How to Clean Cloth Car Seats: DIY Methods for 4 Types of Stains

With endless amounts of passengers riding in your vehicle each week, it’s no wonder why your cloth car seats are just as susceptible to tough stains as your vehicle’s floors. But unlike your car mats, your car upholstery can’t simply be taken out and washed. Instead, you’ll need to know how to clean cloth car seat stains to get the best results.

Car seat maintenance is often neglected by drivers, but when you’re a rideshare driver, your rating is directly affected by the condition of your car interior. At the very least, you should be treating noticeable stains whenever you see them.

Keep reading to learn our recommended cleaning methods for four common stains on cloth upholstery.

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How to Clean Cloth Car Seat Stains

Nylon and polyester are the two most common types of car upholstery, which is great news for car owners because they’re quite easy to clean. While stains do settle in far more easily on fabric seats than on leather seats, you won’t have to worry too much about finding gentle cleaning solutions, as these materials are less likely to be damaged by dish detergents and other household materials. This makes it incredibly easy to achieve clean car seats without a professional detailer’s help.

In this section, we’ll provide effective cleaning formulas you can use to counteract four common types of stains, and how to properly apply each one. Before you take action on any of these solutions, we recommend vacuuming your car seats (at least in the problem area) to avoid rubbing abrasive dirt into the material.

If you’re interested in learning how to clean cloth car seats to prevent dirt and grime buildup as part of your maintenance routine, read our step-by-step process for deep cleaning your car seats.

1. Dirt Stains

It’s natural for people to accidentally carry small amounts of dirt or debris with them when they’ve been sitting or walking around outside. Over time, this may produce some dirt stains in the back of your vehicle.

Mild laundry detergent is the best household solution for these stains. This is because most laundry detergents are already formulated to lift dirt off of clothes, which are frequently made with materials that include nylon and polyester.

Here’s how to use detergent to clean cloth car seats:

  1. Mix a solution of approximately 1 cup of warm water and about 1/2 teaspoon of detergent. Increase volume of solution as needed based on the size of your stain.
  2. Fully wet a microfiber cloth with this solution.
  3. Wring out the cloth until it’s damp. This will prevent both discoloration and mildew.
  4. Use the cloth to gently scrub the solution over the material in circular motions. This will loosen up the most stubborn parts of the dirt stain.
  5. With a clean microfiber cloth that has been dampened with water only, wipe away the dirty suds.

2. Coffee Stains

Drinks can spill when any rider brings in an unsealed cup, but coffee stains can be the most stubborn stains of all. Even just a few drops can leave noticeable traces on your cloth car seats. However, your car seat is far from a lost cause when coffee is spilled on it.

The most important thing to do as soon as the spill occurs is soak up any excess liquid with paper towels or cloths. Keeping the stain in a manageable, small area will increase the effectiveness of your cleaning process and decrease the time you spend on it.

Then, grab vinegar and dish soap, which naturally tackles food and drink stains, as well as a couple clean towels to start this process:

  1. Mix a solution of two parts water, one part vinegar, and a few drops of dish soap.
  2. Dip a portion of your towel into the solution and wring most of the dripping liquid out.
  3. Using the damp towel, gently blot out the coffee stain, being careful not to scrub and increase the size of the stain.
  4. With a new and clean damp towel, wipe off any dirty remnants from the seat.

3. Grease Stains

Whether it’s from a passenger’s fast food meal or from your vehicle maintenance work, grease and oil can easily find its way onto your car seats and hang on tight.

When treating grease stains, you can once again grab your dish soap, as this household cleaner already is a grease-fighting solution. Then, follow these steps:

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  1. If your grease stain is dried, gently scrape away the excess layers of grease on your car seat. You can use a paint scraper if you have one, but a spoon or dull plastic knife will also work. If your stain is fresh, take a clean towel and blot away the excess liquid.
  2. Apply a small drop of dish soap directly on a new, clean cloth and gently rub it into the stained area.
  3. Add a few drops of water to the soaped area and scrub with a toothbrush to activate suds and lift the grease.
  4. Using a new, cloth that’s damp with water, wipe away the excess suds and liquid, then continue blotting until the stain is removed.

