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How to Remove Sticky Residue from Car Leather or Vinyl

When it comes to your vehicle’s leather or vinyl interior, spills are actually quite easy to wipe up if…until they dry and become sticky. And then they just become annoying until you figure out how to remove them.

If you’re here looking for a quick solution to remove a sticky substance in your car, keep in mind that there are so many DIY home remedies you can find online for this.

However, not all methods may be safe for your interior and many may cause damage. Today I wanted to cover the easiest, safest, and most effective methods to try based on my own experience at Carwash Country and what I’ve heard from others.

With that said, here are 3 safe and effective ways to remove sticky residue from your car if executed properly.

1. Start with a leather cleaner for organic substances like food, and go from there

lexol cleaner

When it comes to cleaning a sticky organic substance like food or a beverage from your seats, most of the time a mild leather cleaner or even a cloth dipped in soap and water will do the trick.

Microfiber towels are perfect for wiping up stuck-on liquid substances (like slushies), since these are designed to actually lift substances from a surface like leather.

Since leather cleaners like Lexol (my favorite) are pretty gentle to begin with, using pressure with a microfiber often can oftentimes be all that you need.

Use a scraper for gum or large pieces

Using a plastic knife or scraper that won’t damage the seat, craping large pieces of candy or gum is generally the best approach.

They make plastic palette knives that can be a good option, you just want to be careful that you don’t cut or damage the surface.

Genuine leather seats are typically more resistant to agitation, but vinyl should always be treated with more care to avoid cracking.

Use a detailing brush for large areas

interior detailing brushes

In combination with a safe leather cleaner for your interior, using a detailing brush as pictured above I’ve always had good success with. If you don’t already have a pack of these for cleaning your interior,  pick a set up on Amazon here for under $20.

These will come in handy in more ways than one and make it so much easier to clean door panels, vents, and leather so much more effective.

Microfiber towels are great, but for safely agitating sticky substances after applying a leather cleaner, I haven’t looked back since trying detailing brushes for the first time.

vinyl and leather brush for seats

Some are event short-bristled and designed for cleaning vinyl and leather seats like these pictured above (like in between the seams).

2. Use Goo Gone or another adhesive remover

For the majority of cases where you are dealing with something sticky, a product like Goo Gone should be able to remove it with relative ease.

This product you can find for about 5 bucks here on Amazon, and actually comes in a variety of types. The original comes in a smaller bottle, but they make a spray as well.

If you are dealing with glue, I would recommend trying the Goo Gone specifically for glue and tape you can pick up here.

Keep in mind that it’s best to test a small area of your seat first just as a precaution.

Too much of this stuff may fade or remove color from cheaper vinyl, so just keep that in mind.

Bug and tar remover

Many people swear by bug and tar sprays or aerosols for spot-cleaning stuck-on substances on leather, it’s just a good rule of thumb to spot-clean, and always apply these to a cloth first.

They can leave behind oils that are pretty harmless but will need to be wiped away with a leather cleaner.

WD-40, baby oil, or Eucalyptus Oil

WD-40 or a mild oil like baby oil or eucalyptus oils can be effective when combined with pressure from a microfiber towel and are used by many to spot-clean vinyl and leather.

Not to sound repetitive, but always apply these types of products to a cloth and test an inconspicuous area of the seat first, and you should be just fine.

3. For extreme cases: seek professional help

If it’s not adhesive and method 2 didn’t work, you may be dealing with some sort of glue that may not be able to be removed without damaging the vinyl or leather itself.

Since you’ll want to be careful not to discolor leather or vinyl, it may be a good idea to bring your vehicle into a vehicle upholstery shop to see if there are any other professional solutions or re-covering options that could work.

Worst-case scenario, you may be able to replace the affected panel of your seat with new material, it just depends on how bad the damage is.

One last note

In order to avoid staining or damaging your leather or vinyl, avoid products with bleach or rubbing alcohols as they can remove color, dry out, as well as eat through threads in vinyl or leather.

Harsh chemicals and acids you should avoid since you’re more likely to damage or discolor the surface even if it can remove the sticky substance. 

Always clean, then condition 

While some people recommend diluted apple cider vinegar (which is generally okay), it’s a good practice to follow up with a leather or vinyl conditioner. This will help to lock in moisture and keep your leather or vinyl more supple with time.

if you’re interested in a few interior cleaning hacks the professionals use, check out my post 17 Interior Detailing Tips the Pros Keep a Secret. Hope it helps!

Baxter Overman is the founder of Carwash Country and has been been cleaning up dirty vehicles for nearly 20 years. Since 2017, he's helped thousands of beginners see better results by learning the fundamentals of washing and detailing. He's on a mission to make the car wash process more fun...and way easier.

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