How To Clean Fabric Car Seats: Advice From The Pros

This article was written by our good friend Ryan McElroy over at Performance Alloys. When it comes to keeping our cars in tip top condition, Ryan is our go-to guy for advice for car maintenance and car care.

Most people don't have a problem with washing the exterior of their cars when they get dirty but when was the last time you gave the inside a good scrubbing?

Dirty seats, mouldy carpets and stained upholstery is something we’ll all be familiar with but keeping your car interior clean doesn’t have to be a complicated job and doesn’t have to be expensive either.

If you’ve noticed your friends and family wrinkling their noses up after even short trips in your car or if you just want to give your vehicle a clean to get it looking, feeling and smelling its best, here are a few handy tips on how to clean your fabric car seats.

Make Sure You’ve Got The Right Tools For The Job

Removing dirt, grime and stains from your car’s upholstery needn’t be a massive job but it will require a couple of different tools and products. If you want to do it right, a sponge and warm water simply won’t cut it.

The most important thing is to use a specific fabric and cloth cleaning solution. Compared to all-purpose cleaners, these are formulated with a light foaming action to lift dirt and grime away from the fabric rather than let it soak deeper into the fibres.

You’ll also need a vacuum cleaner, a small sponge, a microfibre towel to dry your seats and a soft-bristled brush. Try to avoid using brushes with stiff bristles as this can cause the cloth to fray.

Step #1 — Vacuum your seats

Before you start to clean your car seats, give the inside of your car a quick vacuum to remove any loose debris or dirt that might be sitting on the seats.

If possible, use a narrow vacuum nozzle to go around the seat bottoms and get into all the creases and seams to any remove hidden dirt or dust.

The reason for this is that small particles of debris can act like abrasives when the you’re scrubbing your seats. This is basically like sandpapering your seats and risks wearing the fabric out.

Step #2 — Apply The Cleaner To Your Seats And Work It In

The best way to approach cleaning your seats is to do it in small spots rather than tackling the entire seat at once. Simply apply your fabric cleaner directly onto the spot and allow it to sit for between 1-2 minutes.

If necessary, you can work the product into the surface with a soft brush to help further break down any stains but avoid scrubbing too hard. Light to medium pressure should be all it takes to remove persistent dirt without damaging your seat material.

Once the cleaning agent starts working, it’ll produce a light foaming action and you’ll be able to see the suds pull the dirt out of the fabric. Blot these dirty suds up with a clean microfibre towel before they dry. Repeat this process until dirt stops getting pulled out of the fabric.

At this point you can then rinse the material with clear water to remove any excess cleaning product that remains using the sponge, repeating until the rinse water becomes clear.

Step #3 — Finish It Off With Another Vacuuming And Protectant

The trick to cleaning carpet, upholstery and car seats is to avoid allowing any water or cleaner to saturate or over-soak the fabric.

Your goal should be to clean the top layer of fabric and then remove all moisture as quickly as possible, otherwise it can soak further down into the seat cushioning and cause potential smells and mould further down the line.

To avoid this, simply finish off with a final vacuum to remove any excess moisture once you’ve finished cleaning the area you’re work on. Repeat the process until all of your seats have been cleaned but be aware that it might take a few hours for the seats to fully dry.

Once the seats have fully dried, you can also apply a hydrophobic textile coating, which is safe for use on most fabrics, including suede and alcantara. This will add an extra layer of hydrophobic protection to your seats, preventing them from getting dirty and stained in the future.

We personally recommend Carbon Collective’s Repel, which comes in an easy to apply spray format and can last for up to a year with just one full application, but any good quality textile protectant will do the same job.