How to Clean Car Upholstery Stains

by Sherry Strub

Stained car seats can make your car look old and uninviting even if the exterior of your car is shiny and clean. Fortunately, most upholstery stains are the result of everyday accidents and are quite easy to clean. Stop throwing a towel or blanket over your car seats to hide stains. Follow the steps below and in a matter of minutes the interior of your car will look as great as the exterior.

Step 1

Blot any wet stains with a clean soft cloth until you have removed as much liquid as possible. This will make it easier to remove the stain and less upholstery cleaner will be needed. If the stain is dry, vacuum the upholstery thoroughly to remove any loose dirt or debris.

Step 2

Determine the type of stain you will be removing. Food and drink stains are the most common type of stain and also the easiest to remove.

Step 3

Use a commercial upholstery cleaner, a solution of 20 percent mild household soap and 80 percent water, or shaving cream to remove stains from cloth seats. Spray a small amount of upholstery cleaner onto the stain. Wait for a few minutes, then scrub the stained area with a soft bristle brush or old toothbrush. Blot the area with a soft clean cloth. Repeat this process several times or until the stain has disappeared. You may substitute shaving cream for commercial upholstery cleaner if the stain is small. If you are using the mild soap and water solution to remove the upholstery stain, dab the stain with the soap and water solution, wait for a few minutes, then scrub the stained area with a soft bristle brush or old toothbrush. Blot the area with a soft clean cloth. Repeat the process as many times as necessary.

Step 4

Use leather cleaner and conditioner to clean treated leather and vinyl upholstery. Follow the directions listed on the cleaner and conditioner. Untreated leather is difficult to clean and requires special products to clean it; you may want to have this type of upholstery professionally cleaned.

Remove mold, mildew and odors in one easy process. Cleaning products containing citrus oil and hydrogen peroxide will not only remove the stain, but will also get rid of any disagreeable odor (see Resources below). Spray the cleaning product on the car upholstery stain, wait for a few minutes, rub the stain with a soft bristle brush or old toothbrush, then blot with a soft clean cloth. Repeat as many times as needed.


  • When using cleaning products of any kind, make sure the area you are working in is well ventilated and above freezing temperature. After cleaning stains, make sure any cleaning products you have used have dried completely before closing the car windows and doors to avoid breathing in strong fumes.

Items you will need

  • Vacuum
  • Upholstery cleaner or mild soap and water
  • Shaving cream (optional)
  • Leather cleaner and conditioner
  • Soft clean cloth
  • Soft-bristled brush or old toothbrush

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