Having clean seat covers in your car is important not only for aesthetics but for health reasons as well. Dirty seat covers can harbor bacteria, allergens, and unpleasant odors. Regularly washing your seat covers can help keep your interior fresh and hygienic. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to properly wash your car’s seat covers.
Assessing the Seat Covers
Before washing, take a close look at the condition of your seat covers. Check for stains and inspect the material composition if you can. This will help determine the best washing method. Some key things to look for:
- Material – Most modern seat covers are made of polyester, nylon, vinyl or leather. This affects cleaning approach.
- Stain Type – Food stains, dirt, oil, etc. May need pre-treating.
- Attachment Method – Some covers detach easily while others are fixed in place. This impacts washing options.
- Wear and Tears – Excessively worn or ripped seat covers may need professional restoration or replacement instead.
Preparing Seat Covers for Washing
Once you’ve assessed the condition, prep the seat covers for cleaning. For removable covers, take them off the seats. Vacuum both sides to remove loose dirt and debris. Use a soft brush attachment around seams and textured areas.
For fixed seat covers, thoroughly vacuum the seats and utilize a soft bristle hand brush to dislodge stuck-on grime if needed. Avoid excessive rubbing or pressure which can further grind in dirt.
Pre-treat any stubborn stains by spot cleaning with a small amount of upholstery cleaner or mild detergent diluted in warm water. Let soak for 5-10 minutes then gently blot stained area with a microfiber towel. Do not vigorously rub stains as that may spread the stain or damage the material.
Washing Removable Seat Covers
If your seat covers can be removed, washing them is straightforward:
1. Check Care Tag Instructions
Refer to the care tag sewn inside the seat cover for material content and washing recommendations. Follow any special instructions indicated.
2. Wash on Gentle Cycle
Set your washing machine to a gentle, delicate cycle with cool or cold water. Hot water can damage seat cover fabrics.
3. Use a Mild Detergent
Opt for mild detergent, no bleach, and minimal to no fabric softener which can leave residue. Detergents made specifically for delicates work well.
4. Air Dry
Don’t put seat covers in the dryer! Hang them to air dry completely before returning to your vehicle’s seats.
5. Remove Pet Fur and Debris
Use a lint roller or masking tape to remove pet hair and lint accumulated during washing. Carefully brush off any debris stuck to the damp seat covers before drying.
By following these simple steps, removable seat covers can be cleaned conveniently and cost-effectively at home.
Washing Fixed Seat Covers In Place
For seat covers that do not detach from the seats, alternative cleaning methods are required:
1. Vacuum First
Thoroughly vacuum both sides of seat surfaces, crevices and seams. Use a soft brush to help dislodge dirt.
2. Steam Clean
Using a handheld steam cleaner, work over fabric in sections until covers are entirely steam cleaned. Pay special attention to high traffic areas and stains.
3. Spot Treat Stubborn Stains
For tough stains, use an upholstery spot cleaner lightly sprayed onto a cloth and gently blot affected area. Test cleaner on an inconspicuous spot first.
4. Rinse with Vinegar Water
Wipe down seat covers with a microfiber towel dipped in a 50/50 white vinegar and water solution. The mild acidity helps remove residues.
5. Air Dry Thoroughly
Roll down windows to allow seats to completely air dry before using again. Avoid sitting on damp covers to prevent mold growth.
Steam cleaning avoids excess moisture compared to shampooing methods. With patience, seat covers can be adequately cleaned without complete removal.
Cleaning by Seat Cover Material
Specific materials often require specialized washing techniques:
a. Leather Seat Covers
- Vacuum gently with soft brush attachment.
- Mix mild soap with warm water and use microfiber cloth to wipe down.
- Avoid over-wetting leather which can damage surface.
- Spot clean stains gently with damp sponge.
- Use leather conditioner to hydrate after cleaning.
b. Cloth Seat Covers
- Check tag before washing. Most can be machine washed on cold, delicate cycle.
- Avoid bleach. Use mild detergent without optical brighteners.
- Air dry away from direct sunlight.
c. Sheepskin Seat Covers
- Vacuum only using lowest suction setting with brush attachment.
- Spot clean with wool delicate wash solution. Don’t submerge whole cover.
- Air dry thoroughly and brush pile to restore fluffiness.
d. Neoprene Seat Covers
- Wipe down with warm water and mild soap using a sponge or rag.
- Rinse with just water and towel dry.
