How to clean car upholstery?

how to clean stained car seats
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Have you heard horror stories of how people find spiders and other critters lurking under the seats of their cars?

Don’t worry, we don’t mean to scare you; we just want to know how much you care for the vehicle. What’s that, you haven’t cleaned it in a while? Well, buddy, we suggest you put on your cleaning pants and get down to business ASAP.

And we don’t just mean washing it from the outside; it’s equally essential that you clean the upholstery regularly to keep your worst nightmares at bay. That’s why, today, we’ll provide some useful tips and tricks on how to clean car upholstery.

Cleaning The Car’s Interior: Tips And Tricks

Have you ever booked an Uber but were left utterly disappointed by the vehicle’s interior? People often say – “beauty is on the inside” – and while it’s a little out of context, the phrase holds true when you book a car for travel. And even more so, when you’re driving your own car.

Rather than sweating it out on congested buses on a humid day, traveling in the comfort of a vehicle is a refreshing experience, provided it’s well maintained. Just as the paint and polish keep the car shiny on the outside, maintaining the car seats is vital for a comfortable ride.

So, check out the following points on car upholstery cleaning.

Cleaning Car Upholstery

There are different materials for car seats, so you need to use an appropriate upholstery cleaner to remove stains and dirt. To help you, we have shortlisted the various cleaning techniques based on the stain and type of car upholstery.

Spot-Cleaning Solution

We recommend opting for a spot-cleaning solution to remove stubborn stains from the car’s upholstery. But first, make sure to lightly spray a few drops of the upholstery cleaner to test whether it’s harming the material.

Once you’re satisfied that it can completely clean tough stains without damaging the fabric, simply spray it on the car seat before wiping it with a clean cloth.

Leather Seats

That said, if you have leather car seats, it would be best to use a leather conditioner for pre-treating the car upholstery. You can then apply a leather stain remover on the affected spot, rubbing it into the fibers, and letting the solution sit for 30 minutes.

Finally, wipe the surface with a clean cloth and the car should be ready for use.

Ink Stains

We have found that hairspray, water, and alcohol make a potent combination for removing ink stains. For starters, apply the hair spray on the stained area but be forewarned because the blot of ink might spread across the fibers.

So, wipe with a wet cloth to prevent the stain from spreading while allowing the solution to penetrate deep into the fibers, restoring their former condition.

Oil Stains And Grease

Oil and grease stains on car seats mostly occur due to accidentally dropping food or cosmetics, like lipstick. Luckily, a paint thinner and cotton cloth are ideal for removing tough stains.

You should add an equal amount of water to dilute the paint thinner and wet the cotton cloth with the solution to gently scrub the car seats. After that, add some cornmeal or salt on the stained surface, letting the solution sit overnight.

The next morning, vacuum the car’s interior, especially the stained spot, for a more thorough cleaning.

Coffee Stains

Going to work early in the morning is tough – you can barely keep your eyes open while everyone and everything seems irritating, especially the thought of other people sleeping. That’s why the world thrives on coffee, helping you energize for the day ahead.

But while you’re enjoying a nice cup of mocha, a bump on the road might turn the car’s interior into a scene from Gladiator. Well, not exactly, but you get the gist.

However, if you have cold water, dilute the upholstery and blot the area with a paper towel quickly. To that, add some glass cleaner and wait for five minutes before blotting with the towel again.

In case the stain is still visible, you’ll need to use dishwasher soap and warm water to rinse the spot.


Do you ever go on Disneyland rides and worry if the kid in front will throw up on you? The same thing can happen to your car when a drunk friend or a hungry child decides that there’s no better spot to let rip.

The trick is to clean it early to prevent the stain from setting. You can wipe most of the vomit with paper towels and dilute the rest with cold water. But when you get time, you’ll have to use warm water, mild soap, and club soda to blot the stain and clean the car upholstery.


God forbid, but if there are bloodstains on the seats, hot water and soap won’t work as they will set the stain further. Your only option is to use a wet cloth soaked in cold water to blot the area.

Fabric Upholstery

Homemade Solution

Thanks to our excellent homemade cleaning solution, you don’t need expensive cleaning products to look after the fabric upholstery of the car seats. Most ingredients are easily available at home, so start by mixing equal amounts of water and dishwasher liquid in a bowl.

Proceed to pour the mixture into a spray bottle and apply the solution to the dirty spots. Then, use a soft bristle brush to gently scrub the area until rinsing with clean water.

Continue this process on every seat and take your time to work on the stains. Finally, use a microfiber cloth to dry the car upholstery to get nice, clean seats.

