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How to Clean Car Seats with Household Products [2022]

Clean car seats are something everyone wants. Doing the work to maintain those clean seats is another story altogether.

Think about all the places you go. Everywhere you sit. Some of it stays with you. The park bench with the chewing gum and bird poop? That’s on your car seat now. The doctor’s waiting room seat with the snot from a sneezing kid before you sat down? Yep, you took some of that home in your car too. So let’s talk about how to clean car seats with household cleaning products. No special cleaning solutions or chemicals. Just the stuff you probably already have in your house.

how to clean car seats with household products
Steam Cleaning a Car Interior.

Car Seats are Disgusting

Dirt, germs, and grime are everywhere. And you sit in it constantly. Anytime you ride the bus or take the subway to work, you are sitting where a thousand people have sat before you.

It’s the same situation with restaurants, the waiting room at the doctors, and the ice cream and gum on the park bench.

And do we even want to talk about that stained area on your back seat? It might have been a great time, but you probably don’t want that permanent reminder of your back seat adventures. Or maybe you do. I’m not judging.

Dirt and bacteria accumulate over time. Left unchecked it becomes a petri dish of 52 flavors of gross.

I could go on and on, but I think you get my point. Your car seats are disgusting.

Table of Contents

How to Clean Car Seats with Household Products

When I was a kid I would come home from school and Mom would make me put on my play clothes to go outside. She didn’t want me to ruin my school clothes. And she washed everything before I wore them again.

Indirectly, Mom was also doing her part to stop the germs and bacteria that hitched a ride home with me from taking up residence inside our house.

Obviously, you can’t keep changing your clothes each time you get into your car. But you can have a plan in place to regularly clean your car. As long as you include the interior. And, of course, your seats.

To make this easier I’m going to share with you the easy-to-do tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years on how to clean car seats with household products. It’s not as difficult or expensive as you think to keep everything clean.

How Often Should I Wash My Car Seat?

This is probably going to make you cringe. You should be cleaning and disinfecting your car seats once a week. If you want to argue that point, you haven’t really considered all the things you sit in every day that get transferred to the seats in your car.

The majority of car owners clean their car twice a month at a minimum. But running your car through a car wash only makes it look shiny outside. The inside is still a teeming cesspool of accumulated bacteria and grime mixed with pet hair, grease stains, and who knows what else.

Maybe it’s time to clean up those french fries that fell between the driver’s seat and the center console two months ago.

All of us have lives. So washing your seats weekly isn’t feasible for many people. But how about cleaning and vacuuming your car once a week? That sounds more reasonable.

How Often Should I Vacuum My Car?

Since you’re already washing the outside of your car twice a month, how difficult is it for you to add an interior vacuum to your normal cleaning regimen? It’s not deep cleaning, but a vacuum will remove most of the dust and dirt from inside the car. Then just lightly spray some Lysol on all the seat surfaces to keep bacteria and smells under control.

If you start a twice a month interior cleaning like this, eventually you can add a monthly or every other month deep cleaning of the full interior. Or at least try to steam clean your seats once a month.

how to vacuum car seats
Vacuum car seats as often as your car exterior gets washed.

What is the Best Way to Vacuum My Car?

Most people would not think there is a science to properly vacuuming a car, but there is. I’ll give the process and some easy-to-do tips that will make vacuuming your car not so tedious and boring.

The Car Vacuum Process:

  1. Are you using a public car wash vacuum? Then use a cleaning wipe to clean the end of the vacuum nozzle before you start. You have no idea where that thing has been or what it has cleaned before you.
  2. Never start vacuuming your car floors before your seats. Anything that is on the floors will be transferred to the seats by the end of the vacuum nozzle. It’s better to just start with the seats. and then move down to the floors.
  3. Start with the front seats and move to the back.
  4. Make overlapping, side-to-side strokes on the seats.
  5. After the first vacuum, beat the seats several times with your hand or something flat like a tennis racket. This will dislodge any trapped dust or dirt in the pores of the cloth or the foam inside the seat.
  6. Then vacuum a second time to clean any additional dust and dirt from beating the seats.
  7. After the seats are done, vacuum the floor by moving the vacuum cleaner in a straight line.
  8. Finally, go around the edges of the car and clean in between the seats and door panels.
  9. Don’t forget to clean under the seats!

Easy To Do Tips for Vacuuming Your Car

  1. Use a soft-bristled attachment on your vacuum cleaner so you don’t damage the upholstery or scratch the leather.
  2. If your car has floor mats, take them out and vacuum them separately.
  3. If your car has a lot of crevices and tight spaces (like most cars), use a can of compressed air to help clean them out.
  4. Vacuum the trunk, too!
  5. Run the vacuum nozzle over the dash and any places on the car with crevices, like the center console.

