Dirty car seat

The Easiest Way to Clean Car Seats

So, your car is a pigsty? Or, you just bought one that's needs a good cleaning? Do you work as a detailer? Or maybe you're just looking for a good instruction on how to clean stains out of car seats...
Here's a few really easy ways to bring those messy seats back to looking like new, or at least get them as good as possible, without spending a fortune, needing expensive specialized equipment, or taking forever.

For cloth seats, all you need is:

  • Wet/Dry shop vac, or carpet cleaner vac, or a detail extraction vac(if you have one)
  • Clean microfiber cloths,
  • a good All Purpose Cleaner(that is safe on leather & vinyl)
  • A separate spray bottle.
  • A small brush with stiff bristles, such as a tooth brush.


  • Large stiff bristled brush
  • Putty knife
  • Hand tools
  • Fabric Protector

How to Clean Cloth Seats

Removing seats?
Depending on the job, it may be best to remove the seats from the vehicle first. This is especially so if the mess is between the seats and the center console, and/or underneath the seat. If it is just a maintenance clean, you should be able to skip this step. However, if you need to remove the seats, it may be best to clean everything you can with a shopvac/Vacuum cleaner first to reduce the fallout mess when removing the seats.

Removing Car Seats
On the front seats, you'll need to move each seat to the back on its adjustment track, so that you can access the front fasteners. Depending on the vehicle, you'll either need to use the manual adjuster, or the power adjuster. The fasteners will be at the end of each track on the floor. Sometimes they may be underneath a plastic cover. Once those have been removed, move the seat all the way forward using the adjusters. Then remove the rear fasteners.

Removing seat fasteners.

IMPORTANT!! On a modern vehicle, you will now need to disconnect the negative battery cable and let the car sit for about 20-30 mins to prevent any airbags being inadvertently set off. This allows any capacitors to bleed off their charge.

Once the 1/2 hour time has elapsed, then carefully disconnect any electrical connectors going from the car to the seats. Once you've fully disconnected everything, you can carefully lift the seat and remove it from the vehicle. You will now have full access to all sides of the seat, making cleaning much easier. 

The first step is to use the vacuum to remove all loose dust, hair, dirt and whatever else. If the seat has had something spilled on it that has congealed, you will need to use a putty knife to gently remove the bulk of the goo. Be careful not to damage the fabric, or leather when doing this part. Patience may be needed.
Use the small brush to work in the crevices, folds and stitching to help free any dirt in those places

Once you've fully vacuumed everything, note any ground in dirt/grime or stains- if any. For those we'll use a really good All Purpose Cleaner(APC), such as ZOOM. (Although ZOOM is known to be safe on practically all automotive surfaces, test in an inconspicuous spot first to ensure it won't cause issues with the fabric.)
Spray down the affected areas thoroughly and liberally and let the cleaner soak the fabric for a few minutes. Keep things wet by respraying, if needed. Gently agitate with a brush if needed.
If you have a wet/dry carpet vac, with a handheld attachment, such as a Bissell Pro-Heat lift-off 2 in 1, or a detail extractor vac, you can use it to apply ZOOM and also vacuum everything up. These have a tank with cleaning solution and some jets in the vacuum head to apply the cleaner. There is a separate tank for the used liquid.

How to steam clean car seats- Using the lift-off portion of a Bissell Carpet steam cleaner for doing heavily soiled car seats.

Now take the shop vac, or extractor and thoroughly vacuum everything up.  Repeat process, if necessary, or leave ZOOM to soak longer on nastier/more stubborn messes.
Fill the empty spray bottle with plain water and soak down all areas again and re-extract. This removes any remaining cleaner residue.
NOTE - A multi-use extractor vac such as a Bissell Pro Heat lift-off can be a useful purchase, because it can also be used for cleaning furniture and carpets in your house. It's versatile as the main body lifts away for doing jobs such as car interiors.

 Once you're done cleaning, it may be a good idea to spray the seats down with a scotchgard type product, or a ceramic fabric protectant, to protect them against future stains. 

How to Clean Leather Car seats - 

What to use to clean leather car seats.
Items needed:

  • Shop Vacuum or Extractor Vac.
  • Small brush
  • Leather/vinyl cleaner, or a safe APC
  • Leather & vinyl conditioner
  • Steamer - optional

Most cars will have coated leather seats, or imitation leather. The surface is a vinyl coating which protects the leather and is easier to clean and maintain than leather itself. If you have an older expensive sports car, or luxury car, it could have just leather with no coating. However, those need regular maintenance and are subject to mould in damp locations.

First vacuum the whole seat, then insert a crevice tool and get the small brush to work away at the stitching and creases, or overlaps. Work at this till you've removed all bits of debris. If the debris in the stitching is tough to get out, you can apply some cleaner along the seam and let it soak for a bit. Then work it again with the small brush and vacuum it all out.
Once you have done all these areas, you can spray the seats down with a good APC, or Leather & Vinyl cleaner, then wipe down thoroughly with a clean microfiber cloth. 

Once everything is cleaned, the seats should have the conditioner applied to them. There are 2 ways to go about this; The simple way is to spray the seats down with the conditioner and let set for a minute or two, then fully wipe down with a new, clean microfiber cloth.

The second method is a bit more thorough- Steam the leather/vinyl surfaces fully, until all the surfaces are good and warm. Then quickly wipe down with fresh microfiber cloths to dry all the water off and then spray liberally with the conditioner. let the conditioner set for a minute or two, then wipe off all the excess. 

There you have it, your seats are nice and clean now and you didn't have to spend a fortune. Going forward, you can just do a quick maintenance clean on a regular basis and keep everything looking fresh.

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None of our Blog posts are written with AI. All our blog posts are fully written by a real person, sharing real world knowledge and expertise.

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