How to Clean Car Seats

Keeping your car seats clean will not only keep your car looking great, it can help hold its resale value. The type of seats you have will determine the cleaning method you should use. With a few simple products and some time, you’ll have your seats looking as clean as the day you drove the car off the lot. 

Cleaning Cloth Seats

You Will Need:

  • Vacuum with attachments
  • Upholstery cleaner
  • Spot remover
  • Stiff brush
  • Soft white cloths
  • Wet vac (if needed)

Steps to Clean Cloth Seats:

  1. Begin by vacuuming all surfaces of the seats to remove any loose dirt and debris. The attachments are helpful for reaching tight crevices and in between the seats and the console.
  2. Next, look over the seats to identify any stained areas that will require extra cleaning as well as weak areas that may show signs of damage (holes, thin fabric, etc.). Weak areas should be cleaned with caution to avoid damaging the area further.
  3. Apply an upholstery cleaner to the surface of the seat. It works best to work in small sections.
  4. Work the cleaner into the fabric with a stiff brush. Extra scrubbing will be required to removed stains and heavily soiled areas.
  5. For stains and soiled areas that do not come clean with the upholstery cleaner, apply a spot remover. Again, work it into the fabric with a stiff brush.
  6. Wipe any excess cleaner away with a clean, white, soft cloth.
  7. Check the product label. Many products do not need to be rinsed, and the area can be left to dry.
  8. If rinsing is required, spray water over the area (small amounts at a time so it doesn’t saturate the foam cushion) and remove with a wet vac immediately.
  9. Allow the seats to dry completely. Keep windows down until the seats are dry to avoid mold and mildew growth.

Cleaning Leather Seats

You Will Need:

Steps to Clean Leather Seats:

  1. It is best to clean leather seats in the shade.
  2. Vacuum the seats to remove any loose dirt and debris.
  3. Apply the leather cleaner to a clean, dry sponge.
  4. Rub the sponge over the surface in a circular motion until the entire surface is covered.
  5. Dry the surface with a clean, dry, soft cloth.
  6. It is best to work in sections, repeat the above steps until each seat is cleaned.
  7. Apply the leather conditioner using a soft cloth.
  8. Allow the seats to dry for at least one hour.

Additional Tips and Advice

  • If you have a carpet steam cleaners, many come with or have upholstery attachments available. These can be useful for cleaning car seats as well.
  • If there are stains on your leather seats, apply a mixture of one part lemon juice and one part cream of tartar using a soft cloth. As with any cleaning product, test it on a hidden area first to ensure there are no adverse effects.
  • To keep your leather seats from fading, choose a leather conditioner that contains sunscreen.
  • For quick clean-ups, keep a container of wipes in the car. There are wipes made for both leather and cloth seats.


  1. Lynn says:

    It’s much easier than trying to drag your household vacuum cleaner outside. The car wash will always have a coin-operated vacuum someplace outside, very cheap to use and saves you a lot of aggravation. Watch out, though, because car wash vacuums have really strong suction; they can suck up ANYTHING. And once it goes down the hose, you aren’t getting it back.

  2. Lynn says:

    Clean up spots, stains and spills with regular carpet and upholsery spot cleaner – I like the foaming kind with the little plastic brush attached to the can. Once you’ve treated the spots, vacuum the seats thoroughly using the hose attachment on your house vacuum. You can also sprinkle carpet powder on the seats before vacuuming to make the car smell better.

  3. Lynn says:

    Spray-on Scotchguard is the greatest thing known to man. If you spray your cloth car seats with it, nothing you spill on the seats will make a stain. You can just wipe the spill up and it’s gone.

  4. Lynn says:

    Don’t do this on a new car, or one with leather seats. But if you have older vinyl seats, regular household wet cleaning wipes work just as well for cleaning the seats as the expensive car cleaning wipes do. And they also kill germs.

  5. Lynn says:

    If your kids make sticky candy messes that harden in the back seat or in the floorboard or on the mats in your car, you can get the hardened candy off with foaming bathroom cleaner. The cleaner might leave a spot on the seat, but if you’re letting the kids have food back there you probably aren’t too worried about the seats anyway. :)

  6. Ronnie says:

    TuffStuff, found in the automotive section, cleans all stains anywhere. I have been using it for years.

  7. Andy says:

    I like the Scotch-guard idea for keeping stains off. I have found that Simple Green works good on seats and carpet to remove stains. Just spray it on the stain, let it sit for a few minutes, then scrub with a Bristol or toothbrush and dry with a clean rag.

  8. MJ says:

    To remove scuff marks from your cars paint, do the following. Get a white cloth towel, spray any brand name hairspray on to the towel and wipe the area. The pump hairspray seems to work better.

  9. Ronn says:

    Anything sticky that is on the painted surface of the car (tape residue, tar, etc.) can be removed by spraying it with WD-40 and then wiping with a clean paper towel. Let it soak for a minute or two. For really heavy residue, a couple of applications maybe required.

  10. Alicia says:

    Rubbing alcohol will remove the sticky off hard and soft surfaces alike.

  11. Jazzy says:

    409 is the best thing ever to clean your car. It cleans the windows, removes stains from the seats and carpets and usually dries fast.

  12. Linda says:

    I have heard that WD-40 works well on a lot of things, including cleaning cars.

  13. Klinner says:

    We have a new SUV and there are white marks on the driver’s seat. They look like chalk. Could it be water? I do swim at a local club everyday.

  14. Paul says:

    The water mark on your seat could be bleached from chlorine.

  15. Brian says:

    WD-40 is not meant as a cleaner. If you use it for that, I am guessing you will be really sorry.