Now that you know how to vacuum your car properly, let’s talk about how to keep your car clean by washing different types of seats.

Child Car Seats are Bacteria Breeding Grounds

The child car seat is a fantastic safety invention that also happens to be a catch-all for everything related to your child. Anything they eat and drink is on their car seat. And unfortunately with kids, what goes in, often comes out unexpectedly. Sometimes even explosively. And always at the worst possible time.

Your kid’s car safety seat takes the brunt of all that. It’s usually dirty, gross, and disgusting.

Parents always fascinate me. Maybe it’s because I am a parent, but seeing how other Moms and Dads deal with their kids is interesting. They watch everything their kids eat. They research every toy. They make sure to clean and sanitize everything that touches their little bundle of joy. Then they take their spotless, squeaky clean child and strap them into a plastic bacteria breeding experiment that hasn’t been cleaned since their kid came home from the hospital – two years ago.

Clean Your Child Car Seat

Look, I get it. I’ve got three kids and I’m always tired. It comes with the territory as a parent. If it sounds like I’m being judgmental, I’m not. I’m simply adding some dramatic flair to a subject to drive home my point.

If I accomplish anything with this article, I would be happy if it convinced you to set a reminder to clean your child’s safety seat a few times a month. Even once a month would make a huge difference.

Child Car Seat Weekly Cleaning Tip

Once a week remove your child’s car seat padding and toss it in the washer on hot. It’s not difficult to do, all child safety seat manufacturers make this part easy. Then lightly spray all the plastic parts of the seat with a 50/50 warm water and vinegar mixture. Let it sit for five minutes and wipe it down with a cloth or microfiber towel.

Occasionally you can change it up and clean it with a baking soda solution and hot water.

How to Clean a Child Car Seat After Vacation

When you come home from vacation, your kid’s car safety seat will be even worse than normal. Pull the padding and wash it as I mentioned above. Then drive to a do-it-yourself car wash and use the pressure washer wand to power wash the crap out of the plastic on the seat. If you have a pressure washer at home that will also work. After you’re done, simply put it out in the sun to dry.

Sunlight is a Natural Disinfectant

Sunlight is a natural disinfectant that gives you both heat and UV (ultraviolet) radiation. The combination of both will do a great job of disinfecting and drying the seat. Removing excess moisture and giving the seat time to dry in the sun will also inhibit mold growth.

There are a variety of ways to clean a seat. So let’s first talk about the types of seating materials that you will find in your vehicle.

Types of Seat Materials Used in Cars

When you sit in a car, your rear will generally enjoy one of three types of material:

  1. Fabric or Cloth Upholstery seats
  2. Leather seats
  3. Vinyl seats

How to Clean Cloth Car Seats

This is the most common type of car seat. It’s usually made of a polyester and cotton blend. The fabric is treated with a stain-resistant coating, but it’s not invincible.

You can clean cloth car seats with household products that range from spray cleaners to mixing your own solutions. The thing to watch is the pH level of the ingredients. I would recommend avoiding any cleaner that is ammonia-based. Ammonia can strip the coating of the fabric and leave it susceptible to staining in the future.

A good general-purpose cleaner to use on cloth seats is Formula 409 All-Purpose Cleaner. It can be used on most surfaces and it’s safe for both humans and pets. This cleaner also does not contain ammonia or bleach.

Another option is to use a steam carpet cleaner. If you have a good one, it can clean the fabric without using any chemicals. You can choose to add an upholstery cleaner solution to the warm water, but it’s usually not necessary.

Spot Cleaning Stubborn Stains on Cloth Seats

When I run into stubborn stains on cloth upholstery seats, I usually do some spot cleaning using a cup of warm water and baking soda solution. I apply the cleaning solution to the stain and let the solution sit for a half-hour or so. Don’t let it sit for several hours as it will dry. You can spray a light layer of water to keep it damp while it’s working. Then use a toothbrush or hard bristle brush and scrub gently.

Another note on using a baking soda solution is to keep it in mind for vomit stains. Baking soda works great a neutralizing stomach acid in vomit and makes it easier to remove the stain.

Once you are done scrubbing the stain, spray it with another light layer of clean water to rinse. Then get a dry cloth and blot it to remove excess moisture.

You can also use your steam cleaner to rinse the stained area after you clean it. This is often better since you are cleaning the entire seat and it blends the clean area with the rest of the seat.

And if you don’t have a steam cleaner, you can usually rent one from your local home improvement store.

Do I Use Cold Water or Hot Water to Remove Stains?

