Cleaning upholstery in your car can be a daunting task.
It does not have to be, however, and there are a few tips that can turn this time-consuming chore into a very simple task.
Whether cloth, leather, or vinyl, you may wish to remove the front seats from your vehicle for a deep cleaning to ease the strain on your back and legs from cleaning in a cramped space such as the cabin of your car. To remove the seats, simply loosen the bolts that anchor the front seats to the floorboard of the car and lift the seats out. Be sure to take the time and effort to make certain that the dashboard and doors are not scratched as you remove the seats from the vehicle.
Once the front seats have been removed, you should be able to reach the back seats easily without having to remove the entire bench, which may not be possible depending on your vehicle’s make and model. To ensure that your seats stay clean once they are placed back inside, give the carpets a thorough vacuuming with a large shop vacuum or any high-powered vacuum with a hose attachment. Be certain to use a corner attachment to really get into the crevices of your car. If desired, a hand-held carpet shampooer or carpet cleaning solution can be used to give the carpets a deep cleaning. Carefully vacuum both the rear seats and the front seats, which were removed, to ensure that all surface dirt has been cleaned from the fabric or leather.
Mild soap and water or any gentle household upholstery cleaner will work wonders on cloth seats in your vehicle. Carefully wet the seats with a solution of 20% soap and 80% water, being careful not to saturate the material. If using upholstery cleaner, be certain to follow the directions on the bottle exactly, and try to avoid any cleaning solution which might leave a residue or a strong odor in the car. For regular cleaning, simply use a white lint-free rag on the material. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush or upholstery brush on cracks, crevices, and seams. This method can be used on rear seats still in the vehicle as well as on the seats that were removed.
After cleaning, rinse completely with pure water, again being careful not to saturate your seats. The foam under the cloth material will take a while to dry, and you want to be sure to only partially wet the surface of the seats so that you will not end up with a mold culture growing inside your seats. If you have parked your car in the garage or in any other area with easy access to a power outlet, a hairdryer set to low heat and a clean, dry upholstery brush will help to dry your seats faster. Leave the front seats out of the vehicle as they dry, and do not close the doors so that your rear seats will have plenty of air to help them dry out quickly.
If your upholstery is leather or vinyl, you will need a good leather conditioner and cleaner to work on it. In the case of leather, you will need to find out if your leather is treated or untreated. Treated leather is usually coated with a very thin layer of plastic or sealant. Treated leather may be cleaned just as if you are cleaning vinyl. Untreated leather will require special products, and you should consult your owner’s manual or your dealership before continuing. You may also perform a water-droplet test to determine the type of leather your vehicle has.
To perform a water-droplet test, simply put a single drop of water on an inconspicuous part of your seat. If the water is absorbed, then the leather in your vehicle is untreated. If the droplet beads and is not absorbed, then the leather is treated.
Once you have determined the type of leather, and thus the type of leather cleaner you will need, begin by applying the cleaner in a generous amount to the seats. Rub it in gently with a white, lint-free cloth. For the small crevices in the leather that might have become caked with dirt, a hard-bristled toothbrush or nail brush will help you to work the dirt out. Be careful not to use anything that is much stiffer than a hard-bristled toothbrush, or you might mark (scratch) the leather. On treated leather, this may even remove the treatment if your brush is too stiff.
After finishing with the leather cleaner, your leather conditioner will restore the luster and pliability of the leather. Be certain that you have removed all of the leather cleaner before continuing with the conditioner.
Once your seats are clean and dry once more, give them one last vacuuming and check your carpets for any dirt or debris tracked in during cleaning. Replace the front seats in your vehicle, being extremely careful to replace all of the nuts and bolts and make absolutely certain that they are as tight as you can make them. Once the seats are replaced, you can use a fabric refreshing spray on the cloth seats and carpet, but allow it to dry completely before closing your doors.