How to Clean Car Upholstery in 5 Simple Steps

Your car interior should be as important as your exterior and engine. It’s crucial that you maintain your vehicle’s interior, specifically, the upholstery. The upholstery can accumulate as much dust and dirt as your car’s body. People sit, eat and stay in the car seat, most of the times with the upholstery on.

how to clean car upholstery

Your car upholstery is highly susceptible to crumbles, soda fizz, and stains. This is why it’s imperative that you know to clean it and maintain it. This will keep your car hygienic and sanitized. You might wonder why is it every time you’re in your car you keep sneezing. Then you know that your upholstery might be a tad dirtier than it should be.

Today, we will be teaching you how to clean car upholstery in five simple steps. We also included necessary information on how to determine what kind of car upholstery do you have. Knowing the type of upholstery your vehicle has and its material can help you define the do’s and don’t’s, therefore, keeping it clean longer, possibly.

What are the different kinds of car upholstery?

There are five types of car upholstery. Take note of the materials used, so you know what to avoid and what method to clean it with.

#1 Nylon Upholstery

This is one of the two most common upholsteries. Nylon upholsteries are usually porous. However, they are very durable and economical. This is most especially if you use your car with kids often (and they are very prone to spilling something on the car seat or dirtying it) or you like eating lunch in your vehicle.

#2 Polyester Upholstery

Now the polyester upholstery is one of the most common upholsteries for cars. Polyester is a form of microsuede. This soft microsuede fabric tries to replicate the feel of suede leather. This is what makes it harder to clean. However, it’s very comfortable to seat on. This upholstery usually makes use of steam cleaners.

#3 Faux Leather Upholstery

Faux leather or synthetic leather if perfect for those who want their car seats in a “leather clothing” for a lower price. Like the leather and vinyl upholsteries, it is also waterproof. This is perfect if you’re always too busy to be cleaning up your upholstery. These are one of the instances when a simple feather duster can do wonders.

#4 Leather Upholstery

Leather upholstery is very expensive. This is also partly one of the reasons why it must be handled with much care and meticulousness. Leather upholstery is where you should settle for just cheap cleaning products as it can ruin the quality or appearance. Be very careful not to use cheap cleaning products that may strip off the leather’s natural oil and shine. When this happens, the leather upholstery might incur cracks especially if your car is usually exposed to heat or high temperatures.

#5 Vinyl Upholstery

Vinyl is a non-porous upholstery which makes it waterproof. It is also among the most common types of upholsteries and the easiest to clean/maintain. However, you may need a specific product to clean residues off a vinyl upholstery.

Materials You Will Be Needing:

  • Leather conditioner – the leather conditioner keeps in the natural oil of your leather upholstery so you can avoid dryness and cracks.
  • Detergent
  • Upholstery leather cleaner – this can be in the form of a leather spray. This gently cleanses leather upholstery without stripping it off its natural oil.
  • Vacuum
  • Chamois – It is a cleaning cloth/fabric which has a naturally open fiber structure. This makes it very absorbent, like cotton. It is perfect for cleaning or wiping off residues.

Step #1: Determine your car’s upholstery material

Before anything else, it’s important to know whether your car has leather or fabric upholstery. This is because the methods of cleaning your car’s upholstery vary. Fabric and leather upholsteries require different cleaning agents and tools. If you’re not familiar with this, it can lead to damages in your car.

For fabric upholstery:

Step #2: Test your cleaning agent

detergent and towels

After you’ve determined the material of your upholstery, get the best upholstery cleaner you can find. Cars usually have a special cleaning agent designed for car upholstery.

However, if you’re going to use household items like laundry detergent, be sure to test it first. Although detergents are safe to use for your car, it’s still best if you’re going to test it.

When testing, try to apply a small amount to a corner of your car’s upholstery. See if the material and color of the upholstery will fade. If it does, then it means it can erode the texture and material of your upholstery, so it’s best to use a different one. This helps you avoid further headaches as there are instances where the interior was damaged due to detergents.

Step #3:  Cleaning Fabric Upholstery

Before applying any cleaning agent to your car’s upholstery, be sure to remove any present dust or dirt. This is the same principle as mopping your house’ flooring.

Fundamentally, before mopping or wetting your flooring, you must first vacuum or sweep the flooring. This is to avoid any dirt or dust turning into mud due to the water or cleaning agent.

The same is true for fabric upholstery. If you immediately jump into wetting the fabric, this can lead to a muddy result as opposed to a cleaner one. When doing this step, your small vacuum cleaner at home is good to use.

Just vacuum any debris inside your car.

Make sure not to forget running the vacuum through your car’s mats. These are usually the dirtiest parts of your vehicle.

Step #4: Washing the fabric

Now that you’ve removed potential debris on your car seats and floorings, you can now wash your car. To begin, get two buckets to fill it with hot and cold water. The two water temperatures will serve different purposes during various stages.

The hot water will be used as a base to mix your detergent. On the other hand, the cold water acts as a remover of excess soap. With that said add a scoop or two of your detergent and mix it in with the hot water.

Remember, the water doesn’t need to be piping hot. It’s unnecessary, and it can damage your hand. Once you’ve thoroughly mixed the detergent in the bucket, get a sponge and soak it with the mixture.

Scrub the seats thoroughly. The common mistake here is that car owners tend to get lazy and throw the bucket on the upholstery. This causes the upholstery to be too wet. This can lead to problems later on, especially during the drying process.

Treat fabric as delicate as suede. Therefore, apply small amounts only.

Step #5: Dry the fabric

Once the seats look clean and moist, grab a medium-sized towel and soak it in the cold water. Squeeze the towel to remove excess water and use it to scrub the upholstery again. The point of this is to wash off excess detergent that could’ve stayed on the fabric.

For Leather and Faux-Leather Seats:

Step #1: Vacuum the seats

Similar to fabric upholsteries, leather seats also require vacuuming first. As previously stated, this is a general principle in cleaning. Use a household vacuum and make sure to run through all the corners of your leather seats as gently as possible.

Step #2: Apply the leather cleaner

leather car seat

Since leather or faux leather seats are delicate to wash, detergents are not advisable to use. Use a good brand of upholstery leather cleaner and apply small amounts to the leather. It’s common for the product to have instructions at the back, so strictly follow what’s written there.

Step #3: Wipe not Scrub

In fabric, scrubbing is essential since there are a lot of dirt stuck in the fibers of the upholstery. However, since leather is more of a flat, wiping is enough to get the job done.

Get a clean towel and carefully spread the upholstery cleaner on the leather. Be sure to coat every corner.

Step #4: Using a chamois

As we earlier explained, you’ll need a chamois to finish cleaning leather upholsteries. Carefully wipe the seats with a moist chamois. The important part in this step is that you must be sure that the upholstery cleaner is completely removed.

After this, only ensure that the seats dry naturally and your leather upholstery should be good as new.

Step #5: Leather Conditioners

This step may be optional depending on your degree of meticulousness. Leather conditioners are primarily an addition to the cleaning agent. Similar to hair conditioners; it’s not required when you take a bath.

This is because leather conditioners don’t clean, but rather enhance. Like hair, leather is prone to dryness, and can, therefore, result in cracking and breakage. This is where the leather conditioner serves its purpose, as it maintains the natural quality of the leather by making it moist. Use this especially if your car is an old model.