The answer to this question is both. You should start with cold water to remove any excess dirt or debris from the seat. Then use a damp cloth and warm water or even hot water to apply the cleaning solution. This will help the cleaning solution to work better and it won’t strip the fabric’s coating.

Keep in mind, that there are specific types of stains where you only want to use cold water versus warm or hot water. I’m talking about organic stains, such as blood, vomit, and things like that.

How to Clean Body Fluids Out of Car Seats?

Body fluids in your car are both gross and unhygienic. I have listed below the top body fluids that might end up in your car. These can include blood stains, vomit stains, urine stains, feces (poop) stains, and a recent addition to this list – sex stains. As in how to clean sex stains from car seats. This was added because of the number of questions related to removing sex stains. The sex part is fun, but cleaning up stains afterward is not.

How to Clean a Blood Stain

First, let’s quickly talk about how bloodstains fabrics. When your skin is cut, the blood cells break open and release hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein that contains iron and it’s what gives blood its red color. When this protein comes into contact with air, it oxidizes and turns brown.

For this reason, you want to avoid using hot water on a fresh bloodstain. The heat will cause the blood to oxidize and set into the fabric.

Instead, use cold water or even ice water. Apply it to the back of the stain and blot with a clean, white cloth. The cold temperature will cause the blood cells to contract and push the hemoglobin out of the fabric fibers.

Repeat this process until the stain is gone. For really tough bloodstains, see below under “Clean a Stain with Hydrogen Peroxide”.

How to Clean a Vomit Stain

If you have vomit on the seat or floor of your car, you need to get your car clean fast. Use a cloth and soft brush with cold water. Blot the area until the stain is gone. If the stain is dry, dampen the cloth with cold water and add a few drops of mild soap. Work the dish soap into the fabric and then blot with a dry cloth.

Just like with blood, you’ll want to avoid using hot water on a vomit stain. The heat will cause the proteins in the vomit to set and become harder to clean.

Instead, use cold water or ice water. Apply it to the back of the stain and blot with a clean, white cloth. The cold temperature will help to clean and remove the vomit from the fabric.

If the stain is set, you may need to use a laundry detergent or enzymatic cleaner to remove it. You shouldn’t need a specific upholstery detergent, but cleaning car seats with household products isn’t an exact science. You rely on pH levels in the stain and the cleaning solution to determine the proper mix.

How to Clean a Urine Stain

Urine is made up of water, urea, ammonia, and other compounds. When it comes to cleaning, you don’t want to use hot water. The heat will cause the ammonia in the urine to release and set the stain.

Instead, use cold water or ice water. Apply it to the back of the stain and blot with a clean, white cloth. The cold temperature will help to clean and remove the urine from the fabric.

If the stain is set, you may need to use a laundry detergent or enzymatic cleaner to remove it.

If you have fresh blood on your car seat, use a clean white cloth and cold water. Blot the area until the stain is gone. If the stain is dry, dampen the cloth with cold water and add a few drops of dish soap. Work the dish soap into the stained area with a soft brush and then blot with a cloth.

How to Clean a Feces (poop) Stain

If you have a feces (poop) stain on your car seat, you’re going to want to clean it up as soon as possible. The longer it sits, the harder it will be to clean.

Use a microfiber towel or cloth with a soft brush and cold water. Blot the area until the stain is gone. If the stain is dry, dampen the cloth with cold water and add a few drops of mild soap. Work the dish soap into the fabric and then blot with a dry cloth.

How to Clean Sex Stains

This is one of those subjects that is brought up more often than you might think. People like having sex in their cars. Sometimes this results in certain body fluids ending up on car seats. It’s important to remember that using certain types of cleaners can have an opposite reaction and actually set the stain in the fabric.

For example, semen is protein-based, similar to blood. So you don’t want to use a chlorine-based cleaner. You want to start with cold water, similar to bloodstains. Then move to hydrogen peroxide.

Another question that we get often is how to get sex lube stains out of a car interior. With sex lube, you need to look at the bottle and determine which type it is, water, oil, or silicone-based. Each of these has a different method for cleaning.

Water-based means you can wash it like you do your regular laundry. Use some laundry detergent in a cup of warm water. Apply it and scrub gently with a soft brush. Then rinse it with clean, warm water.

If the sex lube is oil-based, you need to use warm water and a degreaser or fabric cleaner like Oxyclean. Mix up a small batch in a cup with warm water and apply it to the stain.

Silicone-based sex lube is another one that will do fine with Oxyclean. It really all depends on what created the stains. That’s 90% of the battle in cleaning sex stains.

