Cleaning Car Seats:
Easier than you ever thought

Cleaning car seats is far easier than most people realize. Forget about bulky and troublesome carpet extractors and special equipment.

With the products, tools, and techniques I am going to help you get fantastic results with very little effort. Your car seats are the first things you tend to see as you get into your car. Having dirty car seats gets annoying very quickly for most people.

We are going to put an end to that!

Cleaning Car Seats the Easy Way

cleaning car seats

I have found that most people are not looking for perfection when it comes to their cars. Not that we can't reach pretty close to perfection, but what we are after here is simple ways to achieve acceptable results.

And regardless if you have leather car seats, cloth car seats, or velour cloth seats, the products, the tools, and the techniques are all the same.

Cleaning your car seats along with the rest of your car upholstery really is far easier than most people have been lead to believe.

Car Seat Upholstery Cleaners:
Ready-to-Use (RTU)

If you are looking just to find a great car upholstery cleaner for cleaning car seats and want super simple, then the ready to use upholstery cleaners are the way to go.

Adam's Carpet & Upholstery Cleaner 16oz

  • One of my favorite ready-to-use car upholstery cleaners
  • Whether you are cleaning car seats or shampooing your floor mats; this cleaner will perform
  • Professional results in a ready to use formulation
  • Can also be used to clean your car leather

CarGuys Super Cleaner - Effective All Purpose Cleaner - Best for Leather Vinyl Carpet Upholstery Plastic Rubber and Much More! - 18 oz Kit

  • Car Guy's is a top rated car upholstery cleaner for car enthusiasts and hobbyists
  • I have used and tested this myself and it performs beautifully
  • Professional grade performance in a ready to use formulation
  • Perfect for any car owner with limited need for cleaning car seats or car upholstery
  • Can also be used on car leather

Darren's Tips: Either one of the above ready-to-use car upholstery shampoos will be ideal for cleaning car seats. These products are as simple as simple can get as they come in an effective formulation in their own dedicated sprayer bottle.

Match either one up to my recommended scrub brushes below and you are ready to go!

Cleaning Car Seats:
Simple Steps to Success

car detailing vacuum for cleaning car seatsThis Rigid vacuum has been my choice in car detailing vacuums for many years. strong and compact. What I call the winning combination in a vacuum dedicated to all my car cleaning needs


Don't underestimate how important this step is! Whether you are cleaning car seats and need to break loose the dirt and vacuum it up, or shampooing your car floor mats, it is always easier to vacuum up dry dirt and debris than it is once you have introduced your choice in a car upholstery cleaner.

I recommend that you use your selected choice in a car upholstery scrub brush and break loose the dirt by scrubbing the area you plan on shampooing first, then vacuum up any of the dirt and debris you have broken loose in this initial scrubbing.

You can also simultaneously vacuum while scrubbing the material as part of the pre-vacuuming task. Most people are truly amazed at how much dirt they are able to release by using this method before introducing any car upholstery shampoo.

Shampoo Application

Once you have pre-vacuumed, now you can spray area to be cleaned with a light application of chosen upholstery shampoo. I recommend 3-5 full sprays of upholstery cleaner. I prefer to break your cars interior down into sections to be shampooed and cleaned.

This prevents you from feeling overwhelmed by your dirty car interior as well as help you become more detailed in your car cleaning efforts. I recommend you do this with not just your cars interior as a whole, but even when cleaning car seats I recommend you break the actual seat into smaller areas or sections and concentrate your efforts on each area at a time, and then move on to next section.

Most people get into trouble in this stage of applying the car upholstery shampoo with heavy amounts of cleaner thinking that the more cleaner they apply, the cleaner the area will get.

Just know that lighter, repeat applications are better than heavier applications of your car upholstery cleaner.

Scrub Area

cleaning cloth car seatsYour car interior will present many types of materials. Your car seats can also be made of multiple types of materials. See how many different materials you can see within the inside of my own work van itself.

