Car Upholstery Cleaning Tips

Red Leather Interior of Car with Clean Upholstery.

How to Clean Your Car’s Upholstery

We might keep a clean home, but many of us harbor a dark secret – a messy car.

Keeping the interior of your car clean is just as important as keeping the exterior clean. Who wants to sit on a seat where a whole cup of coffee or soda has been spilled?

Unfortunately, the upholstery in your car is often the last thing we think about cleaning. Spilled coffee, soda and many other liquids (really- just about every liquid, including water) can cause an unpleasant, or dare I say “stinky smell” in the interior of the car.

The car is like an extension of our home, if you have a long commute to work, or just take short trips to the grocery store or to pick up your kids, a clean car makes the trip much more relaxing.

I freely admit I’ve been there too and have had to clean up the worst of spills and grime. I suppose 3 kids, a demanding job and a hectic lifestyle have made me an expert at getting dirty car upholstery cleaned up fast.

So are you ready then? Let’s get busy cleaning!

Maintaining the Upholstery in Your Car

Car upholstery can really take a beating. If you’ve got kids, you’ve also got food spills, mud from sneakers and cleats and very likely some unidentified substances stuck on the seats.

Follow these steps to keep the upholstery in your car looking good for years;

Clean Up Spills Immediately

  1. Keep paper towels, napkins, or a rag in your car for any spills that happen.
  2. Being prepared will make the difference between a spill and a stain.
  3. The faster you get to spills, the better your chances of getting them out of the upholstery – before they turn into stains.

Vacuum the Seats Regularly

  1. If you allow dirt, dust and debris to sit on seats and floor mats, it will find its way deeper into the fibers and make the inside of the car look dirty and dingy.
  2. If you have a car seat, move it around regularly. Infant and child safety seats can wreak havoc on your upholstery.
  3. If you can, rotate the location of the car seat on a regular basis. Be sure to clean and vacuum underneath them when you do.

Limit Food and Drinks in the Vehicle

Limiting the amount of food and drinks consumed in your car will help keep the upholstery looking its best. This might be tough for some, but if you keep the food and drinks to a minimum, you will head off much of the spills, stains and ultimately any cleaning.. Think of the time you’ll save!

Upholstery Stain Removal

If you find that your car’s upholstery is stained and looking worse for wear, there are things you can do to clean it up and bring it back to life. Little messes can add up, but if you stay on top of them you won’t find yourself with a huge mess on your hands later on down the road.

Removing Ground in Dirt

For dirt that has been ground into the seat.

  1. First make sure all the dirt and seat cover is completely dry.
  2. Take a brush and carefully brush away any material that will come off easily.
  3. Use an upholstery brush to vacuum away any stubborn dirt and grime.
  4. Tough stains can be removed by brushing lightly with a slightly damp cloth or by using a water spray with a vacuum extractor.
  5. Use a light touch on the water and take care not to soak the seats with water and cause the dirt to soak in further into the upholstery.

Removing Coffee Stains

The vast majority of us drink our coffee in the car, so we know these spills can happen frequently.

I once had a cup of coffee on the dash and forgot about it. My friend was sitting in the passenger seat and forgot about it too – until I started driving and the coffee ended up on her, the seat, the dash and door.

Need I go on? It was definitely a traumatic and disastrous mess for both of us!

  1. To clean up coffee spills, first blot the stain with a paper towel or a napkin to remove as much liquid as possible.
  2. As soon as possible, get some cool water on the spilled coffee and continue blotting with a clean cloth or paper towel.
  3. Treat the upholstery stain the way you would a carpet stain. Blot, clean with carpet cleaner and then vacuum.

Cleaning Vomit Stains

It’s gross, definitely, but it happens. If you have kids or animals, it’s happened to you. If allowed to sit on upholstery or carpets can cause a permanent stain.

  1. Open the windows first. Not just because of the vomit, but the cleaning chemicals smell too.
  2. Open windows will also allow the air to circulate and help to dry the area more quickly.
  3. Scrape the area to remove as much of the vomit as soon as possible.
  4. Mix 1/4 cup ammonia with 1 cup warm water.
  5. Use a clean washcloth or a clean sponge to wipe down the stained area. DO NOT SCRUB. Dip, rinse and blot with the cleaning solution.
  6. Rinse the cloth with clean water as needed. Prepare new cleaning solution if it becomes contaminated with the vomit stain you are removing,
  7. When it looks like the vomit has been removed, sprinkle baking soda generously over the area and very lightly rub it in to distribute. Baking soda is extremely effective at removing vomit odor.
  8. Let the stained area dry completely and then vacuum up.
  9. If there is any residue remaining after vacuuming, use a clean cloth dipped in warm water to give a final rinse. Blot up any excess water with dry cloth.
  10. Vacuum one last time with the soft brush attachment if needed.

Additional Deodorizing Tip For extra deodorizing power, place a few dryer sheets in the car to help freshen it up or use plain clay cat litter that has been put inside a a nylon stocking to help absorb odors.

Removing Blood Stains

The best way to keep a stain from happening is getting to it right away while it’s fresh. The longer the stain sits, the harder it will be to remove.

Remember with blood, always use cold water to remove stains, warm or hot water can permanently set the stain.

  1. Blot (don’t rub) to remove as much of the blood as you can with a clean cloth that is dampened with cold water.
  2. Using a spray bottle, mix 1 teaspoon dishwashing liquid with 1 cup of cold water.
  3. Spray the solution on the stain and gently blot with a clean dry cloth working from the outer edge in.
  4. Spray, blot, spray blot until the blood has been completely removed.

Cleaning Leather & Vinyl Upholstery

In many ways leather and vinyl upholstery can be easier to clean and maintain than fabric. Using the right cleaner removes stains, odors and bacteria.

Leather Cleaning

If you have leather seats in your car, cleaning is a little different. While leather upholstery is very durable, it is also prone to staining and getting dirty just the way cloth upholstery is.

If you have leather upholstery, wipe up as much of the spill immediately as mentioned above and use a cleaner made specifically for leather to keep your seats clean and protecting them from future staining.

Vinyl Cleaning

  1. For regular cleaning, mix 3 to 4 drops Ivory dish washing liquid to a bowl of warm water.
  2. Use a clean cloth to wipe down interior seats, and then dry with another clean cloth.

If there are any stains remaining after washing the seats down:

  1. Use a mixture of 1/4 cup ammonia and 1 cup water.
  2. Wipe again with a soft dampened cloth and gently use a soft bristled brush on the discolored area until the stain is removed.
  3. Dry the seats off and add a layer of protection using appropriate vinyl products to resist future staining.

Whatever kind of upholstery you have in your car, it’s important to protect it to keep it looking fresh and clean. Choose a product that will repel stains and freshen up the fabric for the best results.