Car care

How To Clean Car Seats

Learn the essentials of car seat cleaning to enhance vehicle maintenance and resale value. Explore specific cleaning methods for leather, cloth, and vinyl seats, with step-by-step guides, DIY solutions, and expert tips.
Written by
Chloe Miller, Mar 29, 2024

Spilled your coffee on your cloth seats? Have your children decided to combine their food with the car seat? Just had your dog leap onto the seats after a walk? Whether you have leather, cloth, suede or vinyl seats, we have advice for you.

It can be a real challenge to keep your car clean and tidy, especially when you live a busy or adventurous lifestyle (or just have small children!). At Panda Hub, we understand that accidents happen and your car seats may be a little worse for wear, so let us help! Find all you need to know below.

How To Super Clean Cloth and Leather Seats - Panda Hub Mobile Car Detailing

Differences Between Leather, Cloth, Suede and Vinyl Seats

Each type of car seat material; leather, cloth and vinyl have their own unique characteristics that require specific cleaning methods, and not adhering to these methods could cause damage.

Leather seats, known for their luxury and comfort, require special care to maintain their suppleness and prevent cracking, as well as enhance their overall durability.

Cloth seats, while less high-maintenance, are more prone to stains and odors, requiring deep cleaning techniques.

Suede seats, prone to staining and require a very gentle hand & equipment. Not something to be scared of, but always be cautious when cleaning them.

Vinyl seats, on the other hand, are durable and easy to clean, but they can become sticky and uncomfortable in hot weather if not properly maintained.

View our specialized article on how to deep clean leather car seats for a full explanation of everything leather car seat related!

5 Amazing Ways to Clean Any Car Seat | Panda Hub

How To Clean Cloth Car Seats

Cloth/Fabric car seats, while comfortable and breathable, can be a magnet for dust, allergens, and stains.

This is how to deep clean cloth & fabric car seats and keep them fresh and smelling good.

Vacuuming and Pretreating Cloth Seats

  • Start the cleaning process by thoroughly vacuuming the seats to remove loose dirt and dust particles.
  • Using a brush attachment will help to loosen embedded dirt. For stains, you can pre-treat them with a cloth-safe stain remover.
  • Apply the stain remover and let it sit for a few minutes before blotting with a clean cloth.

Applying and Scrubbing with Upholstery Cleaners

  • Next, apply a quality upholstery cleaner specifically designed for cloth seats.
  • Spray it evenly across the surface and scrub gently with a soft brush or clean cloth until foam forms.
  • Be sure to follow the product instructions as some cleaners may need to be left on for a few minutes before scrubbing.

Drying and Applying Protective Coatings

  • After scrubbing, use a clean, dry cloth or a wet-dry vacuum to remove the cleaner.
  • Allow the seats to dry naturally, or speed up the process by using a fan.
  • Once dry, you can apply a fabric protector to help repel future stains and spills.

Always test these products on a hidden area first to ensure they don't discolor the fabric.

How To Clean Suede Car Seats

Suede, a fragile but luxurious material to have in your car. Typically used in upholstery, Suede is also sometimes used for car seats. Most “suede” seats are typically suede imitations/alternatives.

5 Amazing Ways to Clean Any Car Seat | Panda Hub

Important Points For Suede Seats

Be gentle with suede. Use gentle products - with no harsh ingredients, and use gentle equipment - such as soft bristled brushes and microfiber cloths.

Use specialized solutions when possible. These products will ensure that stains and odors are cleaned effectively and efficiently - while also being gentle.

Do not use excessive pressure when blotting moisture from suede.

Allow plenty of time for the suede to air dry. Suede unfortunately makes stains very obvious, even water marks.

How To Clean Vinyl Car Seats

Vinyl car seats are known for their durability and ease of cleaning, but they require specific care to prevent damage and maintain their comfortable feel.

5 Amazing Ways to Clean Any Car Seat | Panda Hub

Cleaning Steps for Vinyl

  • Start the cleaning process by wiping the seats with a damp cloth to remove surface dirt.
  • For stubborn stains, use a mild soap solution or a cleaner specifically designed for vinyl.
  • After cleaning, rinse the seats with a damp cloth and dry them thoroughly.
  • To protect the seats and give them a nice shine, apply a vinyl conditioner or protectant, making sure to follow the product instructions.

Advice For Cleaning Vinyl Seats

  • Always use vinyl-approved products and remember to dry the seats thoroughly after cleaning to prevent mildew growth.
  • Never use harsh chemicals or abrasive tools as they can damage the vinyl surface.

Expert Tips for Cleaning Car Seats

Here are some quickfire tips and advice that will help you keep your car seats clean and fresh, as well as some further advice regarding specific issues.

