Why Water Stains Car Seats – And How To Remove the Stains

A little water on your clothes can come out with a little cold water and soap, but when it comes to car seats, even the smallest amount of moisture can leave ugly stains.

So, why does water stain car seats, and how do you remove the stains?

Quick Answer

Water stains car seats because it contains dissolved minerals, including salts and acids. When the water evaporates, these minerals are left behind and can cause a yellow or brown stain. To remove the stains, you’ll need to clean them with soap and water or a commercial upholstery cleaner.

The rest of this article will discuss why water stains car seats and how you can remove the stains to keep your vehicle’s interior looking new.

Read on for more details on these and insights into how the stains affect leather and cloth fabrics on your car seats.

How Water Gets On the Car Seats In the First Place

Water is notorious for staining car seats because it can be tough to get out of fabric.

And once the water dries, it leaves behind a nasty brown or yellowish mark that’s nearly impossible to remove without special cleaning products. 

That being said, water stains car seats for a variety of reasons, some of which include:

  • Spilled drinks: If you’ve ever spilled a bit of coffee in your car, you know how difficult it can be to clean up. Spilled drinks are certainly one of the most common reasons for water stains on seats.
  • Cleaning your car: Water stains on the seats often occur during routine cleaning. The water can seep into fabrics and leave behind a stain, or it could drip down from the mats and onto the seat. This type of direct contact is why water stains car seats so easily.
  • Rain: If you’ve ever driven in the rain with your windows down, you know that water can get everywhere. Driving in the rain, or even through wet weather, can cause water to get into your car and onto the seats.
  • Leaky air conditioners and water condensation from faulty climate controls: Leaky air conditioners is another reason water stains car seats. They can cause small amounts of water to drip into the cabin, especially if you live in an area with a lot of precipitation. The same goes for faulty climate controls that don’t drain properly, as water can pool underneath the seats and leave behind unsightly spots.

In general, water can stain both leather and cloth seats.

Let’s take a look at the rundown of how water stains leather and cloth car seats.

Effect of Water on Leather Car Seats

According to this research performed by O.A Serenko, et. al, leather has hydrophilic properties.

This means that it absorbs liquid, including water, and unfortunately, leather car seats are especially prone to water stains. 

When you get in your car when it’s raining, or if you’ve been swimming, you’re more likely to get water stains on your leather seats. 

However, most manufacturers use a chemical finish on their leather seats to give them a shiny appearance and make the material more resistant to stains.

Unfortunately, this chemical finish isn’t foolproof, and water can still seep through it.

If your leather gets wet, you need to dry it before the water stains become a problem.

By getting rid of any excess moisture, you prevent the leather seats from having a chance to absorb more water.

Effect of Water on Cloth Car Seats

Water stains are also expected on cloth car seats, but they’re usually less likely to be permanent than on leather seats.

Most cloth seats are made of synthetic fibers, such as nylon and polyester, which are hydrophobic, which means these materials repel liquids, including water.

However, other liquids like soft drinks or juice can still cause damage to the fabric and leave behind a bad-looking spot. 

But there are exceptions here, too.

If you spill a wet drink onto a cloth car seat, for example, the liquid will soak into the fibers of the material and dry in a way that makes it more difficult to remove later on.

That being said, even if your cloth seats have been stained by water, there’s still hope.

You can often get rid of these stains with professional cleaning products.

Are Water Spots Permanent?

Quick Answer

Most times, water spots can be removed from car seats. The longer the water spot dries and gets into the fabric, the more difficult it is to remove. This can make it permanent if you don’t take care of it right away.

Generally, it’s possible to get rid of water stains on your car seats and return them to their original color if you take preventive measures within 30 minutes of the liquid getting spilled onto your car seats.

However, most people aren’t aware that their car seats have already been stained until much later, such as weeks or months down the road.

Even worse, it becomes increasingly difficult to remove these stains from your car seats as time passes.

Here’s a comparison of the ease of removing water spots from leather and cloth seats:

Removing Water Spot from Leather SeatsRemoving Water Spot from Cloth Seats
Ease of removingDifficultModerate
Requires multiple attempts?No, if removed immediately the water splashes on the seats. 
Yes if the stain dries.
No, if removed immediately the water splashes on the seats. 
Yes if the stain dries.
Requires special cleaner?YesNo, if removed immediately. 
Yes if the stain dries.

Water Spots on Leather Car Seats

Water stains on leather car seats are the toughest to deal with.

They seep into the fibers of the material and leave behind a residue.

While you can try to get rid of the stain with a special cleaning product, it will likely require multiple attempts before you see any results.

Water Spots on Cloth Car Seats

Water stains on cloth car seats are easier to deal with because these materials typically repel liquid.

If you don’t let the water sit on the seat for too long, say less than 30 minutes, then it should be relatively easy to remove with professional cleaning products or DIY solutions. 

One exception is if the water has been sitting on the fabric for at least one month.

In this case, you’ll need something more potent like steam cleaning.

When water comes in contact with leather or cloth, it can leave behind a stain that is more difficult to remove than expected, especially if the material is synthetic.

If your car seat has been stained by water, you need to take action immediately during this window of time before the stain dries into the fabric.

Remember: It may be easier to get rid of these stains by taking your car seat to a professional cleaner specializing in upholstery cleaning. However, you can also treat some stains at home using homemade solutions like baking soda and vinegar.

