3 Super-Easy Tricks to Soften Your Car’s Vinyl Seats

Have a vinyl seat that needs a little TLC? As probably the best alternative to leather, vinyl presents its own set of challenges, which can make cleaning or restoring it a little confusing if you’re not used to treating it.

One thing to understand is that vinyl is basically made up of polyester fibers coated in a layer of plastic (usually either PVC or polyurethane). If you’ve never cleaned vinyl seats, it’s actually not too difficult to clean as compared to leather, but there are a few things you will want to keep in mind.

Take a look at these three simple remedies you can use to soften old vinyl seats with products you may already have. Keep in mind that I have not tried all of these, and it’s best to use your own judgment depending on how affected the vinyl is.

Before Applying Products to a Vinyl Surface

Before you attempt to apply any of these oil-based products, it’s probably a good idea to clean the surface of the seat to remove any dirt or grime that has probably accumulated over time. Here are a few products you can try that are effective:

  • Simple Green. There is a product called Simple Green that you may want to purchase on Amazon that is ideal for cleaning dirty vinyl before conditioning. You can check the cleaning instructions on their website here.
  • Soap and Water. Another homemade remedy is to simply use distilled water and a soap mixture. Apply using a soft brush (my favorite is a toothbrush), or a soft cotton applicator pad. If your seats are relatively clean already, this is probably your best bet. The idea is just to remove contaminants to ensure when you apply any oils, they don’t get absorbed into the vinyl.
  • Bleach mixture. It’s always important to be super careful when dealing with bleach, and should only be used in extreme cases for seats that have been left outside and have obvious staining you are trying to removing. It’s best to test a small area of the seat before proceeding with a bleach mixture at a 1:1 ratio.

Once everything is clean and wiped down, make sure the vinyl surface is dry before proceeding.

Option 1 – Apply Mineral Oil or Baby Oil

cleaning cracked seats baby oil mineral oil

Mineral oil is one of the most common household products to treat vinyl. Many old-school upholstery guys swear by using baby oil to help soften up vinyl a bit, but it really depends on your personal preference and what you want to try. Both oils require cleaning before application.

Step 1 – Apply vinyl cleaner (or any other cleaner mentioned above) with a soft cloth or brush to remove any dirt or debris that may be stuck to the surface and let dry.

Step 2 – Use a soft cloth to apply oil into the vinyl surface until the vinyl begins to relax and become soft and moisturized. It’s best to apply any type of oil in the shade (preferably a garage) to avoid evaporation from occurring.

Step 3 – Once you have applied a thin coat of oil to the seat, remove any access oil with a separate cloth and let dry. Repeat the process if necessary.

Option 2 – Oil-Based Soaps and Products

murphy oil soap on vinyl

Another popular option is to use a product called Murphy’s Oil Soap, which has been recommended by many car enthusiasts for cleaning and softening marine seats, as well as other interior surfaces. As a multipurpose cleaner, you can use it on vinyl by following these 3 simple steps:

Step 1: Mix up a couple of ounces of the oil soap with distilled water in a 16-ounce spray bottle.

Step 2: Spray a section of the seat and allow the seat to absorb the oils for a minute

Step 3: Use a soft cloth to work the product into the vinyl until it begins to soften. You may also want to use a brush if your vinyl contains stains that you are looking to remove. Some have also said using a magic eraser can help remove set-in stains. Unless your seats contain obvious stains or heavy wear, it’s probably a good idea to proceed with caution when using brushes, etc.

Option 3 – Vinyl Cleaners and Softeners

meguiars vinyl seat cleaner

If you’re just looking for an easy solution, a good automotive vinyl softener and cleaner should do the trick. Some stores actually sell products specifically designed to help soften and restore vinyl surfaces. One of those I found with great reviews on Amazon is by Meguiar’s.

Simply apply with a microfiber towel, and you’re good to go.

This product comes in a 16-ounce spray bottle, and can also be used on rubber if you choose. This is probably the easiest and quickest solution to restoring most automotive vinyl that I’ve seen apart from the other methods since it is a cleaner and condition.

What to Keep in Mind

Based on what I have read, you might want to avoid applying products like Son of a Gun or Armour All to the surface of vinyl in an attempt to restore it. These are mainly protectants and can leave the surface waxy or too slippery, which is why many professional detailers avoid them.

Also, any abrasive compounds, detergents, or acids should be avoided if you’re looking to soften hard or crispy vinyl. It’s always best to start with simple water-based cleaners to begin with and apply oils or vinyl cleaners as needed.

Repairing Cracks in Vinyl

coconix vinyl

Since vinyl is made of plastic, there are several ways to repair cracks in vinyl before applying any kind of conditioner. You can use a product called Coconix which is basically a compound used to repair both vinyl and leather and can be matched to the color of your seat. I haven’t personally tried this, but the reviews look pretty good on Amazon.

Seeking Professional Help

As a last resort, there are companies that specialize in vinyl restoration that you may want to check out if you are feeling uneasy about applying anything. One of these that I have found with pretty decent reviews is called Create Colors International. They specialize in repairing a variety of services, have a mobile app, and actually come to you.

Have another tip for softening vinyl that you want to share? Let us know in the comments. For more tips like this check out my post, 17 Interior Detailing Tips the Pros Keep a Secret.

*This post was updated on October 3, 2019 to reflect industry best practices

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