How to Clean Car Upholstery

How to Clean Car Upholstery? Ultimate Guide

Have you ever looked inside your car and recoiled in disgust? Soda cans lining the floor, food packets stuffed under the chairs, crayons melting on the seats, food stains adorning every surface- a total and complete mess! How to Clean Car Upholstery

It’s tough to admit to having a dirty or messy interior (and I say this from personal experience), it’s embarrassing and a health hazard.

While it’s important to keep the exterior of your car clean, you should always prioritize the interior of your car as it is where you spend the most time.

But where do you start?

How do you get all the different spills, stains, and grime out of your upholstery? Figuring this out for yourself is quite overwhelming, but I want to let you know that you are not alone.

That is why I have outlined a step by step guide on how to clean car upholstery below.

Whether you have leather seats or fabric seats, this guide will tell you everything you need to know about keeping your upholstery in tip top shape. Continue reading for expert advice.

What You Should Know before You Start Cleaning Your Car’s Upholstery

You should be are aware that not all upholstery is similar. The difference in upholstery lies in its weave, which refers to the style in which the fabric fibers have been entwined together.

So why does this matter to you?

Well, upholstery with traditional or medium weaves has a good amount of raised fibers above the surface of the fabric. This allows you to easily sift through the fibers and pick up dirt and grime.


Upholstery with tight weaves has no raised fibers, which means that dirt and grime is embedded into the fabric.

If you let dirt sit for too long on upholstery with a tight weave, then it will be impossible for all of the dirt to come out.

It is therefore advised for you to clean up spills and messes as soon as they happen to prevent permanent stains.

This also applies to carpets with tight weaves such as Berber carpets.

If you are wondering what type of weave you have in your car, check out the following illustrations:

Traditional Weave

Medium Weave

Tight Weave

What To Use To Clean Car Upholstery

Before you start the cleaning process and find the best way to clean car upholstery, you will need to grab these items.

1. All-Purpose Cleaner

While many car experts tout separate cleaning products for different surface materials, all-purpose cleaners negate the need for dedicated cleaners.

In this way, you don’t have to buy separate cleaners for your upholstery, leather, vinyl, and shampoo needs.

There are a good number of all-purpose cleaners on the market, and I would recommend Meguiar’s Detailer All Purpose Cleaner for general cleaning and Meguiar’s Super Degreaser for tough cleaning jobs.


If you do not want to use a store bought all-purpose cleaner for your upholstery cleaning, here are a few homemade alternatives that are cheap and easy to make:

  • Mix 1 part dishwashing liquid with 1 part water, use this on fabric upholstery.
  • Mix 6 tablespoons of a bar soap (e.g. Ivory bar soap), with 2 tablespoons of borax, and 2 cups of boiling water. Once the mixture is cool, you can use it to clean your fabric upholstery.
  • Mix baking soda and water into a paste, and use it on vinyl upholstery. Once you’ve rubbed this paste onto the seat, rinse it off with soapy water and then dry it off with a clean microfiber cloth. Your vinyl will be clean and polished.

2. Interior Brush

You will also need a brush to scrub dirt and grime off your seats, carpets, and floor mats.

Recommended Interior Brushes

  1. Mothers Carpet and Upholstery Brush
  2. OXO Good Grips Heavy Duty Scrub Brush
  3. Magnolia Brush Vinyl Leather Scrub

3. Detail Brush

A detail brush will help you clean tight spaces and crevices where dirt may be hiding. My recommendation is the Wheel Woolies Boars Hair Detail Brush.


Brand new toothbrush: a cheap alternative to a detail brush which allows you to clean tight spaces and crevices.

4. Fabric Protector/Stain Repellent

Once you’ve finished shampooing your upholstery, you should apply a fabric protector/stain repellant to make it difficult for stains to embed in your upholstery. This keeps your upholstery looking cleaner for longer, while extending its life.

Recommended Interior Brushes

  1. Scotchgard Auto Fabric and Carpet Protector
  2. Chemical Guys: Fabric Guard Interior Protector Shield
  3. 303 Fabric Guard, 128 Fl. oz.

5. Leather Conditioner

A leather conditioner like Lexol Leather Conditioner and Leather Honey will help:

Nourish your leather for a smooth look

– Strengthen your leather to prevent cracks, and

– Prolong the life of your leather.

6. Microfiber Towel/Cloth

A microfiber towel allows you to blot and lift up stains, as well as pick up dirt particles. The soft material will not scratch your upholstery.

Vacuuming Your Car

Before you begin cleaning your car upholstery, start by vacuuming all surfaces of your car. By doing so, you can pick up the loose dirt and debris littering your interior.

