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How to Clean Cloth Car Seats

how to clean cloth car seats

Cleaning Cloth Car Seats is a Beginner Job for Most DIYers. Here’s Everything You Need to Know to Clean Cloth Car Seats at Home.

What Is Cloth Car Seat Cleaning?

Many cars, trucks, and SUVs come with cloth upholstery made of nylon or polyester. Some drivers prefer cloth car seats because they don’t get as hot as leather seating surfaces when it’s warm outside. Cloth seating surfaces also create a warm and cozy atmosphere in the winter months, particularly if you don’t have heated seats. While cloth upholstery is comfortable, it also tends to be a magnet for dirt and other debris.

Cleaning your car’s interior is essential, especially if you frequently eat and drink in your vehicle or you have kids or pets. Even if you’re careful, spills and other accidents can occur, and removing the debris can help your car’s cloth seating last longer.

Is It Safe to Drive with Dirty Cloth Car Seats?

Dirty cloth car seats don’t directly affect your vehicle’s ability to function safely. However, driving around in a dirty car might make you feel uncomfortable, especially if your cloth seats are sticky or start to smell. When you aren’t comfortable behind the wheel, you might feel unnecessary stress when driving, or you might get distracted from the road. Distracted, stressed-out drivers may be at a greater risk of having an accident.

Commuting to work or taking a road trip in a clean car is always more pleasant than driving around in a dirty vehicle. If you keep your car’s cloth seats clean, you’ll feel more comfortable, more able to focus on the road, and you’ll have a more enjoyable driving experience. Plus, your car’s cloth seats will last longer with proper maintenance.

While professional cleaning services are available, they can cost between $50 to $125 for an average-sized vehicle. If you drive a full-size SUV or van, you can end up paying between $75 and $150. When you clean your cloth car seats at home, you’ll have to buy cleaning supplies, but you’ll get multiple uses out of them, and you won’t have to pay additional labor costs. The money you’ll save means that the cleaning supplies eventually pay for themselves.

Based on how much professional cleaning costs, the short amount of time it takes (less than two hours), and how easy it is to do, you’re better off cleaning your cloth car seats yourself.

When to Clean Cloth Car Seats

Cleaning your car’s cloth seats once a week is typically often enough to keep them looking nice. If you frequently travel with little kids or pets, you might want to clean them more often. When you spill a drink or food, you’ll want to wipe up the spill as soon as it occurs so that it doesn’t leave a stain. Then you can do a more thorough cleaning when you get home. It’s always a good idea to do a deep clean after a long road trip or when you notice odors.            

What Are Common Symptoms Indicating You Need to Clean Cloth Car Seats?

You’ll know it’s time to clean your vehicle’s cloth seats when you notice the following:

  • An accumulation of dirt, crumbs, and other debris
  • Stains
  • Sticky seating surfaces
  • Odors

Keep In Mind

Before cleaning your car’s cloth seats, consult your owner’s manual to see which cleaning solutions are safe to use on the upholstery and how often the manual recommends cleaning the seats. While cleaning the interior, you can also inspect the seat belts to ensure they work correctly and don’t show any signs of fraying or other damage.

How to Clean Cloth Car Seats

Step 1: Remove Trash

When you spend a lot of time in your vehicle, it isn’t uncommon for items like soda bottles, sunglasses, and sports equipment to accumulate. Remove any unnecessary items from your car and throw away any trash that’s lying around. Clearing the seats and the floor makes it easier to spot stains, and you won’t have to maneuver around any obstacles while cleaning.

Step 2: Vacuum

After you remove any unnecessary items and trash that might be in the car, it’s time to get rid of the dirt and crumbs. You can do this with a vacuum cleaner. Make sure you vacuum every inch of material, including the seams, which can trap all sorts of debris. You can separate the seams with your fingers to make room for the vacuum cleaner nozzle.

Step 3: Apply Stain Remover

Spray the upholstery with a fabric-safe cleaning product. You don’t want to use an all-purpose cleaner because the chemicals are too harsh for cloth and can cause it to fade. You don’t want to saturate the cloth because it might not dry all the way, leading to mold and odors. A light spray, one area of the upholstery at a time, is adequate.   

Step 4: Scrub Stains

After you spray the spot of upholstery that you want to clean, gently scrub the spot with an interior brush. Make sure the brush has soft or medium bristles. Using a brush with stiff bristles can cause your car’s cloth seats to fray.

Step 5: Wipe Up Cleaning Solution

As you brush the fabric, you’ll see suds start forming. Use a microfiber towel, which won’t leave lint on the seats, to wipe away the suds. You want to wipe them up immediately because if the dirty suds dry, they’ll stain the cloth seats. Using a light-colored microfiber towel makes it easier to ensure that you’re removing stains.

Step 6: Repeat as Needed

Repeat the process of spraying each area, gently scrubbing, and wiping away the suds until all stains are gone. It might take three to six light sprays of cleaning solution to completely remove the stain, depending on what caused it and how long it’s been there.

Step 7: Vacuum Again

After removing the stains from your cloth car seats, vacuum the seats again. Vacuuming will remove any excess cleaning solution and help the seats dry faster. Make sure the seating surfaces finish drying before you drive your car.

Still Need Help?

Want an expert mechanic on speed dial who can walk you through DIY repairs and answer any questions? Call the FIXD Mechanic Hotline for unlimited access to our Master Mechanics Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-8 p.m Eastern time.

Disclaimer: The guidelines in this article are general and not meant to replace instructions for your specific vehicle. Please consult your owner’s manual, repair guide, or a professional before attempting repairs. 

FIXD Research Team

At FIXD, our mission is to make car ownership as simple, easy, and affordable as possible. Our research team utilizes the latest automotive data and insights to create tools and resources that help drivers get peace of mind and save money over the life of their car.

We’re here to help you simplify car care and save, so this post may contain affiliate links to help you do just that. If you click on a link and take action, we may earn a commission. However, the analysis and opinions expressed are our own.


About the Author

FIXD Research Team

FIXD Research Team

At FIXD, our mission is to make car ownership as simple, easy, and affordable as possible. Our research team utilizes the latest automotive data and insights to create tools and resources that help drivers get peace of mind and save money over the life of their car.

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