8 Simple Steps To Make Your Dirty Car Seats Look New

It’s quite apparent that car seats are exposed to some of the worst elements in the world.

Who knows how many germs and bacteria they’ve had to endure since they were installed?

No matter how much you love your car, you can’t deny that it needs a good cleaning every once in a while.

So, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to clean car seats in a way that’s safe, effective, and won’t leave any damage behind.

How To Clean Dirty Cloth Car Seats

This section will walk you through a basic car seat cleaning process that’ll help you keep your vehicle in tip-top shape. It’s essential to maintain the interior of your vehicle.

Here are the steps you need to follow to clean dirty cloth seats:

  • Disconnect the battery
  • Remove the seats
  • Vacuum everything
  • Apply upholstery cleaner with a brush
  • Dry off the seats
  • Use an extractor vacuum
  • Let the seats dry outside
  • Reinstall seats and connect the battery

A dirty and smelly car is one of the most common sources of embarrassment for people.

If you have leather seats, you can also think about preventing dirty seats by applying a ceramic coating. Check my article here for reasons, why you should do so.

The good news is that maintaining a clean car is easy and dirty car seats are just as easy to clean at home.

Disconnect The Battery

Given that you want to remove the car seats, it is best practice to disconnect the negative pole of your battery as the first step.

This way you are super safe and nothing seriously bad like an exploding air bag can happen.

Disconnecting the battery takes only a few minutes and is absolutely worth the time for safety reasons. Do not skip this step.

Remove The Seats

If you really want to clean your cloth seats properly, make sure to remove them. It is easer than you might think and will give you a much better result in the end.

If you remove the seats, you will be able to reach every little section of the seat and you will have much more room to move around the seats.

Make sure to remove all bolts and screws at the bottom of your seats and remember how the cables are connected.

If you have never done this, make sure to take some pictures, so you can easily reinstall the seats after the cleaning process.

Vacuum Everything

Your seats most likely have a lot of loose debris on them. So the first step when it comes to actually cleaning fabric car seats is to vacuum everything properly.

This makes sure that all loose debris is removed and not pushed into the fabric in the later stages of the cleaning process.

RIGID Wet And Dry Vacuum

As mentioned, getting great results are only possible if you also have great equipment. This vacuum from Rigid is one of the great pieces I recommend for cleaning dirty car seats.

Click the link below to get one for yourself. Your car seats will thank you!

Vacuuming the surface of the seats properly will already make them look much better, but trust me, there is more dirt in there than you might think.

Car seats are cushioned with foam most of the time and you do not only want to clean the fabric, but also the foam underneath.

Apply Upholstery Cleaner With A Brush

Because you want to clean the cushion of the cloth car seats, you need to apply a good amound of upholstery cleaner after you have vacuumed the seats.

The cleaner will bring the dirt inside the foam cushion to the surface, where you can remove it.

In order to agitate all the dirt inside the cushion, work the cleaner inside the seat with a brush.

Doing this little thing makes a huge difference in the end and only takes a few minutes longer.

Use An Extractor Vacuum

Getting great results is only possible with the best equipment, so make sure to get an extractor vacuum to really deep clean the car seats.

The extractor vacuum can be used with water only or with a cleaning solution if the seats are really dirty.

Hoover Spotless Extraction Vacuum

Extraction vacuum… something everybody should use, but nearly nobody does. Be different and get better results by using this extraction vacuum from Hoover!

Click the link below to buy one. Your car seats (and your wife) will love it!

It will first inject the cleaning solution into the seat before you vacuum the solution and the dirt out of the seat.

If you want to really deep clean your fabric car seats, it is crucial to use an extractor vacuum.

Let The Seats Dry Outside

After the cleaning process and using the extractor vacuum, the only thing to do is to let the seats dry completely.

It is best to do this outside of the car and not to reinstall wet car seats.

Doing this can lead to various problems like making your car smell funny or giving mold an option to grow.

Let the seats dry properly before reinstalling them.

Reinstall The Seats And Reconnect The Battery

After the car seats have dried fully, you only have to reinstall them again before the cleaning process is finished.

Make sure to use the correct bolts and screws again and check your pictures of all cables are connected correctely.

