How to Clean Cloth Car Seats

How to Clean Cloth Car Seats

Updated on June 15 2024

Cloth seats are standard on most compact cars, crossovers, and pickup trucks. Most car buyers prefer the luxurious feel of sumptuous leather upholstery. Still, cloth seats are easier to clean and could age better than leather seats. If your car seats are dirty or have ugly stains, this handy cleaning guide will show you the easy steps in restoring those cloth seats to a like-new condition.

How often should I clean the cloth seats in my car?

It depends on the color of the fabric. Light-colored seats like white, beige, or cream will require more frequent cleaning. On the other hand, black, gray, or other dark materials can hide dirt better. For added protection against dirt, stains, and friction, you should consider installing seat covers if your car has light-colored cloth seats.

But if you don’t want to bother with fiddly seat covers, you should clean cloth seats (whether light or dark-colored) at least twice a year. This guide will show you how to clean cloth seats and remove deep-seated stains to restore the like-new condition of your car’s interior.

How to Clean Cloth Seats

There are numerous methods for cleaning cloth seats. If you have access to steam cleaners or extractor machines, you can use them on the seats, roof liners, and carpets. No doubt, machine cleaning is the easiest way to clean cloth seats. But since not everyone has the means to acquire such tools, this guide will focus on a low-cost cleaning alternative using common household materials.

Materials Needed:

  • Vacuum cleaner (preferably the dry and wet variety)
  • Spray bottle
  • Dish soap or laundry detergent
  • Soft interior brush
  • Microfiber towels

Step 1: Visual inspection

The first step is to conduct a visual and close inspection of the cloth seats. If the seats have seat covers, remove the covers and throw them in the washing machine. Next, grab the vacuum cleaner to suck out excess dust and dirt from the seats.

After vacuuming, check the seats for traces of deep-seated stains and friction wear. If you have a newer car and the seats are in mint condition, you can use a cleaning brush later. But if the seats are old, worn, or showing accelerated signs of wear and tear, you should use a microfiber towel instead of a brush when cleaning the seats. Agitating worn-out cloth seats using an interior brush may cause more damage to the fabric, so bear this in mind.

Step 2: Cleaning Solution

You can buy commercially available interior cleaners at your favorite auto store, but those products are costly and may contain harsh chemicals. The better (and cheaper) alternative is to use dish soap or laundry detergent in warm water.

Apply a few drops of dish soap or a couple pinches of laundry detergent in a small spray bottle filled with warm water. Shake lightly.

Step 3: Spray and clean

Spray the cleaning solution to a single section at a time. Start with the seat base and work your way to the backrest and headrest. Apply two or three sprays and grab a cleaning brush to agitate the cleaning solution on the seats. You can use more cleaner as required, but avoid soaking the seats wet.

If there are hard-to-remove stains like catsup and lipstick on the seats, spray the cleaning solution directly on the stain and use the interior brush to loosen the dirt.

Step 4: Pat dry

After agitating the cleaner with a brush, grab a clean and dry microfiber towel and rub lightly over damp surfaces to remove excess moisture. Gently rub the towel in a back and forth motion, but do not apply extra pressure to avoid damaging the fabric, especially when dealing with older or worn-out cloth seats.

If stains are still present after the first pass, you can repeat steps 3 and 4 until all visible stains are gone. Otherwise, a single pass is enough if your car seats are not that dirty.

At this point, you can allow the seats to air dry, or you can use a vacuum cleaner to expedite the drying process.

Step 5: Vacuum out excess moisture

If you have a wet/dry vacuum cleaner, use it to suck out moisture from the cloth seats after cleaning. The seats will not be completely dry after vacuuming, and that’s fine.

It is best to open the doors and windows while the seats are damp to prevent the growth of mold and mildew in the interior. Allow the seats to air dry for at least 30 minutes to an hour before driving your car.


You don’t need to spend money on expensive cleaning products and detailing shops to clean the cloth seats in your ride. The secret is to remove dirt upon contact and prevent it from staining. Chocolate, lipstick, makeup, catsup, and other stains can leave ugly marks on your cloth seats when left unattended – most especially on lighter-colored fabrics.