  • Addressing stains promptly can prevent permanent damage
  • Always gently blot stains, don't rub, to avoid spreading
  • Use a soft-bristled brush for stubborn stains
  • Consider a professional cleaning service for serious issues
  • Use seat covers
  • Avoid eating and drinking in your car

How To Clean Urine From Car Seats

This is a problem faced far more commonly than you would think, and thankfully comes with several solutions which also work for child car seats too.

This solution is specifically for fabric/cloth car seats.

  1. Blot as much of the stain as quickly as possible, and soak up any excess.
  2. Remove the seat from the car if possible, as it will give you room to work and help air out the car. If not possible, air out the car while cleaning.
  3. Spray the urine stain with a specialized enzymatic car cleaner, these can be cheaply obtained on Amazon in small bottles. Enzymatic cleaners are very effective in removing odor, as well as killing bacteria.
  4. Blot as much of the cleaner up as possible.
  5. Allow the seat to air dry, overnight if possible.

If the odor or stain persists, it is important to speak to professionals who can use steam cleaners and extractors, or with particularly stubborn incidents, speak to an upholstery professional, as it has likely been absorbed into the foam.

5 Amazing Ways to Clean Any Car Seat | Panda Hub

How To Clean A Seatbelt

Seatbelts are a commonly overlooked aspect of cleaning your car, but should be done periodically, especially if they’re stained or odorous.

Here is what you’ll need to clean your seatbelt.

  • Cleaner - Avoid anything highly acidic, but a gentle all purpose liquid soap will work. We advise using specialized seatbelt products as much as possible.
  • Clamps - You’ll need something to stop your seat belts retracting, avoid anything too small as it can cause damage if the seatbelt retracts with them attached.
  • Soft bristled brush - To avoid damaging the fibers of the seatbelt, it’s best to use gentle methods and products.
  • Microfiber cloth - A perfect way to gently wipe and blot dirt out of surfaces.

Here’s how to clean your seatbelt using the above items.

  1. Fully extend the seatbelt and clamp it firmly at the top, ensuring that it can’t retract.
  2. Apply the cleaner to both sides of the seatbelt - be sure not to oversaturate and soak the belt, using a spray bottle of cleaning solution makes this easier.
  3. Allow the solution to sit for 5 minutes.
  4. Using the soft bristled brush, begin to gently clean down the length of the belt - no circular or horizontal (across the belt) movements, as this can damage the fibers of the belt.
  5. Using the microfiber cloth, firmly wipe down the length of the belt, in a single direction. Your goal is to remove excess moisture as much as possible without being too rough.
  6. Allow the belt to dry overnight, it helps if you can air it out as much as possible. This is to avoid mildew and mold issues.
5 Amazing Ways to Clean Any Car Seat | Panda Hub

How To Clean Between Car Seats

Getting between car seats can be majorly frustrating and time consuming when not tackled efficiently.

Here are 3 different ways to tackle the grime and debris between your seats.

Vacuum Attachments

You can use a variety of vacuum attachments to get in the nooks and crannies of cars, and thankfully the thinner attachments are fantastic at getting between seats. You can use small car vacuums or household vacuums with a hose and attachment.

Blow Air

A method best done before any other cleaning has taken place. There are inexpensive ways to blast the debris from between your seats, just be sure to try to wipe down afterward to remove stubborn dust and grime.

Remove Seats

The most thorough way to do this, but also the most time consuming. Please be aware of attached wires and do not attempt this if advised against by the manufacturer. You will be able to fully remove the seats, get full access to the dirt and make sure every bit of dust is gone.

5 Amazing Ways to Clean Any Car Seat | Panda Hub

How To Remove Stains From Car Seats

Besides regular maintenance, the biggest difficulty car owners face with their car seats are unexpected spills and stains.

If faced with a severely stained seat, it is best to approach it with a mindset that you’re there to remove as much as possible - not restore it to new. This will help you manage your expectations and avoid overly aggressive or repetitive cleaning which can damage the seat. If faced with a particularly stubborn stain, consult a professional detailing service, or a car upholstery professional.

Here are the best ways to clean stains from your car seats.

  • Consult the guides above and spot treat stains using the methods described.
  • If the above methods don’t work, find a specialized stain remover that works with the material of your car seats. Avoid all purpose cleaners.
  • If the DIY specialized kit isn’t working, consult a professional who will be able to use steam cleaners and extractors. This will target deep within the foam and lift aggressive and stubborn stains.

FAQs: Cleaning Car Seats

Q) How do you clean leather car seats?

We’ve dedicated a separate article to this subject, as it can get complex! You can find it here.

Q) How do you remove mold from car seats?

We would advise you to immediately consult a professional, as mold carries significant health risks and has likely spread further than you can see. Professionals will know how to remove mold from car seats, as well as accurately evaluate the extent of the problem.

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