How to get stains out of car seats

stains on car seats

We all love our kids, but jeez, they are grubby little things! When my kids were little, my car was always filthy, and it’s not much better now!  Often, we ferry our kids around to their sibling’s sports events, on shopping trips, long journeys, and we nearly always give them snacks along the way. One tiny snack looks like an explosion in a food factory, with all sorts of crap stuck to the car upholstery. These little bits of food and drink spillages build up, become stubborn stains, and are difficult to remove. In this post, I’ll share my step by step guide to get stains out of car seats. 

Different types of car seat stains  

  • Food  
  • Drink 
  • Pen marks 
  • Oil 
  • Grease 
  • Watermarks 
  • Urine  

Top tips before you start! 

  • It’s important to say that the quicker you clean up the stain, the more chance you can remove it.
  • Before you attempt to remove stains using any of these methods, remove the spillage as best you can with a butter knife or pallet knife.
  • Blot up any excess liquid or oil using a dry paper towel. 
  • Keep on blotting until your fresh paper towel looks as if it’s dry after blotting.
  • Try to use distilled water where possible, as this will be less likely to leave watermarks on your car seats.  
  • Please perform a spot test on your car seats and proceed at your own risk. Please see our disclaimer here.

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Getting stains out of Fabric upholstery. 

 removing stains from  car seat with  brush and spray

Method #1: Food and drink stains  

Please note this method is not for greasy, oily food such as curry or take away spillages, see method #2 for advice.  

You will need:  

After wiping up the excess food and blotting up the excess liquid:  

  1. Fill a spray bottle with a solution of 1-part dish soap to 10 parts warm water 
  2. Spray the stained area taking care not to go over the edges. 
  3. With a clean white cloth, gently clean the area, working inwards toward the stain’s center to prevent it from spreading. 
  4. With a clean cloth dipped in water, rinse the area being careful not to soak the seat. 
  5. Using paper towels, blot until the seat is almost dry and no more liquid can be removed. 
  6. Air-dry overnight. 

Method #2 : Oil and grease stains  

If you’ve dropped a takeaway or have an oil stain on your fabric car seats, don’t worry; all is not lost. Knowing how to get oil out of car seats is not as hard as it looks. Firstly, let’s learn about what we are dealing with here: 

Oils are insoluble in water. They are liquid and will soak into your car upholstery. 

Grease is an oil that has had additives added to it to make it semi-solid, like butter or margarine. This means that it will sit on the surface of your upholstery.  When you scrape away any solid lumps of grease from your car seat, the stain that remains is an oil stain and needs to be treated as such.  

You will need:  

  1. Blot up as much of the excess oil as possible using paper towels.  
  2. Sprinkle baking soda over the stain to soak up the oil residue.  
  3. Allow it to sit for 20 minutes.  
  4. Sweep up the excess baking soda.  
  5. Repeat the process if necessary. 
  6. If this method hasn’t worked, you can try method #1 warm water and dish soap.  

If you have a large oily spillage and feel you need a stronger stain remover, you could try cleaning the area with a degreasing cleaning solution such as Elbow Grease. You can read about the different uses for Elbow Grease here.

Method 3 #: Water marks. 

My kids once spilled a bottle of water in my back seat and didn’t think to tell me. When I discovered it a few days later, it had left a nasty watermark on the seat. I soon needed to figure out how to get water stains out of cloth car seats and this was the method I used:

You will need: 

Unsightly watermarks on fabric car seats are quite straightforward to get rid of.  

  1. Create a mixture of 1-part water to 1-part white vinegar
  2. Put it into a spray bottle and spray the affected area, paying close attention to the edges where the stain is deeper. 
  3. With a clean white cloth, rub at the edges of the stain until the watermark disappears.  
  4. Repeat as necessary. 
  5. Allow the area to air-dry overnight. 
  6. If you feel that the water stain is still there, you can try steam cleaning your car seats with a hand-held steamer like this one

Method # 4: Urine stains  

You will need:

Sometimes our pets or even our kids have a little accident, so, knowing how to get pee out of car seats is something every parent should know.  

Firstly, let’s assess the damage:

Dog urine and human urine are made of almost the same compounds, so the removal is pretty straight forward. However, cat urine is made up of an extra enzyme that smells unbearable when it starts to break down.

It’s worth noting that if you can remove urine immediately from your fabric car seats, the better your chances of it not smelling. If urine is left for any time, the bacteria start to break down and smell pungent. 

  1. Blot the urine stain with paper towels until almost all of the liquid is removed; this is the most important step in this process as you do not want the urine to soak any further into your upholstery.  
  2. Make a solution of 2 cups warm water with 1 tablespoon of white vinegar and 1 tablespoon of dish soap. 
  3. Put it into a spray bottle and shake to mix.  
  4. Spray the affected area. 
  5. Using a clean white cloth, blot at the stain, working towards the center, so you don’t spread the urine. 
  6. Repeat this process a few times until all of the urine has gone. 
  7. Rinse the area with a clean cloth and some clean water. 

