Tips for Getting Oil Stains Out of Car Seats

by James Rutter
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Both plant- and petroleum-based oils can stain and permanently damage car seats. Motor oil can seep into leather and dislodge the leather stain; motor oil and grease can leave sludge-like black marks on upholstery and vinyl. Oil can also cause vinyl and leather to dry out, become brittle and crack. Cracked leather or vinyl seats or permanently discolored leather or upholstery seating can detract from the overall value and appearance of a car.

Step 1

Know the type of material you’re trying to clean. In general, car manufacturers cover seats with one of three materials: fabric upholstery, leather or vinyl; this latter material appears more often in older cars and boats. Each material absorbs oil stains of varying types at different rates, and each requires different treatment strategies for removing oil stains.

Step 2

Treat the stain as soon as it occurs. Oil of any type will quickly soak into upholstery and leather. Carry supplies such as paper towels, microfiber towels, talcum powder or corn starch in your car so that if you spill oil on the seats you can pull over and treat the stain immediately.

Step 3

Treat an oil stain on leather immediately with corn starch or talcum powder, both of which absorb oil faster than leather absorbs it. Rub the starch against the leather with your fingers; the heat will help it absorb more ink. Vacuum up any remaining corn starch residue or particles before removing any oil that has stained the leather.

Step 4

Blot oil on upholstery with paper towels or microfiber towels, or blot leather with these materials if you don’t have corn starch or talcum powder. Apply light pressure with the towels on the oil stain and continue blotting the oil with fresh towels until no oil residue remains on the towel. Alternatively, lay sheets of wax paper on upholstery or vinyl to absorb the stain.

Step 5

Scrape excess oil or sludge from upholstery or vinyl with a putty spoon. Apply gentle, even pressure to avoid tearing the fabric. Remove as much of the remaining stain as possible with corn starch or by blotting it with paper towels.

Step 6

Mix a 50-50 solution of vinegar and water in a bucket or add a small amount of dish soap to a bucket of water. Spray the stain with WD 40, wet the stained upholstery with either solution and then lightly scrub the stain with a toothbrush. Blot away excess moisture and oil with a paper towel and dip the toothbrush in solution and continue scrubbing and blotting until you have removed the stain.

Step 7

Clean an old stain on leather by coating it with corn starch and letting it sit for 4 to 8 hours. Vacuum up the excess corn starch and then apply leather degreaser to the stained leather. Work the stain gently with a microfiber towel and continue applying degreaser until you have removed the stain.

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