To remove a stain from a car seat (including child car seats)…you need the right product for the job. Today I’ll show you how to remove car seat stains on cloth seats safely (and cover a few tips for leather seats too).
Before you begin, know that a full deep cleaning of all interior surfaces is a good idea if staining is widespread and not in a small area.
Instead of trying 10 household remedies, the best way to remove a stain is to identify the type of stain and only use products and techniques best for each type. Some chemicals can do more harm than good, or be completely overkill.
What you’ll need
- Vacuum cleaner and attachments
- Several clean microfiber towels
- Super Clean or a stain removing foam or spray (organic stains)
- Clear empty spray bottle with measurements (organic stains)
- Baking soda (oil-based stains)
- Isopropyl alcohol (certain cases)
- Soft-bristled upholstery brush or drill brush
- Spot cleaner or carpet extractor (optional)
Determine the type of stain before you begin
You’ll typically have either an organic or oil-based stain, and both types require a slightly different removal. For example, to remove many oil-based stains— like permanent marker stains—it’s best to draw out the stain through absorption rather than agitation.
As a best practice, be gentle when cleaning cloth or leather seats and take your time. Stubborn stains can take hours or days to fade or remove safely.
How to remove organic stains on fabric car seats
I’ll assume if you have a stain, you’re likely dealing with fabric car seats..but you can remove stains from leather too (as I’ll cover later). Many food stains or dirt stains are easy to remove in a few steps.
Step 1Vacuum the surface
Use a vacuum with a brush or crevice tool to remove any pet hair, dirt, or crumbs.
If your seats are relatively clean, use a microfiber towel to grab loose debris 🙂
Step 2Apply a stain remover to the affected area
Apply an upholstery or seat cleaner and wait a few seconds to allow the product to penetrate the stain.
You can easily remove most fresh organic stains using an automotive upholstery cleaner in foam or liquid form. For set-in stains or large areas, we recommend using a chemical called Super Clean diluted at a 5:1 water-to-cleaner ratio.
Super Clean is used in the detailing community on interiors because it’s effective but not harsh like other degreasers.
Step 3Agitate the stain with a brush
Using a circular motion, apply light pressure directly over the stain.
For fresh organic stains, you can sometimes use a handheld detailing brush or nylon bristled brush to draw out the stain.
For best results, attach a nylon brush attachment to a drill and use a medium-speed setting. For set-in stains, the drill brush method saves a lot of time and is the quickest way to deep clean cloth upholstery.
Step 4Wipe up or extract the cleaner residue
Apply water using a spot cleaner and suck up all cleaner until no residue remains. Absorb as much water as possible with a microfiber drying towel afterward.
Use a microfiber towel to wipe up any residue, and follow up with a spot cleaner to extract any chemicals still trapped in the seat. I recommend filling the spot cleaner reservoir with warm, clean water (instead of a cleaning solution) since you’re only extracting what’s already on the seat in this case.
You don’t technically have to use a spot cleaner or extractor to remove a stain, but these methods are ideal if you have severely stained seats that need a good cleaning.
Use yellow or light-colored microfiber towels for stain removal because you’ll be able to see what’s being transferred to the towel.
Step 5 Let dry and repeat if necessary
Blot dry using a microfiber towel; be sure to account for proper ventilation if allowing the seat to air dry.
Use a dry towel to absorb as much water as possible, and let dry. You can technically use a blower or hair dryer to dry small stains, just avoid high heat settings.
If weather allows, open the doors or car windows for ventilation. You may need to allow up to 24 hours of drying time to make sure all stains are gone.
How to remove oil-based stains on a car seat
If you suspect oil or grease as the root cause of the stain, you may want to start with a product that can help absorb the stain…like baking soda. Baking soda can absorb both grease and oil, even stains that have been there for a while.
For ink or paint stains, you can apply a drop of isopropyl alcohol directly to the stain, and blot with a microfiber towel. If you notice paint pigment transferring into the cloth or towel, repeat the process until the stain is removed. In this case, blot rather than smear!
Step 1 Apply baking soda to the stain
Sprinkle baking soda liberally on the stain, and massage into the stain with your fingers or a brush.
Sprinkle a small amount of baking soda directly on the stain; you can add a small amount of water to create a paste if desired. For best results, use a soft, nylon-bristled detailing brush or drill brush to work the baking soda into the stain using circular motions. Always use soft bristles, not a stiff carpet brush that may damage the upholstery. Let dry.
While dish detergent or laundry detergent is sometimes used for stain removal, we don’t recommend these products. Suds from dish soap and laundry detergent can be incredibly difficult to remove completely.
Step 2 Extract the baking soda
Use a damp microfiber towel to remove most of the baking soda and follow up with a spot cleaner to remove any residue.
A wet microfiber towel should absorb a lot of the visible baking soda. You can either use water and a wet/dry vac or a spot cleaner that dispenses water and extracts water simultaneously.
Step 3 Dry and re-treat if needed
Wait for the seat to dry and assess the stain. oil-based stains often are difficult to see, so ensure the surface is completely dry.
Over time, most stains will begin to fade as the baking soda draws out the oils, so be patient and re-treat as needed for tough stains. It’s fine to use the wet degreaser/agitation method on simple grease or oil-based stains if they’re still present.
Tips to remove stains from leather car seats
To clean stained leather, you need a product like a leather cleaner, a bit of agitation, and a simple microfiber towel. Other than that, the process is the same as cloth seats. Here are some best practices:
- Use a leather cleaner and a soft-bristled detailing brush for organic stains
- Never apply strong acids to leather; test an inconspicuous area first if applying chemicals to cheaper upholstery like vinyl
- After removing the stain, apply a leather conditioner for protection
In rare cases, a product called Citrol can sometimes remove un-removable stains on leather, like paint. Proceed with caution and follow step 3 of our leather seat cleaning guide for instructions.
Want to clean your entire interior like a pro?
Now that you’ve removed stains from your seats, it’s a good time to clean and restore other areas like dirty carpet or door panels. Consider our video course, Washing and Detailing for Beginners to learn the ins and outs of how to detail your vehicle like a pro.
Once you understand the fundamentals of detailing, you’ll be able to save time and money for years to come.
Ready to improve your washing and detailing skills?
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