Car Upholstery Cleaning – 5 Tips for a Satisfactory DIY Job!

Woman hands with gloves cleaning inside car

The inside of your car can get pretty nasty if you don’t have it deep cleaned periodically by a professional. This is particularly true with car upholstery which is prone to sweat, body oils, dust, dirt, and stains. You may not see it, but car seats are often crawling with bacteria and make your vehicle a rather unsanitary space for anyone to be in! So, before the stains start to show and the seats start to smell a little funky, it’s best you make car upholstery cleaning a recurring DIY job to save money on paying for a professional service every now and again. 

Here are 5 tips you can use while cleaning your car upholstery for effective results. 

1. Vacuum First (Before Any Other Cleaning)

Professional car cleaner - vacuum car sit

When it comes to car upholstery, vacuuming is a must! If done thoroughly, it can remove up to 90% of dust and dirt from the seats which is why we advise vacuuming your car upholstery before any other cleaning. 

To yield satisfactory results, use appropriate attachment heads as per the material of the seats. For example, a dust brush is suitable for leather while nylon upholstery can be vacuumed with a regular attachment (like a carpet brush head). It is also advisable to use plastic heads over metal as the latter may scratch certain types of car upholstery such as leather or suede. 

In order to be thorough when vacuuming your car upholstery, recline the seats so that you don’t miss any crevices. A powerful, yet compact, car vacuum cleaner is very handy for this, however, you can even use a household vacuum cleaner to get the job done.

2. Use Natural Cleaners

Car interior cleaning

Nothing beats a natural, homemade solution when cleaning car upholstery fabric. Many car owners believe that specially formulated car cleaners are their only option to clean upholstery thoroughly; however, this is far from the truth. 

A natural cleaning solution is not only effective, but it eliminates the use of harsh commercial cleaners that leave traces of chemicals in your car. Furthermore, unlike cleaning products that contain chemicals, eco-friendly cleaners will not have a negative effect on your health.

To make a natural cleaning solution for upholstery fabric, mix 6 tablespoons of liquid castile soap and 2 tablespoons of borax in a bucket of warm water. For the application or scrubbing part, dip a soft-bristled brush into the solution (remove excess water), and gently clean the seat using circular motions and minimal pressure. Finish off by wiping over the car upholstery with a clean, damp towel to remove traces of the cleaner.

NOTE: For a pleasant fragrance, add a few drops of essential oil to the cleaning solution.

3. Steam Clean Upholstery

Professional cleaner steam car interior

One of the best ways to clean and sanitize your car fabric upholstery is with a steam cleaner. If you don’t have a portable steam cleaner, you can always rent one out or borrow it from a friend. 

The way these machines work to clean upholstery or carpet is by dampening the material with steam and then extracting the water which also picks up dirt that is hiding within the fabric. The steam also kills bacteria which is a great way to sterilize your car seats in a natural and safe way.

When using a steam cleaner, be sure to keep an eye on the water and replace it with a fresh solution if it has become dirty. 

4. Spot Clean Stains ASAP

Car seats being cleaned with spray detergent

Car upholstery stains must be treated sooner than later in order to prevent them from discoloring the fabric. For this, however, you will need to choose products according to the type of material in question. 

There are various fabric-specific stain removers available on the market, many of which are even chemical-free. Be sure to learn about the product and its contents before buying one. Along with this, we advise testing the stain remover on an inconspicuous area first to ensure that it is suitable for your car upholstery.

Here are some common car seat stains and the appropriate treatments to remove them:

  • Grease/Oil – Make a solution of dish soap and water; clean with a white towel by gently rubbing the area. Blot with paper towels to lift the stain and cover with baking powder to absorb the remainder of it. Leave overnight and vacuum thereafter.
  • Ink – Dip a white cotton cloth into a solution of diluted rubbing alcohol; dampen the stain lightly by dabbing it. Do this repeatedly with a fresh cloth to lift the entire stain. Avoid soaking the stain or rubbing outside of it as this may spread the ink.
  • Coffee – Pour a small amount of cold water over a fresh coffee stain and dab it with paper towels to absorb as much of the stain as possible. Use dishwashing soap and water to scrub the stain away; rinse the area with a damp towel.

5. Let the Upholstery Breathe After Cleaning

high angle new car with back door open

It is important to let the fabric air out after you have cleaned it so that no moisture or strong fragrances are trapped in the car. Leave the doors and/or windows open for as long as you can in an outdoor space.

If you have a secure garage, it is advisable to air your car out overnight to be on the safe side. This is because prolonged exposure to moisture can cause mold and mildew; hence, the best time to start cleaning car upholstery is bright and early!

With the tips above, you won’t need your car seats and interiors cleaned by a professional nearly as often as those who refrain from any type of car upholstery cleaning.

Karen Saunders

Karen Saunders

Karen Saunders is the content marketing manager at PaintMates. With extensive experience in the home and garden space. Karen researches and writes about home improvement.

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