How to Clean an Ink Stain

If you’re dealing with an ink stain, use rubbing alcohol. Dab a clean white cloth in the rubbing alcohol and then blot the stain. You may need to do this several times to remove the entire stain. Once the stain is gone, clean the area with a mild soap and water solution.

If you’re working with fabric seats, you can also try using hairspray to remove ink stains. Just spray the hairspray directly on the stain and then blot with a cloth. Again, you may need to repeat this process several times to remove the entire stain.

How to Wipe Down a Cloth Car Seat

Wiping down the surface of your car seats will help clean them, but using either an upholstery cleaner or simply using warm water is going to help clean without damaging the upholstery.

How to Clean a Car Seat with White Vinegar

You can use a specific upholstery detergent, but I prefer to make my own with a vinegar mixture that includes ½ cup of white vinegar and about a gallon of warm water (you can also add a few drops of mild liquid dish soap to this solution).

This vinegar mixture is a very effective and mild way to clean a cloth car seat without damage to the fabric.

How to Clean Cloth Car Seats with Rubbing Alcohol

This is a great cleaning option because it doesn’t contain any oils and is less likely to cause staining. Mix together the alcohol, a cup of warm water, and laundry detergent or mild dish soap in a spray bottle (a few drops is enough). Then you lightly spray the solution onto the cloth seats. You can let it sit for a few minutes to help loosen any dirt or grime, and then wipe it clean with a wet or lightly damp microfiber cloth.

How to Clean Cloth Car Seats with Hydrogen Peroxide

Most people know Hydrogen Peroxide for its household medical uses. When you got a scrape or cut as a kid, Mom would always grab the hydrogen peroxide in the brown bottle and use it to clean out the wound. But it also does a fantastic job cleaning fabric and upholstery in your car’s interior.

This can be used in place of alcohol (rubbing) because it also contains no oils. It is a great cleaning choice for car upholstery. Mix together 3% hydrogen peroxide, warm water, and laundry detergent or mild dish soap in a spray bottle. Apply it to the cloth car seats in the same way as you would with the rubbing alcohol solution.

Hydrogen Peroxide Cleans Blood Stains

If cold water doesn’t work as well as you want on an organic stain like blood or vomit, you next level to clean the stain with hydrogen peroxide. It’s the brown bottle that you have in your bathroom for cleaning scrapes and cuts.

If you have a light-colored upholstery or leather seat, you can clean it with hydrogen peroxide. You should always test a small, hidden area of the seat first to make sure the peroxide doesn’t damage or discolor the fabric.

To clean a stain with hydrogen peroxide:

  1. Mix one part hydrogen peroxide with two parts water.
  2. Dip a cloth into the solution and blot the stain.
  3. Rinse the area with clean water and let it air dry.
  4. Repeat as necessary.

How to Clean a Cloth Car Seats with Baking Soda

Baking Soda is an amazing product with so many uses. No discussion about cleaning cloth car seats would be complete without at least mentioning baking soda. This is a gentle abrasive that can help clean stubborn dirt or food particles from a car seat without damaging the fabric. Simply sprinkle some baking soda over the seats and then use a slightly wet soft cloth to clean it up.

Baking soda also tends to play well with other types of cleaners. Although I would caution you to be careful when mixing chemicals if you don’t know what you are doing. Different cleaners can cancel out others based on their pH. For example, baking soda is a base and vinegar is an acid, so when mixed together they create carbon dioxide gas and water. That won’t help much for cleaning.

Mix together a hydrogen peroxide baking soda solution to clean your upholstery without damage. For every cup of hydrogen peroxide, mix in 1 tablespoon of baking soda. Apply this baking soda solution to the cloth seats. After letting the solution sit for about 15 minutes, wipe it clean with a slightly dampened cloth.

This solution also works with cleaning car upholstery, coffee stains, and blood stains, and your car will smell fresh after use.

If you need something stronger for a clean car, you can go the route of laundry detergent in a cup of warm water.

How to Clean Your Car Seats with Hair Shampoo

You can also use hair shampoo to clean car seats and car upholstery. This one might surprise some people.

It makes sense though if you look at the ingredients on your shampoo bottle. If you have a shampoo that doesn’t contain any oils and is meant for use on carpets or furniture, it can work great to clean a car seat.

Mix together 1 cup of shampoo and about a gallon of water in a bucket. Dip a clean towel or cloth into the mixture and be careful to remove excess moisture by wringing it out so it’s not dripping wet. Rub the cloth over the car seat and then let it sit for a few minutes so that the shampoo can loosen any dirt or grime. Rinse the seat with clean water and then pat it dry with a clean towel.