If you are removing cat urine from a car seat, you may prefer to try an enzyme cleaner like this, specially designed to break down the cat pee enzymes to prevent nasty smells.  

How to get stains out of leather seats. 

removing stains from leather car seat using sponge

The beauty of leather car seats is most food, drink, and urine spillages will come straight off using a damp cloth. However, some stains can be harder to remove from leather seats, like: 

  • Pen and ink  
  • Oil and grease 

Method # 1: Pen and ink  

You will need:  

  1. Moisten a cotton pad with a small amount of rubbing alcohol.  
  2. Allow the cotton pad to sit for around 10 minutes; remember to take a spot test on an inconspicuous area before you allow the rubbing alcohol to sit on your leather. 
  3. After 10 minutes, apply some pressure onto the cotton pad, and clean the stain using circular movements without scrubbing. If you see any color coming off your leather, stop immediately.  
  4. When the stain has gone, you can treat the leather with a leather conditioner, which will restore the shine and moisture.  

Method #2: Oil and grease 

To remove oil and grease stains from car seats:

  1. Blot up as much of the excess oil as you can, using paper towels.
  2. Wipe the stain with a 1-part dish soap 10 -parts warm water, with a white cloth until the stain has gone.
  3. Suppose this is unsuccessful, try a degreaser like Elbow Grease. Remember to do a test spot first! 

When to call a car seat stain removal service 

If you’ve tried the method suggested, and the stain won’t budge, or you tried a spot test and didn’t want to risk damaging your car seats, call in the experts. A car valet will use the best stain remover for car upholstery and get your car seats cleaned and smelling sweet in no time! They know how to clean seats in a car properly, depending on which stain they need to treat. 

  FAQ 

My spouse is sweaty when he comes home from work, so I need to know how to get sweat stains out of car seats! 

To remove sweat stains from car seats, use a 50/50 vinegar and warm water solution and scrub at the stain with a scrubbing brush until the stain has gone.

How do you get a fabric softener stain out of a car seat?  

I’ve had a few spillages of fabric softener in my boot, I think people like to sniff the bottles and forget to tighten up the lid afterward, it’s so annoying!
Fabric softener contains animal fat, which leaves an oily residue on your seat after you’ve blotted up the excess.
To remove fabric conditioner stains from car seats, I would follow method #2 which will remove the animal fat oil.  

How do you get saltwater stains out of a black cloth car seat?

Knowing how to get water stains out of car seats is one thing, but salt stains are a different kettle of fish and are quite unsightly on black upholstery. 
✔︎ Using a vacuum cleaner, remove any remaining salt particles off the car seat. 
✔︎ Re-saturate the area with warm water. 
✔︎ Blot with dry paper towels to remove all the excess water.  
✔︎ If you can still see the saltwater stain, repeat as many times as necessary. 

How do you clean a ketchup stained car seat? 

Use method #1: food and drink stain removal to dislodge ketchup from car seats.  

How do I get gum off my car seat and shirt? 

✔︎ Apply ice to the gum until it is solid.
✔︎ Scrape the hardened gum off with a blunt scraper.  
✔︎ Soak the tip of a sponge with vinegar and rub at the remaining stain. 

How do I protect my car seat from a baby’s pee? 

Aww, our cute little baby’s peeing on our car seats. I remember those days well! 
You can buy a car seat protector like this one that sits around your car seat to catch any little potty training or baby pee accidents.

Do you know how to get stains out of baby car seats? 

Oh, the never-ending saga of guessing how to remove stains out of car seats when you’ve got kids!
Baby car seats get very grubby, but all is not lost. If you use the same method you would when removing stains from car upholstery. 
Determine what category the stain comes under: 
✔︎ Food and drink 
✔︎ Oil and grease 
✔︎ Urine  
Chose the suitable method above to deal with the stain, and off you go! 
Some parts of the baby car seat may be removable and washable.  
Make sure the car seat is thoroughly dry before use.

Can I use club soda, laundry detergent, or hydrogen peroxide to clean car seats? 

Caution should be taken when cleaning car seats that you are not going to make the stain worse. 
✔︎ Laundry detergent can be used to wipe down the car’s interior, and for cleaning car upholstery, it helps clean a car seat if the stain is food and drink related. 
❌ Some people recommend hydrogen peroxide as a stain remover for car seats; however, it may bleach your upholstery, so I would not advise it.
✔︎ Club soda can be used in place of water when determining how to get stains out of car upholstery.   

Can you tell me how to clean car seats with baking soda, it’s all I’ve got in the house? 

You can sprinkle baking soda onto your seats and allow them to sit overnight to remove any strong odors like cigarette smoke or stale food and drink smells.
If you have leather seats, you can make a paste out of baking soda and water to gently agitate any stains on your seats. 

Now you’ve learned how to get stains out of car seats, why not learn how to remove water spots from your car

how to get stains out of car seats

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