How to Clean Car Seats – A Practical Guide

Victor Faeda

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How to Clean Car Seats – A Practical Guide

Last updated on: June 19, 2024

Keeping your car seats spotless is essential to conserve the appearance and resale value of your vehicle. Cleaning the seats can also improve your driving comfort by getting rid of stale odours, for example, to remove vape smell from the car. Are you looking for a practical, hands-on guide on how to clean car seats? We got you covered!

If you are a careful owner and follow our blog regularly, then you already know several techniques on how to take care of your car, and regular cleaning is one of them. Regardless of whether you have leather or fabric seats, this article will provide you with a step-by-step guide on how to vacuum and wipe your seats, remove deeper stains or mould, and keep your car clean for longer.

So, let’s get to it!


Gather Your Supplies

Before you can make your seats look immaculate, you will need a few items, from common cleaning tools to more specific products and chemicals. Make sure you have everything handy before you start the work.

Here is everything you should need:


  • A strong vacuum cleaner with brush and crevice attachments,


  • A few quality microfiber cloths,


  • A soft-bristle brush,


  • A bottle of compatible leather or fabric cleaner,


  • A bottle of leather conditioner (if applicable).


  • A homemade cleaning solution for tougher stains (optional).


Here are a couple of important considerations to keep in mind when choosing your supplies:


  • For leather seats, you will need a cleaning agent and a conditioner that are compatible with the types of leather that make up your seats. “Leather” in automotive use is a loose term that can mean anything from genuine cowhide leather to a number of synthetic materials, or any combination of these. While most products marked simply “leather cleaner” will be fine for all applications, a cleaner designed specifically for vinyl may not be safe when used on uncoated leather, for example. Always read the label carefully and follow the instructions on the bottle. Ensuring you buy the right product will prevent damage to the seats, while delivering the best possible results.


  • When dealing with heavy dirt levels, you may need a stronger cleaning solution. You can use a store-bought product for this, or you can concoct a solution with common household items that is just as effective. This will be covered in more detail in the respective sections.


How to clean car seats How to clean leather seats

How to Clean Leather Car Seats

Leather seats look fantastic and give a premium feel to your car’s interior, but they are also sensitive and require more specific and regular care. Follow our step-by-step leather seats cleaning guide to keep your upholstery looking beautiful and healthy.


Vacuum The Seats First

The first thing you need to clean car seats, no matter what type, should always be the vacuum cleaner. Vacuuming will get rid of any loose dirt, like sand, dust, or crumbs. This step is essential, not only because it will make your seats easier to clean in the following steps, but it will also prevent solid debris from being dragged across the leather, potentially scratching and damaging it.

Start by vacuuming every major surface, but be careful not to apply too much force. Leather can be very fragile, so make sure to use your soft brush attachment to avoid scratching the seats. Switch to the crevice tool when you need to get into hard-to-reach areas, such as between the seat cushion and back.


Then Wipe Down the Seats

With the surface of the seat clear of debris, you can start tackling the dirt that’s embedded deeper within the material. For lighter or routine cleaning, a damp microfiber cloth with warm water works just fine, but make sure not to soak it too much. For more heavy-duty cleaning or harder stains, you will need to grab your bottle of cleaning product.

Start by testing your leather cleaner on a small area of the seats that is hidden from view, to check if there is discolouration of any kind. Don’t be tempted to gloss over this small step! If you notice any weird effects, make sure you have the right product. Once you have verified that your cleaner is safe to use, the actual cleaning process can commence.

Apply a little cleaner to a microfiber cloth and wipe a small area of the seat down in a circular motion, focusing on small sections at a time. The key is to never let the cleaning agent dry into the seat, so immediately follow it up with a damp cloth. Then, dry it off with another clean, dry cloth, before moving on to another spot. You should start to visually notice the difference in colour between the areas you are cleaning and the other, dirtier areas in the seat.

For deeper and more persistent stains, apply the leather cleaner directly to a small surface on the seat and immediately scrub with the soft-bristled brush. Use gentle strokes in a circular pattern to lift the dirt up, then wipe it down again with the microfiber cloth. You can repeat this process as many times as necessary.


Don’t Forget the Leather Conditioner

After you have thoroughly cleaned your seats, take the time to apply your leather conditioner. The conditioner is like a moisturiser for your leather seats, helping replenish the oils in the material and restoring the protective coating on top. Crucially, it also keeps the leather malleable, which greatly reduces the risk of cracks forming on the surface due to repeated use.

The application process is the same as the cleaner: add a small amount of product to a cloth, buff in circular shapes, wipe it off with a damp cloth, and then dry it off. Do not use too much quantity, as this can block the pores in the leather and facilitate dirt build-up over time.


How to Clean Fabric Car Seats

Fabric car seats can be quicker to clean than leather seats, since their rugged nature makes them less sensitive to scratching or scuffing from the cleaning process itself. They also require less frequent maintenance and can retain their good appearance more easily.

