How To Clean Car Seat Covers: Make Them Like New Again


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guy installing car seat covers

There are plenty of reasons to buy car seat covers. Their main purpose is to protect the seats beneath, but what to do when seat covers become dirty? Today, I’ll show you a detailed guide on cleaning dirty car seat covers.

As you probably know, car seat covers may be made from plenty of different materials. We could divide them into two categories:

  • Fabric seat covers that are made from all kinds of fabric
  • Leather seat covers that can be made from all sorts of leather-alike materials

In this guide, you’ll learn to clean both types of car seat covers properly. So, whichever of them you buy or have a task to clean as a detailer, here’s the complete guide. 

Cleaning Fabric Car Seat Covers

Most car seat covers are made from fabric materials. They’re very cheap to produce, and in the end, they’re more affordable for consumers. Also, fabric seat covers are one of the best ways to protect cloth car seats.

By fabric seat covers, I mean on all types of fabric such as cloth, velour, canvas, neoprene, mesh, etc. Most of them may be cleaned in the same or similar way, so, without further ado, let’s check how you can clean them in a few simple steps.

What you’ll need:

  • Mild liquid detergent
  • Washing machine (or a bucket for a hand wash)
  • Fabric softener
  • Carpet cleaning solution, brush, and a microfiber towel (for spot cleaning only)

Try To Spot Clean The Stain

If fabric seat covers have only a few stains here and there, you can try to spot clean them by using a fabric cleaner, brush, and a microfiber towel. Just do the following:

  • Spray fabric cleaner on the stain
  • Let it sit for around 1 minute
  • Agitate the area with a brush
  • Clean everything with a clean microfiber towel

For most smaller stains, that should be enough. If your seat covers are all dirty, that’ll require a more detailed cleaning process, so follow the steps below.

1. Remove Car Seat Covers

First things first, you’ll have to take off the car seat covers to clean them. Most seat covers are easy to take off, and most of them are taken off similarly. If you do it once, you’ll always know how to remove them.

Here’s a great video tutorial on removing car seat covers so that you can follow it.

2. Dust Them Off

What I like to do when I just remove my car seat covers is that I always dust them off a little bit. By doing that, you’ll get rid of all the tiny dirt particles from them, which will make the washing process much easier, and you’ll get much better results.

Just shake them somewhere outside. You can even whisk them a little bit. That way, you’ll remove most of the dust that’s stuck inside the fabric.

3. Wash Fabric Seat Covers In The Machine or By Hand

Before you attempt to wash seat covers, you should first find the label and check the safe temperature range for that particular seat cover. Mostly, they’ll be able to wash at 30 or 40 degrees Celsius. Also, before washing, make sure to remove any hooks from them.

If there are extremely dirty stains on seat covers, make sure to pre-soak them around 15 minutes before you plan to wash them. That’ll help to loosen the stain and make it easier to clean, even when washing at lower temperatures. 

I like to wash seat covers in a washing machine, it’s a much easier and quicker way to wash them, and in the end, it’s probably safer since you won’t scrub them so much. Here are quick steps:

  • Use liquid detergent
  • If you want, you can use a fabric softener (i like to use sensitive ones)
  • Choose a 30 or 40-celsius degree option (make sure to check the labels)
  • Turn the washing machine on a short cycle (there’s no need to wash seat covers for 2 hours)

If you want to wash them by hand, you can use the same liquid detergent, but make sure to use warm water instead of hot. If you can touch the water with your hand without getting burned, it’s probably fine. 

Hot water may shrink fabric seat covers, which can cause problems when attempting to install them later on. 

4. Dry Fabric Seat Covers

Drying fabric seat covers is pretty straightforward. The best way is to hang-dry them. If it’s a sunny day, they’ll dry very quickly. Usually, it takes anywhere between 2-4 hours to dry car seat covers on a sunny day. Some extremely thick car seat covers need more time to dry completely, so if you have them, make sure to thoroughly check if they’re completely dry. 

It’s important not to use a drying machine since it may shrink them. However, if you still want to use the dryer, make sure to dry them using the lowest temperature option. 

