How To Get Stains Out of Car Seats (Using 5 Basic Ingredients)

RusticWise, how to get stains out of car seats, illustration

Life is busy. Whether you’re driving a daily commute to work, or running errands with kids in tow, spills and accidents happen.

So, if your car seats are looking a little worse for wear, let’s look at cleaning them. Here’s how to get stains out of car seats using 5 simple household products. The first step is to thoroughly vacuum the seats to remove dirt and debris. Next, gather a few cleaning supplies along with baking soda, club soda, vinegar, toothpaste, and laundry detergent. Depending on the stain, there are different cleaning methods.

Whether you have fabric upholstered seats, or leather car seats, there’s a stain removal solution for you. Roll up your sleeves and let’s restore your car seats to its original state.

Cleaning tips for car seats

Before you dive right in, there are some precautions you should take first. Here are some cleaning tips on how to remove stains from car seats effectively without damaging the fabric.

  • Assess the stain: So, how do you clean up that stain? First, you’ll need to determine what type of stain you’re dealing with. Often, food and beverages are easier to remove than blood, oil, or grease. Once you’ve identified what you’re dealing with, you’ll be able to find the best way to fix the problem.
  • Do a spot test: Before using a spot treatment on tough stains (or any cleaning solution for that matter), it’s a good idea to test it in an inconspicuous area. Some ingredients may discolor or fade the fabric.
  • Tailor the solution to the type of car upholstery: Whether you have fabric seats or leather, it’s important to only use ingredients safe for the material you’re cleaning. Leather car seats require a bit of TLC as some strong cleaners containing acetone, alcohol, ammonia, or bleach may damage the finish.
  • Act quickly: To prevent spills from settling into permanent stains, it’s important to wipe up spills right away.
  • Blot up excess moisture: To prevent water stains or mildew, dab up excess water on car seats with a clean, absorbent towel. Crack open the car windows to allow fresh air to circulate.

To scrub or to blot car seat stains?

Blotting (or dabbing) helps to absorb any spills before they have a chance to settle into the fibers. It’s best to blot or dab when you’re dealing with fresh spills. Scrubbing fresh stains may cause the stain to spread.

Scrubbing is more effective if you’re dealing with old stains, or food-encrusted spots after you’ve applied a cleaning solution.

how to get stains out of car seats, vacuuming interior of car
Credit: Yay Images

How to get stains out of car seats: general steps

While there are various household cleaning ingredients you can use to remove stubborn stains, the general steps remain the same:

  1. Vacuum: It’s always important to do a preliminary vacuum to remove loose dirt and debris from the seat surface. Doing this prevents any soils from getting rubbed into the seats. Don’t forget to run the attachment along the seat’s cracks and crevices.
  2. Prepare and apply spot treatment: Depending on the ingredients you have on hand, the type of stain you’re dealing with, and whether you have fabric car seats or leather ones, you’ll make and apply a spot treatment. Spray or apply the solution over the problem area to remove stains from your car. If you have a nylon scrubbing brush, or a microfiber cloth, you can use this to rub in the treatment. Alternatively, you can also use your fingers to work it in.
  3. Let it sit: Now you can relax for a bit, and let the cleaning solution work its magic. This can range anywhere from a couple minutes to 20 minutes, depending on the type of cleaner you’re using.
  4. Scrub: Dealing with old stains requires a bit of elbow grease, so scrub away! You may need to reapply the spot treatment, and repeat steps 2–4 as needed.
  5. Wipe clean: Use a damp cloth to wipe away the cleaning solution.
  6. Let it dry: You can use either an absorbent towel to blot up excess moisture, or let it air dry.

What household products can you use to remove car seat stains?

Here’s a quick look at 5 common household products you can use for car cleaning:

  1. Baking soda: This natural, multi-purpose powder is great for deodorizing, lifting stains, and more. You can use it as a loose powder, or make a baking soda paste by mixing with water.
  2. Club soda: The carbonated water works to lift liquids before they settle into the fabric.
  3. Vinegar spray: A 50/50 vinegar and water spray is great at lifting stains. All you need is white distilled vinegar. The acetic acid content in vinegar helps to cut through grease, brightens fabrics, lift dirt, remove sticky residue, and gently deodorizes.
  4. Laundry detergent: Most commercial laundry detergents contain some type of fabric-safe bleach that helps to remove stains on a cloth car seat, as well as fabric brighteners.
  5. Toothpaste: A non-gel toothpaste typically contains baking soda, or gentle whiteners that can help gently scrub away stains.

Cleaning supplies you’ll need:

  • Clean microfiber towel
  • Nylon cleaning brush or old toothbrush (or similar gentle scrubber)
  • Small bowl
  • Bucket
  • Spray bottle
  • Vacuum

How to prevent fresh spills from turning into stains

One of the easiest cleaning hacks to prevent new spills from settling into nasty stains is to use club soda.

This carbonated drink also doubles as an effective, non-toxic cleaner. This works best if applied to fresh stains immediately.

You can pour some club soda into a spray bottle, or apply some to a cleaning cloth.

How to treat fresh spills:

  1. Use a clean white cloth to BLOT (not scrub) the area. Try to absorb as much of the liquid as possible.
  2. Apply club soda to the fresh spill.
  3. Use a clean, lint-free cloth to BLOT (not scrub) the area. Add more club soda if needed.
  4. Once stain is removed, use another clean, dry cloth to absorb excess moisture.
  5. Let air dry.

The takeaway: The most important thing to do when you spill something on your car’s seats is to clean it up as soon as possible. If you let it sit for too long, it may turn into an unsightly stain.

how to get stains out of car seats, hand scrubbing seat with brush
Credit: Vector State

How to remove stains from cloth seats

Tired of having a dirty or dingy ride? Here’s how to spruce up cloth upholstery.