How To Clean Dirty Leather Car Seats

Follow these steps to clean your leather car seats properly:

  • Vacuum the seat
  • Wipe seats with leather & vinyl cleaner
  • Steam the seat
  • Condition the leather
  • Wipe down the seats

Given the leather is much easier to clean than fabric and less equipment is involved, you do not have to remove the seats and disconnect the battery.

If your leather car seats are discolored and super dirty, you can of course do so nevertheless.

Vacuum The Seat

As with fabric seats, the first step to cleaning leather seats is a proper vacuum session.

This removes the loose debris on top of the leather and makes sure that you do not scrub this dirt onto the leather in the later cleaning stages.

RIGID Wet And Dry Vacuum

As mentioned, getting great results is only possible if you also have great equipment. This vacuum from Rigid is one of the great pieces I recommend for cleaning dirty car seats.

Click the link below to get one for yourself. Your car seats will thank you!

Make sure to pay special attention to the areas around the seams. A lot of dirt usually accumulates here, so use a small brush to agitate all the dirt here.

Wipe Seats With Leather And Vinyl Cleaner

After vacuuming the seat, it is improtant to wipe it with a leather and vinyl cleaner.

It is important to use a cleaner that is also good for vinyl as most leather car seats have a vinyl sealing. This means you are actually not cleaning the leather itself, but the vinyl sealing.

Use a good amount of cleaner and use a brush to get into all the little cracks and areas around the seams.

Afterwards, use a dry microfiber towel to remove any residue of the cleaner before moving on to the next step.

Steam The Seat

Before you condition the leather car seat, it is best practice to use a steamer on them.

Why is this you ask? Because the heat of the steam opens up the pores of the leather.

This allows the leather conditioner to really get deep into the leather.

Using a steamer is a step in the cleaning process that will yield a much better result in the end.

Bissel SteamShot Steam Cleaner

A steam cleaner is absolutely worth it when it comes to cleaning leather seats. And even after you have cleaned the seats, there are multiple ways a steam cleaner comes in handy in your home.

Click the link below to make your leather seats look brand new!

Condition The Leather

After cleaning and steaming the leather it is important to condition it.

Cleaning and steaming can remove oils from the leather that need to be reapplied in order to keep the leather elastic and prevent it from breaking.

Make sure to be generous with the amount of conditioner and use a brush again to really get into every little spot.

Meguiar’s Leather Care Kit

Having proper cleaning products is essential for achieving a good result! This leather care kit from Meguiar’s has all you need.

Click the link below to buy it for yourself. You seats will thank you!

Wipe Down The Seats

The last step when it comes to cleaning leather car seats is to wipe down the seats with a clean and dry microfiber towel.

This is done to remove all excessive conditioner.

After you have done that, you should see a big difference in the way your leather car seats look.

What Should I Clean My Car Seats With?

Quick Answer

You should clean your car seats with a mild cleaning solution, a soft bristle brush, and a microfiber cloth. Although you can use stronger chemicals like diluted bleach and laundry detergent, it’s best to stick to all-purpose cleaners, soap, and vinegar.

You should only resort to bleach and other chemical cleaners if the seats haven’t been cleaned in decades.

Also, avoid scrubbing your car seats with brass bristle and wire brushes as they can leave marks.

A regular soft bristle brush accompanied by a microfiber towel is sufficient.


Your car seat contains tiny cracks in its fabric, which is where the dust gets trapped. Vacuuming sucks out all that dirt and leaves your car seat spotless. 

The next time you want to clean your car, start off by simply vacuuming your car seats instead of rushing to make a cleaning solution.

You can also use a powerful wet vacuum to get even more dirt out of your car seats.

Brush With Soft Bristles

A brush with soft bristles is mandatory for cleaning car seats. It not only helps remove small objects such as loose hair, crumbs, and debris, but it also ensures that dirt deposits embedded deep within the fabric are removed entirely. 

Just remember to buy a brush with soft bristles and not hard ones. The last thing you want is to tear apart the fabric by applying too much pressure.

Microfiber Towels

A microfiber towel is the best thing you can have to keep your car looking great. These towels are made with a blend of synthetic fibers. Using this kind of towel provides a streak-free finish, so you don’t have to worry about getting any lint on the surface of your car seat.

Carpet Cleaning Solution

The carpet cleaning solution is used to keep your carpets clean, spotless, and fresh without harming their texture or causing any damage.