How To Remove Water Stains Out of Car Seats

There are several ways to get rid of water stains from your car seats, and some are more effective than others.

In general, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution when it comes to cleaning car seats.

The best way to clean a stain depends on how much time you have and what type of material is stained.

In general, here’s how to get water stains out of car seats:

  • Use an absorbent cloth to blot the stain.
  • Apply baking soda and vinegar to the stain.
  • Remove the baking soda and vinegar with a cloth.
  • Rinse the area with water.
  • Dry the area with a clean cloth.
  • Repeat steps 1-5 if necessary.

Caution: In each of these steps, make sure to use a gentle motion to avoid damaging the fabric. If you’re not sure how to treat the stain, take your car seat to a professional.

Removing Water Stains From Leather Car Seats

In general, here’s how to get water stains out of leather car seats:

  • Use an absorbent cloth to blot the stain.
  • Apply a leather cleaning solution to the stain.
  • Remove the leather cleaning solution with a damp cloth.
  • Wipe down with a mild soap in circular motions.
  • Let the seats dry completely.

Use an Absorbent Cloth To Blot the Stain

The first thing to do is use an absorbent cloth or paper towel to soak up as much of the water as possible.

If your car seat has already dried at this point, you’ll need to soak it with a wet washcloth.

This is a crucial step, as it helps to loosen the stain from the fabric.

Apply a Leather Cleaning Solution to the Stain

After you’ve wiped up as much of the water as possible, use a small amount of leather cleaner on a soft cloth to gently rub it into the stained area. 

If you’re in the market for an effective leather seat cleaner, you’ll want to find something that’s non-toxic, protects the leather from UV damage, and removes all dirt residue while softening and strengthening the fabric.

Ensure not to apply too much, as it can damage the leather.

Also, you’ll want to test the cleaner on an inconspicuous spot of your car seat first to make sure it won’t discolor or damage the material.

Remove the Leather Cleaning Solution With a Damp Cloth

After you’ve given the chemical time to work, which varies depending on what brand you’re using, use a damp washcloth and rub in small circles to remove the chemicals.

Make sure to rinse the area with water after you’re done cleaning, as this helps remove any residue left behind by the leather cleaner.

Wipe Down With a Mild Soap in Circular Motions

Next, take a cloth with mild soap and rub in circular motions.

This helps remove any dirt or other material that was loosened during the cleaning process.

Pro Tip: Ensure to rinse your cloth after each wipe to avoid spreading the dirt around.

Let the Seats Dry Completely

Finally, let the seats dry before you use them again.

If you’re in a rush, you can use a hairdryer to speed up the process.

However, be sure to keep the dryer at least 12” (30 cm) away from the seat so that you don’t melt or discolor it.

Also, it’s best to avoid using heat on leather car seats, as it can make the material crack or warp over time.

Here’s a great demo on how to clean cloth and leather seats:

Removing Water Stains From Cloth Car Seats

In general, here’s how to get water stains out of cloth car seats:

  • Use an absorbent cloth to blot the stain.
  • Apply dish soap or laundry detergent to the stain.
  • Remove the dish soap or laundry detergent with a damp cloth.
  • Rinse with warm water and allow to air dry.

Use an Absorbent Cloth To Blot the Stain

Blot up as much of the excess liquid as possible.

For heavy stains, apply a small amount of dish soap or laundry detergent to the stain before blotting.

Like in the case of leather seats, this will help loosen the stain and start breaking it down.

Apply Dish Soap or Laundry Detergent to the Stain

To clean your car seat, work dish soap, which has grease-dissolving properties, into a lather and gently rub the suds into the stained area.

Be careful not to over soap as this may damage or discolor your car seat.

You can also use liquid laundry detergent instead of dish soap if you like.

Remove the Dish Soap or Laundry Detergent With a Damp Cloth

It’s essential to remove as much of the dish soap or laundry detergent as possible before rinsing.

Any residue left behind will attract more dirt and dust, which can lead to looking worse than when you started. 

To remove as much residue as possible, continue blotting and wiping until the car seat has no visible soap or detergent buildup.

Rinse With Warm Water and Allow To Air Dry

After removing the dish soap or laundry detergent, it’s best to rinse with warm water.

This helps remove any remaining bits of grease while also ensuring that the area is spotless and free of soap or detergent residue, which would attract dirt.

Once rinsed, allow the fabric to air dry to prevent the risk of getting mold or mildew on your car seat.

Key Takeaways

Here’s a roundup of the key points in this article:

  • Water stains car seats due to spilled liquids.
  • Water stains on car seats can be permanent if you don’t remove them quickly.
  • You can remove water stains from car seats using leather cleaners or dish soap.
  • It’s best to air dry your car seat after washing it with soap or detergent.
  • Call a professional if you’re not up for cleaning the seats yourself.


YouTube: ChrisFix: How To Super Clean Cloth and Leather Seats

Family Handyman: Tips for Getting Water Stains Out of Car Seats

PubMed: Fibres Used in the Construction of Car Seats–An Assessment of Evidential Value

ResearchGate: Effect of the Morphology of Leather Surface on the Hydrophobic-Hydrophilic Properties

Yahoo Finance: Is Your Car Air Conditioner Leaking Water in the Cabin?

Jan-Lucas Ganssauge
Jan-Lucas Ganssauge