How To Clean Fabric Car Seats

How To Clean Fabric Car Seats

Having clean, dirt-free car seats is important not only for appearance, but for health and safety as well. Fabric car seats readily show dirt, stains, crumbs, and wear. Over time, they can start to look dingy and worn out if not cared for properly.

Cleaning your fabric car seats regularly removes allergens, clears out debris that could be harmful, and keeps your car’s interior looking fresh. While cleaning cloth car seats is essential, it takes a bit of time and effort to do it thoroughly.

Fabric upholstery has many crevices where dirt and spills can accumulate. Old stains may require extra work to lift out. But having a systematic approach and the right supplies will make the process easier. Follow this complete guide to learn how to clean fabric car seats like a pro.

Why You Should Clean Fabric Car Seats

Improves appearance – Regular cleaning keeps seats looking like new and extends their lifespan. Over time, dirt dulls fabric and makes it look worn. Removes allergens – Dust mites, pet dander, pollen and other allergens end up in your seats. Vacuuming helps remove these irritants.

Eliminates odors – Food spills, sweat, and mildew can cause unwanted smells in your cabin. Cleaning neutralizes odors. Removes debris and crumbs – Crumbs and dirt not only look bad, but they can scratch occupants or interfere with seat adjustments.

Refreshes fabric – Thorough cleaning clears out dirt from deep in the upholstery fibers, reviving the color and texture. Kills germs – Cleaning with soap and water removes bacteria, viruses, mold and other microbes that build up in car interiors.

Why You Should Clean Fabric Car Seats

Supplies You’ll Need

Vacuum cleaner – A vacuum with an upholstery attachment is ideal for thoroughly cleaning seats. Make sure the vacuum is empty before starting. Soft bristle scrub brushes – Look for a scrub brush with shorter, stiffer bristles for scrubbing seats. Avoid anything too abrasive.

Microfiber cloths and towels – These are perfect for wiping down seats before and after washing. They’re very absorbent for drying. Mild detergent – Pick a gentle detergent like dish soap or laundry detergent. Make sure it’s approved for auto interiors.

Stain remover – A targeted spot remover is useful for treating stubborn stains prior to washing. Leather cleaner – If you have leather trim, get an approved leather cleaner specifically for car interiors. Soft sponges or applicator pads – These help apply cleaners and conditioners to the material.

Spray bottles – Use one bottle for your detergent solution, and one for water to rinse seats off. Protectant – An optional protectant or conditioner can be applied after cleaning to help protect and condition the fabric. Terry cloths or chamois – These dry soft cloths buff away any leftover moisture or residue.

Vacuum Seats Thoroughly

The first step with any car seat cleaning project should be to thoroughly vacuum the seats. Vacuuming lifts away loose debris, crumbs, and dirt from deep within the seat fibers before washing.

Use the crevice tool and upholstery brush attachments to vacuum every square inch of material. Get into seams, tufts, and folds where crumbs love to hide. Spend extra time vacuuming high-traffic areas like the seat bottom and back of the driver’s seat.

After vacuuming the seats themselves, also run the hose attachment over the floor mats beneath to pick up any dirt that may have fallen through.

Vacuum Seats Thoroughly

Spot Clean Stains

Once seats are vacuumed, it’s time to tackle set-in stains. Spot cleaning stains before washing seats will make them easier to remove.

Mix up a solution of mild detergent and warm water in a spray bottle. Test the cleaner on a hidden area of the seat first to ensure it’s colorfast. Lightly mist stained areas of the seats and let it soak for 5 minutes.

Use a soft bristle scrub brush or microfiber cloth to gently rub the stain until it begins lifting out. Avoid harsh scrubbing as this can abrade delicate upholstery fibers.

For more stubborn stains, try using a concentrated upholstery cleaner. Just take care to thoroughly rinse the seats with clean water afterward so no harsh chemical residue remains.

Blot lifted stains with a dry towel. Allow the seats to fully air dry before moving on to overall washing.

Mix Detergent and Wash Seats

With stains pretreated, you’re ready for an overall thorough scrubbing. The seats should still be dry from spot cleaning.

Mix a cleaning solution of lukewarm water and mild detergent in a bucket. Look for a sensitive, high-diluting detergent recommended for auto interiors. Dish soap diluted with water also works well.

Working in sections, use a soft scrub brush or sponge dipped in the detergent solution to scrub down the seats. Apply light pressure and focus on areas that need extra cleaning power.

Take care not to oversaturate the fabric in any one area. Too much moisture can encourage mold growth. Keep a dry towel handy to absorb excess water.

