Last Updated on July 3, 2021 by Stewart

Cleaning car seats is something which is extremely straightforward, as long as the finish is maintained.

As mentioned elsewhere on the site, it is extremely important that the least aggressive method of cleaning the seats is taken first.  Regardless of the degree of staining in the car, the first step is always to carry out a thorough vacuum of the interior. Thankfully, a lot of vacuum cleaners come with a variety of tools to vacuum the seats, as well as crevice tools to get into the harder to reach areas of the car.

It should be noted that any display screens should not be cleaned with a vacuum attachment as this can damage them. Instead, they should be cleaned with a damp microfibre cloth.

The Easiest Method

After picking up as much debris as possible with the vacuum, the seats now need to be addressed.  In some cases, a damp, microfibre cloth is more than sufficient to remove light stains from fabric seats. I like to use a short pile cloth for this and wring it out to remove as much water as possible and then simply agitate the area to remove the dirt. After this, I will go over the dampened area with a dry, short pile microfibre cloth in order to soak up the little water that is left.

Using an interior cleaner

Ideally at this stage, the stain will be removed. If not, then the next step involves using an interior cleaner. The problem with stains on seats is that there are a wide range of things which could have caused it, as well as different periods of time that the stain has been there. Due to this, there has to be different ways in which to remove the stains.

Now, each interior cleaner has different instructions on how it should be applied and removed. Having said that, I have in the past deviated from the instructions to great success. Please note though that just because it worked for me, does not necessarily mean it will work for you.

With any cleaner, is important to minimise the amount of liquid that is being sprayed onto the seats. It is the case here that it is easier to apply more little by little than it is to remove the product.

If I have a stain on a seat, I will apply my cleaner of choice to either a microfibre cloth as discussed above, or to a soft detailing brush and agitate the area gently. One concern that I have with using harsh brushes on cloth seats is that I don’t want to cause any ‘bobbling’ to the cloth. There are hard brushes available which are apparently designed to be used for cleaning cloth seats, but in my experience, they do more harm than good.

This process can be re-done several times until you are happy with the final results. Unlike on the exterior of the car, cheaper microfibre cloths can be used when it comes to cleaning the seats.

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Using a steamer

Steam mops are something that are really popular now in a lot of houses. Pro-detailers will have dedicated steam machines, but these are really expensive and I wouldn’t recommend investing in one unless you knew you could make your money back.

Thankfully, a lot of steam mops aren’t just for cleaning floors. They also have additional attachments that allow the user to steam their clothes and the more intricate areas of their house.

If the stain is still present, and you have access to a steam mop with an attachment to clean other areas then it is certainly a viable option to clean your seats. Since the cleaner has already been applied, there isn’t any need at this stage to apply any more. Instead, wrap a microfibre cloth around one of the attachments and use light to medium pressure over the area you need to clean. With the cleaner that has already been applied, it should have broken up the stain to some degree. The power of the steam will help even more so to do this.

One thing to remember though that the steam mop should be used in short bursts on the seats. The reason for this is that it is a pretty confined space and a lot of hot steam will be generated, so from a a safety point of view, carry out this process slowly.

As an added step, you could reply a small amount of cleaner as detailed above, and then remove it again.

Using a carpet extractor

If, after this there is still a large degree of staining left over, then it can still be resolved. Sadly, sometimes stubborn stains do need a bit more power to get rid of them.  In my experience, situations like this require an extractor to be used.  Extractors are a considered purchase, especially when it is the case that they will not be used as frequently as say, a pressure washer. Whilst I do always maintain my car to the highest standard inside and out, I still like to extract the seats once per year.

The benefit of having an extractor as well is that they can also double up as way to clean the carpets in your house, as well as cloth sofas that you may have. There are a lot of different extractors on the market ranging from upright models to small, portable ones. My own extractor has a heater in it, making it much easier to dry the seats out.

When it comes to cleaning cloth seats with an extractor, the process is slightly different than the other methods mentioned above. In this instance, I apply the cleaner of choice directly to the area that I would like to clean and let it dwell. I then agitate it with a soft detailing brush, or a microfibre cloth.

After this, I then apply water from the extractor to the area I have just cleaned. For the years I’ve been extracting seats, I have the rule of less is more with the water application. This is the point that you want to be able to add just enough water to help the previously applied cleaner, but not so much that you end up saturating the seats. I usually leave about a 30 second window between applying the water from the extractor before beginning the removal process.

By liberally applying the water, and by extracting it again in a short time frame, you will greatly reduce the chance of leaving water marks on the seats. This is especially unsightly when it comes to light coloured seats. The suction power of the extractor will draw out a lot of the dirt, although it is still possible that it will require several rounds of cleaning before the stain is completely gone.

It is also important to note that using an extractor isn’t always advised in the colder weather since it will make it more difficult for the seats to dry. Of course, if you have a garage then the car could be stored in there overnight with the windows down to let air into the car.

The take home message though is that there are several ways in which to clean car seats, and whilst it may seem daunting at first, it is something that is achievable with a little patience and time.