4. Vomit Stains

This may not be a frequent occurrence for your average driver, but it’s not unheard of for Uber and Lyft drivers to experience a vomiting passenger once or twice, especially when driving late nights in party cities.

Excess vomit should always immediately be removed and diluted with cold water, and you should roll down your windows to keep air flow rolling through your vehicle. Then, we recommend using a baking soda solution to clean the remaining stain, as baking soda is a natural odor eliminator that will save your car’s upholstery while making your car smell fresh once again.

To create and use a baking soda solution to clean car upholstery, follow these steps:

  1. Mix a solution of one part baking soda and four parts warm water.
  2. Take an old toothbrush, dip it into the solution, and scrub the vomit stain.
  3. Let the solution sit for 30 minutes.
  4. With a clean, damp microfiber cloth, wipe away the solution.

Protecting Your Car Upholstery

While cleaning cloth car seats is easy to do at home, it can be a time-consuming process if you’re frequently working with messy riders. It can also be an annoying interruption to your driving schedule, or another task after a long day of work. Luckily, stains on your car interior are avoidable, even when you drive for a rideshare service.

Here are three tips you can use to protect your car’s upholstery in the future:

  • Vacuum frequently: Even if it’s not visible, there is likely a decent amount of dirt tracked into your car each day. To prevent this from accumulating, spreading, and falling into the hard-to-clean crevices of your car, you can vacuum weekly. This will also help you avoid damage from the abrasive material.
  • Use a seat cover: This is an easy, quick fix that can protect cloth seats from all sorts of stains. However, only high-quality seat covers will truly help you avoid the damage of massive spills, so here are our favorite truck seat covers for inspiration on what to look for.
  • Purchase an upholstery protector: Products like this popular Scotchgard Fabric & Upholstery Protector can provide immense support for less stubborn stains, and can minimize damage for the tougher stains.

Frequently Asked Questions

By understanding how to clean cloth car seats, you can immediately get rid of any stains that arise. To help you during your learning process, we’ve answered three frequently asked questions:

1. What products can I purchase to clean my car upholstery if I don’t want to make my own cleaning solution?

Local auto parts stores sell plenty of car upholstery cleaners that will work great with your car. Though this is definitely the more expensive option, these cleaners can usually double as a cleaner for your car seats and for your car floor mats.

2. The stain on my cloth car seat is still visible. What else can I do?

Before you take any other approaches, keep in mind that stubborn stains can often require multiple rounds of cleaning before they take full effect. However, if it still doesn’t work after a handful of tries, you may want to try:

  • Using a scrub brush to set in the solution and lift the stain. Though the purpose of this is to use something firmer than a towel or toothbrush, soft to medium brushes are still preferred, as firm brushes can cause damage to your car seat material when paired with your scrubbing action.
  • Purchasing a store-bought stain remover. Cleaning solutions purchased from your local store can be stronger than DIY solutions, especially when designated specifically for your car seat material and stain type.

3. Can my rider really rate me poorly for a small stain on a car seat?

While it’s unlikely that your rider will drop your rating as low as three stars due to a small stain, they do have the right to give you a four-star rating because of a noticeable stain. This is because an unkempt car is a reflection of your service level.

Guard Yourself Against Stains

When you know how to clean car seats, you immediately have a weapon to use against the toughest stains in your car’s interior. When you’re also taking preventative measures to reduce staining altogether, you also have a shield that will guard against your passengers’ very human mistakes. We hope this article helps you cut back on stains, as well as the time you spend fighting them.

If you don’t already have a reliable vacuum cleaner in your arsenal to help you prevent stains, read our guide to the four best car vacuums to determine which model you should purchase.

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