.
- In a circular motion, scrub the brush to loosen up dirt and lift up stains.
- Wet a clean cloth with cold water or room temperature water and wring out excess water. Immediately use the damp cloth to clean up remaining suds and debris.
- Continue following steps 2-4, working in small areas to ensure the cleaning agent and dirty suds do not dry back in the seat.
- If you’re still noticing any stains after cleaning all your car seats, try following steps 2-4 a few more times, specifically on the problem area. If this still doesn’t work, you can mix a solution of one part baking soda and four parts warm water. Then, dip a toothbrush into the solution and scrub the area. Let the solution sit for a half hour before wiping it away. This extra step should remove stains effectively, and is a solution that can be used whenever you have stains in specific areas.
- Vacuum your car seats once more to clean up any debris that remains.
- Leave your vehicle to air dry, cracking your window open slightly if needed.
Frequently Asked Questions
Nylon car upholstery cleaning is easy and extremely affordable to complete on your own. To help you learn more about cleaning car seats, we’ve answered a few common questions:
1. Will Uber or Lyft cover cleaning costs for my car seats?
Uber and Lyft will not cover general cleaning costs, since you are an independent contractor, which is why utilizing our DIY process is important for helping you save.
However, if a rider has caused a significant mess in your vehicle — this includes minor food and beverage spills — you may be entitled to a cleaning fee as a reimbursement for professional cleaning expenses or your trouble. Make sure to immediately take note of specific situation details, including the date and trip locations, and take a clear picture of the mess, and submit it to Uber (within three days) or to Lyft (before your next trip or within six hours).
2. A passenger vomited on my car seat. How can I clean it up?
Rideshare companies may reimburse you if a rider vomits in your vehicle, but because this is more likely to occur in the late night or early morning hours, professionals may not be around to help. To get rid of vomit before it stains — and before the smell becomes embedded into the vehicle — we recommend using the baking soda solution described in step 6 of our car seat cleaning process. Wipe away excess vomit, scrub in the solution, and let it sit for 30 minutes before wiping it away.
Baking soda is the best method to clean the mess and get rid of odor in one go. If any stain remains, clean the spot with club soda, which is an effective vomit stain remover. If any odor remains, leave your windows open and consider spritzing your car interior with linen spray or essential oils.
3. If I can’t get a stain removed on my own, where can I find professionals to help?
Most car detailers will be able to help you with cleaning upholstery, and even replacing it if needed. However, keep in mind that using professional services can cost you over $100, or $50 at the lowest, so it’s best to be proactive about your car seat cleaning whenever possible.
Invite Riders Into a Spot-Free Vehicle
As you probably have learned, cleaning cloth car seats is quite simple. The process allows for plenty of alternative materials when you don’t have certain household products, which means you’ll never have to spend extra on nylon-specific cleaning solutions. Plus, you won’t have to spend extra on professional cleaning every single month to get your vehicle rideshare-ready.
With your car seats all cleaned up, make sure your vehicle’s windows are spotless, too. Read our complete guide to getting clear, streak-free windows next.
Brett Helling is the owner of Ridester.com. He has been a rideshare driver since early 2012, having completed hundreds of trips for companies including Uber, Lyft, and Postmates. In 2014 he acquired Ridester.com to share his experiences with other drivers. His insights are regularly quoted by publications such as Forbes, Vice, CNBC, and more. He is currently working on a book about working in the Gig Economy, expanding his skill set beyond the rideshare niche. Read more about Brett here.