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What’s the Best Way To Clean Cloth and Leather Car Seats? The Answer, Here, From Professionals

Here's how to spiff up those seats.


Clean cloth car seats make me happy. Why? Because I spend a lot of time in my car, and keeping it spick-and-span suggests (even if it’s not true) that I’m orderly and organized. Put simply, clutter in my car causes clutter in my brain. What can I say? I’m easily overwhelmed.  

That said, keeping your car seats clean is important for other reasons, too. If you have kids, grandkids, or pets, there will be spills, and they’ll often seep into the nooks and crevices between your car seats. Knowing how to properly clean up spills before they become set in stains has both an aesthetic and a hygienic purpose. (You want your car to be presentable, and you want it to be sanitary – for the next time the kids, grandkids, or pets take a ride with you). 

Below are expert instructions for how to clean cloth and leather car seats, as well as techniques for deep cleaning and the best products for relieving your car seats of everything from coffee stains to pet hair.

For Fabric Car Seats

Picture this: You’re driving to work, iced coffee in hand, when the car in front of you stops short and your drink goes flying. Hello, brown stain on your formerly clean cloth passenger seat!

Thankfully, with the right tools, you can quickly clean up this and other stubborn stains. The key is to act fast. The longer you wait, the more likely it is that the liquid will soak into the fabric and the harder it will be to remove the stain from your cloth seats

For Liquid Spills

For liquid spills, use a clean cloth, microfiber towel, or paper towel to soak up as much liquid as possible. Avoid rubbing the stain, as this can cause it to spread or become more ingrained in the fabric. (Save the scrub brush for later.) Rather, dab the stain repeatedly before using other cleaning products.

Once you’ve blotted the excess liquid, use a cleaning solution specifically designed for stain removal from cloth car seats. Follow the instructions on the upholstery cleaner carefully, and test it on an inconspicuous area of the seat first to ensure it doesn’t cause discoloration.

The cleaning tips on your car upholstery cleaner may recommend using a microfiber cloth on the area or letting the cleaning solution soak before scrubbing. Here is where you can use your brush — to work the solution into the stained area. Just be sure to use a soft-bristled brush like a toothbrush, and be gentle so you don’t damage the fabric.

For Dry Stains

If you’re cleaning dirt or a dried stain off your cloth car seats, start by removing any loose dirt or debris and vacuuming the seats thoroughly. This will prevent dirt or dust from pressing further into the fabric during cleaning. After you vacuum the seat, use a cloth car seat cleaner just like you would for a wet stain.

What about leather seat hacks?

For leather car seats, the cleaning process is different. Leather is more delicate than cloth, so you need to be careful with your products and techniques. While DIY advice for cloth seats might recommend using a cup of vinegar, laundry detergent, or even bleach to address the stained area, leather car interiors should not be cleaned with these solutions.

Instead, wipe down the seats with a clean, damp cloth to remove surface grime and debris. Then use a handheld vacuum to siphon away crumbs or surface dirt for dried stains (as you would on cloth seats). Finally, use a leather-specific stain remover.

Just like when cleaning cloth car seats, using a cleaner designed for the material on your car seats is essential. For leather, avoid harsh chemicals and household cleaners, as these can cause discoloration or cracking. A protectant that conditions the leather is a good idea.

Apply the leather cleaner to a clean, soft cloth and gently work it into the stain. Avoid using too much water or cleaner, as these will damage leather when oversaturated. Once you’ve removed the stain, wipe the seat down with a clean, dry cloth to remove any excess cleaner.

Protecting Your Car From Future Messes

The best way to keep your car seats pristine is by preventing spills and stains from happening at all. One way to do this is with a car seat protector or cover. They’re also great for pet parents who like taking their doggos for a drive. 

And speaking of pets, there are a few different techniques for removing pet hair from car seats. Use a lint roller or a damp rubber glove to pick up the hair for cloth seats. You can also use a vacuum cleaner with a pet hair attachment to remove stubborn hairs ingrained in the fabric.

For leather seats, a soft-bristled brush or dry microfiber cloth work well. Be gentle and avoid using water or cleaning products, which can damage the leather. The gentler you are, the better.

Related: Car Expert’s Easy DIY Spray Defrosts a Windshield Fast — No Scraping Required!

Home Remedies

In a pinch, you can use home remedies like baking soda and vinegar in lieu of cleaning products. Below are instructions for turning these pantry staples into car seat cleaners. 

Cloth Car Seats

To clean up cloth car seats with baking soda and vinegar, follow these steps:

  1. Blot the spill with a clean cloth or paper towel to remove as much liquid as possible.
  2. Sprinkle baking soda generously over the stain and allow to sit for a few minutes. (Baking soda is a natural absorbent and will help lift the stain.)
  3. Mix equal parts white vinegar and water in a spray bottle and spray the solution onto the baking soda. (The mixture will fizz and foam, which is what you want — it means it’s working to lift the stain.)
  4. Use a soft-bristled brush to gently scrub the stain in circular motions. Be careful not to scrub too hard and damage the fabric.
  5. Carefully wipe away the baking soda and vinegar solution using a damp cloth. Repeat the process until the stain is gone.

And voila! You’ve cleaned your car with nothing but the products under your sink. 

Leather Car Seats

For leather car seats, follow these steps:

  1. Mix equal parts water and white vinegar in a spray bottle. Spray the solution onto a soft cloth and gently wipe down the leather seat. Avoid using too much liquid, as it can damage the leather.
  2. If the stain is stubborn, mix a small amount of dish soap with water and dip a soft cloth into the solution. Gently rub the stain in circular motions until it lifts.
  3. Rinse the cloth with clean water and wipe away any soap residue.
  4. Use a dry, clean cloth to dry the leather seat.

One important note: Test that cleaning solutions won’t damage your car seat fabric before applying in full. To do this, dab solution on a discreet part of the seat and allow it to set overnight.  

Clean Car, Happy You

Whether you have cloth or leather seats, keeping your car seats clean and looking their best is vital to maintaining your car’s appearance and value. Plus, having a clean car is like having freshly washed sheets or a clean kitchen: It’s just nice, and you deserve nice things. 

So, next time your grandchild spills their snacks on the car seat, or you sneeze mid-sip of your coffee to-go and get splatters on your passenger seat, don’t panic. You can easily clean cloth and leather car seats with the proper tools and a little patience.

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