When they’re completely dry, make sure to check for any stains that couldn’t wash off. If you spot them, you can try spot cleaning them by using a high-quality carpet solution. 

5. Apply Fabric Protectant

Whenever I wash fabric seat covers, even when I deep clean cloth car seats, I like to apply some kind of fabric protectant. Fabric protectants make a hydrophobic layer on seat covers, making them less likely to get a hard-to-remove stain.

One of the best fabric protectants is 303 Fabric Guard (check the price on Amazon now).

And that’s all, you have successfully washed fabric seat covers, and they should now be perfectly clean and ready for reinstallment. 

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Cleaning Leather Seat Covers

Mostly, people use leather seat covers either to protect their leather seats from cracking or because they want a more luxurious look of the car interior. In this “leather” seat covers category, I think of all materials that look like or are similar to leather (faux leather, etc.) and thus can be cleaned in the same ways as leather. 

Some leather or similar material seat covers may also be washed in the washing machine. Check the labels, and if it’s allowed, you can follow the same steps as for cleaning fabric seat covers. Otherwise, follow the steps below.

Let’s see the steps for cleaning leather and similar material seat covers.

What you’ll need:

1. Vacuum Seat Covers

Vacuuming is one of the most essential things if you want to properly clean all types of leather-alike car seat covers. Vacuuming removes all dust and dirt particles that may disturb you in the following steps.

Grab your vacuum (i recommend you use a shop vac), and thoroughly vacuum seat covers. Pay close attention to hard-to-reach areas, and don’t rush.

2. Clean Seat Covers

After vacuuming, you should clean the seat covers. Here are quick steps:

  • Take a leather cleaning brush
  • Spray some leather cleaning solution on seat covers
  • Agitate the area with a brush
  • Wipe off with a clean microfiber towel

When you do it, leather (or similar) car seat covers should be completely clean and ready for protection.

If there are some cloth parts, don’t use leather cleaner on them. Instead, use some fabric cleaner, and wipe it off with a clean microfiber towel. 

3. Apply Leather Conditioner

Lastly, you should apply a leather conditioner to car seat covers. Leather conditioners will work on all materials that are similar to leather (leatherette, PU leather, sky, etc.). Applying leather conditioner is important because it kinda feeds leather-like materials, making them last longer and easier to clean and maintain.

Take some high-quality leather conditioner, spray it on the microfiber cloth or an applicator, and gently apply it to all the leather parts of the seat cover.

As with the step before, if there are some cloth parts, don’t apply a leather conditioner to them. You could apply a fabric protectant on those parts, even though it’s not needed in most cases.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can car seat covers be washed?

Most car seat covers can be washed, but you should check the labels to ensure they can be washed and the temperature ranges they can be washed at. Mostly, fabric seat covers will be washable, while leather seat covers mostly won’t.

How often should you wash car seat covers?

How often you should wash car seat covers depends on how you maintain your vehicle, what you drive in your car, etc. Mostly, two deep cleanings per year should be fine to keep them looking new. Of course, whenever you clean your car, you should also pay attention to car seat covers.

How to dry car seat covers?

The best and the safest way to dry car seat covers is to hang-dry them or to place them on a table and let them dry naturally. All other options are risky.

Can you put seat covers in the dryer?

You should never put car seat covers in the dryer because they could shrink and won’t fit your car anymore.

Can you use a leather conditioner on leatherette car seats?

Yes, leather conditioner is completely fine (recommended) to use even on leatherette car seats. Even though they’re faux, they still need conditioning in order to last longer.

How long does it take for car seat covers to dry?

Most car seat covers will take around 2-4 hours to hang dry. However, if they’re extremely thick, it may take longer. Before you attempt to reinstall them in your vehicle, always make sure that they’re completely dry.

When it’s time to get new car seat covers?

Sometimes, washing your car seat covers won’t be enough to make them clean and look amazing again. If car seat covers have some stains that just won’t go and are teared up, it’s probably time to buy new seat cushions.

Wrap Up

As you can see, it’s not a big deal to clean car seat covers, whether they’re made of fabric or leather-like material. Just make sure to buy high-quality seat covers in the first place, maintain them regularly, and they’ll last you for years.

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