10 Tips to Remove Stains From Your Car Seats

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10 tips remove stains from car seats

Whether it’s a dark-colored coffee spill or a water spot that won’t fade, car seat stains are unsightly. They can hurt your car’s resale value and make you feel a little embarrassed every time you pick someone up. Sure, they don’t affect your car’s performance, but they dramatically change its aesthetics.

The good news is that most car seat stains are treatable, even if they’re stubborn. You just need to find the right combination of products and elbow grease to get the job done.

We’ve tackled our fair share of nasty stains in cars as professional auto detailers. These are the top ten tips we’ve discovered for getting stains out of car seats. Check them out and see which one works for you.

1) Vacuum the Upholstery

Vacuum the upholstery

It doesn’t matter if your vehicle has a fabric or leather seats – it’s always a good idea to vacuum them thoroughly before attempting any stain removal. This ensures you aren’t smearing more dirt around and gives you better access to the stained material.

You can use a handheld vacuum cleaner to go over each seat or the long attachment on your regular vacuum. Try to collect all of the hair, crumbs, dust, and debris that’s lurking in your vehicle. Don’t forget to get into those seams and crevices that can house years’ worth of dirt.

Once you’ve finished, you can use a microfiber cloth to wipe down leather seats for any stray particles. Use a soft upholstery brush for the final sweep if you have fabric seats.

2) Apply a Vinegar Solution

Now for our first DIY stain-removal suggestion: mix one cup of vinegar with one gallon of hot water. Place the solution in a bucket, add a dish soap splash, and then apply directly to the stain.

Believe it or not, this is a go-to method even for many professional auto detailers. Vinegar can be more powerful than some car cleaning products at the store, and it’s natural, which decreases the risk of exposure to harmful chemicals.

Use a soft brush to scrub the area where you applied the vinegar solution. Once the stain seems to have faded a bit, add some warm water to wash away the soap remnants. Then, dry the spot with a microfiber towel and leave the windows open to facilitate airflow.

3) Spray Club Soda

If the old vinegar trick didn’t work, turn to your bar cart and pick up a bottle of club soda. The carbonated water is suitable for small stains that just won’t go away, although we don’t necessarily recommend using it for the worst or heaviest stains.

Pour a bit of club soda into a spray bottle, and then spray it directly onto the fabric or leather of the car seat. Use a soft-bristled scrub brush to rub the soda into the material. Then, wipe the area with a clean towel to see if the stain has faded. Let the seats dry with the windows down.

4) Steam Clean the Seat

Steam cleaning car seat

Our next tip might be the best way to get stains out of car seats, especially if you’re averse to using heavy-duty cleaning products and detergents in your vehicle. In fact, we often refer to steam cleaning as our “secret weapon” for serious car washes.

If you have a high-quality steam cleaner, you can use it on your seats to blow hot water deep into the fabric surfaces. This is a superb tactic for removing deep-set grime and dirt from older seats.

The high temperature of the steam (around 245 degrees Fahrenheit), combined with the machine’s force, blasts away stains and harmful organisms like viruses, bacteria, pollen, mold, mildew, and more. It’s one of the best ways to achieve a deep clean without hours of scrubbing.

If the stain doesn’t disappear with the steam alone, you can try using a soft-bristled brush on the stain. Then, open the windows and let the seats dry naturally.

5) Wash With Laundry Detergent

Wiping car seat with clean cloth and detergent

Don’t have access to a steam cleaner? You can also use some liquid or powdered detergent on the spot. Mix your detergent with some warm water in a bucket, then pour the solution onto the stain and let sit for a bit. Be careful – a little goes a long way, so there’s no need to saturate the car seat.

After letting the solution sit for 10 minutes or so, use a cloth to scrub at the targeted area, applying light pressure. You’ll likely notice the stain has lifted at least a little. Switch to a second cloth soaked in cold water and remove the remaining detergent from the seat. Again, let the car seats air dry with the windows down.

6) Use Baking Soda

Another DIY way to get stains out of car seats is to use baking soda. It’s inexpensive but pretty effective at cleaning and deodorizing stained seats.

Mix a quarter cup of baking soda with some warm water until you have a goopy, sticky solution, similar to the consistency of icing. Then, grab a toothbrush and apply the solution directly to the stain. Use the toothbrush to rub at the spot in a circular motion. The soft bristles will help work the stain out of the seat.

If the stain is really old and set, you may want to let the baking soda solution sit for about 30 minutes, then try scrubbing it. Once you’re done, make sure you remove any remaining residue with a clean cloth, then let the area dry.

7) Apply Nail Polish Remover

Sometimes, leather car seats need more specialized treatment than cloth seats. Using acetone nail polish remover (or just rubbing alcohol) might sound like harsh treatment, but it’s one of the safer DIY tactics for stain removal on leather.

This tip is especially helpful if you’re dealing with stains from permanent markers on your seats – perhaps from an overly eager toddler equipped with a dangerous Sharpie.

Apply some nail polish remover to a cotton ball, then blot (don’t scrub) at the stain on your leather seat. You should start to see the stain lift quickly. Once it is gone, clean the alcohol or nail polish remover off the seat with warm water and some dish soap.

A word of caution: some nail polish removers can have a bleaching effect and leave residual traces on the fabric. Be sure to monitor the application closely and completely wipe away any nail polish remover left after the stain is gone.

8) Try Out Store-Bought Solutions

Upholstery cleaner products

If all of these at-home treatments seem to fail, the next best way to get stains out of car seats is to buy a product specifically designed for the job. You’ll find dozens of upholstery cleaner products at your local convenience store or auto shop.

With most cleaners, you’ll want to apply the solution, let it sit for five minutes or so, then remove it with a wet cloth. Just be careful about spraying heavy-duty cleaners in a small space – we recommend doing so with the windows open and outside of the garage.

Some of our favorite store-bought cleaning products include those from Washington-based businesses like Wesmar and Vapor Clean. We use these environmentally friendly products because they help us provide a safe, clean experience for both customers and the nearby ecosystems.

9) Freeze Stubborn Materials Off

This second-to-last tip pertains more to sticky stains than old, faded spots. If you’ve got smeared chocolate or a clump of gum stuck to your cloth car seat, you may need to freeze it off.

Grave an ice pack of several ice cubes and hold them onto the stain. It will take a minute for the materials to freeze, but they should come right off once they do. You can also use a butter knife to scrape away the hardened remnants.

10) Turn to a Professional Auto Detailer

Big's mobile detailing team

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Our final tip is to turn to professionals when necessary. If you’ve done all you can do and the stain is still there, it might be time to pay for car detailing services. The cost of car detailing pales in comparison to the benefit of removing unsightly, detrimental stains from your vehicle.

Although you can buy the same tools and equipment that moat auto detailers use, you don’t necessarily have the experience that they do. Some stains call for the expertise (and hours of dedication) that only a professional auto cleaning team can provide.

Need Help Getting Stains Out of Car Seats?

Big’s Mobile Detailing is here to help you tackle the oldest, most stubborn stains in your vehicle. Simply select your detailing package online or get a customized quote for your unique requests. Then, our crew of professional detailers will come to you.

We hold our cleaning teams to a high standard, and we take our work seriously. When you schedule a car detailing service with Big’s Mobile Detailing, you can trust that we’ll thoroughly treat both the inside and outside of your vehicle.

To get started, schedule your appointment online. You can also give us a call at 425-243-9155 if you have questions about our prices, services, or procedures. Don’t live with that stain forever. Let us make your car feel shiny and new once more!

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