At this point you are ready to come back in (assuming you did any scrubbing during the pre-vacuuming) and use your chosen scrub brush to break loose the dirt now that you have applied the upholstery cleaner.

Choose what you think would be the most appropriate scrub brush based on the material you are cleaning and the amount of dirt you are attempting to clan away.

Cleaning car seats is only part of this equation as you will quickly realize your cars interior is made using many types of materials, and the levels of dirt can vary dramatically based on the area of your car you are attempting to shampoo.

Regardless of the scrub brush you have chosen, remember you remain n control. So if there is any fear on your part, simply start sift, check your results, and make any adjustments needed. Since car seat upholstery can come in endless varieties, cleaning car seats will be a case by case task and you should test a small section first to determine if your cloth/fabric upholstery of your car seats needs to be shampooed cautiously so as to not cause the fabric to become frayed or damaged in the scrubbing process.

Mop-up Dirt

micro fiber cloths for cleaning car seatsI use what I label as "disposable" micro-fiber cloths for every detail task regardless of interior or exterior detailing. I start with brand new and then down grade my micro-fiber cloths to dirtier and dirtier jobs until they are no longer worth trying to wash them any longer.

Now you have vacuumed, sprayed, and scrubbed the area or your car seats. The dirt is broken up and you need to mop up the dirt and upholstery shampoo. I recommend using micro-fiber cloths (see link below) for doing literally any detail or car cleaning task!

No other cloth material will preset the wining balance of features than a micro-fiber cloth:

  • The softest cloth material you can get
  • The most absorbent cloth material you can get
  • The most lint-free cloth material you can get

If you have ever shampooed your car seats or cleaned any fabric within your car with any other type of cloth material, there is a an adjustment period. because of the unique material of micro-fiber, the cloth will be harder to use when mopping up the dirt and upholstery shampoo. Don't be discouraged by this as you will get used to it.

Once you realize the winning benefits of using micro-fiber, you will never go back. It took me a little while to adjust as a professional detailer, but I cannot imagine going back to any other type of cloth material!

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

As I said above; light applications of this process in cleaning car seats or any other material in your cars interior is all about light, repeat applications. The more car upholstery cleaner you use will not mean the dirt is going to magically come clean easier or quicker.

Most of you will be dealing with heavy amounts of dirt in cleaning your car seats that repeat applications is simply going to be a requirement. You also don't want to over-saturate and cause more drying time to then become an unwanted factor.

Just know that as a professional detailer, there have been plenty of cars I have detailed that were so dirty, that cleaning the car seats literally required me to go in  with repeat applications as much as 10+ times. Only you will know when enough is enough based on the material, the level of dirt, and your expectations.

cleaning car seats with car guys super clean

Darren's Note: Many people have unrealistic expectations due to inexperience. If you are cleaning car seats that have years of accumulated dirt, it may be likely you are not able to remove all the discoloration that will be a natural byproduct of dirt allowing to remain on your car seating for years. Eventually even "normal" dirt will discolor light colored car seating if allowed. For this reason it is always better to do casual or hasty car seat cleaning at regular intervals than to be tempted to kick the can down the road thinking you will eventually get to cleaning your car seats at some point in the future. This point in the future as a rule is usually very far into the future which means the dirt starts to stain and become permanent.

Imagine if your car upholstery was in your house; would you think that the level of dirt present before cleaning your car seats was realistic or would you accept that the material would need replacing due to the excessive dirt? This is just a way to have realistic expectations, not a way to discourage you from attempting to clean your car seats.

Cars are certainly different than your household carpeting or furniture, so your expectations will naturally be different with your car than with a comparison to your household furnishings. Just know that virtually in every case I have seen in my professional world, that cleaning car seats in the exact manner I have laid out always produces much wanted and needed results that will put a smile on your face!

Cleaning Car Seats:
Question and Answers

If you have made it this far into this page you are an anomaly! Most people simply want short-cut answers which only deliver short-cut results.

This is a one way ticket to disappointment and frustration!