- Avoid soaking or machine washing as neoprene can shrink.
e. Polyester Seat Covers
- Most polyester covers can be machine washed warm and air dried.
- Use a delicate cycle and mesh bag for washing.
- Never use bleach which can discolor and degrade polyester.
Always defer to the seat cover manufacturer’s care instructions over general washing guidelines. Their recommendations are tailored to the specific construction of that product. When in doubt, err on the side of caution to prevent damage.
Cleaning Seat Cover Seams, Crevices and Curves
Pay special attention to seams, crevices and curved areas of seat covers when washing:
- Use a soft bristle upholstery brush to scrub dirt trapped in seams and stitching.
- Rinse crevices thoroughly to remove soap residue which can attract more dirt over time.
- For intricate areas like welting or piping, use steam, spot cleaners and microfiber cloths to sanitize and extract grime.
- Curved headrests and rounded edges often need hand scrubbing with a small soft brush.
- Check indentations around seat adjustment levers and attachment points.
- Dry hidden areas completely to prevent mildew odors.
Thorough cleaning of these detail zones makes a big difference in the overall cleanliness and appearance of seat covers.
Disinfecting Seat Covers
Regular washing removes most germs from seat covers, but for deeper sanitization, disinfecting may be warranted in some cases. This is especially advisable for rideshare vehicles, car rentals, and family cars carrying illnesses. Some good disinfecting options include:
- Steam cleaners using very hot steam help disinfect and deodorize in one step.
- Diluted bleach solutions of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water can be applied with a sponge or spray bottle. Rinse and dry thoroughly afterwards.
- Benzalkonium chloride antiseptic spray can quickly treat surfaces. Ensure product is suitable for auto fabrics.
- 70% isopropyl alcohol wipes kill many pathogens through contact. Safe for most seat cover materials when used properly.
Always test disinfectants in a small inconspicuous area first and follow product instructions carefully. Proper disinfecting can protect health between standard washings.
Odor Removal from Seat Covers
Along with dirt and stains, odors can also accumulate in seat covers over time. To freshen up smelly seat covers try these handy tips:
- Steam cleaning kills bacteria and odors. Add a few drops of essential oil to the steamer water for a light scent.
- Baking soda is a versatile deodorizer. Sprinkle liberally over seat covers, let sit overnight and vacuum up.
- Open windows! Air circulation while driving helps dissipate odors from seats and carpet.
- Products like Febreze safely eliminate odors from fabrics. Spray lightly over seat covers and let dry fully before using.
- For musty mildew smells, wipe down with equal parts vinegar and water. The vinegar neutralizes odors.
- Activated charcoal inside cloth bags can be placed in seats overnight to absorb stubborn odors from pets, smoke, etc.
With consistent cleaning, seat covers should stay fresh smelling long term. But if odors do arise between washes, these handy methods can get your covers smelling clean again quickly.
Seat Cover Maintenance Tips
Proper maintenance between washes helps keep seat covers cleaner longer:
- Use seat protectors or covers in high contact areas to prevent wear and stains.
- Vacuum seat covers regularly to stop dirt buildup, especially under mats.
- Deal with spills and stains right away if possible; don’t let them set in.
- Replace worn or ripped seat covers to prevent further damage over time.
- Condition leather seat covers occasionally with leather cleaner/conditioner.
- Rotate removable seat covers to spread wear more evenly.
- Keep interior surfaces protected with protectants like 303 Aerospace Protectant.
Simple habits like these extend the life of your seat covers and make washing less frequent and easier.
Know When To Seek Professional Help
While many seat covers can be cared for with do-it-yourself washing, some cases may require calling in a professional:
- Rare, antique or strictly dry clean only fabrics.
- Severely soiled or neglected covers needing intensive restoration.
- Badly damaged, ripped or torn seat covers in need of repair.
- Odors that persist after thorough cleaning efforts.
- Specialized leather seats in luxury or classic vehicles.
- Sheepskin or suede covers requiring expert care.
Car interior specialists have tools, techniques and solutions for seat cover issues beyond what’s achievable at home. Seek professional advice if needed.
Washing car seat covers regularly removes dirt, allergens, odors and stains to keep your interior hygienic. With some time and effort, most covers can be effectively cleaned at home. Just be sure to use the proper methods for your specific seat cover fabric and construction. With routine cleaning and care, your seat covers will provide comfort and support for many miles to come.