  16. Ron says:

    If you use WD-40, you might as well also use some Castrol motor oil. 😉
    Have fun!

  17. Randy says:

    What can I use to clean rust stains off a leather seat? It was folded up and never used and had rusted without being discovered. Now, I don’t know what to use to clean it without ruining the leather further.

  18. Armando says:

    When people use WD-40, it’s only meant to be used under the hood. It cleans everything really well. First, with a soft bristled brush, dust off the loose dirt and then spray some WD-40 on the area. Using a towel, wipe until it looks like new. This will also keep the dirt from sticking. Do this every two or three months and it’s going to make your car look much better.

  19. James says:

    Kitty litter works really well to soak up the oil. Then, clean the carpet with Oxy-Clean. Works wonders.

  20. Ann says:

    My niece gave my hubby in the backseat a little bag of gummy bears, which he absent-mindedly put down and left on the leather seat on a scorching day. Glop wasn’t discovered until the next day or day after.

    Here we are, more than a month later, still don’t know how to get this melted mess up/off, short of getting down and eating/licking it up! Blech – no way! I don’t even like gummy bears on a GOOD day! It’s stuck TIGHT! Help!

  21. Jennie says:

    My sister was doing her makeup and the top broke off. She didn’t know where it went. Later, I saw a huge line on my passenger seat from her sitting on it. I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to make it worse.

  22. John says:

    A dry erase marker removes permanent marker on most smooth surfaces; it might work on your leather.

  23. Jean says:

    How do I remove gum off the backseat of my car? It’s fabric.

  24. Eric says:

    You can remove gum with ice. Just keep it on the gum until the gum crumbles off. It takes a little while, so put the ice in a Ziploc baggie. Try to get it off slowly.

  25. Elizabeth says:

    Any enzyme-related stains (i.e. raspberry, blueberry, orange juice, coffee), can be easily removed by using a small amount of hydrogen peroxide. I read this somewhere and tried it out on my clothes stained with elderberries. Just poured it on and watched it disappear, no scrubbing necessary. This one took a couple attempts. No more freaking out over tough stains.

  26. Julian says:

    Same happened to me, gave a drunk man a ride who had stuff on his bottom. I used small damp cloth pieces (each piece to be disposed of) with soap or detergent and rubbed into the soiled area. Repeat until the smell is gone. Repeat again after a FEW HRS. or NEXT DAY.

    I now keep my car seats covered all the times.

  27. Diana says:

    To remove sticky marks on hard surfaces left by labels, just spray with any furniture polish; it will leave a nice clean surface without scratch marks.

  28. Laura says:

    I spilled ham juice all over my car while transporting it to a dinner, and it is crusty and hard from the glaze. How can I get this up?

    Take a look! We’ve answered your question!

  29. Tammy says:

    My car seats were dingy so I tried to clean them with Scotch Guard upholstery cleaner. Now there are a lot of rust colored spots that came up to the surface. I bought the car used, so I have no idea what it could be. Any suggestions for what to do? I tried multiple applications and it is no better.

  30. Peter says:

    WD-40 will remove chewing gum. I found some on a brand new pullover, which I soaked in warm white vinegar, rubbed, and then coated in WD-40. The gum rubbed off AFTER FIVE MINUTES. After a wash, it was like new again. It also cleans marks off white boards, any sticky glue residue, etc.; ask any mechanic.

  31. Esther says:

    For roofing tar on a car seat, scrape off as much of the tar as you can with a knife. Then spray the cleaner called, “TOTALLY AWESOME,” and wait a minute before you rub it gently with a soft cloth. You can find this at Walmart or the Dollar Tree store. This worked on our car seat.

  32. Heather says:

    I had milk spill in my car on the seat and then I forgot to clean it up. I did use paper towels to clean up some of it. A couple of days later, I cleaned the seat with a carpet cleaner, but it still smells. It’s starting to get warm out…HELP!

  33. Johnny says:

    Anyone know how to get semen off seats?

  34. Lisa says:

    I cleaned my car seats, and it left the seats dark, like coffee stains. What can I do to get them back to grey?

  35. Toni says:

    I have water spots on my cloth car seats. How do I remove them?

  36. Kathy says:

    A cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol will remove ink or marker from leather.

  37. Shandila says:

    I had the same thing happen with spilled milk. It smells horrible! I used the carpet shampooer/spot remover at the car wash on the soiled areas. It still stunk so then I basically soaked the area with Febreze. The smell is gone! Good luck!

  38. Donna says:

    Heather, put vinegar in a spray bottle and spray really well. Once it is dry, the vinegar smell will be gone and all other odors will too. This saved me from throwing my couch out after my granddaughter threw up on it after drinking milk. Smelled awful, but doesn’t smell at all anymore and I tried lots of other things without any luck; Febreze didn’t help my odor at all.

  39. Isaac says:

    I tried to spray some apple vinegar inside my car & I found that it seems to be causing my car leather seat to be kinda sticky… Is it the RIGHT thing to spray apple vinegar on car leather seat?
    What can I do to get the sticky feel solved?

  40. Melanie says:

    Vinegar is commonly recommended as a natural household cleaner for leather, however it should be diluted with either water or linseed oil. Also, you should use distilled white vinegar, not apple cider vinegar. Distilled vinegar is clear and dries without leaving a residue, however, apple cider vinegar is less purified and it is possible that there is a residue left behind that could be the cause of the stickiness. Use this article to clean off the sticky residue: How to Remove Stickiness from Leather Furniture
    Source: – How to Remove Cigarette Smell from Leather
    Source: – How to Clean Leather Upholstery

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