4 Car Upholstery Cleaning Tips

You are an expert when it comes to keeping your car’s exterior looking great as you carefully wash it, add wax, and detail the wheels regularly. Inside, however, may be another matter, one that you’ve handled by occasionally vacuuming the seats and floors, and applying protectant across the dash and on other soft-touch surfaces. But, that coffee stain from a recent mishap and your toddler’s tamped in snack crumbs on the back seat has you looking for ways to restore the well-worn interior. It’s time to concentrate on your vehicle’s cabin, by employing the following four upholstery cleaning tips.

Upholstery Tip No. 1. Remove and Prepare

Take out all floor mats, the car seats, and all other removable materials that can get in the way of your work.

Anything that is on the floor or covering the seating surfaces, including seat covers, must be removed from your car before you can move on to the next step.



Upholstery Tip No. 2. Vacuum the Interior

There are two ways to approach vacuuming the interior. Whichever one provides the best suction and ease of use is the approach that you will want to take.

The first option is to bring your canister or another vacuum with attachments and place these next to your car. Plug it in, attach the proper hose or brush, and begin to brush each seat, working from the top on down and from side to side. If the seats can be moved and flipped forward, you can reach into tight crevices that way. After the seats are done, then begin working on the carpeting.

Your second option is to plug a handheld vacuum into the cigarette lighter or use a battery-charged vacuum such as a Dyson or an Oreck. Battery vacuums typically give no more than 10 minutes of suction cleaning time before needing to be recharged. Plan accordingly or supplement the handheld with a household vacuum cleaner.

Upholstery Tip No. 3. Treat Stains

Treat every stain on the carpeting and across the seating surfaces. Here, you have several options for removing stains, some will work better with certain types of stains. If you do not know what caused the stain, then you may need to experiment. The advice herein is for cloth or vinyl seats only; use a special stain cleaner for leather surfaces.

Vinegar can handle most stains, by mixing two tablespoons of salt that has dissolved within eight ounces of vinegar. Dip a clean, white cloth in the solution and dab the stain. Vacuum, once dry.

Ammonia can also work if you mix one cup of clear ammonia with an equal amount of warm water. Dab this solution into the carpet with a clean cloth and allow it to dry. You can repeat this process if needed.

Other homemade solutions include using beer, shaving cream, borax, and cornstarch. The Reader’s Digest even advises using WD-40 to combat ink stains.

Upholstery Tip No. 4. Clean the Seat Covers and Floor Mats

If you have seat covers, follow the cleaning instructions provided with the covers. For sheepskin covers, you can handle minor stains by mixing a mild dish detergent with water and dabbing. Allow to dry. For soiled covers, remove these from the car, shake clean, dab with the solution, then allow to air dry. You can also fluff dry these in your dryer (at the lowest possible setting) for about 15 to 20 minutes.

Floor mats can be vacuumed separately. Attach a brush, set the vacuum to its highest setting, and move it across the carpeted surface vigorously. To bring out the shine in the rubber or plastic edges, wipe down with a dish detergent solution, allow to dry, then apply a liquid shoe polish wax. When done, reinstall the floor mats and the seat covers, then return the car seats and other removed objects where you found them.


2019 Hyundai Santa Fe XL


Clean Your Car on Schedule

You can avoid a major cleaning job by vacuuming your car’s interior regularly. You might also test various cleaning solutions by first applying them in an obscure place such as in your car’s trunk or underneath a seat.

Commercial cleaners are also available, with some products designed to handle a variety of stains. Once your interior has been cleaned, reinstall the floor mats and the seat covers.


See AlsoHow to Detail Your Car Like a Professional

Author: Matthew Keegan
Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.