car seats being cleaned by vacuum

How to Clean Car Seats


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It’s a shame the new car smell doesn’t last forever. Instead, it’s quickly replaced by the smell of those hot chips you dropped, the gym gear in the boot and the coffee that takes pride of place in your cup holder. However, when you know how to clean car seats properly at least you can get them right back to brand new condition.

Even if you have kids. Or pets.

It’s a bold claim, we know. But it’s not that hard to clean car seats. Promise!

The preparation

Regardless of the type of car seats you have, there are a few steps you need to do first to get the best results. After that, you’ll have to change how you clean car seats according to whether your car is kitted out with fabric/cloth or leather seats.

But the very first step? Get out the vacuum! Remove anything that might clog it up, then thoroughly vacuum the seats, using a small nozzle to get into hard-to-reach areas like around the seatbelt plugs. If you skip this, you’ll just be working any dirt and debris further into the seats instead of cleaning them properly.

Then, use a brush to give it a final brush over. This will help to lift the fibres and remove any specks of dust, dirt, and pet hairs you might have missed.

Vacuum quickly again and you have a grit-free surface to work on.

black leather back car seats which are clean

How to clean leather car seats

Before you go crazy on your leather seats, do a small test. Rub a drop of water into an inconspicuous piece of the leather and see if it absorbs. If it does, you’ll want professional help to clean it. If not (as will be the case with most leather car seats) you can use water-based products safely as the leather has a protective layer.

Once you have leather cleaner, you’re ready to get going with our step-by-step guide on how to clean car seats:

  1. Apply the leather cleaner to the seat – evenly and as per the instructions on the packaging.
  2. Let it sit for a few minutes.
  3. Rub it in with a soft cloth, paying particular attention to any stains or dirty areas.
  4. For areas where the dirt has gotten into the grain, you can use a brush to loosen it and get better results.
  5. Wipe and dry the seat using a clean soft cloth.

The safest approach is to use a purpose-built leather upholstery cleaner for your car seats. Leather can be a delicate product to work with, and this ensures you won’t do damage.

However, some people do DIY it with a mixture of dishwashing liquid and water, laundry detergent and water, or even vinegar and water. Do that if you want, but it’s at your own risk. And remember to spot test it first!

How to clean fabric car seats

Now you know how to clean car seats made of leather, lets move on to fabric car seats. For these, tackle any stains or dirty spots before doing a general clean. This means applying the cleaner, letting it sit for 15-30 minutes, and then wiping off before doing an overall clean.

You can get specially made cleaner for fabric car seats. Again, it’s usually the safest option and should get you get results. But fabric is a little more forgiving (especially dark fabric) than leather, so you can use a few other solutions. Water mixed with baking soda is a popular one, as is water with washing detergent, and water with vinegar.

  1. Apply the cleaner (if it’s water-based or very thin, use a spray bottle) so the seat is slightly damp to the touch, but not wet.
  2. Let the cleaner sit on the fabric for five minutes.
  3. Using a damp cloth, rub the cleaner into the seats. Start at the top so any dirty and damp bits will work their way down the seat.
  4. Use a clean, damp cloth or towel to rinse off the cleaner. Take care not to get too much water in the fabric!
  5. Let the seats air dry.
Declutter is the first step to spring cleaning a car

Other ways to keep car seats clean

Cleaning car seats might be effective, but it’s not necessarily the best way to spend a Sunday afternoon. If your car seems to get dirty quickly, prevention might be better than cure.

Protecting your car seats from becoming grimy in the first place means that even if you know how to clean car seats properly, you won’t have to do it too often. Try some (or all) of the tricks below:

  • Use a windscreen cover. The sun can damage and fade your car seats. If they’re leather, the sun can also cause them to crack and dry out.
  • Use car seat protectors and dog carriers. You can just pop them in the dishwasher or even hose them off in between uses. These are great for day to day use, especially if you have kids or pets (read simple ways to pet proof your car here).
  • Do a once-weekly vacuum to keep dirt and dust from piling up and getting rubbed deep into the seats.
  • Keep baby wipes and a dry, clean towel in the car to quickly mop up any spills or stains before they dry and become difficult to remove. (Not sure where to store them? Check out some car storage ideas and car organising hacks.)

And there you have it. Once you’ve learnt how to clean car seats, it’s relatively easy to keep on top of it so they’re always relatively clean. And while you’re at it, here’s how to spring clean a car. There’s no point in having sparkling seats while everything else is dirty!

Car insurance

Car insurance might not cover the cleaning bill for dirty car seats but we’re there for you in many other (more traumatic) circumstances. If you fall victim to theft, fire, flood, hail or falling tree branch, or have a collision that causes damage, comprehensive car insurance offers peace of mind that you won’t have to foot the bill alone.

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