How to Clean Car Upholstery and Carpeting

This is a guide on how to clean car upholstery stains. Learn how to clean different materials, what products to use, and more.
Written by Elaine Sulpy
Reviewed by Carrie Adkins
Jan 29, 2021
If you're not sure how to clean your car's upholstery, we're here to help. Here's how to clean different upholstery materials, what products you should use, and what you should use for different types of stains.
Keeping your car clean can help you feel good about driving while also protecting your
car's value
. While a quick cleaning of your car’s upholstery or
carpet
with a vacuum usually does the trick, there are times when you may need to go further.
If you find that your car is getting dirty, you can clean your car's interior by following a few simple steps! Here's how to do it.
Let Jerry find your price in only 45 seconds
No spam · No long forms · No fees
Find insurance savings (100% Free)

Figure out what upholstery material you have

The type of carpet and upholstery you have in your vehicle (such as leather, vinyl, or fabric) will determine the type of cleaning products you can safely use without causing any damage. Consult your car’s owner's manual to confirm the exact materials used to upholster your car, and remember to always test out a new product in an inconspicuous place before using it on your carpet or upholstery.

Determine how dirty your car is

Is your car upholstery or carpet just a little dirty or dusty from basic use, or did you just get back from an off-road trip in the mud? How dirty your car is will determine what you need for cleaning.
If your car is just dusty, a vacuum cleaner will probably do the trick! But if you see spots, stains, or excessive dirt,
For basic dust, a personal or handheld vacuum cleaner will probably do the trick. But for spots, stains, or excessive dirt, or if your car frequently gets dirty, you'll probably need to invest in some cleaning solutions.

Give your car a once-over

Before you do any deep cleaning of your carpet or upholstery, don’t forget to start with the basics. Do the following before tackling any problem areas:
  • Remove the dust. It’s recommended that you dust your interior and dash first to remove debris.
  • Remove the floor mats. Vacuum your floor mats separately, then get to the floor underneath.
  • Remove seat covers. Wash them, if possible, and vacuum all the seats as well.
Take extra care to get out as much dirt as you can before you do any additional cleaning. That way, once you're done, you'll only have to worry about the problem areas.
  • Tip: Use a hose tool on your vacuum to remove crumbs and dirt buildup from seat crevices and around seatbelt connectors.
RECOMMENDED
Compare auto insurance policies
No spam or unwanted phone calls · No long forms · No fees, ever

What to use for fabric upholstery

Cleaning with vinegar

Materials:
  • Bucket that holds at least 1 gallon of water
  • Dish soap
  • Hot water
  • Towels
  • Washcloth or clean sponge
  • White distilled vinegar
What to do:
  • Blot the spill on the fabric with paper towels or a clean, absorbent towel.
  • Pour 1 cup of clear distilled vinegar, 1 teaspoon of dish soap, and 1 gallon of hot water into a bucket.
  • Put on some thick rubber dishwashing gloves to protect your hands from the hot water.
  • Soak a clean washcloth or small towel in the vinegar/dish soap solution.
  • Apply the solution to the stain on the vehicle upholstery with the washcloth or towel.
  • Scrub the stain with a stiff-bristled brush. Work the solution into the stain, but be careful not to scrub too hard, as that may ruin the upholstery finish.
  • Leave the solution on the stain for half an hour.
  • Blot up the vinegar solution with a clean, dry towel. Use several towels, if necessary, to get the spot as dry as possible.
  • Park the car outside and leave the windows down to let the upholstery dry as quickly as possible. You can also use a hairdryer to dry the upholstery, but that might not dry the padding beneath the fabric.
  • Tip: If the liquid is blood, add cold water to powdered laundry detergent to make a thick paste. Put the paste on the blood, leave it until it dries, and then vacuum it up.

Cleaning with glass cleaner

If the vinegar doesn't work on the fabric, you still have options. Glass cleaner can be a good alternative to vinegar, if necessary.
Materials:
  • Glass cleaner
  • Paper towel
  • Towels
What to do:
  • Spray a small amount of the glass cleaner on the fabric upholstery in an area that you won’t easily see. Rub it vigorously with a paper towel to make sure the fabric won’t be damaged. If it cleans the fabric without damaging it, proceed to the next step.
  • Apply the glass cleaner to the area where the liquid was spilled. Spray heavily so that the area is completely soaked.
  • Leave the glass cleaner on the stain for five minutes.
  • Blot the glass cleaner up with an absorbent towel. Use several towels, if needed, until the area is nearly dry.

