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How To Clean Car Seats: 3 Methods That Work

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Your car seats are used every day when you drive.

With frequent usage naturally comes more dirt and grime, which can lead to actual damage.

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.

That’s why I’ve put together this tutorial on how to clean car seats to help other drivers.

Why Should You Clean Your Car Seats?

When riders enter your car, the first thing they will notice is your clean car upholstery.

Your rider’s comfort should be your top priority as a rideshare driver.

Here’s why it’s critical to clean your car seats regularly.

Better Ride for Customers

Nobody wants to sit on a dirty car seat.

By cleaning your car upholstery often, your car will also smell a lot nicer, providing a more pleasant experience for your customers.

Customers may leave a review on your Uber profile and mention the clean and neat car interior, boosting your rating.

You will also avoid in-person complaints.

Hygiene

You should also clean your car for hygiene reasons.

If you use your vehicle for personal reasons, such as transporting your family and friends, having a clean car interior will ensure they don’t get exposed to germs or dirt.

Types of Car Upholstery

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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:

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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?

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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: Getting Prepared

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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.

Tools You Need to Clean Your Car Seats

You’ll need a cleaning solution and cleaning tools to clean your car properly and thoroughly.

Here is a comprehensive list of the items you should buy if you plan on cleaning your car yourself.

  • Vacuum: A vacuum will make it easy to clean the floor and fabric of your car from debris.
    Every time someone eats and leaves crumbs in your car, you’ll be able to vacuum them up without any other tools.
  • Spray Bottle: A spray bottle allows you to spray clean water, water mixed with gentle soap, upholstery cleaner, vinegar, or other cleaning solutions onto your fabric car seat.  
  • Microfiber Cloth: A gentle, damp cloth allows you to clean your car panels and windows without scratching them.
    An alternative is to use a large microfiber towel.
  • Sponge: A sponge allows you to apply soapy water to your windows, mirrors, and panels and scrub out any dirt.
  • Bucket: Finally, a bucket allows you to clean off your sponge as you clean your car.

When cleaning nylon material, you have plenty of leeway on the cleaning solution you select.

Cleaning Car Seats With Household Products

Once you get the essential tools above, you can get to work on your car using standard household products that you probably already have in your pantry.

There’s no need to buy expensive cleaning solutions, which can cost a lot of money and damage your car.

  • Baking Soda: Baking soda is excellent for scrubbing and removing stains, as it’s very abrasive.
    It also helps remove foul smells, as it absorbs bad-smelling odors.
    When you mix it with vinegar, it is even more effective at removing stains.
  • Rubbing Alcohol: Rubbing alcohol is a disinfectant that you can use to kill germs and sanitize your car.
    Rubbing alcohol is also extremely strong and effective at breaking down stains in the fabric due to the ingredients added to rubbing alcohol (which pure alcohol doesn’t have).
  • Toothpaste: Toothpaste is a gentle abrasive – that’s why it’s so effective at removing plaque from your teeth and gums.
    Toothpaste comes in handy when you need to clean your mirror, faux leather or genuine leather upholstery, or other materials you are afraid of damaging.
    It can remove stains without damaging the material you apply it on.
  • Vinegar: Vinegar is one of the most common household items you’ll find in DIY cleaning solutions.
    Due to its acidity, it is incredibly effective at removing stains, soap scum, grime, and more.
    If you have stickiness from spilled soda or stickers, vinegar is also handy.
  • Linseed Oil: You can make an effective DIY soap using linseed oil (which you may know as flaxseed oil), distilled water, and lye.
    This soap is particularly useful when cleaning wooden components of your car, as it helps preserve the wood.
  • Cornstarch: Cornstarch is abrasive, making it useful for removing tough stains.
    In addition, it is very absorbent, so it’s excellent for absorbing foul odors and moisture.
    In particular, it’s useful for removing oil stains from your car carpets.
  • Club Soda: Finally, you can use club soda to remove mild stains when you don’t have the other ingredients.
    Mix two cups of club soda with a tablespoon of salt or baking soda.
    You can add a little lemon juice to make it even more effective.

How To Clean Car Seats: 3 Easy Methods

Now that you’ve bought basic cleaning tools and fetched the items I mentioned above from your kitchen pantry, it’s time to get to it.

Here’s how to clean different types of car seats.

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How to Clean Cloth Car Seats

Cloth car seats are relatively easy to clean without damaging the material.

Here are the steps to follow.

1. Vacuum

Start by vacuuming your upholstery.

Vacuuming your seats will clean up crumbs, hair, dust, sand, and other debris.

Make sure to get in between the seats – use the thin tool that comes with most vacuum sets to get into the cracks and crevices of your car.

2. Treat Stains

Start by treating the stains with your upholstery cleaning solution.

You can use a mass-produced cleaning solution or one you created using one of the everyday kitchen items I mentioned above.

Either way, allowing the solution to soak in the fabric will make it easier to remove the stain.

