How to Clean Cloth Car Seats

person vacuuming a car seat

The Spruce / Cristina Tudor

Most of us spend several hours in our cars on most days. We eat and drink in our cars. We haul kids, pets, and all their gear in our cars. The car's interior and our cloth car seats can get pretty dirty. Luckily, all but the most permanent stains like waterproof marker ink or scorch marks can be cleaned away. At the very least, the cloth seats will look and smell better.

Of course, you can protect the seats or hide the damage with car seat covers. Most add-on seat covers can be hand washed or tossed in a washer.


Trying to figure out what kind of car seats you have? Cloth seats are made of either nylon or polyester fabrics.

  • Nylon is the most common fabric used for car upholstery because it is so durable. However, it is quite porous and really soaks up any spills.
  • Polyester appears in the form of microfiber or microsuede upholstery. The soft texture mimics suede leather which feels great but also makes it more difficult to clean.

How Often to Clean Cloth Car Seats

Ideally, cloth car seats should be vacuumed weekly (don't forget the car mats) and any fresh stains spot-treated. A more thorough cleaning of the seats can be done seasonally or more often depending on how much activity takes place in your car.

What You Need


  • Commercial carpet and upholstery cleaner
  • Oxygen based bleach
  • Water
  • Fabric Protector (optional)


  • Vacuum with a hose, crevice tool, upholstery brush
  • Spray bottle
  • Stiff-bristled scrub brush
  • Microfiber cloths
  • Sponge
  • Bucket
materials for cleaning car seats

The Spruce / Cristina Tudor

How to Clean Cloth Car Seats

  1. Vacuum the Seats

    When you're ready to thoroughly clean cloth car seats, always start by vacuuming the fabric. This will remove dust, debris, and pet hair and prevent you from simply pushing it deeper into the seat padding. Use the crevice tool to reach between the back and seat and the upholstery brush to help lift the fibers of the fabric.

    vacuuming a cloth car seat

    The Spruce / Cristina Tudor

  2. Pretreat Stains

    If you see specific stains, you'll get better results by pretreating them before doing an overall cleaning. For most food and drink, grease, and mud stains, simply use a bit of the upholstery cleaner on the stains and work it into the fabric with a scrub brush. Allow it to work for at least 15 minutes before you do an overall cleaning.

    For dye-based stains, lightly dampen the stained area. Mix a paste of dry oxygen-based bleach and a few drops of water. Spread that over the stained area and allow it to work for at least one hour. Vacuum away the powder. Repeat as needed.

    pretreating stains on a car seat

    The Spruce / Cristina Tudor

  3. Spray On the Upholstery Cleaner

    Depending on the cleaner you selected, you may need to mix the cleaning solution with warm water. Follow the product label directions as to how much to use per gallon of water. A spray bottle is the best way to apply the cleaner so you can control the amount of moisture going on the fabric. Start at the top of the seat and lightly spray the entire seat. You do not need to super-saturate the fabric.

    spraying cleaner onto a car seat

    The Spruce / Cristina Tudor

  4. Scrub Away the Dirt

    After spraying on the cleaning solution, use a scrub brush to work it into the fabric. Go over every inch of the seat, again starting at the top so that any dirty solution drips down. As your scrub brush becomes soiled, rinse it in a bucket of clear water and give it a shake to remove excess moisture.

    scrubbing away dirt on a car seat

    The Spruce / Cristina Tudor

  5. Wipe Away Excess Moisture

    Use an absorbent microfiber cloth to wipe away any excess moisture. This will also help lift any matted fibers.

    wiping away excess moisture

    The Spruce / Cristina Tudor

  6. Repeat All Steps If Needed

    If the upholstery still looks soiled, repeat the steps. If the upholstery is really dirty (maybe you've never cleaned it before), you'll get better results by doing several light sprays and scrubbings as each layer of grime is removed.

    repeating the cleaning process as necessary

    The Spruce / Cristina Tudor

  7. Allow the Seats to Dry

    If possible, give the seats time to dry completely before using the car again. It usually takes two to three hours. If you need to speed up the process, turn on the air conditioning and aim the vents toward the seats.

    letting the seats dry

    The Spruce / Cristina Tudor

  8. Add a Protective Coating

    Now that you've done the work and the seats look fresh and clean, use a spray-on fabric protector to help prevent dirt and stains from settling into the fabric. This will make cleaning much easier next time.

    spraying a protective coating on car seats

    The Spruce / Cristina Tudor