I will take a break from my further recommendations when cleaning car seats to answer many of the questions that are popular on this subject, but only deliver bad results from websites that clearly do not speak from any actual real world experience.

What Is The Easiest Way To Clean Cloth Seats

The easiest way to clean any cloth or leather seat is as outlined so far on this page.

  • Pre-vacuum to remove loose dirt (dry dirt is far easier to remove than dirt that is now wet with upholstery shampoo)
  • Spray are to be shampooed
  • Scrub with chosen scrub brush
  • Mop up with micro-fiber cloth
  • Repeat until desired results are achieved or until you have determined that the car seat is as clean as it will get

Can You Use Laundry Detergent To Clean Car Seats

Yes, but I wouldn't recommend it. And since you ask, you could literally use any all purpose cleaner for cleaning car seats. But dedicated car upholstery shampoos and all-purpose cleaners are designed to be used by hand, by both non-professionals and professionals.

Laundry detergents are designed to be used in washing machines where lots of water will also be used to clean and rinse your clothes.

How To Remove Water Stains From Car Seats

cleaning stain from car seats

Water stains and other liquid spills represent unique challenges when cleaning car seats that are made of cloth. Cloth seats are porous and gravity also works to draw liquid spills down, and into every fiber of your cloth car seats.

This is called "wicking" in the industry. For any liquid spill or water stains in particular, I recommend the following:

  • Scrub area first with a dry, stiff nylon upholstery brush to break up and loosen any dried dirt
  • Vacuum very thoroughly
  • Use a dedicated car upholstery shampoo and spritz the entire seat of section of the seat which has the water stain on it
  • Scrub area with scrub brush as aggressively as seems appropriate based on the material of your car seat
  • Mop up dirt with micro-fiber cloth
  • Repeat at least one more time making sure to cover entire car seat or panel of the seat entirely, and uniformly with enough upholstery shampoo for complete wetness, without over saturation (this is a balance between enough shampoo without over saturation)
  • Allow to dry and check results
  • often you will need to do a repeat application aft the seat has dried completely if the water stain still remains
  • Simply go back in with a heavier amount of cleaner and repeat steps exactly as outlined

Can Every Stain Be Cleaned Form Cloth Seats

No, no, and no!

Just like your house or your clothes, there are certain stains and certain materials that simply will not come completely clean.

This is where realistic expectations are needed. Of course if you have no experience you will be unsure as to what realistic expectations mean.

Often people forget that if the carpeting upholstery in their house was as dirty as their car seats, they would accept they would need to replace that carpeting or upholstery.

Often people think that cleaning car seats is somehow different and therefore develop unrealistic expectations for cleaning the upholstery in their car.

Can You Use Carpet Cleaner On Car seats

This would be the same answer as the laundry detergent to clean car seats. Well..almost.

Since there are numerous spot cleaners made for spot cleaning carpeting, you could actually use one of these products in cleaning car seats.

But if you are going to buy one of those products (unless you already own some) then why not buy an actual car upholstery shampoo. I am certain this will not be the last time you want to clean your car seats.

What Is The Best Upholstery Shampoo To Clean Car Seats

cleaning car seats with adams upholstery shampoo

Not only is this one of the most common questions for anyone looking to clean car seats, but it is often part of the cleaning process that many people over-think.

If we are cleaning car seats, everyone of us would naturally want to find the best car upholstery shampoo, but the reality is that most upholstery shampoos deliver the same results.

There are far more critical factors that will determine your end results than the actual upholstery shampoo.

  • What type of material are you cleaning?
  • How long has the car seat remained dirty(months, years)?
  • How much dirt has accumulated?
  • Has the car upholstery been treated with a fabric protector?
  • Are there liquid spills you are trying to clean and what type of liquid is it?

The point being as that the material itself and the exact type of dirt or stain on your car seats will be a much bigger determining factor than trying to spend days searching for the best car upholstery shampoo.

