There’s no denying it, car seats can get really messy. Crushed cereal, juice spills, blowouts, and other daily car seat disasters can take your car seat from beautiful and sleek to sticky and stinky! Because these messes are unavoidable, there’s no shame in a dirty car seat. But we totally get that a clean car seat is ideal for everyone!

Whether you need to do a deep cleaning or a spot cleaning, the thought of attacking a dirty car seat can be overwhelming. This stress is understandable because to keep your seat safe and functional, you must clean it with proper care. 

So, today we’re sharing some tips on how to clean your car seat to fight germs, get rid of smells, and keep a tidy and fresh vehicle. With these tips below, you can have confidence you’re cleaning your seat correctly and safely and with your child’s best interest in mind! 

Best Way to Clean Car Seats

Cleaning a car seat doesn’t have to be time-consuming or difficult when you have the right tips and tools. Whether you’re doing a regular weekly clean or you’re attacking a mess from a big, gross blowout, we’re here to help. Here are our seat cleaning tips to keep your child’s chair fresh and your car mess-free:

Clean messes right away. 

The longer you let a mess sit in your seat, the harder it will be to clean. If your child gets car sick or spills their milk, it can be tempting to put the car seat in the garage for later. We understand it was a stressful drive, but we know from experience that you will totally regret not cleaning your seat right away! 

The longer the mess sits on your car seat, the more the gunk will dry onto the fabric and seep into other car seat components. This will make it even harder to clean and those odors will linger for weeks. To avoid replacing parts or making more work for yourself, grab those cleaning supplies and get to washing immediately! 

Pro tip: in case a disaster happens while you’re on the road and you can’t take care of it right away, keep a few basics in the car. If there’s a diaper blowout or a big spill, you can pull over and use absorbent rags or paper towels to sop up the mess even before you’re able to do a deep clean.

Read the manual.

We may sound like a broken record sometimes, but it’s for good reason! Car seat manufacturers are the absolute authority on their specific seats. In case you didn’t know this already, the manual will give you instructions on how to clean a car seat just like it gives directions on how to install it! The manual will outline specific instructions and will also confirm whether or not you can machine wash the padding. But, we’ll get to more on that later! 

Vacuum out what you can. 

Always start by vacuuming out the car seat with a handheld vacuum or a crevice vacuum attachment. This will get all the crumbs from the hard-to-reach areas and prep the fabric cover for washing! Here’s a link to the handheld vacuum we love!

Be careful with the harness straps. 

The harness straps are one of the most important components of your car seat’s safety. In a collision, the straps’ special webbed fibers absorb and disperse some of the intense force. So, though the harness straps might seem like an easy enough thing to clean, protecting the fibers of these vital safety mechanisms is of top priority! 

First off, never put them in the washing machine or clean them with abrasive scrubbers. This can stretch and damage the webbing prematurely! Also, be sure to avoid submerging the straps completely in water. The excess moisture can cause early and unnecessary wear and tear. 

Instead, when you clean the harness straps, use only water and soft cloths to wipe away any mess. (We’ll discuss that more below.) If you need to clean the crotch buckle, take a cup of water, dip it upside down, and swirl it all around to dislodge anything that might be stuck inside. You wouldn’t want anything preventing your seat from buckling! 

Use only water or mild soap. 

When you’re cleaning any other part of your car seat, avoid using strong cleaning products like bleach, vinegar, baking soda, upholstery cleaner, oils, or any cleaners with harsh chemicals. These will wear on the fibers and mechanisms and decrease the usefulness of your precious and expensive seat! 

When you’re cleaning your car seat, use just warm water to get out the grime and gunk. If you do need something with a little more power, a mild soap and water cleaning solution works great! Using dish soap and water in a spray bottle will get out most day-to-day stains and messes. 

Don’t have gentle soap in your household products inventory? You can use a water-based wipe! They’re kind and gentle on your baby’s skin, and they’ll be kind and gentle on your seat!