What to use for leather upholstery

If your vehicle has leather seats, it’s recommended that you use a conditioner to keep the leather supple and free from cracks.
Materials:
  • Leather conditioner
  • Leather cleaner
  • Paper towels
  • Use a leather conditioner first to help prepare the area for stain removal.
  • Use only products safe for use on leather surfaces. All stain removers are not created equal, and something that works on cloth won’t have the same effect on leather. Look for products specifically made to clean leather interiors.
  • Let the product sit for a minute or two before wiping it off. The leather conditioner in combination with the stain remover might need a few minutes to take effect.
RECOMMENDED
Compare auto insurance policies
No spam or unwanted phone calls · No long forms · No fees, ever

How to remove fresh upholstery stains

From eating to drinking coffee in our cars, we are all bound to create a stain at some point! Depending on the type of stain, there are different ways of treating it—although for all stains, the sooner you can take care of it, the better.

Coffee stains

Dilute the stain with cold water and blot it with a paper towel to absorb it.
If the stain is still visible, apply a small amount of glass cleaner. Let it sit for about five minutes before blotting again with a paper towel.
  • Tip: It is important that you blot instead of scrub. Scrubbing can push a stain further into the fabric, which makes it harder to remove.

Ink stains

Use a combination of hairspray or rubbing alcohol with water. Again, only blot, don’t scrub!

Bloodstains

Soak a cloth in cold water and blot the stain. The sooner you get to the stain, the better your results will be.

Oil or grease stains

Water down paint thinner using equal parts paint thinner and water, and use a cotton cloth to rub the mixture into the stain.
If that doesn’t work, put a little salt on the stain and let it sit overnight. In the morning, go over it with a vacuum. Salt absorbs grease, so this should do the trick!
RECOMMENDED
Compare auto insurance policies
No spam or unwanted phone calls · No long forms · No fees, ever
With a little elbow grease and time, you can get your car’s carpet and upholstery in tip-top condition. Neglecting your car's cleanliness can cause damage and lower its value, so it's important to keep your car in good condition. That way, instead of focusing on stains, you can sit back, relax, and enjoy your ride!

FAQs

How do you clean urine off of car upholstery?

To start, wipe up as much as you can and open the car's windows. Stir two cups of water, a tablespoon of dish soap, and a tablespoon of white vinegar together, then pour the mixture into a spray bottle. Spray the seat, and use a cloth to rub in circular motions. Repeat as necessary, then blot the area and let it air dry. That should take care of it!

How do you clean hot chocolate off of car upholstery?

Combine one cup of warm water and one tablespoon of detergent. Wet a clean rag with cold water, blot the excess liquid, and dry with a paper towel. Use a damp towel to blot the area with the detergent solution, and then blot the area with white vinegar and a paper towel. Dab the area with water using a sponge or towel, and then blot dry with a clean rag. After that, you should be all set.

How do you clean poop off of car upholstery?

Using rubber gloves and a paper towel, pick up as much solid waste as possible, and blot any liquid with a paper towel. Combine one tablespoon of dish soap with two cups of cold water, and then use a towel to blot it onto the stain until the area is wet. Blot again with a dry cloth, and repeat the process as necessary. Finally, moisten the area with cold water and blot dry until no soap residue remains. After that, you should be good.
RECOMMENDED
Haven’t shopped for insurance in the last six months? There might be hundreds $$$ in savings waiting for you.
avatar
Judith switched to Progressive
icon savingsSaved $725 annually
avatar
Alexander switched to Travelers
icon savingsSaved $834 annually
avatar
Annie switched to Nationwide
icon savingsSaved $668 annually
icon
Compare Car Insurance Quotes For Free
Jerry automatically shops for your insurance before every renewal. Members save $872/year.
rating primary
4.7/5
Rating on App Store
Start saving money!
12,000+ Reviews
Trusted by 3.5M car owners like you
National General
Allstate
AAA
Aig
Chubb
ClearCover
CSE
Dairyland
DirectAuto
Elephant Auto Insurance
Kemper
Libertymutual
Gainsco
Mapfre
Mercury Auto
Metromile
Nationwide
Plymouth Rock
Progressive
State Auto
Safeco
Travelers
Metlife
Bristol West
National General
Allstate
AAA
Aig
Chubb
ClearCover
CSE
Dairyland
DirectAuto
Elephant Auto Insurance
Kemper
Libertymutual
Gainsco
Mapfre
Mercury Auto
Metromile
Nationwide
Plymouth Rock
Progressive
State Auto
Safeco
Travelers
Metlife
Bristol West

You might also be interested

Easiest way to compare and buy car insurance

√
No long forms
√
No spam or unwanted phone calls
√
Quotes from top insurance companies
Find insurance savings — it's 100% free