Soap And Borax Solution

Another popular homemade upholstery cleaner features a combination of soap, borax, and hot water. You’ll require six tablespoons of soap, two cups of water, and two tablespoons of borax to create a suitable mixture.

If needed, you can add a few drops of lavender for a fresh fragrance, allowing the solution to cool before it’s time to whisk the contents. You should get a foamy mixture, which you can apply with a bristle brush to remove the stains; rinse the area with water once you’re done.

Commercial Upholstery Cleaner

In case making a homemade cleaner feels like too much work, choose from any number of commercial cleaners available on the market. But you should follow the instructions on the bottle and check if it contains harsh chemicals prior to application.

Moreover, you’ll need a brush to scrub and clean the spot with water thoroughly.

Steam Cleaner

A popular option for cleaning cloth car seats is the steam cleaner, reducing the hassle of applying a cleaning solution. They work by running hot water over the stain and sucking it back instantaneously to clean the fibers.

Depending on how often you need to clean the car upholstery, you can either rent or buy a unit.

Brush And Non-Gel Toothpaste

Irrespective of your cleaning technique, the seams of the car upholstery attract a lot of dirt and debris. As ordinary methods won’t work, use a toothbrush with non-gel toothpaste to get into the gaps and extract the dirt.

Floor Mats

The floor mats need the most maintenance as they receive high footfall daily. It would be best to use the upholstery cleaner you have used for the rest of the car, following the same procedure to rinse the mats before drying them.

You can also use wax polish to make them shiny and easier to clean against future stains.

Leather Upholstery

Cars with leather seats look posh, featuring a sleek and eye-catching interior that’s sure to turn heads. But cleaning them is an uphill task, that’s why we recommend using a leather seat cleaning kit.

Thanks to this kit, your car upholstery won’t wear out or fade despite deep cleaning, as the solution is specifically designed for leather seats. Moreover, as leather is more susceptible than cloth seats, it would help to turn on the heater while applying the upholstery cleaner.

This proves especially useful when you live in a cold climate and need to warm up the interior to use the cleaner. Also, once the car is suitably warm, pre-treat the material with a leather conditioner. Then, let it rest for a few seconds and wipe with a paper towel to apply the commercial leather cleaner.

That said, you can use a homemade cleaner with equally good results; just make sure to get the concentration right to prevent damaging the leather.

Moving on, use a soft cloth to scrub the cleaner on the desired spot and finally rinse with water. But that’s not all; it’s crucial to dry the seats thoroughly to remove excess moisture.

Plus, some users apply a conditioner to retain the smoothness and gloss of the seats, but it’s not mandatory.

Vinyl Upholstery

Cleaning vinyl seats is easier than other upholstery due to the nature of the fabric. In most cases, any spills or stains flow right off the surface without affecting the material.

However, there are times when you’ll have to use external agents to maintain the quality of the seats. For instance, all-purpose glass cleaners are in vogue among car enthusiasts, helping wipe the surface with minimal effort.

Additionally, another effective strategy is using a combination of baking soda and water to treat the upholstery. We suggest cleaning one seat at a time for the best results, allowing the mixture to rest. Once you’re done, rinse the seats with fresh soapy water and wipe them with a clean rag.

If needed, you can apply polish to prevent fading and restore the shine to the car upholstery.

Besides that, cleaning the seams and the mats involves the same methods, whereby you need to extract trapped dirt from the gaps and cracks. This should add a few more years to the lifespan of the car seats.

Professional Detailer

You can contact a professional service for auto detailing if you feel that taking care of cloth car seats or other fragile materials isn’t worth the risk. So, look for a reputable auto detailer and get a price quote.

It would help to learn about their services and mention specific stains you want to remove from the rear or front seats. Also, read the customer reviews to see if they vacuum and clean the car thoroughly to remove all types of debris.

Moreover, ask about their cleaning products as some organizations use cheap knock-offs to cut costs, which could damage your vehicle. Long story short, confirm the booking only if you’re satisfied with their services because there’s no substitute for self-cleaning.

After all, no one loves your car more than you do.

Final Words

We have spoken extensively about the different cleaning techniques to give you a well-rounded idea of what you can do to keep the car clean. That said, feel free to devise custom cleaning tactics because your requirements may differ from someone else’s.

In other words, you’re the best judge of what the car needs, but we urge you not to be complacent with maintenance. A car in good shape is better than a dirty Mercedes or Ferrari, so take good care of the vehicle, and it will serve you well.