How to Properly Vacuum Your Car

How to Steam Clean Car DIY

Vacuum your car at least once a month to prevent the buildup of dirt and debris. As dirt and debris accumulates in the interior of your car, they embed in your carpets and upholstery making them tough to lift out. Regular vacuum cleaning prevents this from happening.

Many cars use a combination of materials in their interior (e.g. fabric floor mats, vinyl seats), and that is why the guide below shows you how to clean car upholstery based on your specific material type.

How to Clean Fabric Upholstery

STEP 1: Vacuum your carpets and upholstery, removing the dry dirt and debris. Remove crayons and any other items that will melt under hot temperatures. Melted crayons in particular are tough to remove from fabric upholstery.

  • Your messes and spills can embed into the fabric of your upholstery if they are left for too long. When you make a mess, clean it up straight away in order to prevent permanent staining and unwelcome odors.
  • Additionally, get rid of garbage from your car on a regular basis to prevent clutter and staining. The dredges of your nearly empty coffee cup can spill onto your fabric and cause stubborn stains.

STEP 2: Spray your upholstery with the all-purpose cleaner (or your homemade solution), holding the cleaner at least 6-inches away. Make sure you work on one area at a time/one seat at a time.How to Clean Car Upholstery

STEP 3:Use your brush to scrub your upholstery firmly but gently, ensuring that grime and stains are removed.

STEP 4:Wet your microfiber towel in warm water, and then run it over the scrubbed upholstery picking up dirt. Make sure you rinse out the towel as you collect dirt so that you are not spreading dirt around.

STEP 5: If your upholstery is very dirty, you will need to scrub and towel off the dirty area several times until it is fully clean.

STEP 6:Once your upholstery is clean, use a microfiber towel to dry it off.

STEP 7: Move onto the next section of your upholstery, and repeat steps 2-6.

STEP 8: Take your detailing brush/toothbrush and clean in between the seams of your upholstery, as dirt and grime often gets stuck here. These tight spaces are usually easy to miss with your vacuum cleaner or microfiber towel.

STEP 9: Use your brush and all-purpose cleaner to thoroughly clean your floor mats, and then rinse them out with clean, warm water. Remember to dry them off with your microfiber towel.

STEP 10: Spray your carpets and upholstery with fabric protector to repel stains and water.

How to Clean Leather and Faux Leather Upholstery

STEP 1: Vacuum your carpets and upholstery, removing dry dirt and debris. Do not use a metal attachment as this might scratch your leather.

  •  If your leather upholstery has difficult to remove stains, you will need to pretreat it with a leather conditioner. Once this done, rub a leather stain remover over the stain and leave it there for 30 seconds. Once the time has elapsed, wipe off the stain remover and proceed.
  • Always test your stain remover before you use it on your leather upholstery in order to prevent permanent damage. You should test it on a hidden spot of leather to ensure color-fastness.

STEP 2: Apply the all-purpose cleaner on a section of your leather upholstery, and then rub in the cleaner using your microfiber cloth.

STEP 3: Rinse your cloth in water, and then run the damp cloth over the leather removing the dirt and cleaning agent along the way.

STEP 4: Once the leather has been fully cleaned, allow it to dry naturally. Ensure that all stains and soap spots have been removed.

Step 5: Move onto the next section of your upholstery, and repeat steps 2-4.
STEP 6:Once the leather is fully dry, apply the leather conditioner using your microfiber cloth. The leather conditioner replaces the oils in your leather, leaving it smooth and stunning. If there is any excess conditioner wipe it off, and wait for at least 20 minutes before you use your car.

  • Stay away from petroleum-based leather conditioners as they leave an oily finish and might cling to your clothes. Use water-based conditioners for maximum benefits.

STEP 7: Take your detailing brush/toothbrush and clean in between the seams of your upholstery, as dirt and grime often gets stuck here. These tight spaces are usually easy to miss with your vacuum cleaner or microfiber towel.

STEP 8: Use your brush and all-purpose cleaner to thoroughly clean your floor mats, and then rinse them out with clean, warm water. Remember to dry them off with your microfiber towel.

  • Clean your leather in a warm environment, as heat causes leather to respond more favorably to your cleaners and conditioners. If it is cold outside, you can turn on the heater for just a few minutes before you start cleaning.

How to Clean Vinyl Upholstery

STEP 1: Vacuum your carpets and upholstery, removing dry dirt and debris. Do not use a metal attachment as this might scratch your vinyl.

STEP 2: Spray your all-purpose cleaner on your vinyl upholstery, and then scrub your upholstery using your interior brush. Wipe off the dirt and excess cleaner with your microfiber cloth, and repeat the process until the dirt and grime is gone. The good news is that the texture of vinyl upholstery makes it very easy to clean.