Obviously, we’ve covered a lot of information here. Cleaning seats in a car with household products isn’t an easy one-two and you’re done type of cleaning process. It’s also not mess-free. Especially if you want to do it right. If you want mess-free, then find a simple cleaner in a bottle to use. And hope that it works.

Let’s talk for a minute about other ideas you might have heard about, like using lemon juice and club soda to clean seats.

How to Clean a Car Seat with Lemon Juice?

There are a few ways to clean seats with lemon juice. One is to mix the lemon juice with water and spray it on the seats. Another is to make a paste of lemon juice and baking soda and apply it to the stain. Leave it on for about 30 minutes before scrubbing it clean and rinsing with clean water.

How to Clean a Car Seat with Club Soda

Club soda can be used to clean car seats in a few different ways as well. One is to spray the club soda directly on the stain and then scrub it with a clean cloth. Another is to mix club soda with salt to make a paste and apply it to the stain. Leave it on for about 30 minutes before scrubbing it clean and rinsing it with clean water.

How to Clean a Car Seat with Nail Polish Remover

Believe it or not, nail polish remover can also be used to clean car seats. But it’s not a method that I would personally recommend.

To clean with nail polish remover, dab it with cotton balls directly on the stain and then scrub it with a clean cloth. Rinse the seat with clean water and pat it dry. Be careful not to use too much nail polish remover as it can damage the seat material.

How to Clean Leather Seats

Step in the way-back-machine to the 1920s and every car had leather seats. It was the only option available for cars at the time. Cloth seats were considered a very high-end luxury item.

From the 1920s to the 1970s, limousines would often include durable leather up front for the driver, while the passengers in the back enjoyed a soft mohair-like cloth interior.

Today, leather is synonymous with luxury. Many high-end vehicles include it standard and most mid-level cars offer it as an option. This started when Kia added Nappa leather trim as an option to their Premium XL packages in 2012. Before that, it was only available on luxury vehicles.

Highlights of leather seating include:

  • A natural look and feel
  • Low maintenance
  • Resistant to staining and fading
  • Easy to clean

The disadvantage of leather is that it can be sensitive to certain types of upholstery cleaner, leather cleaner, and leather conditioner. When cleaning leather seats, it’s important to use a product specifically designed for leather. Look for a cleaner or conditioner that has the words “leather” or “vinyl” in the title.

If you do attempt to clean leather seats with household products, never use products that contain ammonia, alcohol, vinegar, or bleach. These chemicals can damage the leather and cause it to crack.

There are two ways to clean leather seats: with a commercial cleaner or with household ingredients.

Commercial Cleaner: If you choose to clean your leather seats with a commercial cleaner, be sure to test it in an inconspicuous place before using it on the entire seat. Once you have determined that the cleaner will not damage the leather, follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Household Ingredients: If you prefer to clean your leather seats with household ingredients, mix one-part white vinegar with two parts water in a bowl. Apply the mixture to the seat with a cloth and scrub gently. Wipe the seat clean with a second cloth dampened with plain water. Allow the seat to air dry. Be watchful for dirty solution drips as these will show after the seat dries.

Another option for cleaning leather is to start by wiping down the seats with a microfiber cloth that is slightly damp (not wet) to remove any dirt or debris. Then, make a paste out of equal parts white vinegar and cream of tartar. Rub the paste into the stain and let it sit for about 30 minutes before wiping clean. You can also try using a mixture of equal parts baking soda and water to clean the leather.

How to Clean Vinyl Car Seats

Vinyl car seats can be cleaned with a variety of household cleaners. But you want to be careful which one you use as some can damage the vinyl.

One option is to clean the seats with dish soap and water. Mix together 1 teaspoon of dish soap with 1 cup of warm water in a bowl. Apply the mixture to the seat with a clean cloth and scrub the stain. Rinse the seat with clean water and pat it dry.

You can also use a vinegar and water solution to clean vinyl car seats. Mix together 1 cup of white vinegar and 1 cup of warm water in a bowl. Apply the mixture to the seat with a cloth or microfiber towel and scrub the stain. Rinse the seat with clean water and pat it dry.

If you have a tougher stain, you can make a paste of baking soda and water and apply it to the stain. Leave it on for about 30 minutes before scrubbing clean and rinsing with clean water.

Go Clean Your Seats

The good news is that cleaning your car seats with household products is a relatively easy process. Sure, it might take a little elbow grease (and maybe some vinegar and baking soda), but in the end, you’ll have clean, fresh-smelling car seats – without spending a fortune at the car wash. So, what are you waiting for? Grab your supplies and get started! And please let me know which methods you plan on using and which household products you are considering using to clean your car seats?