How to Get Stains Out of Car Seats (9 Simple Ways)

Whether it’s coffee splashing during a sudden jolt, soda leaving an unwelcome mark, or the lingering aftermath of chewing gum, stains on your car seats can be frustrating. The good news is, that you don’t have to resort to expensive professional cleaning services or take your car to a detailer. Armed with some useful tips we’ll share and a bit of effort on your part, you can easily clean your fabric car seats, restoring them to a fresh, like-new condition.


Ways to Get Stains Out of Car Seats

1) Vacuuming Your Car Seats

Whether your car seats are made of fabric or leather, it’s a smart move to start by thoroughly vacuuming them before tackling any stains. This step ensures that you’re not spreading more dirt around and provides better access to the stained areas.

You can use a handheld vacuum or the extended attachment on your regular vacuum to go over each seat. Make sure to capture all the hair, crumbs, dust, and debris hiding in your vehicle, including those tucked into seams and crevices that may have accumulated years of dirt.

After vacuuming, use a microfiber cloth to wipe down leather seats, removing any remaining particles. For fabric seats, a soft upholstery brush can be used for a final sweep.

2) DIY Vinegar Solution

Now, for our first homemade stain-removal solution: mix one cup of vinegar with one gallon of hot water. Place the solution in a bucket, add a splash of dish soap, and apply it directly to the stain.

Surprisingly, many professional auto detailers swear by this method. Vinegar can be more potent than some store-bought car cleaning products, and being a natural solution reduces the risk of exposure to harmful chemicals.

Use a soft brush to scrub the stained area with the vinegar solution. Once the stain appears to have lightened, rinse away the soap remnants with warm water. Dry the spot with a microfiber towel, and for better airflow, leave the windows open.

3) Club Soda Spray

If the vinegar trick didn’t do the job, head to your bar cart and grab a bottle of club soda. This carbonated water is effective for small stains that refuse to budge, although it may not be the best solution for more stubborn or heavy stains.

Pour some club soda into a spray bottle and apply it directly to the fabric or leather of the car seat. Use a soft-bristled scrub brush to work the soda into the material. Wipe the area with a clean towel to check if the stain has faded. Let the seats air dry with the windows down.

4) Steam Cleaning Your Car Seats

For a powerful stain-fighting method that doesn’t rely on heavy cleaning products, consider steam cleaning your car seats. This technique, often dubbed our ‘secret weapon’ for serious car cleaning, involves using a high-quality steam cleaner to inject hot water deep into the fabric surfaces.

The steam’s high temperature (around 245 degrees Fahrenheit) and the machine’s force effectively eliminate deep-seated grime, dirt, and even harmful organisms like viruses, bacteria, pollen, mold, and mildew.

It’s a highly efficient way to achieve a thorough cleaning without spending hours scrubbing. If the stain persists, try using a soft-bristled brush and then let the seat air dry with the windows open.

5) Washing with Laundry Detergent

If you don’t have a steam cleaner, you can still tackle stains using liquid or powdered detergent. Mix the detergent with warm water in a bucket, pour the solution onto the stain, and let it sit for a bit. Be mindful not to oversaturate the car seat.

After about 10 minutes, use a cloth to gently scrub the targeted area, applying light pressure. You’ll likely see the stain lift at least partially. Switch to a second cloth soaked in cold water to remove the remaining detergent, and again, let the car seats air dry with the windows down.

6) Baking Soda Solution

For a cost-effective and efficient DIY approach, consider using baking soda to clean and deodorize stained car seats. Mix a quarter cup of baking soda with warm water to create a sticky solution, similar to icing consistency. Apply this solution directly to the stain using a toothbrush, rubbing in a circular motion to work the stain out of the seat.

If the stain is particularly stubborn, let the baking soda solution sit for about 30 minutes before scrubbing. Afterward, remove any remaining residue with a clean cloth and allow the area to dry.

7) Using Nail Polish Remover

For tougher stains on leather car seats, a more specialized approach is needed. While it might seem harsh, acetone nail polish remover (or rubbing alcohol) is actually a safer DIY option for stain removal on leather.

This method is particularly effective for dealing with stains from permanent markers, especially those left behind by an enthusiastic toddler armed with a Sharpie. Apply a small amount of nail polish remover to a cotton ball, then gently blot (avoid scrubbing) the stain on your leather seat.

You should notice the stain lifting quickly. Once it’s gone, clean off the nail polish remover with warm water and a bit of dish soap.

Caution: Some nail polish removers can have a bleaching effect and leave traces on the fabric. Keep a close eye on the application and make sure to completely wipe away any residual nail polish remover after the stain is gone.

8) Trying Store-Bought Solutions

If the DIY methods don’t do the trick, consider using a product specifically designed for car seat stain removal. Your local convenience store or auto shop likely has a variety of upholstery cleaner products.

Apply the solution, let it sit for about five minutes, and then remove it with a wet cloth. When using heavy-duty cleaners, ensure good ventilation by opening windows or working outside of an enclosed space.

Some recommended environmentally friendly products come from businesses like Wesmar and Vapor Clean, based in Washington. These products not only effectively clean but also contribute to a safe and eco-friendly experience for both users and the environment.

9) Freezing Stubborn Materials

This tip is particularly useful for sticky stains rather than old, faded ones. If you have smeared chocolate or a clump of gum on your cloth car seat, consider freezing it off.

Grab an ice pack or several ice cubes and press them onto the stain. It will take a minute for the materials to freeze, but once they do, they should come off easily. You can also use a butter knife to gently scrape away the hardened remnants.

Bonus Tip

For gum or chocolate stains, use ice to freeze and remove.

  1. Place an ice pack or ice cubes over the stain for ten minutes.
  2. Scrape off the substance with a butter knife.

In conclusion, why spend money on professional car seat cleaning when you can do it yourself? Experiment with different methods to find what works best for you. We hope our tips on how to clean fabric car seats save you time and money.

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