Mix Detergent and Wash Seats

Rinse Seats After Washing

Once seats are scrubbed with detergent, it’s important to rinse off any residue that remains. Leftover detergent can attract more dirt over time.

In a spray bottle, mix clean cool water. Mist seats and gently wipe with a damp microfiber towel to rinse. Be thorough in removing all traces of soap residue.

For harder to reach areas like crevices and seams, try using a towel wrapped around a soft brush to scrub while rinsing.

Remove All Moisture

After washing and rinsing car seat fabric, moisture needs to be removed to prevent mold or mildew growth.

Blot damp seats with dry terry cloth towels or chamois. Press firmly on the upholstery to absorb as much water as possible.

For quicker drying, aim portable fans directly at the seats to circulate air. Rotate seats to reach all areas.

Allow seats to air dry completely before using. Damp seats can transfer moisture to clothing and smell musty. Drying may take 1-2 hours.

Restore Protection

Once fully dry, applying a protectant is recommended to restore waterproofing and repel future stains.

Protectants specially formulated for car fabric are available. Use a sponge or soft cloth to gently apply a thin layer all over the seat upholstery following product directions.

Steer clear of silicone or oil-based protectants that may leave residue or attract more dirt over time.

Tips and Tricks for Fabric Seat Cleaning

  • Immediately dab wet spills with a towel to prevent stains from setting in fabric.
  • Frequency is key – do a quick vacuum weekly to prevent heavy soiling.
  • Alternate your detergent between cleanings. Switching formulas helps remove different soils.
  • Use an old toothbrush to scrub stuck-on grime in crevices and seams.
  • Stuff seat cushions with rags while drying to absorb moisture and prevent mildew in crevices.
  • Move seats to the fully forward and back positions when cleaning to easily reach all areas.
  • Wash removable headrests and seat cushions separately if heavily soiled.

What to Avoid When Cleaning

Harsh cleaners with toxic fumes or bleach that could discolor or degrade fabric. Immersing or saturating seats and cushions which can encourage mold, warping and deterioration. Stuffing overly wet towels or rags into crevices causing excess moisture to be trapped.

Using excessive heat from steam, direct sunlight or hair dryers that could fade fabric dyes. Letting stains or spills sit – always treat messes quickly before they have time to set into the fibers. Rubbing or scrubbing aggressively which can damage or abrade more delicate upholstery fabrics.

Maintaining Leather Parts

If your vehicle’s seats have leather bolsters, trim or accents, be sure to use cleaners and techniques designed specifically for leather so these areas don’t dry out or become damaged.

Gently clean leather first before washing the rest of the seat fabric. Use a microfiber cloth with a gentle leather cleaner to lift dirt and condition the material. Avoid over-scrubbing leather.


How can I clean my cloth car seats?

To clean cloth car seats, start by vacuuming thoroughly, then spot treat any stained areas with an upholstery cleaner. Mix a mild detergent with warm water and use a soft brush to scrub the entire seat surface. Rinse cleaned seats with a damp towel and blot dry. Allow seats to completely air dry before using again. Regular cleaning keeps cloth looking fresh.

What is the best homemade solution to clean cloth car seats?

A homemade solution of warm water, mild dish soap and baking soda makes an effective cleaner for cloth car seats. Mix 1-2 tablespoons of dish soap and baking soda per 1 quart of water. Use a soft brush dipped in the solution to gently scrub seats. Rinse with clean water and blot dry with towels.

Does baking soda clean cloth car seats?

Yes, baking soda can clean cloth car seats thanks to its mildly abrasive texture. Sprinkle baking soda liberally over the seats, let sit for 15 minutes, then vacuum up. The baking soda will help lift dirt and absorb odors from the fabric. It’s safe and effective.

Can you use vinegar to clean cloth car seats?

While vinegar has some cleaning properties, it’s not recommended for cleaning cloth car seats. Vinegar can potentially bleach or discolor certain fabric types. A mild soap and water solution is generally a safer bet for cleaning cloth car upholstery.


Keeping your cloth car seats looking fresh and clean requires regular maintenance. Vacuuming frequently is the first critical step to lift dirt from fabric fibers before washing. For set-in stains, pretreating with an upholstery cleaner before washing helps lift grime.

When it comes to washing, always use mild, approved detergents diluted in water to create a cleaning solution. Dish soap and baking soda is an effective homemade mixture. Scrub seats gently with a soft brush and the solution. Rinse thoroughly with water to eliminate residue.

Allow ample time for seats to completely air dry before use. Stuff cushions with rags to absorb moisture. Avoid excess heat. Regular cleaning keeps cloth fabric looking new, while removing allergens, debris and odors. With the proper techniques and products, you can keep your car’s cloth seats fresh and clean.

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