What Do Professionals Use To Clean Car Seats

Similar to the question above, the actual car upholstery is less of a determinant than the method a professional uses when cleaning car seats. From commercial pre-spotters, to carpet extractor machines, to steam cleaners, car detailing professional like myself have access to equipment that allow every car upholstery shampoo to produce better results.

But most of these methods would prove completely unrealistic for most car owners looking to clean car seats at home.

Can You Use car Seat Shampoo To Detail Interior Of Car

Yes! Any car upholstery or all purpose cleaner that works in cleaning car seats can also be used to clean the other, water safe materials in your cars interior.

below is a picture from the convertible boot cover of a BMW I used to clean using the same shampoo I used to clean the car seats; which in this case was actually car leather seats.

cleaning car upholstery with car seat shampoo

Cleaning Car Seats:
Tools of Engagement

While a top rated car upholstery shampoo is critical, you should not over-look finding the right tool for the job

Car Upholstery Scrub Brush Set

Upholstery Cleaner Scrub Brush Set Cleaning Brush and Horsehair Detailing Brush for Car Interior, Seats, Boat, Couch, Sofa and Carpet

  • A perfect combination brush cleaning set to handle the majority of car interiors and materials
  • One brush made of gentle horse hair perfect for cleaning for sensitive materials and areas: leather, velour, headliner, etc.
  • One brush with synthetic, stiffer bristles for heavier duty cleaning: floor mats, carpeting, cloth seats, etc.
  • Labeled as boat scrub brushes, but ideal for any car upholstery cleaning

OXO Detail Upholstery Scrub Brush Set

OXO 1285700 Good Grips Deep Clean Brush Set, Orange

  • Perfect balance of size and bristle stiffness for all those detailed areas of your cars interior
  • Not too stiff, not too soft
  • Unique set that includes a rubber detail scraper
  • Can be used on endless surfaces when detailing car interior

Detail Dusting Brushes

Maxshine Ever So Soft (ESS) Detailing Brush, Set-Small+Large

  • Excellent detail brushes for the "details" of car interior cleaning
  • since you will already be cleaning your car seats, most likely your efforts will then transition into the more intricate areas of your cars interior
  • I like this set as I can reserve one for using wet with my choice in a car upholstery shampoo, and one to remain dry for dry dusting of dash vents, cubby holes, gauges, etc.
  • Made with boars hair bristles that are soft naturally, and become even softer when wet

Micro-Fiber Detailing Cloths

Kirkland Signature Ultra High Pile Premium Microfiber Towels, 36 Count (Pack of 1), Yellow - 713160

  • The micro-fiber cloths are perfect for cleaning car seats of any other car upholstery cleaning
  • What I consider disposable micro-fiber cloths (this doesn't mean they are poor quality and you can certainly spend a small fortune on premium micro-fiber cloths, but when it comes to cleaning car seats or any other basic detailing task, these represent an economical means of getting good value for your money)
  • Perfect size that are more suited than many of the cheaper and smaller sized micro-fiber cleaning cloths

Cleaning Car Seats Summary

In review I will leave you with the following checklist for cleaning and shampooing your car seats:

  • Not all car upholstery shampoos are created equal and my two recommendations will provide you with excellent results.
  • Always start by reading manufactures labeling (It's amazing what you can learn by reading first)
  • Remember to remain realistic as not every stain will come out of your cars upholstery. This is not to discourage you as I promise you will be amazed, but I also don't want you being disappointed due to unrealistic expectations.
  • If your car has been neglected long enough, basic dirt will eventually discolor lighter materials. For this reason regular clearings are the best way to prevent permanent damage and staining.
  • As a rule most people are very happy with the results they are able to achieve with a quality upholstery cleaner and the right scrub brushes.
cleaning car seats car upholstery

I hope I have now given you the motivation to take matters into your own hands. You will truly be amazed out how much good damage you can do once you are armed with the right products, tools, and knowledge.

In a matter of a short time and some effort, you can transform your car into a level of clean you didn't think was possible!


Darren Priest

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