Carpets aren’t particularly difficult to clean. Most household carpet cleaners will work well for your car carpets. If you have rubberized carpets, you don’t need a carpet cleaning solution.

Leather Cleaner for Leather Seats

Leather cleaner is an essential car accessory, which provides a soft and supple finish to the leather. It’s designed to remove dirt, dust, and grime from the leather surfaces of the car seats. The market is flooded with different kinds of leather cleaners.

You can get the Leather Honey Complete Care Kit (available on Amazon.com) to kill two birds with one stone. The bundle comes with a leather conditioner, leather cleaner, and a soft application cloth.

Stain Remover

Stain removers are usually pre-mixed liquids explicitly designed to remove tough and stubborn stains. The pre-mixed solution can be applied directly onto the car seat or used with a damp cloth. 

Ensure the stain remover you plan on using won’t damage your car seats by using a small amount on a hidden spot first.

Hot Water

Hot water is routinely used to clean car seats. It’s an excellent way to get rid of dirt, stains, and germs. 

Hot water is an excellent solvent and is much more effective in dissolving materials than cold water. It’ll also eliminate bacteria and viruses. Always use hot water combined with vinegar and soap for greasy and waxy spots.


Bleach is a good cleaning agent, and it can be used to remove dirt, stains, and smells from car seats. Also known as hypochlorite, it kills off all microbes in your car.

However, bleach is considered a harsh chemical, and I wouldn’t recommend using it unless it’s permitted by your manufacturer.

Fabric Protector

Fabric protector is a revolutionary car seat cleaning product that helps clean your car seats without scrubbing or chemicals. A fabric protector dries to leave a protective coating on your material. This helps prevent staining, soiling, and stretching. 

How Do You Clean Smelly Car Seats?

The first thing to do is to check the floor mats and the backseat floorboards to see if any food or drinks were spilled or left behind after a long drive.

If there’s nothing there, it could be that your car seat has an odor because of sweat mixed with bacteria and mold spores.

This can happen when you wear sweaty clothes without washing them thoroughly beforehand.

I know this may sound gross, but it happens more often than you think!

Quick Answer

To clean smelly leather car seats, spray them down with leather cleaner. You can also use an odor remover specifically meant for leather seats. If you have fabric car seats, it’s best to pick up a commercial fabric cleaner with a good fragrance. 

You can also make your own homemade solution if you’re on a budget. Cleaning a car with white vinegar is a simple, cost-effective way to ensure your vehicle smells fresh and clean.

White vinegar is a natural alternative that can help remove foul odor from upholstery.

How To Keep Your Seats Clean in the Future

It’s essential to clean your car seats regularly and thoroughly, as dirty upholstery can be an eyesore and create a negative impression. 

The best way to keep your car seats clean is by applying a fabric protector. This will help protect the upholstery from stains and spills.

Furthermore, it’ll also repel dirt and grime to make future cleanings much more manageable. Seat protectors are also great for protecting car seats.

You can also use an automotive cleaner to spray or wipe off any sticky residue left behind from spilled drinks and other messes.

As a general rule of thumb, whenever you feel your upholstery seems a bit off, grab your vacuum or wet vacuum cleaner and start cleaning!

Key Takeaways

  • Cleaning car seats depends on the type of material and fabric.
  • Always clean upholstery on a sunny day so you can properly dry your car seats.
  • Prepare beforehand by determining the best cleaning solution for your car seats.
  • Invest in tools such as a handheld vacuum cleaner, microfiber towel, stain remover, fabric protectant, and a good soft bristle brush.
  • Spray and scrub every nook and cranny to ensure proper cleaning.
  • Clean your car seats regularly to avoid smelly and bad odor buildup. 


RollingStone: The Best Handheld Vacuums for Cleaning Your Car

AutoGuide: The Best Car Upholstery Cleaners for Your Interior

Pistonudos: Car Seat Cleaning: Here’s How It’s Done For Leather  and Fabric

R3 AutoDetailing: How Long does it take for a Car Seat to Dry After Shampooing 

WRAL.com: Don’t Use Harsh Chemicals on Car Seats

ASM Journals: Uses of inorganic hypochlorite (bleach) in health-care facilities

PROLUX Cleaning: Different Applications of Vinegar for Car Cleaning

Jan-Lucas Ganssauge
Jan-Lucas Ganssauge