When you get to cleaning your padding, spot-cleaning a small area with dish soap and water is a great way to get the job done! Alternatively, if your car seat manual says you can machine wash your car seat padding, grab an additive-free detergent and wash it in your next cycle. If you’re wondering what would be considered a gentle soap, check out this explanation

Use a soft cloth. 

Even if you’ve got tough stains or dried-in gunk you didn’t catch right away, keep that steel wool and scouring pad in your kitchen. Only use a soft cleaning cloth on your‌ car seat to avoid wear on the cover and prevent damage to those powerful, life-saving fiber webs inside the harness straps! 

Machine wash the padding ONLY when the manual allows. 

Though your car seat covers and padding might be easy to remove, that doesn’t make it okay to machine wash! Many car seats indeed have machine-washable padding. But, you should still make sure your manual allows this before you toss it in the washing machine! 

Here’s a pro tip: Before you remove the car seat cover, set your phone to record yourself taking it off. Trust us, it will make the process of putting the cover back on much easier!

If you can machine wash it, go ahead and remove the cover and padding and toss it into the machine based on the manual’s instructions. If machine washing is not an option for your fabric covers and padding, fill your sink with some warm water and a splash of gentle detergent and hand wash!

A few car seats allow for their covers to be dried too. Many prefer air drying. If yours requires air drying, this is usually the longest part of the process. You can speed it up by laying a thick towel on the floor, then gently rolling the car seat cover inside the towel to squeeze out excess water. Then you can place the cover in front of a fan to circulate air and help it dry faster. After it dries, refer to the manual once more for instructions on how to reassemble the car seat with the removed padding and covers.

Use the power of the sun. 

Sometimes, warm water and mild soap aren’t enough to pull that stain up or get rid of the nasty odor. Before you get frustrated and reach for that harsh cleaner, try out the sun! The sun does wonders on fabric car seats to pull out odors, naturally sun bleach stains, and disinfect any thriving germs. 

It’s true! The sun is one of our most powerful cleaning and disinfecting tools! Go ahead and wash up your car seat the best you can. Then, give it a few hours in direct sunlight to air dry and reap all the benefits of the sun! 

Replace parts if they’re beyond saving. 

If you’re really struggling to get something clean after a particularly catastrophic mess or after a few years of use between multiple kids, don’t opt to try the harsher cleaning methods outside the manual’s recommendations. Understand that it might be best to replace those parts and move on, knowing your car seat is clean and your child is safe! 

Many car seat brands will sell you a replacement car seat cover and replacement straps. If you don’t know if they sell these items and can’t find them online, call your manufacturer’s customer service line. They will definitely help you out! 

If the brand doesn’t have the part you need to replace, it may be time to get a new seat altogether. But, don’t stress about this either. Here at Safe in the Seat, we have car seat buying kits that make selecting a new seat a breeze! And, maybe this time around, you can even pick one that is known for being easy to clean (we list those in the kits!).

Want to see the visual?

In this video, I’ll take you through all the dos and don’ts and even take one of my kids’ seats from filthy to fresh. Let’s get cleaning!

How to Clean a Car Seat

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Have confidence in your car seat cleaning process with these 9 easy tips! 

Car seat cleaning, just like anything having to do with car seats, is all about safety. Using incorrect cleaning procedures outside your manuals’ recommendations can have a real impact on your seat’s ability to keep your child safe. Using these tips, you can get your seat looking and smelling fresh, and be assured your car seat is in tip-top shape for your next drive! For more tips on keeping your car clean and organized, check out this post!

Potty training stinks and thinking about the potential for accidents in the car seat can be a real pain in the you know what! Let’s set up your vehicle, car seat, and your kiddo for success with some tips and tricks for when they have to go when you’re on the go!

Potty Training & Car Seats

Head over to our Shopify page for our in-depth car seat safety courses & resources for parents of infants to big kids, including buying kits (what car seat should I buy?), an airplane travel course (everything you need to know — from arriving at the airport to getting your rental car), and in-depth courses for both the infant stage and the convertible stage.

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