The cleaning process for fabric is largely the same as covered in the previous section for leather seats. Start by vacuuming the seats carefully. Then, test your fabric cleaner on an inconspicuous area of the seats first, to verify their compatibility. Apply the product to a microfiber cloth and scrub in circular patterns while concentrating your efforts in small zones at a time. Wipe with a damp cloth, then dry it off. Use the soft brush liberally to lift ingrained dirt.


Cleaning Stains in Fabric Seats

The main disadvantage of fabric is when it comes to staining. Leather has a protective coating that can effectively shield it from fluids somewhat, but fabric is much more permeable and will get stained very easily.

Your best bet against stains is to clean them immediately when they happen, so they don’t have time to permeate into the fibres. For superficial stains, remember to blot lightly, not scrub! This will prevent the liquid from spreading into a larger area or pushing deeper into the fabric.

For deeper stains, use a damp microfiber cloth with a cleaning solution of dish soap and water, baking soda, rubbing alcohol, or diluted white vinegar. Use the soft brush to work out the stain, but don’t scrub too hard to avoid scuffing the seat. Repeat the process as many times as necessary.


How to clean car seats How to clean mold off car seats

How to Clean Mould Off of Car Seats

When your car seats are exposed to excess humidity for too long, mould will grow on them. This causes the seats to look and smell terrible, and prolonged exposure poses a serious risk to your health. So, it needs to be addressed as soon as possible.


Safety First!

Before you do anything, you need to protect yourself when working with mould. The loose spores can be very aggressive when they come in contact with the skin and airways, so wear a mask (N95 standard should work fine) and disposable nitrile gloves. Also, make sure to work in a well-ventilated area.


Cleaning Mould Effectively from Car Seats

For fabric seats, you can use a potent cleaning solution that is upholstery-safe. The best off-the-shelf option is white vinegar, but if you can’t stand the scent, you can try an alternative. Rubbing alcohol, dish soap, baking soda, adding a drop of lemon juice, or a mix of these ingredients can all work, but it may be hard to achieve the right concentration. You can also try scented cleaning vinegar, but you may have to dilute it with a little bit of water, so follow the instructions on the bottle.

For leather seats, start with just dish soap and water. It should be enough to deal with surface mould and is safer to use with leather, although it may require more scrubbing. The more aggressive solutions can be damaging to leather, so use them as a last resort. They will also dry the leather, so always apply conditioner after this.

Spray your cleaning solution of choice onto the mould and scrub lightly with a clean cloth, following the usual instructions in this article for cleaning car seats. Use the soft-bristle brush to scrub more stubborn mould. In the end, leave your doors and windows open to air dry and ventilate the interior of your car well, removing any lingering smells.


Prevent the Mould from Coming Back

Once the seats are clean, take steps to prevent the mould from ever forming again. If the damage was caused by a window or door that you left open in the rain, or because you spilled something on the carpets, always fix these issues as soon as you discover them in the future.

However, if there is a constant, abnormal amount of humidity in the car, you need to find the source and correct it, otherwise the mould will rear its ugly head again. Here are some of the most common culprits for excess water in your car’s interior:


  • A rainwater leak from a bad windscreen, door, or sunroof seal.


  • A clogged air conditioning drain.


  • A clogged windscreen cowl drain.


  • An engine coolant leak from the heater core.


How to Keep Your Seats Clean and Fresh

So now you know how to clean your car seats, regardless of material or dirt level. However, cleaning car seats is still quite a bit of work, especially if they are heavily soiled or haven’t been washed in a while. A bit of regular maintenance can help your seats retain their condition for longer and will save you some time in the long run.

Here is some of our best advice to keep your seats clean and protected:


  • Clean your seats regularly. In particular, try to vacuum and lightly clean them with a damp cloth at least once a month. This will prevent the build-up of heavy grit and grime over time. In the case of leather seats, also perform a deeper cleaning procedure and apply conditioner at least 3 times a year to preserve the appearance and longevity of the seats.


  • Avoid eating, drinking, or smoking in the car. This will help keep stains, crumbs, and bad smells away from your seats. It also keeps you less distracted and your hands free while driving.


  • Clean any spills immediately, so they don’t have time to settle into the foam of the seats. The quicker you address any stains, the easier it will be to remove them. Most of the times, a simple damp cloth will suffice in a pinch, so you don’t need to carry special cleaning products around with you wherever you go.



Cleaning your seats and maintaining them regularly is a simple process that can preserve your car’s value and save you money in the long run. It’s also something you can do yourself. It only requires that you use the correct techniques and a little patience.

After reading this article, you know how to effectively keep your seats clean. You are also comfortable to tackle difficult stains or mould. So, why not apply this advice and clean your car seats today? Your car will thank you!

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