How to Clean Car Seats for That New Car Feeling

Follow these steps to freshen up leather and cloth seats.

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Project Overview
  • Working Time: 1 hour
  • Total Time: 4 hours
  • Skill Level: Intermediate

We spend a lot of time in our cars. Aside from the hours spent driving, we also eat, drink, apply make-up, do business, and haul pets, kids, and their stuff in our vehicles—and the car seats show it. Just like the upholstery on the furniture in your home, car seats need to be cleaned regularly to remove dirt, odors, and stains.

Leather and cloth seats require different maintenance, but we've laid out the steps and supplies for both below. And here's a tip before you get started: If you're doing a thorough cleaning, pick a breezy, warm day so the seats will dry as quickly as possible. Plus, if you're vacuuming the car seats and treating stains, you may as well go ahead and clean the rest of the interiors as well. (You can follow our full car interior checklist here). But, for starters, we'll just show you how to clean car seats.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

Cloth Seats

  • Vacuum with a crevice tool and upholstery brush
  • Spray bottle
  • Stiff-bristled scrub brush
  • Microfiber cloths
  • Sponge
  • Plastic bucket
  • Large fan (optional)

Leather Seats

  • Vacuum with a crevice tool
  • Microfiber cloths
  • Spray bottle


Cloth Seats

  • Commercial carpet and upholstery cleaner
  • Oxygen-based bleach
  • Fabric protector spray (optional)

Leather Seats

  • Commercial leather cleaner or liquid Castile soap
  • Leather conditioner


How to Clean Cloth Car Seats

Cloth car seats

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  1. Declutter the seats.

    Start by removing any trash or items from the seats, including child safety seats.

  2. Vacuum away loose soil.

    Use a vacuum with a hose or a powerful handheld vacuum with an upholstery brush and crevice tool to suction away loose dust, soil, and crumbs.

    Start at the top of the seat and work down to the bottom cushion. Make sure to use the crevice tool as needed along the stitching lines. Don't forget to vacuum the sides and the back of the seats, including inside the pockets if they have them.

  3. Treat the stains.

    For the best final results, pretreat stains before doing an overall cleaning.

    • Most food and mud stains can be removed by using a stiff scrub brush to apply upholstery cleaner onto the stain. Work from the outside of the stain toward the center to prevent it from becoming larger. Allow the cleaner to work for 15 minutes to begin breaking apart the stain before you clean the entire seat.
    • If there are bright, dye-based stains, use a spray bottle to lightly dampen the stain with cool water. In a small bowl, make a paste of oxygen-based bleach powder and a few drops of water. Spread the paste over the stain and allow it to work for at least an hour, or until the powder is dry. Vacuum away the powder and repeat, if needed.
  4. Clean the seats.

    • Carefully read the directions on the label of the upholstery cleaner. Some must be diluted with warm water. If the cleaner doesn't come in a spray bottle, transfer the solution to a bottle so you can control the dampness level of the upholstery.
    • Starting at the top of the seat, lightly spray the entire surface.
    • Use a scrub brush to work the cleaning solution into the fabric and loosen dirt. Start at the top so any dirty solution drips down.
    • Rinse the scrub brush in a bucket of clear water as it becomes dirty and give it a shake to remove excess moisture.
    • Repeat until dirt and excess cleaner have been removed.
  5. Dry the seats.

    Use a dry, lint-free microfiber towel to absorb excess moisture after a seat is cleaned. Allow two or three hours for the seats to dry completely before using the car. Open the doors and use a large fan to help speed up the process.

  6. Keep the car seats clean.

    • If the seats look clean once they're fully dry, use a fabric protector spray to help keep them that way. Follow the label directions for application.
    • If the seats still look soiled, repeat the cleaning steps above. Each cleaning will remove another layer of stains and grime. Don't use a fabric protector spray until the upholstery is clean.

How to Clean Leather Car Seats

leather car seat close up

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  1. Declutter seats.

    Remove everything from the seats before getting started cleaning.

  2. Remove dust and loose debris.

    • If the seats are very dusty, vacuum them well. Pay careful attention to the crevices that collect dust.
    • If the seats are only slightly dusty, you can use a damp microfiber cloth to wipe away loose debris. Start at the top of the seat and work your way down. Don't forget to clean the sides and back of the seat as well.
  3. Choose a cleaning solution.

    • You can use a commercial leather cleaner by simply following the directions on the label.
    • Or, mix a cleaning solution using one part liquid Castile soap with eight parts lukewarm water in a spray bottle. Shake to mix well.
  4. Clean the seats.

    • Spray the cleaning solution onto a clean microfiber cloth, not directly onto the seats. This will prevent over-wetting the leather.
    • Start at the top of the seat and work in small sections. Use a gentle, circular motion, and avoid scrubbing. Add a little more cleaning solution to heavily-soiled areas.
  5. Buff the leather.

    When the leather is clean, use a dry microfiber towel to buff the leather to a soft shine.

  6. Condition the leather.

    Condition the leather to keep it soft and supple and help prevent cracking. Use an automotive leather conditioner that absorbs quickly so your clothes won't become stained. Follow the label directions carefully.

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