Tip: Always test any DIY spot treatment in an inconspicuous area first to look for color fading.

The baking soda paste method

If club soda doesn’t remove a stain, you can try to make a baking soda paste. This is especially helpful for removing dried, stuck-on food remnants.¹

You can also use this method on leather—just be sure to test in a small area first, and avoid scrubbing too hard.

Supplies you’ll need:

  • Baking soda
  • Water
  • Spoon
  • Old toothbrush or nylon brush
  • Clean microfiber cloth
  1. Make a baking soda paste by combining 2 parts baking soda to 1 part warm water in a small bowl. The paste should have a thick consistency.
  2. Apply the paste directly to the stained area. Let it sit for 5 to 30 minutes, depending on the severity of the stain.
  3. Use a toothbrush to gently work the paste into the stain.
  4. Use a damp cleaning cloth to wipe away the baking soda paste. Let it air dry.

The vinegar spray

Regular white distilled vinegar can be great at gently removing odors, brightening and softening fabrics, and lifting grease stains.

Don’t worry, about the vinegar smell lingering. Crack open a window and it’ll quickly dissipate.

Supplies you’ll need:

  1. Make a 50/50 vinegar and water solution by combining equal parts white vinegar and warm water. You can add a few drops of essential oil if you like. Add to spray bottle and swirl to mix.
  2. Spray the vinegar solution to the stained area. Let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes.
  3. Scrub gently with a brush to remove stain.
  4. Use a damp cloth moistened with water to clean the area.
  5. Use another dry microfiber cloth to blot up excess moisture. Let it air dry.

Using laundry detergent to clean car seat fabric

A bottle of commercial laundry detergent can do more than just launder clothes—it can also help restore and get stains out of fabric car seats.

Supplies you’ll need:

  • Commercial laundry detergent
  • Hot water
  • Large bucket
  • Old toothbrush, nylon brush, or sponge
  • Clean microfiber cloths
  1. In a large bucket add a few squirts of liquid laundry detergent. Fill the bucket with hot water.
  2. Dip a brush into the hot soapy water. If you’re using a sponge, make sure to wring out excess water.
  3. Apply the soapy solution to the stain. Let it sit for 10 minutes.
  4. Using a brush or sponge, scrub the area. You should see some of the stain lift.
  5. Wipe area with a damp cloth moistened with only water to remove soapy residue.
  6. Use another dry, clean cloth to absorb excess water. Let it air dry.
how to get stains out of car seats, hand wiping seat with microfiber cloth
Credit: Vector State

How to clean leather car seats

Leather is a different beast from fabric. Leather seats are durable and can withstand most spills. Unlike fabric seats which tend to absorb most types of stains and spills such as coffee or tea, leather is a bit more resistant to these.

Instead, leather is more prone to absorbing oils, or getting scuffs.

Tip: Always test any DIY spot treatment in an inconspicuous area first to look for color fading. Avoid using any harsh cleaners on leather as it may cause it to dry, crack, or fade. Alcohol or acetone can also damage leather.

How to remove grease or sunscreen stains from leather seats

Oils from the body or from sunscreen can quickly get absorbed by leather seating. If you happen to notice some unpleasant oily stains on your leather seats, here’s what you need to do.

Iowa State University recommends using the absorbent properties of baking soda or cornstarch to remove sunscreen spots on leather.²

Supplies you’ll need:

  • Baking soda (or cornstarch also works)
  • Clean microfiber cloths
  1. Blot (don’t scrub!) any remaining sunscreen on the seats with a clean cloth.
  2. Liberally sprinkle baking soda (or cornstarch) onto the greasy areas.
  3. Let it sit overnight. When you check on the stains the next morning, you’ll know the baking soda did its job if it has turned yellowish. Repeat if needed.
  4. Wipe clean with a damp cloth.

Removing scuff marks on leather seating

With regular use, your leather or vinyl seats can develop scuff marks or light stains. Use the power of white toothpaste to do the job.

Tip: Make sure you do a spot test first! Some darker colored seats may show discoloration.

Supplies you’ll need:

  • Non-gel toothpaste
  • Old toothbrush, nylon brush, or sponge
  • Clean microfiber cloths
  1. Apply some white toothpaste onto an old toothbrush.
  2. Scrub the toothpaste onto scuff marks or light stains.
  3. Wipe clean with a damp cloth.

Caring for leather car seats

As leather requires a bit of extra care, you can turn to commercial leather cleaners if the DIY remedies above don’t cut it.

Keep your leather seats looking their best by regularly applying a leather conditioner.

How to keep your car seats sparkling clean

Now that you’ve gone through the trouble of cleaning and removing stains, you’ll want to keep your seats looking sparkling clean for as long as possible. Here are some helpful tips for caring for the seats!

  1. Clean regularly: Try to vacuum the seats often to remove crumbs, dirt, and debris from settling.
  2. Blot spills ASAP: Acting quickly is the best way to prevent future stains. Keep a bottle of club soda and a cleaning cloth in your car for any potential accidents.
  3. Keep seats protected: Use a seat protector for children’s car seats. I used seat protectors for both of my kiddos and this is truly a game-changer! If you have leather seats, you might use a towel to protect the seat if you’re applying sunscreen.

👉If you like this post, see other Timeless Cleaning Tips You Need To Know.

Would you like more timeless tips via email?

Fun tips to help you live an independent, self-sustaining lifestyle. Opt-out at any time.

Join our Free Newsletter Today!


  1. Arm and Hammer, How to Clean Car Seat Stains and Remove Odors, Accessed March 2023.
  2. Iowa State University, Sunscreen stains on leather, Accessed March 2023.

Sharing is caring!

Similar Posts