Spills and stains in car seats are far from a rare occurrence. In fact, your car seat probably experiences daily messes! Eventually, you can’t take the grime anymore and you finally muster up the courage to remove your car seat and get those clean. 

In this post, we discuss how to clean a car seat. However, what about those lingering and unsightly stains? Cloth seats are bound to get plenty of sports and stains! That’s why we’re dedicating our post today to safely cleaning car seat stains. 

How to clean car seat

Remember that almost every part of your car seat is there for a reason. It has a specific purpose and advanced technology to ensure it works as intended. Believe it or not, the way you clean your car seat could actually compromise the safety of the seat. So, it’s important to do it right!

Here’s how to clean car seat stains safely:

How To Clean Car Seat Stains 



Mom Hack: Video yourself taking the cover off. It makes putting that so fresh and so clean cover back on so much easier!

Step 1: Remove the car seat from the car.

First up, remove the car seat from the vehicle. This will make it the easiest to clean and see what you’re working with! Save your back and neck and just take it out of the vehicle.

Step 2: Vacuum out the gunk and crumbs.

Go ahead and vacuum out (or shake out) all the crumbs, gunk, abandoned gummies, and goldfish. We recommend even removing the car seat padding and fabric to vacuum out anything that found its way inside your seat.

Step 3: Spot clean with water and dish soap.

Now it’s time to get to the stains. Get a cloth wet with warm water, ensuring it’s damp, not sopping or dripping wet. Additionally, keep a spray bottle handy to continue to wet the cloth and wet the car seat padding too.

Locate the stain, and use a dab of Dawn dish soap to scrub at it with your clean cloth. Even with a soft cloth, be mindful of how hard you’re scrubbing. Additionally, you don’t want to compromise the integrity of your padding by using too much elbow grease.

Step 4: Machine wash the padding (only if the manual says you can!)

IF AND ONLY IF the car seat manual says you can machine wash your padding and fabric, go ahead and toss it in the machine on the directed cycle. Use mild detergent (no bleach and we’d recommend fragrance and fabric softener free.) 

Be sure to read the manual really carefully to get all the washing instructions correct. Moreover, you can even head to the manufacturer’s website where they usually have more detailed information! Again, if the manual doesn’t say you can machine wash your seat padding and/or fabric, skip this step! 

Step 5: Let it dry in the sun!

Even if the manual says you can machine dry the fabric and padding, we recommend letting it air dry in the sun. The sun has amazing stain-fighting powers, so air drying can really pull up any lingering stains.

Step 6: Time to reinstall.

If after air drying you still have some stains, that’s ok. You know the car seat is clean and the stains do not hinder its effectiveness. There’s no reason to keep scrubbing at the stain and using harsher cleaning supplies to get rid of the spots could compromise the integrity of the materials and make your car seat unsafe. You can choose to contact the manufacturer of the car seat and order a new cover from them if the stains are really bothering you. After the cleaning process is complete, you can reinstall your car seat

How NOT to Clean a Car Seat

1. Do not use harsh cleaners!

Online you’ll see a lot of recommendations like using a gallon of hot water mixed with a cup of baking soda or a cup of vinegar. However, it’s important not to do this! Mild soap is the only acceptable cleaning solution.

Also, avoid using bleach, dedicated stain removers, hydrogen peroxide, or any other ‘hack’ you find. It’s crucial to stick with what the manual says!

2. Do not use abrasive brushes!

You may think a little elbow grease is all you need to get that stain, but it’s not worth it. Your soft microfiber cloth is best for your car seat materials and get the cleaning job done. Don’t use a scrub brush while cleaning your car seat. 

3. Do not machine wash or dry your fabric if the manual doesn’t allow it. 

No matter how bad the mess, don’t machine wash or dry your car seat fabric or padding unless the manual says you can. It’s not worth it! If you really feel something is beyond cleaning by hand, call the manufacturer to see if they have any ideas.

4. Do not remove things that aren’t meant to be removed. 

If something isn’t meant to be removed, don’t remove it. Instead, clean it the best you can inside of the car seat frame, and don’t expect perfection. Remember that pulling off something not meant to be removed would compromise the safety of your seat and make it unusable. 

5. Do not soak or fully submerge the car seat straps. 

Car seat harness straps are advanced pieces of technology. Therefore, the inner webbing could expand and be damaged if left to soak in water. Instead, just wipe them with a damp washcloth.

Keep cleaning car seat stains simple, and accept that it may not look as good as new! 

Your car seat is meant to keep your child safe. Keeping it nice and clean can be a part of that! However, always clean your car seat stains with nothing more than a mild soap and the power of the sun. Just accept that your child is safe, your seat is clean, and any lingering stains are just new embellishments on the car seat fabric.

For more car seat tips and vehicle safety information, check out the Safe in the Seat blog. It’s the perfect place to get a full car seat education so you can be confident everyone in your car is safe in their seat.

As an Amazon Associate, Safe in the Seat earns from qualifying purchases.

Skip to content