How to Clean Cloth Car Seats

Cleaning cloth car seats is easy — it just takes a little elbow grease and attention to detail with the vacuum before tackling tough stains.

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Introduction

If there's one key to cleaning your car's upholstery, it's a thorough vacuuming. Also extremely helpful: A warm, dry, sunny day, to speed seat dry-time. With those tips in mind, follow this step-by-step for clean cloth car seats.

Tools You’ll Need:

  • Vacuum
    • Use a shop vacuum or the vacuum that cleans the floors in your house — not a little handheld, cordless, quick-pickup vac. You’ll need the more powerful suction, plus upholstery and crevice attachments, for getting every nook and cranny.
  • Microfiber cleaning cloth (if your upholstery cleaner doesn’t come with a scrub brush)

Materials You’ll Need:

  • Car upholstery cleaner
    • Pro tip: A foaming upholstery cleaner that can sit for a few minutes on the stains before you start scrubbing, and then dries quickly, is an ideal choice.
      • Be sure to spot test your cleaner in an inconspicuous place before cleaning to be sure it won’t damage or discolor your upholstery.

Project step-by-step (5)

Step 1

Vacuum the Seats

  • Clear out the contents of your car and throw away any trash that might choke your vacuum.
  • Vacuum the seat backs, seat bottoms and the backs of the front seats using your vacuum upholstery attachment. Push the vacuum nozzle down hard onto the upholstery to be sure you're grabbing all the dirt.
    • Sucking up all dirt allows your cloth cleaner to better target stains.

Vacuuming a cloth car seat

The Family Handyman
Step 2

Vacuum the Crevices

  • Install the vacuum crevice attachment and vacuum the crevices between the seat backs and bottoms and any other seams, nooks and crannies.

Vacuuming a cloth car seatVeronica Graham for Family Handyman

Step 3

Spot-Treat Obvious Stains

  • Apply the upholstery cleaner to the noticeable stains. Let the cleaner sit for a minute if a stain is particularly nasty.
  • Scrub the stains with the brush or a cloth rag until all of the cleaner is rubbed into the fabric.

Spraying cleaner on a car seatVeronica Graham for Family Handyman

Step 4

Treat the Seats

  • Apply the upholstery cleaner to the entire seat surface. Be judicious.
    • Pro tip: Too much cleaner will seep down into the foam under the upholstery, which could actually make stains worse. If the seats are heavily stained, two light applications of the cleaning product, with a vacuuming in between, is better than one heavy application.
  • Scrub until all of the cleaner is rubbed into the cloth seat.

Scrubbing a cloth car seatVeronica Graham for Family Handyman

Step 5

Vacuum Again

  • Vacuum the seats to remove any dirt the upholstery cleaner may have lifted.
  • Repeat Step 4 if further car cleaning is needed, and vacuum yet again.
  • Let the seats air dry.