  • Do not use oil-based cleaners on vinyl upholstery as they will cause the upholstery to harden.

STEP 3: Once you are done cleaning one area of your upholstery, move onto the next area.

Car Vinyl Upholstery Cleaning:

STEP 4: Take your detailing brush and clean in between the seams of your upholstery, as dirt and grime often gets stuck here. These tight spaces are usually easy to miss with your vacuum cleaner or microfiber towel.

STEP 5: Use your brush and all-purpose cleaner to thoroughly clean your floor mats, and then rinse them out with clean, warm water. Remember to dry them off with your microfiber towel.

How to Clean Car Upholstery: Removing Stains from Your Upholstery

1. Loose Pen: Ink Stains

Ink stains are fairly common in cars, especially if you have a little one who enjoys drawing and doing their homework in the back seat. When it comes to ink stains, a combination of hairspray and water will work well. Simply spray the hairspray on the ink stain, and then blot the stain with a clean and slightly damp cloth.

You can also use rubbing alcohol instead of hairspray- just ensure that the ink stain does not run on your upholstery.

2. Oil and Greasy Stains

If you enjoy eating or applying makeup in your car, then greasy stains are not an uncommon sight. For greasy or oily stains, you should use a mixture of paint thinner and water (equal parts of each). Dip your cotton cloth into the diluted paint thinner mixture, and rub the mixture into the greasy stain.

If you are not a fan of the paint thinner method, you can use cornmeal or salt instead. In this case, sprinkle the cornmeal or salt over the stain, and leave it overnight. You can then vacuum the stained area the morning after.

  • Ensure that you test the paint thinner mixture on a hidden spot of your upholstery to guarantee that it will not cause any damage.

Other Ways: See Reddit Log

3. In a Rush, Just Hit A Bump… Coffee stains

I don’t know about you, but I’m a huge coffee lover. Unfortunately, one small slip caused by a quick stop or tight swerve can have your Joe splashed across your arms, clothes, and car interior.

While you can quickly mop up coffee that has spilled on vinyl or plastic surfaces, you should pay special care with other surface materials.

Add a little bit of cold water in order to dilute the coffee, and then blot the stain using a paper towel.

Once you have blotted your coffee stain, add all-purpose cleaner or glass cleaner to the stain and wait for 5 minutes. Once the time has elapsed, blot the stain once again.

Related: The Worst Things You Can Spill In Your Car

If you can still see the coffee stain, you will need to scrub your upholstery with the all-purpose cleaner. Once you have scrubbed and wiped down the stain with your microfiber towel, blot the stained area once more using paper towels.

  • Blotting the stain instead of scrubbing it will ensure that the stain does not set in.

4. Stains from  Unpleasant Motion Sickness: Carsickness Stains

Getting car sick is something that all car owners should prepare for, whether the offender is you, your kids, or your pets. Because vomit is acidic, you need to clean up all traces of it to stop it from setting into your seats and carpets.

Start by wiping off the vomit using a paper towel or cloth.

Next, dilute the acidic vomit stain using cold water, followed by a quick wash with soap and warm water.

In order to neutralize the vomit, pour club soda on a cloth and blot the stain.

If you do not have club soda, a mixture of water and baking soda will remove the stain and the odor at once.

5. Blood Stains from Cuts and Accidents

Blood is an exceptionally stubborn stain, and it can ruin many types of carpets and upholstery. You should note that hot water and soap mixtures cause blood stains to set in, so stay away from this combination when cleaning out blood.

Start by soaking your microfiber cloth in cold water, and then blot the blood stain. As you soak up blood rinse the cloth, and then repeat the blotting process until the blood stain has disappeared.

7. Alcohol Stains: Hey, Bottles Fall and Cans Pop

Firstly, do not drink and drive!

In a scenario where your groceries spill out and your beer cracks open and spills over your upholstery, this is the stain removal process you should use. Dilute the alcohol stain with cold water so that it does not set into your upholstery.

Blot the stain with a damp cloth until the stain lifts off. The odor should dissipate soon after, ensuring that your car doesn’t smell like the inside of a beer keg.


There you have it, the complete guide on how to clean car upholstery.

Whether you have leather, fabric, or vinyl upholstery, there is an efficient method to get rid of embedded grime and maintain the spectacular look of your interior.

Even if a stubborn stain threatens to cause permanent damage, there are easy and affordable ways to get them out.

The most important thing to remember is that constant maintenance is the best way to ensure the integrity of your car’s upholstery.

By preventing spills and messes from setting in, you can leave your seats looking as good as new for years to come.

Did you find this guide useful? Are there any specific tips that have caught your attention? Share them in the comment section below.

And if you have any special upholstery cleaning tricks that other car enthusiasts can benefit from, let us know.

error: Content is protected !!