3. Upholstery Cleaning Solution

Next, apply the upholstery cleaning solution again with a spray bottle.

Make sure to spray it lightly.

As you scrub away the stain, you can spray more if you notice that the stain is not going away.

5. Scrub Away

Keep scrubbing until even stubborn stains come out.

Use a scrubbing brush – it’s a good idea to have both a gentle and a more firm brush for more stubborn stains.

Wash your brush off in the bucket as needed.

6. Dry

Finally, let your car dry.

You can use a dry microfiber cloth to wipe away excess moisture.

That will make your car dry faster.

If you are in a big rush, using a fan can help you get your vehicle to dry faster.

You can also open the doors and let the sunshine in.

How To Clean Leather Car Seats

Cleaning leather car seats can be a bit more complicated.

Leather is an expensive and delicate fabric; if you are too rough during your cleanings, you’ll have to replace your seats earlier.

Follow these steps to clean your leather car seats without ruining them.

1. Combine Water and Soap

For crumbs, sand, and other debris, you can use a vacuum to clean your car seats.

Just be careful not to scratch the leather.

Some vacuum cleaners have tools that come with soft brushes, so you avoid scratching the surface you are vacuuming.

However, for stains, a vacuum won’t be enough.

Start by diluting soap with water.

Diluting your soap will ensure that it’s not too strong and abrasive for your seats.

You can use a pre-made soap from the supermarket or online.

I recommend using saddle soap, which is specifically for leather.

It will allow you to clean your leather seats without ruining them.

In addition, saddle soap conditions your leather seats, leaving them soft, supple, and comfortable.

Your seats will look brand new after cleaning them with saddle soap.

You can also use a gentle soap made of flaxseed oil.

You don’t want to use any cleaning solution that contains bleach, as it’s very damaging to leather.

The same goes for ammonia.

If you use regular dish soap, diluting it with water becomes even more critical, as it will help keep the solution mild.

2. Scrub Seats

Next comes the scrubbing part.

For leather, you’ll want to apply the solution to a microfiber cloth or towel and then scrub your seats with it.

If you are using a spray bottle to apply the diluted soap to the seats directly, use just one or two sprays.

Leather takes a long time to dry, so you don’t want to make it too wet.

If you are using a brush, use a gentle brush, and don’t scrub too hard.

Have patience until the stains come out thoroughly.

3. Dry Thoroughly

Finally, let the leather dry.

Leather often needs a long time to dry, so clean your car when you have time to let it dry.

A few hours should usually work, but it helps if it’s a sunny day and the sun shines through the windows.

Avoid using artificial heat, like a heat blower, to dry your leather, as it will end up cracking and damaging it.

How To Clean Kids’ Car Seats

Finally, let’s discuss cleaning car seats.

As an Uber driver, you might provide a car seat in case your passengers are taking a young child with them.

Such passengers can book the Uber Car Seat option, which has the same price fare as UberX + a $10 surcharge per ride.

While Uber Car Seat allows you to get better earning opportunities, cleaning the seat regularly is important.

Lyft also has a car seat option in New York City, with a $10 surcharge on the standard fare rate.

Car seats have many components, so you’ll have to clean them separately.

1. Clean Fabric Cover

The first step is cleaning the fabric cover.

Usually, you can remove the fabric cover entirely and wash it in the washing machine.

Use a mild detergent, and put it on the gentle cycle.

If you’re unsure whether you can put it through the washing machine, check the car seat’s owner’s manual.

2. Clean Harness, Straps, and Buckle

Once you’ve removed the fabric from the plastic harness, you can clean the harness itself.

Use a microfiber cloth and gentle soap to wipe it down and remove any crumbs or stains.

You might want to lightly vacuum it first if there are a lot of crumbs.

You can wipe down the straps and buckles as well.

If the buckles are dirty, you can take a small bowl, fill it with mild soap and water, and swish the hooks and buckles around in the water.

3. Sanitize Plastic Base

The next step is to sanitize the plastic base.

Your rubbing alcohol will come in handy here.

You can put it in a spray bottle, spray the harness and plastic base, and wipe it down with a clean microfiber cloth.

4. Reassemble

Next, reassemble the car seat.

Of course, you should let the fabric cover dry first.

Avoid putting it in the dryer – let it air-dry.

Wipe down the harness, buckle, and plastic base with a clean cloth.

Once everything is dry, put everything back together.

Ensure you follow the instructions in the owner’s manual.

Reassembling it incorrectly or missing a strap or buckle can make things dangerous for the child.

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.

3 thoughts on “How To Clean Car Seats: 3 Methods That Work”

  1. Nice. I always worry about solving this problem. Thanks to your article, everything has become easier. Hope you write more.

    Reply
  2. When it comes to the cleanliness of car seats, dirt is not your only opponent. You also have to watch out for water spills! If you think they will evaporate and leave no stains, then you thought wrong. Water stains from fabric car seats are common problems every car owner experiences.

    Reply

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